Wisconsin Bookworms

Planting the Seed of Excitement for Reading at an Early Age


We’ve been hearing it for years: parents aren’t reading to their children enough.  One 2013 study from the School Library Journal sites that two-thirds of parents don’t read to their children every night.  Another 2016 survey from group Read Aloud 15 Minutes found that half of all parents read aloud to their children on a daily basis, and only 34% of parents read aloud to their children every day.  The list goes on.

The Green Lake Home and Community Education Wisconsin Bookworms project is actively making a difference to bridge this gap.  The program was developed in an effort to provide free books to children who may not otherwise be able to own them.  Wisconsin Bookworms promotes reading by giving preschool children the experience of having someone read to them.  By reading aloud to young children and providing them with free books of their own, these volunteers are providing this critical activity that so many parents are ignoring.  

Filling a Community Need


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Reading to young children helps them develop a love of reading along with an enthusiasm for learning.  Children from families with limited incomes may not have the opportunity to own many books.  According to the US Department of Education “some experts believe that for America’s poorest children, the biggest obstacle to literacy is the scarcity of books and appropriate reading material. In many homes, particularly those with adult non­readers, there simply aren’t any books appropriate for young children”.

There is considerable evidence of a relationship between reading regularly to a child and that child’s later reading achievement.  It is based on research indicating that literacy is key to staying in school and out of trouble.  Studies show that parents who are given books and a prescription for reading by their children’s pediatricians are four times more likely to read and share books with their young children.  Children who are read to frequently are nearly twice as likely as other children to show three or more skills associated with emerging literacy.  Wisconsin Bookworms brings together readers, mentors, and children on a regular basis throughout the school year.

This past academic year, Wisconsin Bookworms in Green Lake County provided a set of eight books to 170 three and four year old children in early childhood, Head Start, and 4K programs.  Each month, fifteen volunteers read books to the children, engaged them in a related activity, and gave the child the book to take home to keep, and read at home.  That’s a staggering 1360 books and over 500 volunteer hours reading to children!

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The Green Lake County Area United Fund is proud to have supported the Green Lake Home and Community Education Wisconsin Bookworms program!  To learn more about a Wisconsin Bookworms program in your area visit the main Wisconsin website.  And, if you’re a children’s book enthusiast, check out the 2017-2018 reading list!


About the author:  Kristopher Ulrich is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.  His favorite children’s book is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  

Project CURB

Collectively Upgrading, Restoring, and Beautifying our schools.

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According to Forbes, we only get a seven second window to make a first impression before someone makes a judgement.  As humans we instinctively make quick judgements, and then stick with those preconceptions until they are challenged.  This hangs over how we perceive and interact with that which we’ve judged for months or even years!

The average age of an Oshkosh Area School District building is 78 years.  That’s a long time!  An onslaught of images comes to mind when I think of structures of that age, predominantly the beautiful brickwork featured on so many of our schools, but with anything there are pros and cons.  During a community listening session hosted by Oshkosh4Education (O4E), community members indicated that unwelcoming entrances, overgrown foliage, and neglected walkways gave visitors an unfavorable impression of our school district.  

Thanks to these community listening sessions and citywide support from groups like the Oshkosh Area School District (OASD), Oshkosh Area Community Foundation (OACF), Partners at Learning (PALS), community activists, and Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO) from the schools, Project CURB arose from the marketing arm of O4E under the leadership of Beth Wyman.

Project CURB was announced to the Oshkosh community at large during a launch event on April 27th at Webster Stanley Middle School.  It is a community-driven effort to improve the curb appeal at all public schools, with the mission to collectively upgrade, restore, and beautify our schools.  

What is the end-goal of Project CURB?

On Saturday, September 23rd between 8:00-12:00 every public school in the district will get a makeover, so to speak.  Project CURB will ensure that the exteriors of our schools match the academic excellence taking place inside.  Thousands of volunteers will come together to: paint, update signage, add bike racks, install benches, plant trees, bushes, and flowers, and so much more!

In addition to the physical upgrades to the exteriors of our schools, Project CURB will have long-lasting intrinsic rewards for our community.  Personally, this project will increase home property values, strengthen neighborhoods, and boost community pride.  Economically, this project will help promote Oshkosh as a destination district, and attract new students and families to our schools.

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How can I get involved?

