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A History of Operation Fresh Start

Since 1970, Operation Fresh Start has empowered more than 8,000 emerging adults to find a pathway to a family-sustaining career.


Founded in 1970 by Jack Osteraas

Jack Osteraas, a former police officer and juvenile detention counselor, developed the Operation Fresh Start (OFS) model. The organization started as a way to provide young male offenders and youth who had dropped out of high school with a paid, 30-hour/week opportunity to learn basic work skills, prepare for the high school equivalency examination, secure and retain employment at the end of training and contribute to the community by renovating sub-standard housing into safe, affordable homes sold to low-income families. During the intervening years, OFS expanded its target population to include women, single parents, and in-school youth.

For fifty years, Operation Fresh Start (OFS) has successfully engaged youth on a path toward self-sufficiency. OFS has defined its success by its ability to provide out-of-school youth a second chance to succeed with a focus on success through education and employment attainment. Through this work, OFS has built upon Jack’s model to develop a strength-based wraparound programming philosophy necessary for the success of youth. All OFS programming is built upon the Bond Theory that youth can achieve personal success through establishing a strength-based relationship with caring adults through which basic needs can be addressed. Setting the foundation for this relationship and engaging youth in establishing priorities is key to long-term program engagement and achievement of training and employment goals.

OFS is considered a national leader in services to disconnected and out-of-school youth, having been recognized for many programming components by the Department of Labor, YouthBuild USA, Jobs for the Future, and The Corps Network.

Some Significant Moments




First Women Crew

The first all-women construction crew at OFS through a partnership with the YWCA.

OFS began providing conservation and stewardship services

These services are offered to the Madison and Dane County Parks departments and to the Riverland Conservancy in Merrimac, WI.

Through Governor Tommy Thompson Initiative, Wisconsin Fresh Start programs were created across Wisconsin.

After some years of technical assistance and guidance by Operation Fresh Start (in Dane County), each organization is its own entity or under the umbrella of other local organizations throughout the state.

Honoring the legacy of OFS founder Jack Osteraas


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