|Clockwise from upper left: Some of the original staff members
including Marvin RDumpf (l-r), Stephan Blue, Bobby Moore and
Lilada Gee; One NIP graduate is Rainey Briggs (r) who is now
the Middleton-Cross Plais School District’s director of elementary
education; Big Momma Darlene Horner, a community
collaborator, receives an award from MSCR’s Bob Humpke;
Andre Johnson, DCDHS juvenile justice services manager (l-r)
and Stephan Blue, the founder of NIP.
The Neighborhood Intervention Program
Celebrates 30 Years
Lasting Youth Impact
While the problem may have been invisible to many Madisonians, it began to have an impact on the criminal justice system by 1986.
“Judge Robert Pekowsky was the chief judge at that time,” Blue recalled. “He started seeing some things in terms of the courts. There was
some interest on the part of the police and schools in terms of what was happening in our community. We started having an increase in kids
being arrested and going to placements. Judge Pekowsky said, ‘What’s going on.’ He formed a committee called the Dane County Juvenile
Court Minority Issues Committee.”
The committee needed information and a perspective because it still didn’t know what was going on and what was causing it. Blue was
assigned the task of finding out what was going on.
“At that time, it was called, ‘Stephan go out there and see what’s happening’ program,” Blue said with a laugh. “We were able to work with the
South Madison Neighborhood Center and do a lot of things in Sommerset. Those were the first two areas that we looked at. We got to Vera
Court, Webb-Rethke and Broadway-Simpson, which was just beginning to emerge also. I came back and gave a little report that said there
were areas of the community that were service-deficient in terms of employment and housing. Families had to take a two-bedroom apartment
when they had five children or families were doubled up. To make a long story short, one of the things that we cited was there were some
resources available, but we had to make sure that the kids got to them. In the early days, we worked with MSCR, schools and others to try to
hook kids back into the things that were out there.”
Families, especially children, were isolated in the pockets of poverty where negative influences were destroying the fabric of those
Blue helped organize activities for the kids in Sommerset and South Madison while he was gathering information and it had an impact on the
number of youth referrals to the courts. These areas had little youth programming going on at the time. The neighborhood centers didn’t have
the resources for expanded youth programming. Service providers were not structured in a way that allowed them to provide services in the
neighborhoods and many of the newly-arrived neighborhood residents hadn’t worked with Euro-Americans before and most of the staff of the
service providers were Euro-American. A huge service gulf existed.
A team was put in place in 1987 composed of Blue, Sergeant John Winston, Pete Albert from the Madison public schools and Dave Thorson
from Dane County Human Services. Their initial work was called the Neighborhood Intervention Project.
“I liken it to we were the Marines and we stormed the beach,” Blue said. “We were mobile. There were some unique challenges and we were
able to fill that void. And I would say that we were a catalyst in the neighborhoods to help the traditional agencies be better with families. We
were also able to be an element of change for kids. We felt that every kid is dealt a hand of cards. NIP was there to make their hand the best
they can play. We did that through enrichment and exposure to resources. There was a family in Sommerset that had four boys. Two of the boys
ended up in juvenile corrections. We targeted the younger boy and said, ‘If we go at him hard, invest $5,000 instead of $90,000 to incarcerate
him at that time, maybe we could change the course of his life. It’s very simple. If you give kids a new way of thinking and exposure to the
possibility of different, their lives will change. When the traditional service providers were ready and able to work in those areas, we moved
on to the next beach.”
In 1988, NIP was officially launched as the Neighborhood Intervention Program, a recognition that there wasn’t a quick fix and that prevention
and early intervention services were needed for the long haul in the area’s economically-challenged neighborhoods.
At the time, these neighborhoods were “youth activity deserts.” And so Blue and his crew began to organize activities that the youth were
interested in, basketball and dancing, as a means to get the youth to understand what it would take to be successful in life.
“Some of our programs became the hot thing in the community for kids to do,” Blue said. “It became one of the unique programs. In a lot of
communities where you go, you have a program where the ‘bad’ kids go and a program where the ‘good’ kids go. Sometimes at NIP, you didn’t
know who was ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ And what I think that does is there is a greater raising of the level of the group. We had kids whose parents
earned $100,000 per year on a team or a dance troupe along with the kid whose parents had made $4,000 per year. Those kids got to see
different ways of thinking. They also got to see their worth and value and possibility.”
