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

February 2018 Winner: Lauren Hoefgen  (Monofilament fishing line recycling tubes)

An update from Lauren…

Five years ago, I moved to the La Crosse area in order to attend the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.  I quickly realized how beautiful La Crosse was and how many anglers utilize the rivers and lakes nearby, year-round. According to the Fish and Wildlife Services, 10s of thousands of birds, fish, and other aquatic animals die every year due to monofilament fishing line being improperly recycled.  Even if the fishing line is thrown into a garbage bin, birds often collect this fishing line to create their nests.  They then can get caught up in the line or ingest the line which can result in death.

Monofilament fishing line recycling tubes are the solution to this problem!  With the help of SOUP, I was able to raise over $2,000 which was able to produce 18 monofilament fishing line recycling tubes on French Island, Pettibone Park, around Lake Neshonoc in West Salem, and at the boat launches on the south side of La Crosse.  Each monofilament recycling location has the tube itself and a sign from the BoatUS Foundation and the DNR that express the importance of recycling the monofilament fishing line. The top of the tube has a curve on it, so that birds are unable to pick up the fishing line, but anglers are able to place their unwanted fishing line inside of it in order to be recycled. 

After the fishing line is in the recycling tubes, it will be collected 4 times a year and brought to the La Crosse DNR in order to be recycled.  The DNR will then send the fishing line to the Berkeley Conservation Institute.  The Berkley Conservation Institute is an organization out of Iowa that takes the fishing line and melts it down into plastic pellets in order to help create tackle boxes, fishing spools, and most importantly, fish habitats called Berkley Fish-Hab.  The fish habitats are the placed at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers, and provide a safe location to fish.  The first collection of the monofilament fishing line will be at the end of September.

I would like to thank everyone that has helped make this project possible including the student groups at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that will be collecting the monofilament fishing line, Volunteering Within, Delta Sigma Pi, and Students for Sustainability.  I would also like to thank everyone at the City of La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department, County of La Crosse Parks and Recreation, the Town of Campbell personnel, and the City of West Salem Parks and Recreation for helping complete this project!

If you are interested in continuing to make this project a success, please use the monofilament fishing line recycling tubes anytime you are fishing or see fishing line in the area.  If the tube is full, please feel free to bring the fishing line to the La Crosse DNR or other monofilament fishing line recycling location.  Thank you La Crosse SOUP for making this project come to life!

October 2017 Winner: Heather Stern (North Woods International Elementary School)

An update from Heather…

Thanks to SOUP and the LPEF, we were able to raise almost $10,000 to support Sammie’s training.  Sammie is an Educational Facility Dog (a school service dog).  Her role is greatly different than a 1:1 service dog.  As a 1:1 service dog, the dog’s role is to save it’s person’s life.  Sammie is not assigned to one person.  She works generally in a special education classroom.  The students who receives services in this room have an emotional-behavioral disability.   Sammie has completed her training with Retrieving Freedom, Inc (RFI) and now we consult when we need support or suggestions for new tasks she needs to learn.

At the beginning of the year, Scott, from RFI, came to North Woods to teach all the students at North Woods about service dogs, as part of the training plan for Sammie.  Scott taught the students how important a service dog’s job is.  The kids were also taught to always ask to pet a dog.  Even though Sammie’s role is different than a traditional service dog, she wears a vest at school to show she is working.  

Sammie’s day begins by greeting the students as they arrive to the classroom to check in for the day.  Typically 1-2 students will ask to lay with her.  These couple students sit or lay with her on the floor.  After the students transitions to their rooms for morning meetings, Sammie’s schedules varies day by day.  Her schedule is based on the students’ needs.  Some days she hangs out in my classroom and supports breaks for students who come in, taking a break from learning and regrouping.  Other days, she needs to go to classrooms to support select students who need her the most.  When she is in the room, she will stay by the assigned student and help him stay calm and focused in the classroom setting.  

Each day she gets to take off her vest and play with the students at recess.  She will play ball with anyone that will throw it to her.  And like most dogs, she also likes to play chase.  The students love the unstructured time with her and have all become accustom to her presence on the playground.

Sammie even attends school when I am out of the building.  I drop her off in the morning and she will work with a general education classroom for the day.  She fits right into all classes that she enters.  Initially it was a distraction as everyone was excited to see Sammie.  Now, she is a part of the staff.  The kids know she has a job to do and they have a job to do as well.  

The building atmosphere is different this year.  Sammie brings a smile to everyone’s face and has already taught the students so much about being respectful, responsible and safe.  She helps calm students down by sitting with them on a bench made especially for her.  

Thanks again for SOUP and the community’s support on this project.  We are so thankful to have Sammie as part of our staff!

July 2017 Winner: Jamie Korn (Family & Children’s Center)

An update from Jamie…

Imagine through no fault of your own, you live in a household where you love your parents but there is abuse, neglect, or drug use and you are no longer able to be cared for by your family.  You are removed from your home without any warning.  How does that feel?  Scary?!?! Intimidating?!?   Your entire world has been turned upside down. This is a reality for a number of youth that enter Foster Care in our community that didn’t ask for the life that has just been handed to them.

Once in Foster Care, it is a long road for both the foster parents and the youth to establish trust, build a positive relationship and work towards an uncertain future. Unfortunately,  youth are only guaranteed to stay in Foster Care until the age of 18 or until they graduate High School.

With that in mind, now imagine that you are six months away from graduation, and you are living in foster care. The realization kicks in that you will be an adult, no longer eligible to remain in your current home. Where are you going to live? Where are you going to work? How will you get to work? Will you be able to go to college? Navigating all of these challenges and more, is the reality for nearly all youth aging out of the foster care system. Rather than being a time of exciting opportunities, this can be an overwhelming time of challenges.

