April 2018 Winner: Joella Striebel (La Crosse Area SURJ Barrier Busters Fund)

An update from Joella…

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a nationwide network of people, particularly white people, organizing for racial justice. SURJ envisions a society where we struggle together with love for justice, human dignity and a sustainable world. The La Crosse Area SURJ chapter maintains focus on promoting local education and awareness of racial injustice, building accountable relationships with local people of color-led organizations, and engaging in direct solidarity action supporting people of color in our community.

As part of our education efforts, we began hosting a book club/study group in 2017. The first two books we explored together were The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Push Out by Monique Morris, both of which address the school to prison pipeline and disproportionate incarceration rates for people of color, especially black people of color. We know that the state of Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of black men in the nation. We also know that having served time in prison is a significant barrier to employment, which, when coupled with implicit racial bias in hiring practices, serves to make many people of color transitioning from incarceration virtually unemployable.

We were moved to support people of color transitioning from incarceration in the La Crosse community. We worked with Project Proven, a collaborative effort between Western Technical College and the La Crosse County jail, which supports inmates and those transitioning from incarceration in educational endeavors and job skills acquisition. Together, we developed the idea for the Barrier Busters fund, in order to meet the identified needs of expenses which are not covered by traditional financial aid. These expenses might include such things as welding masks or other program-specific supplies, clothing for job interviews, childcare to bridge the gap until paychecks are received, food and utility expenses, medical expenses such as eye exams, transportation costs, technology needed for students to participate in online courses, and more.

We established a fund through the Western Foundation with an ambitious initial 2018 fundraising goal of $12,000. The first $2000 raised would be disbursed directly to Project Proven for 2018 “Barrier Buster” expenses for people of color enrolled in the program, with the remaining $10,000 earmarked to start a sustainable endowment to provide these funds for years to come.

The community at the SOUP! Event clearly heard the need, and awarded us the proceeds from the evening, which put us well on our way to meeting our 2018 fundraising goal and allowed us to release $2000 to Project Proven ahead of schedule. In addition to the over $3800 we were awarded at SOUP, the event’s exposure of our project to local philanthropists and charitable organizations brought in over $6000 in additional donations. Together with other grants and private donations, we have far exceeded our fundraising goal for the year, and after releasing the initial $2000 to Project Proven, our fund currently stands at over $20,000, more than enough to secure an endowment, as well as allow us to set aside some of those funds for additional scholarships and needs that may arise between endowment disbursements.

In the time since our SOUP! win, the funds raised have supported several students of color enrolled in Project Proven. One student was provided with $250 towards a debt owed to the school which would have precluded her from continuing with her coursework had she been unable to pay it. Another student was provided with $150 in gift cards to Walmart and JC Penney in order to purchase clothing and food after this larger-bodied student found it difficult to find clothing in his size at thrift stores. A third student was provided $200 in rent assistance. Thanks to the generosity and compassion of the La Crosse Community and the effectiveness of the SOUP! Model, these three students have had extra support to start the new school year off on a path to success.

We at La Crosse Area SURJ and Project Proven cannot possibly express in words our gratitude to SOUP and to this community for supporting our project and helping to pave a path to success for people of color transitioning from incarceration in our community. If you would like to donate to ensure that our fund remains sustainable for years to come, contributions to the Barrier Busters fund can be made via The Western Foundation online donation form:


Under DONATION INFORMATION select “Other” as the Designation, then enter “SURJ” in the “Other” free text field.

Contributions can also be made by mail to the address below. Please include a note or a check memo stating “SURJ”.

Foundation Office
Coleman Center Room 130
400 7th Street North
La Crosse, WI  54601