By now you might be saying to yourself, “Self, this is terrific!  How do I get involved?!”  There are three things that you can do to make a substantial impact:

  1. VOLUNTEER – Project CURB needs upwards of 2000 volunteers to make this blitz a successful reality.  Signup here 
  2. DONATE – For those who prefer to volunteer with their wallets, all donations are meaningful!  Project CURB is seeking $200,000 to fund all of their renovations.  Updates for each school have been decided upon by school principals and PTO groups.  Donate here 
  3. SPREAD THE WORD – The success of projects like these depend on people like you sharing your excitement and determination for our shared goals.  Share this blog post on your favorite social media platform like Facebook, send it in an email, or print it out and post it in the office by the water cooler.  Do anything that you can to drive conversations and engagement.  Our students will thank you!

For up-to-date information be sure to follow O4E on Facebook or read more on their website.  If you’d like to talk to someone face-to-face, consider stopping by the O4E booth at the Oshkosh Farmers Market most Saturdays from now through September.  

About the author:  Kristopher Ulrich is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.  He enjoys gardening and landscaping projects, and therefore has signed up as a volunteer for Project CURB at Oshkosh North High School.  

About the interviewee:  Kelly Laux is a small business owner specializing in marketing and design for the food industry.  She is a volunteer for Project CURB and O4E at large.  She has contributed years of volunteer service to our community, including over a decade of service to the Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.



We are back!  (YAY!)

As part of an ongoing effort by the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation to increase the visibility of our donors, partners, and agencies within the community, we’ve decided to invest in a blog with regular posting times!

So what?

So now we have another tool with which to engage our community.

What’s a blog like anyway?

Think of a blog as a story that’s longer than a Facebook post yet shorter than an article in one of our annual reports.  Blogs provide us with a vehicle to showcase stories about our donor advised funds, scholarship and grant recipients, and special projects within our service area.  

Why bother?

Well, quite simply our constituents media consumption trends are changing!  In 2016 we partnered with the Business Success Center at UW-Oshkosh to to survey a cross-section of our service area about dozens of community foundation items.  The data showed us that:

  • 49% of respondents hear about OACF activities from friends & family
  • 31% of respondents would pay most attention to OACF news in a digital format (vs. print)
  • 22% of respondents want more frequent information on OACF activities


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What now?

Expect a fresh blog at the beginning of every week full of more donor stories, more grant stories, and more project stories.  We will also be featuring guest bloggers throughout the year from partner agencies and affiliates.  If there’s a particular topic you’d like to learn more about, let us know!  


About the author:  Kristopher Ulrich is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.  He enjoys woodworking, gardening, and singing with his wife.  

Donors + Passion = Accomplishment

Directly across the street from Webster Stanley Elementary School on Miller’s Bay is one of the best natural ice skating rinks you can find during the winter months.

As Steve Eliasen and Dr. Eric Smiltneek were gliding across the glass-like surface a few years ago, they wondered why more people didn’t take advantage of the resource – especially the school children directly across the street.

That one curious moment lead to a series of offerings in Oshkosh schools that are opening children’s eyes to new possibilities.

While Mother Nature delivered a shortened winter season in 2016-17, last school year, more than 1,300 children learned to ski or skate from Eliasen, Smiltneek and a small group of volunteers. The accomplishment is one that produces magical, tingly feelings for those who made it happen — a couple of outdoor recreation enthusiasts, many encouraging, open-minded educators, a few philanthropists and companies that value a community’s health and well-being.

Donations have provided skates, skis and other equipment to keep the program going, and growing.

Supporters Bradford and Maureen Lasky found the program to be the perfect fit for their passion for skiing and the philanthropic goals of their donor advised fund.

“I have a love — as does Maureen has a love — for the skiing world,” Bradford says.

Maureen and Bradford Lasky, pictured in Beaver Creek, Colo., are passionate about skiing and love that through, their Donor Advised Fund with the Foundation, they can support a Dr. Eric’s Skate Club and ski and skate school lessons through Oshkosh’s public schools.

Bradford spent a few years after college teaching snowboarding in Beaver Creek, Colo. “Seeing the kids progress and gain confidence, and being a part of that development, is really rewarding to see,” he says.

“I think what it does is it keeps kids active in the wintertime, which I think is a very important piece, and some of what it does — and this is what I saw when I was teaching — is the confidence that it builds in the kids, and to teach them to take a risk, to learn and to grow.”

Eliasen, an Oshkosh Area School District Board member and International Youth Sailing of Oshkosh executive director, and Smitneek, a physician, have been working to expose children to outdoor recreation for years.