That’s where La Crosse SOUP comes in! You have made this time in their lives a bit less challenging by

providing youth aging out of the foster care system a transition tote full of essential basic supplies to set up a new household. The availability of items required to set up a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom will allow these young adults to focus on building the foundation for a better life.

With basic living needs in place, youth transitioning out of foster care will have one less barrier facing them as they enter into this new role of being on their own.  For kids growing up in the system, who haven’t had control over numerous aspects of their lives there is a tremendous pride that comes with having items of their very own.  Now they can begin to focus on accessing community resources, finding job,  applying for college, and building a life for themselves .  Family & Children’s Center is able to provide the services to wrap them in the support they need and teach them the skills that lead to self sufficiency through our Independent Living Program, but until now we have not had the resources to provide them with a tote.  This serves as a significant enhancement to the services we provide.  When individuals succeed and reach their potential communities succeed.  

Family & Children’s Center is so grateful to La Crosse SOUP dollars to build transition totes full of basic household supplies for these youth. Each tote will include a blanket and pillow, set of dishes and utensils, cookware, kitchen and bath towels, shower liner and hooks.  Each tote costs approximately $123.  

This past year, Family & Children’s Center served 95 young adults aging out of the foster care system. In La Crosse we serve  approximately 10 to 15 youth a year.   We are now able provide a year’s worth of transition totes to La Crosse youth.

Family & Children’s Center is so grateful for the opportunity to share with you our vision for setting up these young adults with the essential items to start a home.  Your gift allows us to take it to the next level and provide this vulnerable population, with the support and tools to carry them forward on their journey.   Therefore strengthening our community.

So far we have only distributed one tote to a youth. She was very appreciative of the things in the tote. There were things in the tote that she had not even thought about purchasing as she made the transition of being on her own. For example specifically she was appreciative of the silverware and toilet paper! It’s the simple things that can be forgot about!! We have two more youth that will be receiving shortly.  After the pitch we had two individuals reach out to sponsor totes!  From this event it provided a lot of positive awareness for our program.

Thank you for your time and investment!

Here is a breakdown of items La Crosse Soup provided to our community:

Thank you to La Crosse Soup for this incredible gift!

September 2016 Winner: Laquita Becker (Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse)

An update from Laquita…

Who are you?
I am Laquita Becker and I am the Youth and Family Service Director at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse. In my role, I am in charge of addressing the behavioral and mental health needs with Boys and Girls Club members. Part of that includes focusing on the character and leadership among youth.

Why did you pitch?
I pitched because I was working with a group of high school students who were part of the leadership program called Keystone. Keystone is a program through the Boys and Girls Club of America that focuses on developing leadership qualities among teens and touches on for pillar areas. These areas include academic success, servant leadership, college preparation, and teen outreach. Overall, it helps youth develop positive leadership skills and qualities.

What was your pitch?
I pitched to take the Keystone group on a leadership retreat where they could be provided with various opportunities to expand their leadership skills.  We won almost $1000 for this retreat!

What is the status of your pitch?
I have connected with a Keystone advisor from the Boys and Girls of the Twin Cities. We plan to coordinate the trip for the last weekend of July where we will bring the Keystone club up to the cities. We are in the process of planning activities related to a service project, career preparation, and that can provide a fun experience.

July 2016 Winner: Jed Olson

An update from Jed…

After discussions with other parents at State Road School, there was interest in improving the forest and trails behind the school.  The forest has waxed and waned in student use over the years, and lately has shown the signs of neglect and lack of management.  Invasive species and unsustainable trails have made the forest difficult to use and threaten the health of the forest.  As we began to devise a plan to move forward, we decided to “pitch SOUP” as a way to jumpstart the fundraising efforts needed to begin developing a plan for the forest.  Last summer’s SOUP crowd was receptive to the idea of the project and we walked away with $655 to start the process.  We were able to partner with the Outdoor Recreation Alliance, a local nonprofit focusing on developing and protecting recreational opportunities in the area and became one of their focus programs.  Some additional private fundraising allowed us to apply for, and receive, a mini grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation.  The funds raised have allowed the needed time and effort to develop a partnership with the city and county, who own the land, as well as State Road School and Hillview Health Care Facility, who’s students, staff and residents will greatly benefit from the project.  We have also held several forest work days and two community input sessions.  

The City and County have both been receptive to the work we are doing and are thrilled to have a group willing to put in efforts needed to develop these goals.  The Outdoor Recreation Alliance continues to be the clearing house for local recreation projects and has been very supportive of this particular project.  We are continuing to work with the city and county to develop agreements to move forward with more detailed plans and the City of La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry department has suggested that they will be improving the pathway between State Road School and Chad Erickson Memorial Park so it can be used year-round and by a more diverse population, giving access to green spaces to more and more people.  

We are continuing to raise the funds needed to develop detailed studies and plans of the area and implement improvements that will increase community health through education, conservation, and recreation on the property.  If your business or organization sees the value in this type of community development, please give us a call or send an email, and we’ll work to develop a positive partnership.  

If you would like to stay up to date on upcoming events and efforts, you can check out our Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/laxcommunityforest/ or website www.laxcommunityforest.org (coming soon) where you can also make online contributions.

Thank you to all who have supported us on this project,


Jed Olson

Project Coordinator

If you have further questions or would like to donate, you can contact us at:

La Crosse Community Forest
Outdoor Recreation Alliance
PO Box 173
La Crosse, WI 54602

(Checks can be made out to “ORA Forest”)

forest@oradriftless.org 608-313-4435