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National Organization Fuels Walnut Way's Sustainable Neighborhood Initiatives

Insitute for Sustainable Communities
Steve Nicholas (far right) visits Walnut Way's compost site with staff and neighbors during his recent visit.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) came to life in Vermont nearly 30 years ago with a mission to collaborate with community-based organizations in order to nurture sustainable development.

“For the first 17 years all of the work we did was in places like the former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia, where I worked previously for ISC, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, places like that,” says Steve Nicholas, vice president of ISC programs in the United States.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
This orchard is one of Walnut Way's existing assets.

More recently, Nicholas says the ISC has turned its attention to American cities.

“We had the instinct that the kind of work that we do could be helpful to communities right here at home. We’re ten years in and I think our instinct was correct,” he says. “Especially frankly with the current political climate nationally and also the turn to climate disruption, climate change - we just feel that’s one of the most urgent challenges that we face as a society and we wanted to be involved in helping to meet that challenge."

Approximately one year ago, the ISC came up with a new initiative called the Partnership for Resilient Communities. The goal of the initiative is to team up “where we thought there was a big opportunity to have an impact and get results, but in places we feel have been historically unserved by organizations like ours and programs like ours,” Nicholas explains.

Milwaukee’s Walnut Way Conservation Corp., along with five other organizations around the country, was selected to receive a $150,000 grant.

We believe if we can help Walnut Way .....lift up their story nationally that we can help inspire other organizations in other urban communities to improve in this way.

“All six of the organizations in the Partnership are working on specific, on the ground neighborhood-scale projects related either to installing solar or installing what’s known as green infrastructure - which is a variety of ways of helping the urban landscape absorb rainwater so it doesn’t cause as much flooding or water pollution," says Nicholas.

Walnut Way plans to use its grant to install both solar and green infrastructure projects. In addition to the funding, all of the awardees receive technical support from the ISC according to Nicholas.

“Because we are a national organization and we have a pretty robust network of communities and experts, we’ll be able to, we think, help connect Walnut Way to some of its peer organizations across the country and some of the national expertise that can help it be even stronger and more effective here in Milwaukee,” he says.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Walnut Way launched its Blue Skies Landscaping program in 2012. Here the crew is helping create a pocket park off North Avenue.


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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.