Blog

Meet Hope

Headshot of Hope StewartMy name is Hope Stewart, Operations Coordinator with Great Rivers HUB. My role is to support Community Health Workers (CHWs) as they navigate through the system.

I am a certified CHW and have worked as a CHW at a local nonprofit. In total, I have more than 16 years of experience in the social services field.

I have a passion for making a positive impact in our community – “bringing unity to the community” is my goal. My experiences have allowed me the opportunity to support a diverse population. I am thrilled to be a part of Great Rivers HUB.

15 Questions for Hope

  1. What are you most excited about in your new position? Engaging with a diverse team
  2. Favorite color? I think all colors are unique and beautiful, but if I had to choose one, it would be red.
  3. Number of children? I have one biological daughter, but I have had the pleasure of raising many children.
  4. Least favorite household chore? Cleaning out the refrigerator
  5. Latest tidbit you’ve learned about United Way? I had fun helping with this year’s Day of Caring event and meeting all of the volunteers at lunch.
  6. Favorite recreational activity? I enjoy activity that involves water.
  7. Genre of music? I enjoy all of types of music.
  8. Most likely to order on a menu? Seafood
  9. Favorite movie? Faceoff with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage
  10. Most looking forward to in the first United Way campaign? The experience and networking
  11. Role model? My grandmother, who is 101 years old
  12. Favorite place to visit? Jamaica
  13. Guilty pleasure? Not having any weekend plans and being able to relax
  14. Memorable moment in the new job thus far? Our team-building event at the bowling alley
  15. Favorite thing about our community? The community offers a lot of cost-effective and free summer activities for all ages.

Meet Aron

Headshot of Aron NewberryHello! My name is Aron Newberry, the inaugural Workforce Development Manager at Great Rivers United Way’s Great Rivers HUB. My primary responsibility is to collaborate statewide in advancing the Community Health Worker (CHW) workforce, particularly in underserved rural communities.

Having previously served as the Director/Health Officer at the Trempealeau County Health Department and the La Crosse County Covid-19 Vaccine Coordinator, I have always embraced tackling new and complex problems. I firmly believe in seeking collaborative solutions with partners, engaging the community for feedback, and demonstrating the courage to make difficult decisions or changes.

The CHW workforce is essential for promoting health equity, improving access to care, and delivering culturally appropriate services. Their unique skills and community connections make them valuable assets in addressing health disparities to create healthier, more resilient communities.

15 Questions for Aron

  • What are you most excited about in your new position? I have successfully facilitated building bridges between communities at the County level, but this project has the capabilities to reach the much larger region of Western Wisconsin. I am excited to build/grow something to enhance the lives of all Wisconsinites. 
  • Favorite color? Blue
  • Number of children? 2
  • Least favorite household chore? Any inside chore.
  • Latest tidbit you’ve learned about United Way? There are 42 local United Way branches throughout Wisconsin as of 2023. 
  • Favorite recreational activity? Recreational boating. I don’t have one, but if you do, look me up. I’m a good time. 
  • Genre of music? Almost anything. It either needs to get me pumped up or to calm me down. Sad songs don’t usually make the cut.
  • Most likely to order on a menu? A taco…you can never go wrong with a taco or any of its brothers and sisters the burrito, quesadilla, enchilada, fajita, etc. 
  • Favorite movie? Gladiator
  • Most looking forward to the first United Way campaign? Helping to build/rebuild community. 
  • Role model? The late Senator Paul Wellstone who said, “We all do better when we all do better,” which is one of my core life principles/beliefs. We lost him too soon. 
  • Favorite place to visit? My folk’s home in Central Illinois, on the West facing front porch swing, in the summertime. Looking out over an ocean of corn while the sun goes down. Absolute perfection! 
  • Guilty pleasure? The NFL, what’s not to love? Throw in a little fantasy football amongst friends and you have a potent combination.
  • Memorable moment in the new job thus far? I think watching the first CHW class graduate. They do important work, and it isn’t easy. I’m inspired by anyone who commits to a process in service to others. The results may not be immediate, but the investment in people will pay dividends in time. 
  • Favorite thing about our community? La Crosse is really great. It is a nice small city with a little bit of everything. It has a great deal of history, it’s incredibly beautiful, and there is a good sense of community and stewardship.

