53206 is often considered one of the “worst” zip codes in Milwaukee. The under-resourced community faces many challenges and is known for its poverty and high incarceration rate. Yet, it also has one of the best youth programs in the city: GLOW 414 (Girls Learning to become Outstanding Women), a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with girls who are considered at-risk.
Since Mickell Daniels founded the organization in 2017, she has mentored over 600 girls. Currently, 43 girls are in the program and she has a staff of eight. GLOW builds self-confidence through programs ranging from one-on-one and peer counseling to learning business skills and how to manage their emotions.
However, Daniels saw that many of these girls were leaving the programming and heading home to unstable housing conditions, or even experiencing homeless. So, in 2020, Daniels decided to address that, too.
“I always said I want to have a transitional living space because ours will be unique,” says Daniels. “You will have six months to a year [to live there], because if you are in GLOW apartments more than a year, we’re not doing our job.”
Mickell Daniels (Photo courtesy of Mickell Daniels)
Daniels knows what it’s like to struggle as a teenager. In high school, she got into gang fights, got pregnant and almost dropped out. But she turned her life around, went to college and eventually got her master’s in clinical psychology. She’s also a certified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) trainer.
“Had I had a me? Had I had someone to say you can do it? No one told me I could live out any dream I wanted to live out,” she recalls. “People told me that I was a teenage mom. I grew up in one of the worse zip codes nationwide. I’m not going to be anything.”
The idea of starting a transitional home occurred to Daniels when she noticed that one of her mentee’s home environment was very unstable. Instead of being a teenager at home, the student was taking care of her siblings as her mother was struggling with her own issues.
Of course, building housing costs money. Daniels got assistance from Legacy Redevelopment Corporation (LCR), a CDFI local to Milwaukee focused on helping minority-owned and small businesses, to purchase and renovate the structure.
“Mickell has a passion for those girls,” says Terese Caro, president and CEO of LCR. “She’s a product of the 53206. These areas sometimes have challenges but she is one that came out of that and said, ‘I came out of that, I made it. I know other girls can make it and I want to help them get there.’ So we wanted to do our part to help her to be able to continue her mission.”
The new building opened in January 2022. The bottom floor is home to GLOW offices, a community center and an outpatient mental health clinic. GLOW renovated the upper floor into six apartments that make up the transitional living space.
Daniels interviews inhabitants to make sure they really need the space and will benefit from it. The first girl to benefit from the space was a young lady who played mother to her siblings. Since then, she’s moved out and is living with her boyfriend.
“I interview them because you just gotta have a certain mindset,” she says. “If you’re not there, it’s not no; it’s just ‘you’re not there right now.’ How about you start the group so you can develop that mindset so we can then transition you to our apartments?”
The occupants are charged $200 a month to get the feel of renting an apartment. Only four are currently occupied. Some of the renters come through a contract she has with the Department of Corrections to assist youths who are out on probation and parole with the fundamentals of living a functional life.
“Because when they’re on probation, everyone is like great, go fix your life. No one’s teaching them that,” Daniels says. “When I was a mentor, a lot of my girls were on probation or committed crimes. Nobody wanted to live with them because now they’re stigmatized and things like that.”
When Daniels launched GLOW, she says a lot of parents questioned why she would open a transitional living space in the 53206 zip code, but she resisted the suggestions to relocate.
“Why do we want to teach our youth that they have to go somewhere else in order to get the services that they need?” she says. “There’s no other facility whose primary purpose is that social-emotional component. And we specialize in mental health.”
It’s this concentration that has helped her to work with girls and young ladies to succeed in life.
“We meet the youths where they are,” Daniels says. “We make sure that they accomplish those goals.”
Connie Aitcheson is a freelance writer based between Florida and Kingston, Jamaica. She worked for many years at Sports Illustrated and has been published in Essence, PTSD Journal, Cosmopolitan and espnw.com.