While the kids were having fun, they were also learning core values.
“Some people look at basketball as an end,” Blue said. “I look at it as a means. We were able to teach those success skills, team skills,
delayed gratification, how to deal with conflict and how to deal with authority. Sometimes a referee just makes you mad. It was a real good
microcosm of social interaction of how to teach some of the kids how to be more successful in that environment. We won 10 state titles in
terms of AAU, probably 11-12 Badger State titles. We won a national title. The reason that I mentioned that is because of the investment in the
dedication that the kids put forth to get to that. Other than that, it isn’t as important. But what they saw from that is that they could be something
special not only in Madison, but also on a national stage. Like a lot of activities that we do, it was the carrot through which we could teach.”
The kids were also adjusting to and getting integrated into Madison at large.
“Some people asked, ‘Why do you have a dance troupe,’” Blue recalled. “‘Well, I have some kids who don’t like athletics. Some kids are more
artistic and expressive.’ We had poetry. We were able to get kids who wanted to do poetry. We got kids who wanted to dance. We put some
vignettes in there for the kids who wanted to act. They ran on Cable City 12 for years. The kids became stars. They would come back and say, ‘I
walked into school and they were talking about my video.’ They won two national awards in addition to local awards for those presentations.
There were 5-6 videos that we did over that time. They were able to dance in the community, were part of the children’s festival at the Madison
Civic Center for a number of years as well as Juneteenth. What it did was take those kids and once again through artistic expression, teach
them the same sorts of things that we did in sports like team work, delayed gratification and adherence to rules. We could check their
schoolwork. We could get in their business because they wanted to be part of this activity.”
Most importantly, at a time when many of these kids were being neglected or being abused, Blue and his crew were showing them that
someone cared and that they had self-worth.
“Every kid and every human being, I believe, has a talent and has worth,” Blue said. “It’s up to us to help them find what that is and express it.
And every so often, we deal with a couple behavioral attributes and label a kid. And therefore, sometimes we can’t see the diamond that is in
front of us. And I think that’s one of the good things at NIP. We didn’t hold grudges. There was this one boy named Tommy. We were at Lincoln
playing a game. Tommy’s mother had given him up. She had been devastated by the drug thing. Tommy did something during the game and so, I
pulled him out. And he came up to me and said, ‘You big bald-headed MF.’ I was like, ‘Okay Tommy. Have a seat.’ He came back and said
something to me and I had to tell him that he was out. We practiced the next day and Tommy showed up. He stood by the door. I looked over
there and Tommy is still by the door. He was so changed, he can’t come in. I said, Tommy, you have something to say?’ ‘I’m sorry coach. Can I
come back?’ Now sometimes kids don’t get that chance. I never had a word out of him again ever. With kids, you have to give them that
chance. Now everyone knows that I don’t change my rules. Tommy had to decide that he was going to go by my rules.”
On Thursday, October 12, the Dane County Neighborhood Intervention Program will be celebrating its 30th anniversary at Turner Hall, 3001 S.
Stoughton Road from 5:30-8:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. To make a reservation, email Heather Crowley at
By Jonathan Gramling
In 1981, conservative Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the U.S.
President. Reagan enacted severe budget cuts that began to take hold by
the mid-1980s, cuts that began to dismantle President Lyndon Johnson’s
War on Poverty and its anti-poverty programs. At the same time, a
recession hit and the unemployment rate hit America’s inner-cities
especially hard. Crack cocaine began to show up in Los Angeles and the
relatively cheap form of cocaine quickly became the pain anesthesia for
many experiencing the loss of employment and opportunity. And the fight
over the sale of crack cocaine led to an uptick in violence in America’s
Madison wasn’t immune from this national trend. Madison’s pockets of
poverty were impacted by high unemployment, the crack cocaine
epidemic, which left many children exposed to negative influences and
the violence that followed. In many ways, it caught Madison and Dane
“Sometimes the popular media was a little behind that curve, said
Stephan Blue who was a juvenile court worker at the time. “We still, at
that time in Madison, had a sense where you could drive by certain
communities and you didn’t quite have to open your eyes and really look.
But there were a lot of families at that time that were really affected by it.
And the families affected the children.”