Meet Jan

Headshot of Jan HenryJan Henry is new to Great Rivers United Way, but she is very familiar with non-profit organizations, and the great impact these organizations have throughout our community. Jan was the Finance & Operations Manager for the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra for eighteen years and had developed a new inspiration for the Arts and its impact on this area. Music truly is good for the soul.

As the Finance Director here at Great Rivers United Way, she’s excited about the opportunity to help support the community programs that make this area so special.

15 Questions for Jan

  1. What are you most excited about in your new position? Learning more about the agencies we collaborate with.
  2. Favorite color? Purple
  3. Number of children? 2
  4. Least favorite household chore? Cleaning the litter box.
  5. Latest tidbit you’ve learned about United Way? They do more for the region than I had originally thought.
  6. Favorite recreational activity? Reading
  7. Genre of music? Pop/Rock
  8. Most likely to order on a menu? Chimichangas
  9. Favorite movie? Any of the Batman movies.
  10. Most looking forward to in the first United Way campaign? Developing a full understanding of the campaign process.
  11. Role model? Giannis Antetokounmpo
  12. Favorite place to visit? Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  13. Guilty pleasure? Donuts
  14. Memorable moment in the new job thus far? Having to paint a picture of Teri during a staff meeting.
  15. Favorite thing about our community? The beauty

Meet Chuck & LuAnn Roth

Chuck & LuAnn Roth

Great Rivers United Way announces 2023-24 Campaign Co-Chairs

Great Rivers United Way is pleased to announce that Chuck and LuAnn Roth will serve as the nonprofit organization’s 2022-23 Campaign Co-Chairs.

Originally from Janesville, Chuck and LuAnn moved to the La Crosse area in 1988 when Chuck became Vice President and General Manager of WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire. LuAnn worked as a physical therapist at the time.

The Roths have a long history of volunteering for their local United Ways.

Prior to moving to La Crosse, Chuck and LuAnn lived in Eau Claire, where Chuck served on committees for the Eau Claire Area United Way. Once established in La Crosse, Chuck served on the Board of Directors for what was then known as the United Way of the La Crosse Area from 1992 to 1996. He was elected Board President 1995. More recently, Chuck and LuAnn served on Great Rivers United Way’s Campaign Cabinet in 2018 and 2019.

“Now that we are both retired, we felt this was the opportune time to serve as Campaign Co-Chairs and to do our part in supporting our United Way. We were honored to be asked and happy to say yes,” shared the Roths.

As Campaign Co-Chairs, Chuck and LuAnn will advocate in their personal and professional circles, as well as out in the community, to help raise funds for Great Rivers United Way. They will serve as a public face at events and in the media.

When asked what they were most looking forward to in the next year, Chuck and LuAnn said sharing the positive United Way story.

“GRUW serves such an important role in our community, and we are proud to support its purpose and mission..”

Great Rivers United Way accepts donations year-round at www.gruw.org/waystogive. Donations made by January 31, 2024, will be granted to local nonprofit programming throughout that year.

Meet Charity

Headshot of Elf on the Shelf Charity GivesalotHello! My name is Charity Givesalot, and I’m the newest member of Great Rivers United Way’s fundraising team. I came to GRUW from the North Pole, where I worked as a Scout Elf (aka an Elf on the Shelf). I’m very curious and love to learn. There’s nothing I like more than helping!

 

15 Questions for Charity

  1. What are you most excited about in your new position? I look forward to learning more about our communities’ needs and the many ways GRUW and its partner agencies are meeting them.
  2. Favorite color? Red.
  3. Number of children? None, but I really like kids!
  4. Least favorite household chore? Cleaning up after myself.
  5. Latest tidbit you’ve learned about United Way? Great Rivers United Way funds 51 programs offered by 27 agency partners. I hope to visit them all soon!
  6. Favorite recreational activity? Travel.
  7. Genre of music? Holiday.
  8. Most likely to order on a menu? Dessert! I have a sweet tooth.
  9. Favorite movie? Elf starring Will Ferrell (even though it’s not very realistic).
  10. Most looking forward to in your first United Way campaign? I get to lead this year’s Giving Tuesday efforts! You can learn more at www.gruw.org/givingtuesday!
  11. Role model? Santa – he’s the most giving person I know.
  12. Favorite place to visit? Home! The North Pole.
  13. Guilty pleasure? Getting into mischief.
  14. Memorable moment in the new job thus far? My colleagues gifted me an XXXXXS LIVE UNITED t-shirt on my first day. I love it!
  15. Favorite thing about our community? I like how generous people are. When they learn about an issue, they don’t hesitate to help solve it with gifts of time and treasure!

