Words such as “tenacious,” “direct,” and “positive” were used frequently to describe Toni Wagner at the Volunteer Center of Greater Milwaukee’s 32nd annual award luncheon on April 3. Toni, a Sherman Park leader since Common Ground’s Foreclosure Campaign began, was awarded the 2014 adult exemplar award.
People say that when Toni walks through the Center Street commercial center, she can greet everyone by name. Her conversations with neighbors and business owners throughout Sherman Park represent the core dynamic of her leadership: connecting people for change.
Toni works as a volunteer through her home parish, St. Catherine (51st and Center), and says that the award isn’t about her but about “the great team” at the parish. Everyone agrees, though, that she has energized that team’s work since before Milwaukee Rising itself officially began. Now, she is active in both wings of the transformed Milwaukee Rising: (1) the LLC, which focuses on rehabbing and marketing houses, and (2) the Sherman Park Action Team (SPAT), which focuses on neighborhood stabilization.
At the top of Toni’s list of current projects is revitalizing the Center Street business area. She wants to see empty storefronts replaced by new businesses, and
she hopes that the Center Street Business Improvement District (BID) will soon be re-established between 35th to 58th streets.
Toni’s other accomplishments include
- Helping establish the Milwaukee Restores minor home repair program
- Connecting the activities and of various neighborhood associations and parishes in the Sherman Park area
- Coordinating the work of the Milwaukee Rising Evaluators, who canvas vacant homes from North Avenue to Keefe and 42nd to 60th Street and report problems to relevant city departments
The evaluators’ work has been honored by 2013 and 2014 crime prevention awards from the Exchange Club.