Wisconsin Works for Everyone, Gov. Scott Walker’s landmark welfare reform package, carries the promise of gainful employment and second chances for thousands of able-bodied Wisconsinites currently dependent on the Badger State’s welfare system.

Hundreds of Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin activists across the state worked hard to make welfare reform a reality by canvassing door-to-door, making phone calls and testifying before the Joint Committee on Public Benefit Reform in the Wisconsin State Capitol.

The impact of Wisconsin Works for Everyone will be tremendous for the state – and no one knows this better than Jamiroquan Kittler and Andrew Dellinger.

Kittler and Dellinger, two AFP-Wisconsin field directors, took a moment to share their personal experiences growing up on welfare. The pair said the enactment of welfare reform gives them hope for the future of the state and those currently dependent on welfare in Wisconsin.

Jamiroquan Kittler’s Story: Welfare Reform Encourages Independence

Born and raised by their mother on Milwaukee’s north side, Kittler and his two younger sisters experienced welfare firsthand.

“My mother was on welfare – and so was I, when I lost my part-time position later in life. It was discouraging for me, but it was also motivation for me to get up and do the right thing.”

Kittler elaborated: “I’ve seen welfare dependence in my own neighborhood and, as a kid, I saw friends who had to talk to social workers and collect welfare checks. Today, some of those same people are still dependent on the system. Getting welfare reform done was personal for me, because I went through it – that’s where I lived, my neighborhood growing up, affected by welfare.”

Family Matters 

Kittler’s father was involved with drugs when he was a child, which led to a distant relationship for years. In his teens, Kittler’s father got in a car accident, lost his memory and “was given a second chance at life.”

His father went on to start a construction business and turned his life around. His father’s transformation and work ethic, inspired Kittler to want to be his own boss and eventually start his own record label and management company.

Kittler stated, “It was healthy for me, learning that success can happen without depending on others. I saw [what my dad was doing] and understood that I could make it on my own.”

Involvement in the Political Process

After the success of his business and frustration with high taxes, Kittler began volunteering at local political events.

At a meeting with AFP Field Director Chris Lawrence, he learned about Americans for Prosperity and started volunteering, later becoming a field associate and eventually a field director with AFP-Wisconsin.

“Being able to talk to people over the phones and in the office about welfare reform is so important,” Kittler said. “Welfare reform encourages independence and gives people the motivation to get up and find opportunity for themselves.”

Kittler says that change in the community starts with the individual.

“There are so many things that need fixing. To me, when change needs to be made and you see it, you should act,” he stated. “In Milwaukee, there’s very little hope in so many of the neighborhoods. People need to be told that there is more out there for them than violence and dependency and depression. I want to be the inspiration and be the guy that people can point to and use an example that ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’”

Andrew Dellinger’s Story: How Welfare Reform’s Work Requirements Help Give Purpose

Andrew Dellinger’s mother is a first-generation American who immigrated from El Salvador as a young woman. His father, whose lifelong dream was to become a doctor, faced difficulties early in life due to a devastating motorcycle accident which cost him a leg.

Dellinger’s father overcame that obstacle and went on to graduate from college and later medical school at Ole Miss. He returned to his hometown to work as a doctor.

But a year into practicing medicine, Dellinger’s father passed away suddenly, leaving his mother to raise two young boys on her own.

“My mother, after that point, raised my younger brother and I on welfare,” Dellinger described. “She had just recently become a citizen, she didn’t have a college degree and she was depressed – her whole world had caved in on her. We relied on the voluntary support of family, but my mother turned to welfare. We went from going from the peak of the American Dream – my father had been a doctor – to asking, ‘how much is the government going to hand us this month’ and ‘can we make it?’”

Dellinger stressed the sense of hopelessness and frustration his mother experienced, which made it hard for her to keep a job. Determined to get off welfare and inspired by his father’s legacy and accomplishments, Dellinger developed a strong work ethic, holding many part-time jobs throughout his youth.

Growing up on welfare is the reason Dellinger now works for AFP, fighting to advance economic freedom and to help others achieve their own American Dream.

“I have empathy for people on welfare now. I’ve seen the positive and negative elements of welfare firsthand, but I also see the benefit of work over welfare for able-bodied people and how we can better enable people to choose work over welfare. Work is going to give you the purpose and value and meaning in your life that you’re looking for, and there’s longevity in it.”

AFP-Wisconsin in Action for Welfare Reform

Earlier this year, Dellinger testified in favor of Gov. Walker’s welfare reform proposal at the Joint Committee on Public Benefit Reform, sharing his story with Wisconsin legislators.

Dellinger and Kittler were later invited to Gov. Walker’s signing of the welfare reform law. Last month’s bill signing took place in three cities across the state.

Kittler attended the bill signing at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission and described the event as an overwhelmingly positive experience.

Dellinger attended the signing at the Marathon County Job Center in Wausau. He personally received one of the pens used to sign the “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” package into law.

“We made thousands of calls on welfare reform and that hard work yielded results. Without the efforts of [our volunteers] this wouldn’t be possible. I’m proud to have fought for this law and I’m proud to say Gov. Walker gave me one of the pens used to sign this bill into law. Hard work pays off,” Dellinger said.

When asked why he wants to continue working with AFP to advance economic freedom in Wisconsin, Dellinger stated, “I want to make it easier for my future children to have the same opportunities in this country that I’ve had. More options and more choices for more people is a good thing. I hope my kids are able to have the same American Dream that my father and I have both been able to pursue.”

Kittler added:

“I see welfare reform as a sign of hope, especially when the state’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s ever been. You have a group of individuals who aren’t working and you can motivate them to work, which will lead to an even lower unemployment rate. [Because of these reforms], there will be less reason for people to be dependent on the government.”

Chris RochesterChris Rochester is the Communications Director for the MacIver Institute. This story appears courtesy of the MacIver Institute.