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Partnership for Resilient Communities: A Story of Integration, Growth & Sustainability at Walnut Way

Walnut Way Conservation Corp. is an organization based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that has been part of the Partnership for Resilient Communities (PRC) for the past five years. Over the last four years, we have returned from convenings with knowledge about new projects and initiatives such as solar certification implementation, urban gardening initiatives, utility rate cases advocacy, energy efficiency retrofits and stormwater management. These different dimensions of work are being addressed by Walnut Way through our involvement with PRC.

Through our engagement with PRC and other partners, Walnut Way has grown significantly to become a leader in community resilience and sustainability in Milwaukee.

About the Partnership for Resilient Communities

The Partnership for Resilient Communities (PRC) works to transform and strengthen the voices of people of color in the national urban climate resilience field through partnerships with community-based organizations. The project works to affect change in partner communities by:

  • Promoting physical and economic resilience in climate-vulnerable communities,
  • Supporting the technical assistance and resources needs of community leaders and their organizations,
  • Fostering the transformation of the urban climate resilience field in the U.S. to be more equity- and people-centered, and
  • Strategically sharing the experience, knowledge, policies and practices generated by PRC partners and other leaders of color. 

Developing Milwaukee’s First ECO-Neighborhood

Walnut Way first connected with another PRC partner, Power52, at the PRC convening four years ago. Upon returning to Milwaukee, we initiated new projects in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood. This included installing solar panels at Fondy Farmers Market, building community gardens, and developing a pilot solar certification program with Midwest Renewable Energy Association. Lindsay Heights was also certified as the first ECO-neighborhood and Eco Tour destination in Milwaukee, highlighting the significant environmental interventions in the neighborhood. The ECO-neighborhood initiative supports community organizers making an impact on their communities by practicing ecologically friendly behaviors in their neighborhoods.

Advocating for Equitable Utilities

Walnut Way also learned about the work being done by Partnership for Southern Equity while at another PRC conference and subsequently began advocating for stronger utility regulation in Wisconsin. This advocacy has since grown into a full-blown program that is directly engaged with Wisconsin Public Service Commission and Milwaukee’s local utility, We Energies. The program advocates on behalf of residents for equitable utility rates for those living in areas with energy inequity and in energy-inefficient housing. 

Leveraging Partner Knowledge

Being part of the PRC within the Institute for Sustainable Communities has enabled Walnut Way to access resources and guidance from other organizations across the country that are faced with similar challenges. Through this information sharing, we have been able to implement local solutions in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood and advocate for broader issues that affect people of color and low-to-middle income Milwaukee residents.

This resource sharing through PRC has opened up a range of new initiatives:

  • Utility-scale solar developments
  • Training for solar certification
  • Housing rehab and energy efficiency retrofits 
  • Affordable broadband access 
  • Stormwater management 

Our flagship program, the social enterprise Blue Skies Landscaping, was also born from this partnership. Blue Skies is a leader in green infrastructure in Milwaukee and has several staff members certified in green infrastructure development.

Developing Community Leadership

Through our participation in the Partnership for Resilient Communities, Walnut Way continues to grow and develop through resident leadership building, succession planning and organizing to influence collective issues. The partnership has enabled us to understand how best to address local problems and create real-world solutions that benefit our communities.

Partnerships Have the Power to Make Change

The impact that Walnut Way has had on the Milwaukee community is a testament to how powerful partnerships can be. By joining forces with the ISC and PRC, we have been able to effect positive change and support residents across the region. This example of successful collaboration is something that other communities should strive for in order to enable similar levels of progress and development.

About the Author

Antonio Butts is the Executive Director of Walnut Way Conservation Corp. He is a catalytic leader who is passionate about transforming economically excluded communities into neighborhoods of health and prosperity. Antonio’s career is marked by his collaborative leadership style and ability to create social enterprise for economic and social impact.

With an entrepreneurial zeal, Antonio has spurred improvements in the financial, social and environmental well-being of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods through social enterprise and strategic initiatives. Throughout his career, he has used commercial strategies to catalyze start-up businesses, diversify non-profit revenue, and manage leadership transitions. Antonio is also known for his turnaround experience in both community and economic development which involved crisis management, capital restructuring, employee engagement and realigning non-profit organizations for growth. He has worked with many small to medium-sized businesses and nonprofits as a consultant and employee.