Carolyn’s Story

Close up of pregnant BIPOC woman's hands making a heart shape over her bellyCarolyn and her adoptive parents moved to La Crosse from California when she was in elementary school. Her father’s job kept him away from home for long periods of time, leaving Carolyn alone with her mother, who lived with untreated mental health issues.

Carolyn experienced things no child should. When her mother invited strangers into their home, Carolyn put herself in harm’s way to protect her little sister, who was born when Carolyn was nine. Many years passed before Carolyn disclosed the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of these predators.

When Carolyn got pregnant at age 19, she felt societal pressures to get married even though the relationship was abusive. After a routine screening for risk factors at a prenatal appointment, Carolyn was referred to United Way funded program Healthy Families.

Carolyn was assigned a Healthy Families social worker, and soon they were preparing her to be the best mother possible. For once, Carolyn, who grew up equating love to self sacrifice, was on the receiving end of help.

Carolyn found the courage to leave her husband when her daughter was 13 months old. Her social worker connected Carolyn with resources, several of which were United Way funded programs. She and her daughter ate at The Salvation Army, received clothing from New Horizons’ boutique, and moved into subsidized housing.

With her social worker’s help and a lot of grit, Carolyn created a one-year plan that included insurance, employment, and going to college. She accomplished all of this and more thanks to the foundation provided by United Way funded programs.

Twenty-ish years later, Carolyn has two degrees with a PhD in progress, two more beautiful children, and a career focused on uplifting and empowering women with stories like hers. Among her projects is Fierce Foundation, a self-sufficiency initiative she hopes one day can become a United Way program, bringing her journey full circle.

Imagine a Coulee Region where Carolyn and women like her are not defined by past traumas, but rather the perseverance it takes to overcome. It’s possible with a gift to Great Rivers United Way.

Meet Chris

Headshot of Chris BurksMy name is Chris Burks. I am passionate about making an impact on the youth and families in our community, whether it was volunteering with Big Brothers, Big Sisters when I was in college; to coaching youth athletes; to becoming a foster parent – all of which led me to becoming a Community Health Worker (CHW) for the La Crosse Area Family YMCA. It was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had. Helping our most vulnerable community members overcome barriers of health is extremely rewarding. This passion led me to the Great Rivers HUB, where I believe I can have a bigger impact on our community and spread the CHW workforce through out the state.

15 Questions for Chris

  1. What are you most excited about in your new position? Being able to help impact the CHW workforce in our community and the state.
  2. Favorite color? Carolina Blue
  3. Number of children? 4 – ages 12, 4, 3, and 6 months old. They definitely keep me on my toes with very little quite time.
  4. Least favorite household chore? Mowing the lawn and shoveling snow are a tie.
  5. Latest tidbit you’ve learned about United Way? I have been amazed with all the neat programs we offer.
  6. Favorite recreational activity? Sports (Hockey) and playing music (drums)
  7. Genre of music? I have a very wide range of musical tastes – my favorites are rock, hip hop, and musicals.
  8. Most likely to order on a menu? Cheese curds – I always order them when available.
  9. Favorite movie? Any of the Harry Potter movies.
  10. Most looking forward to in the first United Way campaign? Just seeing our community come together to support each other.
  11. Role model? My Grandpa – he set an amazing example of how to support and love your family.
  12. Favorite place to visit? Anna Maria Island – we went there as a family for Christmas last year.
  13. Guilty pleasure? Musical soundtracks
  14. Memorable moment in the new job thus far? Getting to hear Community Health Workers share their stories of all the amazing work they’re doing in the community.
  15. Favorite thing about our community? The way we come together to try and help others in our community.

Compass 2021: Taking a deeper look at Mental Health

Throughout the counties covered in the 2021 Compass Now Report (Buffalo, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau, and Vernon in Wisconsin and Houston in Minnesota), mental health was voted as the #1 or #2 top need by community stakeholders. In the consideration of top needs, mental health was identified separate from substance use disorders. Though many people suffer with both, mental health is recognized as something that affects all community members.

