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  • InsideTrack
  • January 19, 2022

    Building Fences, Building Communities: Volunteering with Revitalize Milwaukee

    On a blustery November day, members of the State Bar of Wisconsin Construction & Public Contract Law Section volunteered for a different sort of pro bono work: to build a fence for a family in need in Milwaukee. It was great way to take a break from the computer to do hands-on work, writes section advisor Mark Schmidt.

    Mark E. Schmidt

    fence-building volunteers

    A cold but productive November day for the fence-building volunteers. From left: section members Mark Schmidt of von Briesen and Jim Dash of CarlsonDash, who is the section’s immediate past chairperson; Chris Avellone of von Briesen in Milwaukee; and section board member Brian Smigelski of DeWitt LLP’s Milwaukee office.

    Jan. 19, 2022 – As busy lawyers, it is increasingly difficult to find time for pro bono and public service. Often, lawyers contribute their time and talent by providing free legal services or participating at the board level of charitable groups. Those are all great ways for lawyers to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

    Recently, a few members of the State Bar of Wisconsin Construction & Public Contract Law Section took a different approach.

    Revitalize Milwaukee: Stabilizing Neighborhoods

    On Nov. 13, 2021 a group of attorneys from the section participated in a hands-on construction project coordinated through Revitalize Milwaukee. This nonprofit organization provides equitable access to affordable housing. It revitalizes vulnerable neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee and Waukesha counties by providing free home repairs to eligible homeowners. This work directly impacts individuals and families, and keeps long-term, existing homeowners in their homes, which stabilizes neighborhoods.

    Brian Smigelski

    A lawyer and a Sawzall: Brian Smigelski, of DeWitt LLP’s Milwaukee office and board member of the Construction & Public Contract Law Section, gets ready to work with a Sawzall reciprocating saw.

    On a Windy November Saturday

    Section members – including Brian Smigelski, Jim Dash, Shawn Govern, and Chris Avallone, along with State Bar Section Liaison Jane Corkery and her spouse Jim Corkery (thankfully, a highly skilled carpenter) – met for a volunteer project, on what turned out to be a blustery November day, to install a fence around a south-side Milwaukee property.

    Mark E. SchmidtMark E. Schmidt, George Mason 2004, is a shareholder in the Litigation and Risk Management Practice Group with von Briesen & Roper, Milwaukee.

    The homeowner lives in the River Bend neighborhood with her two children. Both children have disabilities and love to play outside, but the house is right next to the steep drainage ditch that they frequently try to get into and abuts a main road with cars speeding by. Their old fence was too short and did not go around the entire yard. This led to the children climbing over it to get to the drainage ditch. Sometimes, strangers pass through the yard to use substances near the drainage ditch. These issues were big safety risks to the homeowner and her children.

    With a huge assist from the folks at Revitalize Milwaukee, who staked out the fence posts and provided tools and much-needed food and refreshments, the group managed to install a six-foot wooden fence around the entire perimeter of the property. By installing a higher and sturdier fence around the entire yard, the homeowner has peace of mind letting her children play outside. Her children are safe from the hazards of the drainage ditch, the road, and the strangers that used to pass through her yard.

    A Rewarding Change of Pace

    For those of us accustomed to sitting at a desk all day, this was a welcome change. It was quite satisfying to literally see the group’s work tangibly take shape around us, including the perimeter fence and internal picket fence along the driveway.

    Although it was cold and the work physically demanding, the chance to join together with other section members and Revitalize Milwaukee staff made for a fun and rewarding day. The section looks forward to partnering with Revitalize Milwaukee on future projects.

    It was particularly gratifying to see the homeowner’s pride and satisfaction in receiving this much-needed improvement to her property. The work done by Revitalize Milwaukee is helping to build stronger and more stable neighborhoods.

    Brian Smigelski and Shawn Govern

    Two of the volunteers in front of the fence they built, from left: Brian Smigelski of DeWitt LLP’s Milwaukee office, with Shawn Govern of DeWitt LLP’s Milwaukee Office and a board member for Revitalize Milwaukee.

    You’re Invited: Join Us Next Time

    The Construction and Public Contracts Law Section will do this again. Next time, consider joining us! For more information, contact Jane Corkery via email.

    completed fence

    The completed fence provides a safe playing area for the homeowner’s young children.

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