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OFS still impacts alum decades later

Updated: May 31, 2023

By Isabella Nohara, OFS volunteer

It’s been twenty-eight years since he first enrolled in an Operation Fresh Start program, but John Gausman remembers his experience fondly. Now an employee in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Facilities Department, John reached out to OFS to share his positive experience with the organization and his success outside of it.

In the summer of 1995, when John first entered OFS programming, he was fourteen and described himself as “the troubled kid with long hair” who was struggling at school. A few of his teachers noticed his behavior and suggested Operation Fresh Start as a place where he could use his energy in a productive way. That summer, he enrolled in a conservation program where he cleaned up boardwalks and beaches around Madison. Two years later, he enrolled in a similar program, this time alongside his younger brother. John recalls that time as the “best summer [they] ever had as kids,” saying that OFS provided the pair with a much-needed outlet for their restlessness.

“When you’re kind of bored and things aren’t going right at all,” John said, “and you have something like that, it makes you feel good. You’re having fun. You got something to be proud of.”

John went on to earn his GED through the OFS Legacy program and enrolled at Madison Area Technical College. While he did not complete his degree there, John has had a successful professional life. He’s worked in the Facilities Department at UW-Madison for over eighteen years, and he claims that his experience at OFS has helped him tremendously. While his job is much different than the work he did during his time at OFS, he says that OFS instilled in him an appreciation for hard work that he did not have prior.

“It taught me how to see things from the beginning to the end. Good work, you know? It’s taking pride in what you’re doing, not just going in there for eight hours.”

Today, John wants to establish a connection between OFS and UW-Madison. He believes that if participants had the opportunity to see the UW-Madison campus through their work with OFS, “they may think about maybe coming here someday.”

“What I do now is awesome,” John concluded, “The people that I work with are so cool.” He claims that he isn’t “the biggest success story,” but it’s clear that he’s created a meaningful life for himself and his experiences at Operation Fresh Start made an impact.


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