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Running Rebels & We Got This Join Forces To Better Serve Milwaukee's Young People

Dawn and Victor Barnett (center) along with Andre Lee Ellis (center left) were recognized for the merger of their organizations at a Light The Hoan Bridge celebration.
Courtesy of Andre Lee Ellis, Dawn and Victor Barnett
Dawn and Victor Barnett (center), along with Andre Lee Ellis (center left) gathered for a Light The Hoan Bridge celebration commemorating their organizations merging.

A new partnership has brought two community organizations under one roof. We Got This MKE, founded by Andre Lee Ellis, and Running Rebels, co-executively directed by Dawn and Victor Barnett, have decided to join forces to better serve the youth of Milwaukee.

Both organizations were started to help provide Milwaukee's young people with mentorship and a more positive path into their future.

Ellis says joining Running Rebels will mean he can expand his work. Before the merger, he was the only staff member at We Got This.

“I joined forced with an organization such as Running Rebels, that’s been around for 40 years in this community, doing committed work that has contributed greatly. It gives us greater capacity,” he says.

Victor Barnett says he hopes that this merger can be an example for community organizations across Milwaukee and that it will foster more collaboration.

“One of my things has always been community unity and working together, so when this opportunity came, it was a blessing and for me to have such a perfect fit of an organization to come together and kinda show that’s the way it should be done,” he says.

Dawn Barnett says the city has struggled in the past to find common ground between organizations. She says that competitiveness has stopped people from working together even when it could be beneficial for all groups.

Running and growing a nonprofit takes a huge amount of behind-the-scenes work, from fundraising to human resources to accounting. Dawn says adding Ellis to their already existing infrastructure will help keep him working with the youth.

“When Andre said it’s just me over there, well Andre obviously can’t do all those things by himself, so to be able to tap into an organization that has that framework already, so that Andre can do what he does best, and that’s be in the garden with the young men,” she says.

COVID-19 has forced both organizations to adapt not only their programming but the problems they are addressing. As the pandemic continues to halt normal life, the CDC has reported a significant increase in mental health emergency hospital visits amongst people under the age of 18.

Ellis says as they begin to plan programming for when it becomes safe to gather again, the focus will be on lifting the stress of the past year off of the shoulders of young people.

“We just want to just provide happier moments, take them away from the negative stuff that is happening cause they’re just children, they shouldn’t have to carry that burden so much, they should be preparing to go beyond the burden,” he says.

Ben Binversie was a producer with WUWM's Lake Effect program.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.