Compass Now uses two survey methods to gather data. A survey was sent to random households throughout the region. We refer to this as the Random Household Survey (RHS) or Random Sample. The same survey was made available for any community member to respond. We refer to this as the Convenience Survey (CS) or Convenience Sample. The two sets of responses are analyzed separately due to the different collection methods.

Demographic differences exist between the Random Sample and the Convenience Sample: the Convenience Sample was younger, more female, more racially and ethnically diverse, and included more people who rent than the Random Sample.

Consistently throughout each county in the report, Random Household Survey participants rated their overall mental health as good or excellent (85-92% of respondents). However, Convenience Sample participants rated their overall mental health lower in each county, with 54-68% rating their overall mental health as good or excellent. The same pattern exists for access to mental health care and affordability of mental health care. Random Household Survey respondents rated their access and ability to pay for mental health care better. Both groups rated the ability to pay for mental health care lower than the ability to access care.

The survey also asked about the level to which respondents cared about the issues of mental health and mental health stigma. Overall, Convenience Survey respondents had a higher level of concern about the issues of mental health and mental health stigma. See Figure 1.

Chart showing Compass survey results regarding mental healthFigure 1: RHS and CS Response Comparison of Survey Questions Involving Mental Health

Secondary data trends were analyzed alongside the Compass survey results to get a better understanding of what is happening in the community. In our region, the average number of mentally unhealthy days experienced by adults has risen, as well as the percentage of adults reporting frequent mental distress. In 2018, the most recent year of data, the average number of mentally unhealthy days in the past month for adults ranged from 3.6 to 4.5. The range in 2014 was 2.8 to 3.5. Additionally, between 12% and 15% of adults in the region experienced 14 or more days of poor mental health per month in 2018. The range in 2014 was 8% to 11%.

Mental health has been identified as a top need in the region for several iterations of Compass. It has proven to be a complex problem with no easy solutions.

At Great Rivers United Way we fund programs that help support resilience and mental wellness as well as programs that help support those suffering with mental illness. Additionally, we are involved in community coalitions and efforts to raise awareness of mental health and develop solutions and strategies for the community.

What can businesses do? All people have mental health and encouraging mental wellness is one role that employers can do to help support employees. Offering an Employee Assistance Program as a benefit is one formal way to support employee mental health. Another way employers can support employees is to recognize mental health similar to physical health. Normalize using sick leave for mental health and work with employees to accommodate mental illness through flexible hours, remote work, or other solutions that will help the employee complete work.

What can you do? Normalize talking about mental health. We all have mental health and we need to eliminate any shame associated with mental illness. Learn the signs of suffering. The Campaign to Change Direction lists the signs of suffering as: personality change, agitated,  withdrawn, poor self-care, and hopelessness. If you see these signs – reach out. In fact, keeping in touch with friends and family in general is something that everyone can do to support mental health and reduce isolation – for yourself and for those you care about. Everyone likes to know that someone is thinking of them and you will feel good in doing so.

Our challenge to you: give someone a call to check in. You’ll be glad you did.

Learn more about the mental health data in Compass Now at www.compassnow.org.

If you or someone you know are in need of mental health resources, call 211. If someone is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or text HOPELINE to 741741.

Meet Anne

Headshot of Anne PaapeAnne Paape is new to Great Rivers United Way, but she is very familiar with the inspiring success stories of volunteers at work in our area communities. Anne was the News Director at WKBT News 8 Now for 30 years, in addition to anchoring newscasts and reporting earlier in her career at both WKBT and WXOW. She’s planned local news coverage for everything from Presidential visits to flooding clean-up efforts and school fundraisers. For some, she’s simply known as the “Pet of the Week lady” because of the hundreds of feature stories she’s done on animals at the Coulee Region Humane Society in need of a new home.

As the Community Engagement Coordinator here at Great Rivers United Way, she’s excited about the opportunity to help support community programs that help make this area a great place to live, work, and call home.

