County Staff Share What They Learned After 1 Year of Racial Equity Training

Written by Kaitlyn Bernarde

In early 2019, a select group of Marathon County employees formed a local GARE team to participate in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) learning community.

The team consists of MaiGer Moua of United Way of Marathon County, as well as several staff from Marathon County Government, including:

  • Brad Karger (Administration Department)
  • Jonette Arms and Pa Thao (Aging and Disability Resource Center)
  • Dominque Swangstu and Andy Lynch (Conservation, Planning, & Zoning Department)
  • Ashley Lange (County Board of Supervisors)
  • Judy Burrows (Health Department)
  • Brianna Wright and Kaitlyn Bernarde (UW-Extension)
Marathon County team members at the October GARE graduation in Madison, WI. (Left to right) Back row: Dominique Swangstu, Brad Karger, Jonette Arms. Front row: MaiGer Moua, Judy Burrows, Kaitlyn Bernarde, Pa Thao. (Photo courtesy of Judy Burrows.)

GARE is a national network of local and regional governments that utilizes partnerships, tool kits, and research to work toward the goal of achieving racial equity and improving opportunities and life outcomes for all. The initiative began in early 2014 as a joint project between Race Forward and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Its approach doesn’t focus on closing the gaps in communities; instead, GARE focuses on improving outcomes for everyone. GARE leads with racial equity (rather than gender, disability status, or income class inequity) because racial inequities are deep and pervasive in multiple success factors, such as jobs, health, housing, and education. GARE leads with governments because they’ve played a significant role in creating and maintaining racial inequities — both implicitly and explicitly. For example:

Explicitly — Passing and enforcing laws that decided:

  • Who could vote
  • Who could own property
  • Who could marry whom
  • Whose military service would be honored, and whose would not

Implicitly — Not using race-neutral policies and practices that unknowingly cause negative consequences:

  • When meetings are held
  • Where jobs are posted
  • When deciding which programs or problems are focused on and which are not

Through legislation and Supreme Court rulings, most explicit racial inequity is no longer law; however, racial disparities still exist. Race is complex and GARE has created tools that help advance racial equity when government decisions are being made in regard to such things as policies, practices, programs, and budgets.

GARE logo

As members of the Wisconsin GARE cohort, the group participated in monthly peer exchanges, trainings, and assignments to learn more about GARE’s offerings, hear municipality success stories, and understand work currently happening by fellow cohort members.

This information was disseminated to county-level staff and leadership at Marathon County’s MLK “Day On” in-service gathering, January 20, 2020.

GARE members Dominque Swangstu, Judy Burrows, and Andrew Lynch gave an overview of their experience this past year with GARE at the MLK “Day On” event. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Bernarde.)

The group is assisting the Marathon County Diversity Affairs Commission with creating a proposal to add Objective 3.8 to the Marathon County Strategic Plan (2018–2022):

Ensure Marathon County is an open, inclusive, and diverse place to live and work.

The team is utilizing components of GARE’s Racial Equity toolkit to recommend appropriate goals, strategies, actions, and outcome measures to execute the new objective.


The completed proposal will then go to Marathon County’s Extension, Education, & Economic Development Committee.

Each Marathon County service and department is affected by racial inequities — whether through its program offerings, services provided, hiring practices, meeting times, or other systems or facets of government.

If you’re interested in learning more about GARE — or have a suggestion for the team — please feel free to reach out to any GARE team member through their respective affiliation.

Implementing racial equity strategies is just one way that Marathon County Government leaders and community members can work toward our shared goal of being the healthiest, safest, and most prosperous county in Wisconsin.

Kaitlyn_BernardeKaitlyn Bernarde

4-H Program Coordinator  |  University of Wisconsin Extension–Cooperative Extension

Kaitlyn Bernarde is the Marathon County 4-H Program Coordinator for UW-Extension, where she has worked since April 2018. She is a graduate of Marathon High School, has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, divides her time between volunteer management and expanding access to 4-H programs. Her passion is strengthening Marathon County youth and adults via education, opportunities, and experiences. In her free time, you can find her exploring Wisconsin with her husband, consuming the news of the day, and trying a new cup of coffee with her family.  Email Kaitlyn Bernarde.

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