By Edgar Mendez Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Dec 16, 2023 at 11:01 AM

After nearly five decades serving residents of Milwaukee’s central city, New Concept Self Development Center is closing.

Currently housed within the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 1531 W. Vliet St., the organization once served more than 7,000 families a year and ran a number of programs for youths, adults and families.

This included parenting classes, a driver’s license recovery program, GED classes and employment assistance services.

“It is very difficult to quantify our impact over the last 48 years,” said Maria Flores, executive director of New Concept. “We innovated numerous programs that changed people’s lives.”

According to New Concept Board Chair Ulla Pinion, the center never recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced it to pivot from face-to-face services to online.

“Programming and funding became more and more limited,” Pinion said. This resulted in the board voting to close New Concept during a meeting in October.

The center will close its doors for good Dec. 31.

“Its legacy is going to be all of the people you see in the community that have passed through New Concept’s doors,” Pinion said.

A history of innovation

Founded by June Perry and fellow social worker Geri McFadden in 1975, New Concept innovated culturally competent programming for African Americans in Milwaukee, Pinion said.

“There are a lot of organizations that just now do what New Concept was doing many years ago,” she said.

Some of New Concept’s successful programs over the years included the Each One Reach One girls mentoring program at the Hillside housing development; its model first time juvenile offenders program; prenatal care programs; and programs for men at the George M. Sanders Fathers’ Family Resource and Employment Center, located within its current facilities.

Terron Edwards, a current New Concept board member, was a participant in fatherhood programming at New Concept.

“That was when my boys were babies, and I was a teen dad,” Edwards said. “That was a time that I was really lost.”

Edwards said he learned many lessons from fatherhood mentors at New Concept, such as the purpose of being a father and how to help kids avoid childhood traumas you experienced. 

He said he took those lessons with him as he started his own fatherhood group at Northcott Neighborhood House and eventually launched his own organization, Fathers Making Progress.

Fathers Making Progress, which also is located at the King Community Center, will take over fatherhood programming from New Concept.

“The lessons and the integrity I gained at New Concept continue into what our movement has become,” Edwards said. “I’m proud to be able to continue that tradition.”

Edgar Mendez Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Edgar Mendez is a beat reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, covering Clarke Square, the neighborhood in which he lives. Prior to joining the team at NNS he was a feature writer for El Conquistador Newspaper in Milwaukee, and a web writer/reporter for in Racine.

Mendez, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, graduated from UW-Milwaukee, with a double major in Journalism and Media Communications and Sociology. In 2008, he won a Society of Professional Journalists' regional award for social columns dealing with diverse issues such as poverty, homelessness and racism. Currently, he's a master's degree student at the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.

His interests include scholastic research, social networking and the Green Bay Packers.