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Support from all angles for a bright future

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Honoring an OFS alum

In 2016, Charles Jackson graduated from what is now called Build Academy after completing the Legacy program. He was a model participant, not because he was perfect upon arrival, but because he constantly committed himself to improvement and working through struggles. He went on to his dream job, as a carpenter with Findorff Construction, and always encouraged other young adults to check out Operation Fresh Start.

“Charles was a big advocate for young folks finding their successful pathway,” says Cory Rich, Legacy Manager, “After Charles graduated, there was a period of several years where a ton of young adults were coming through the door, mentioning that Charles sent them.”

In 2020, Charles tragically passed away from a motorcycle accident. To honor his memory and commitment to helping others, the Charles Jackson Memorial Tool Scholarship was established. This scholarship provides young adults who are entering the trades with $300 to purchase the gear and tools they need to be successful.

“Charles meant a lot to this organization,” said Cory, “And I think we also meant a lot to Charles.”

Finding his own dream job

This year, the Charles Jackson Memorial Tool Scholarship was awarded to Ethan Bussman after he secured a job in the trades and submitted an earnest, heartful essay explaining how the scholarship would support him.

Ethan stands between Thedora and Aram, program coordinators, with a table full of tools and gear in front of them

Thedora (Drive program), Ethan, and Aram (CareerScape program)

I love the idea of working with my hands and rebuilding or remodeling interiors of homes and buildings. It'd be great to see the smiles of the people that I had a part in making their dream home come true.

–Excerpt from Ethan’s essay application

“Before coming to OFS, I had little to no motivation,” Ethan said, “I kinda thought once I got out of high school, I would jump into a job that I hated, and then into another job that I hated, and then just continue on.”

Ethan was referred to Operation Fresh Start’s CareerScape program by his high school guidance counselor. CareerScape supports participants in exploring career pathways, preparing for employment, and overcoming any barriers that may hinder their success.

“In many ways, Ethan is a good exemplar of the Charles Jackson scholarship,” said Aram, CareerScape program coordinator. At the time, Ethan faced multiple barriers but was committed to working through them. “I was like, well, this is going to be potentially a challenge,” Aram said, “But I would say, if anything, my work [with Ethan] has been less of a challenge and more of a joy.”

Ethan had previously helped a family friend with renovating their trailer, using power tools, drywalling, installing an HVAC system, and more. It sparked a passion for interior construction. With the support of CareerScape, he put together a resume, practiced mock interviews, and pitched himself to Interiors by JW, a local interior design and remodeling company. His hard work paid off and he secured a pre-apprenticeship.

“That was a real victory for us,” recounted Aram. But the position came with a list of tools needed for the job, such as a screwdriver set, knee pads, tin snips, and much more. Ethan nor his mom had the money on hand to cover the cost of the tools before his start date. So, Ethan applied for the Charles Jackson Memorial Tool Scholarship and was awarded $300 to cover the cost.

“I’m glad I met [Aram] when I did,” Ethan said, “Really got me back on track.”

Breaking down more barriers

Besides a career he would enjoy, Ethan also wanted to secure his driver’s license. In 2004, the state of Wisconsin stopped providing free driver's education in high schools, leaving youth with limited options. Operation Fresh Start helps fill this need with the Drive program for ages 18-24.

“Ethan being a part of the Drive classroom has been a pleasure,” said Thedora, Drive coordinator and instructor, “He's always on time. He's always early. I love that dedication.” She always recommends other OFS programs to Drive participants, especially CareerScape. “I've often been able to reference [Ethan] when selling Aram's program, saying, ‘You guys should do the program because he's getting people jobs and internships – right, Ethan?’”

Thedora poses with the participants of her spring 2023 Drive program cohort

Spring 2023 Drive cohort

One of the key reasons that Drive is successful is thanks to Thedora’s commitment. Participants spend four weeks in the classroom with her, completing coursework and listening to guest speakers, building a bond of trust for behind-the-wheel lessons. Thedora’s goal is to establish positive relationships so participants have confidence on the roads.

Oftentimes, Thedora has participants pick songs to listen to as she transitions between segments in the classroom. “I love [Ethan’s] music selection,” she added, “He's opened up a genre for me that I would have never tried.”

Ethan is excited to be working towards his driver’s license alongside his new job. “Having the ability to get my [driver’s] permit without having to pay, learn in a safe and good environment, was amazing,” said Ethan, “Couldn't be more thankful for OFS.”


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