Will Green turned pain into passion in creating Mentoring Positives

Will Green started Mentoring Positives to help those in the community and to honor his late mother’s legacy
Will Green with two teens in front of Feed Kitchens
Photo by Romulo Ueda
One way Will Green (left) engages youth — like Evelyn Walker (center) and Alisha Ghelfi (right) — is by getting them involved with Mentoring Positives’ Off The Block Salsa production.

I have been fortunate to work with youth for more than 25 years. In 2004, I started a nonprofit organization called Mentoring Positives, a Madison-based mentoring program. Many of the boys and girls I get to work with have faced various challenges in their lives. Some are in the juvenile justice system, struggle in school, have unhealthy relationships or simply deal with the everyday stressors of being a teenager. COVID-19 has only magnified these stressors.

I was inspired to start a mentoring program after my mom, Muriel Pipkins, lost her battle with breast cancer at the young age of 46. My mom had me when she was 14 years old and I never knew who my father was growing up. While in my hometown of Gary, Indiana, I was able to spend the last moments of my mom’s life with her, and that changed me forever. The loss of my mom really pushed me over the edge to become a social entrepreneur — I used that pain and turned it into passion to create impactful change in the Madison community. I took my mom’s initials, “MP,” and created Mentoring Positives.

For Mentoring Positives, I decided to incorporate enrichment programs that youth would enjoy. For example, basketball, which I played at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, engages a lot of young African American boys. My motto is “The hook is the key.” Once we hook the boys in the gym, we have them participate in competency development discussions on topics such as peer pressure, not having a father, anger management and famous Black historical figures. After these discussions, we then allow the youth to engage in the basketball activities.

Within the ever-changing world of nonprofits, Mentoring Positives has adapted over the years and embarked on urban agriculture as another “hook.” Mentoring Positives wanted to create an innovative way to engage our youth, and so we decided to create a social enterprise model to support our nonprofit. After attending a sustainability leadership program at Edgewood College, I learned about Will Allen and what he was doing in Milwaukee with urban agriculture. Shortly after learning about his work, a white community activist I knew wanted to get our youth more active and involved in the community. He asked if I would be up for making salsa and I stated, “Sure, let’s make salsa.”

My mom was a very caring individual and an amazing cook. We always held family gatherings at our house on holidays because my mom was the queen of meals. I got my passion for cooking from her. When I went to college and started living on my own, cooking became a valuable skill, though I have always had a passion for it. My love for cooking helped me find another hook to engage youth in our MP programs.

Next thing I knew, in 2006, young people from our basketball group were growing tomatoes and peppers for the Off The Block salsa program after we received an acre of land as a donation. Our group came up with the name Off The Block because they wanted to get themselves off the block.

In 2015, Tim Metcalfe, president and co-owner of Metcalfe’s Market, gave me a call and said he wanted our salsa in his store. Now it can be found in Metcalfe’s, among other locations. We didn’t stop at salsa. We created Off The Block pizza in 2015 and now have eight varieties. The purchase of our products is a win-win — they taste great, and a portion of the proceeds helps the youth programming at MP.

If my mom was here today she would be so proud of our Off The Block salsa and pizza products. She cooked with such pride and definitely inserted lots of love and compassion as key ingredients in her food. At Mentoring Positives we pour that same love and compassion into the youth we mentor and the products we create.

Will Green is the executive director of Mentoring Positives, a nonprofit offering mentoring, professional development and Off The Block enterprises. Off The Block Salsa can be found at Metcalfe’s Hilldale and West Towne locations, Willy Street Co-op and Regent Market Co-op. Off The Block Pizza is sold at Willy Street Co-op. Both the pizzas and salsa are delivered weekly through Christine’s Kitchens.