Bridge Builder: Bringing together people with different points of view to effect positive change.
Gary Kallas is the man behind the Willy Street Fair, Marquette Waterfront Festival and Atwood Fest, to name a few of Madison's most popular summer events.
As the executive director of the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center for the past 12 years, he is also instrumental in organizing the Orton Park Festival and La Fête de Marquette.
Kallas says the events are designed to celebrate what is good in the community and help build relationships among residents.
"We like being connected to other people, and these events make people feel connected," he says. "My role is to make these connections happen. That's my job and I love it."
Over the course of his tenure, Kallas helped grow these local events. This past summer, the five festivals he oversaw had a combined attendance of over 150,000 people.
While community is an important part of the festivals, they also contribute to the Wil-Mar center's bottom line. The money raised helps support the services the center provides to the Williamson Street and Marquette neighborhoods and their vulnerable residents. This support includes stocking the food pantry and providing meals for low-income seniors.
"When we build community together, we're doing good things for the community," Kallas says.
While Kallas is happy his work is being recognized, he credits the success of these events to the volunteers he works with.
I'm nothing without these folks," he says. "I'm just one person that works with hundreds of people to put these events on."