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WAI Success Stories: January – March 2023


During the 2020 pandemic, Tonda Thompson sought to craft a table that was resilient enough to keep up with her family's needs. But what began as a DIY project, quickly evolved into something far greater. Within a week of posting her newly built table on social media, Tonda had received several order requests for custom built tables. After word of her craftmanship spread across the internet, Tonda began operating as She Slangs Wood Co. (SSW). Today She Slangs Wood functions as a multifaceted business: In her shop, Tonda and her team of youth apprentices specialize in woodworking and furniture making. And in the community, SSW serves as a haven for women and men of all ages, where Tonda teaches sustainable skills to combat social determinates of health and instill confidence in our communities' future leaders. Tonda's civic engagement extend far beyond furniture, she's in the business of empowerment.

Being one of the few Black-women carpenters in the whole country comes with a unique set of challenges, but Tonda remains empowered to pursue her passion with the support of her family and community. The partnership between She Slangs Wood and Employ Milwaukee that began in 2022 has yielded great results. With the help of the Skillful Transitions (WAI) grant, Tonda was able to keep her business alive by taking on more apprentices and acquiring a new workshop space. We're excited to see what the future holds for She Slangs Wood.


One of our COMSA participants had lost their job during the pandemic resulting in being unemployed for over a year and their only source of income being Food Share. They previously had obtained their Class A CDL; however, they had been out of the field for several years and did not have the funds to get the refresher course they needed in order to reenter the field. The participant was enrolled in WAI and was able to be provided with a Class A CDL refresher course through Fox Valley Technical College. The participant successfully completed the Class A CDL refresher course and had regained their Class A CDL driving skills. This benefited the participant because he was now employable and able to gain employment that helped him better his situation such as affording housing. Employers were also benefited as the participant was later employed at a local carrier which helped meet the need for Class A CDL drivers. Evidence of this success comes from Fox Valley Technical College certifying that the participant completed the Class A CDL refresher course. In addition, the participant reported where they obtained employment and the wage, they were going to receive which showed how much the participants wage increased from the beginning of the program.


At group enrollment for the WAI Culinary Arts Cohort at Mid-State Technical College, I met Maxwell. I worked alongside Maxwell and two others in the area where they were seated to complete the required paperwork for WAI enrollment. While we worked on the paperwork, we were discussing other trainings that WAI had funded and success that we had seen. We talked about incentives that could be earned and supports we could provide. I told the group that we were there to set them up to be our next success stories. Maxwell paused, then looked at me and said, "Lady, will I be the success story". He went on to talk about some the barriers that he has faced in his life; justice involvement, and impending divorce, and child support payments were just a few he mentioned. We talked about the opportunities that the WAI program could provide for him. As our team prepared to leave after the paperwork was completed and all questions were answered, I looked at Maxwell and said, "I'll be counting on you to be one of the successes".

Maxwell proved to be just that. He was one of the first, if not the first each incentive period to provide his current grades. His grades proved that he was doing quite well in the program. As the course progressed, we learned that not all that enrolled were on track to graduate, but Maxwell was. He was excelling in his classes and at his internship. Maxwell earned his certificate and will be celebrated at an upcoming "graduation event".

I reached out to Maxwell to talk about writing a success story together and reminded him of what he had said to me that first day, he said "oh I remember". He went on to say that he doesn't consider himself a success just yet though. Maxwell has enrolled in the full Culinary Degree program and begins classes in late January, he is also working 25 hours a week in the culinary field. He tells me that he will consider himself successful when he has opened his own food business.


Success Story 1

RT is a 45-year-old man who came out of incarceration in December 2021 and came to CEP in June because he wanted his CDL to start his career in Truck Driving. RT had no work history in the part 5 years but had worked with Northwoods Technical College to obtain his HSED. The career planner determined he was someone who truly wanted to make a positive change in his life, so she coordinated funding with WIOA, WAI, and DOC, and within 6 weeks, RT had his Wisconsin Commercial Driver License. Class: ABCD and by the end of September, RT obtained a local full-time job making $20 an hour as a Truck Driver and reported he was very grateful for all the help CEP had provided.

Success Story 2

IL is a 19-year-old male with a disability still living at his family’s home. He had previously been working with DVR at the Siren High School to gain work experience but had not worked for the same employer longer than 6 months in the previous two years, so he needed additional assistance. He came to CEP for WAI funding for the Heavy Equipment Operator Training at Training Skills Management LLC, SOFTEC VENUE. He also obtained his Wisconsin Commercial Driver License/CDL. Class: ABCD that was held by Hands on Trucking CDL Driving School at the Spooner Job Center. He now has his CDL and Heavy Equipment Operation Certification. He reported he is doing well and is working at Hopkins Sand and Gravel in Webster.

Success Story 3

CD enrolled in WAI to obtain his CDL through Hands on Trucking. As soon as he graduated, he received a job with Melton Truck Lines in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is currently working approximately 60 hours a week making $20/hour. He thanked CEP for all their help, stating that when they met him, he was sleeping on his ex-girlfriend’s couch, and now he has a job he loves and a career that is steady. He said they helped him turned his life around and continued to say how grateful he was for CEP helping him get on his feet!

Success Story 4

DH is a 63-year-old veteran male, ex-offender, part-time landscape worker looking for help with rental assistance and steady employment. Through WAI, DH was provided with rental assistance and help preparing a resume and job searching. DH was able to find full-time employment at Super One in Ashland making $14.25/hr as a Utility Worker. DH looks to continue working for Super One full time and continue his landscaping business on off-days during summer months.

WDA 10

The DOC Electro-Mechanical CPA Cohort graduated on December 20th. This cohort was developed through a partnership with the WDBSCW, DOC, and the Madison Area Technical College and successfully supported 8 justice-involved individuals through 12-week electro-mechanical CPA. The participation incentives were provided through WAI and the WDBSCW worked with approved employers to attend an interview event for the participants with the hope that some will be hired on.

"Some people may view us as broken — perhaps we are… The Reentry Program has helped us troubleshoot our own personal breakdowns and apply personal maintenance to ourselves, to improve ourselves to be more effective members of society and thriving operators of our lives." -- David Tatro, Madison College Graduate and Selected Graduation Speaker

Press coverage for the graduation included the following outlets: Capital Times, Channel 3000, and Madison State Journal

The WDBSCW will continue to partner with the DOC and area employers to match the participants with work-release employment opportunities in this industry.

WDA 11

A senior this year, D was looking for more hands-on training when they learned about the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board (SWWDB)'s Accelerated Industrial Maintenance (AIM) program. The turning point for them was when they enrolled in AIM. They are a part of the Youth Apprenticeship (YA) program, working at Scot Forge in Clinton, and are doing extremely well and enjoying every minute of it. They are also achieving excellent grades in their senior year. They are scheduled to graduate from high school this coming June.