15 Questions for Anne

  1. What are you most excited about in your new position? I’m really excited to grow the Read to Success program so we can recruit more volunteers to work with more third grade readers in area schools. It’s a tremendous program!
  2. Favorite color? Blue.
  3. Number of children? One son, Josh. He’s getting married in August and we’re thrilled to add fiancé Erin to our family.
  4. Least favorite household chore? Vacuuming the dog hair off the stairs. Ugh.
  5. Latest tidbit you’ve learned about United Way? We get to share our office building with an adorable sheepadoodle puppy who loves visitors. I’m a regular!
  6. Favorite recreational activity? I love to garden and grow both vegetables and flowers.
  7. Genre of music? Not really a genre, but I’m a big U2 fan and really miss Tom Petty.
  8. Most likely to order on a menu? Anything with blue cheese.
  9. Favorite movie? The African Queen. Katharine Hepburn was fierce.
  10. Most looking forward to in the first United Way campaign? Being part of a team focused on problem solving.
  11. Role model? My grandmother. She was the most accepting and kindest person I’ve ever known.
  12. Favorite place to visit? Italy. I’ve been lucky enough to visit there twice and look forward to a return trip at some point.
  13. Guilty pleasure? Going back to sleep on weekends after getting up to feed the dogs. For the record it’s a rare guilty pleasure.
  14. Memorable moment in the new job thus far? I got to sit in on a Read to Success tutoring session and experience the strong connection between one of our tutoring volunteers and a third grade reader. It made my heart happy.
  15. Favorite thing about our community? I’m continually amazed by how willing people are to help when they know there’s a need. It’s something very special about this area.

United We Stand, 20 years later

On the morning of September 11, 2001, a dozen or so volunteers gathered in our basement. They were at our office in Onalaska learning the ins and outs of Great Rivers United Way – knowledge they would share while making campaign presentations on our behalf.

Upstairs, the radio was on. Music and the morning news were playing in the background when suddenly, regularly scheduled programming was interrupted by a DJ saying that something had happened in New York City. Staff turned on an office TV just as the second plane hit.

Our annual Campaign Kick-Off Breakfast was set to take place on September 12. We considered cancelling, but ultimately decided that this event was a much-needed opportunity for our community to come together during this difficult time. What is typically a celebratory event was transformed into a much more somber affair, complete with red, white, and blue table cloths and napkins.

We began with a moment of silence. Then, a heartfelt invocation honored those who had lost their lives. In an unplanned act of patriotism, 2001-02 Campaign Chair Dave Trapp stood up and led the whole room in the singing of “God Bless America,” a spontaneous moment that remains etched in the hearts of the staff who were there.

Like others in our community, our country, and across the world, Great Rivers United Way staff felt a mix of emotions, including anger and fear. We questioned why this had happened, and from 1,071 miles away, we wondered what we could do to help while simultaneously feeling very helpless.

Our office started receiving phone calls right away. People wanted to help, and they saw us a resource for doing so. We knew, at a minimum, that our United Way had the capacity to serve as a clearing house for donations, just as we have more recently for flood and COVID-19 relief. The local media knew this, too, and they reached out to partner with us.

“United We Stand,” a September 11 Fund donation drive, took place on October 11, 2001. For 13 hours on a warm and sunny fall day, WKBT-TV, WXOW-TV, WLAX-TV, KQEG-TV, La Crosse Radio Group, Family Radio Group, the La Crosse Tribune, and Charter Communications – with help from Community Credit Union, Collins Sign Company, and CenturyTel – pooled their collective power with a unified message.

With collection sites at the La Crosse Center and the Onalaska Omni Center, the public came out all day long to participate in the event. Both radio groups had live remotes from the sites all day, and the television stations conducted interviews for their newscasts. The Tribune promoted and covered the event.

Local response to help those in need was overwhelming. Children who had been saving for a special purchase brought coins in baggies. The student senate at one of our middle schools donated $500 from its school enhancement fund. An area bank pledged $1 for every guestbook signature they received, and $5,000 was raised.

Nearly $33,000 was raised during the one-day event. In total, Coulee Region residents donated $44,478.39 to the Fund. In addition, hundreds of messages of encouragement, sympathy, and patriotism were sent from the Coulee Region out East.

To say that a lot has changed in 20 years is an understatement. We will never forget September 11, 2001. We will never forget how our community came together following that tragedy – and others since it – and we are thankful that Great Rivers United Way continues to be looked at as a source of hope and help.

Open Your Heart.

Lend Your Muscle.

Join The Movement.