In the warm months, International Youth Sailing teaches youth in public and private schools in Oshkosh how to sail. In the winter, the program morphs into skate and ski lessons for all public grade school students. In addition, each Thursday anywhere from 40 to 100 students from the Lighted Schoolhouse program at Webster Stanley Elementary skate as part of Dr. Eric’s Skate Club after school.

Steve Eliasen instructs Webster Stanley Elementary School Students on the basics of cross country skiing during a February field trip at Miller’s Bay.

The idea for the ski and skate lessons came as Eliasen and Smitneek were cross-country skiing across Miller’s Bay one Sunday morning, admiring the amazingly smooth surface of the ice in the bay.

“Initially, we thought why don’t’ we get these kids, especially the kids right across the street at Webster, out on the ice skating,” Eliasen said.

The idea grew, and soon donors, including Bradford and Maureen Lasky, quickly stepped up to support it. Sponsors were excited about it, too, with ThedaCare supporting the purchase of skates, the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin supporting helmets and Play It Again Sports helping with the bulk purchase of both helmets and skates. Expanding the program to each public grade school student was embraced by teachers and principals throughout the district.

“For me, without sailing and skiing, I would not be the person I am today,” says Eliasen. “I had a great career in photography and I don’t’ know if I would have had that without skiing.”

Eliasen and Smiltneek are persistent in their search for funding sources to acquire more equipment in more sizes as the program expands. The program has included Saturday morning learn-to-ski sessions at Garbage Hill, and a downhill ski club trip to Nordic Mountain on Sundays. Of course, Mother Nature has limited those opportunities this year.

Last school year, Eliasen also coordinated a ski trip for a small group of students to go skiing in Mont-Tremlant, Quebec, which will be offered again this year.

“Steve he has seen the success in the sailing program and that it’s possible to reach every child,” says Lasky, and that exposure may grow into a lifelong love and passion. Even the small moments can make a big difference.

To support the sailing, skating and skiing experiences for Oshkosh students, please contact Karlene Grabner at Karlene@oshkoshareacf.org or 920-426-3993.

City draws support to restore cemetery

There are 1,643 graves with stone markers in the City of Princeton Cemetery. Notably, 43 are the graves of Civil War veterans and two are veterans of the War of 1812. They lie among the memorials to veterans of other battles, the region’s first settlers and generations of families. And an unknown number of poor and indigent residents remains are buried in potter’s field.

City employee Cheryle Nickel calls the burial site a treasure — a rich source of the community’s history and the legacy of its founders. That’s why she was so disappointed at what she saw when she looked for her grandfather’s gravestone.

“We were walking along and we started to see broken stones and trees growing through them. It just looked horrible out there,” she said. “It’s a disgrace.”

DSC_0696City employees Cheryle Nickel, Lee Williams and Mary Lou Neubauer

Walking Tour Aug. 26, 2017

A Guided Cemetery Walking Tour is set for Aug. 26, 2017. For information, contact City Hall in Princeton at (920) 295-6612, stop in at 531 S Fulton Street, or contact via email cnickel@cityofprincetonwi.com


To contribute to the Princeton Cemetery Restoration Project, call Cheryle Nickel at 920-295-6612 or go to http://www.cityofprincetonwi.com/index.asp.

Decades of damage from the over growth of trees, vegetation, weather and vandals have taken its toll on the cemetery. Hundreds of gravestones are estimated to be in need of repair or restoration.

“We went to (City Administrator) Mary Lou and asked ‘What can we do?’ ” Nickel says.

The conversation lead to a multi-faceted, in-depth cemetery restoration project that residents of this city of 1,200 in western Green Lake County have embraced. The project includes cataloguing each gravesite and collecting history of those buried, rededicating potter’s field and war memorials, the restoration of original maps and documentation — all culminating in a series of tours and performances where local residents will act out the history of the city’s founding residents.

All totaled, the estimated cost is $150,000.

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Before and after restoration

The entirely donor supported project is slowly making progress from funds raised through bake sales, brat frys, a flower sale, a meat raffle and a silent auction.

Grants from foundations, like the one awarded by the Green Lake County/Ripon Community Foundation last year, help a lot, says Mary Lou Neubauer, city administrator. With $7,000 raised so far, the project is certainly going for long-term status. And the city is OK with that, says Nickel.

“Each year, we raise money for the next year’s restoration work,” Nickel says. The city is working with Shane Peik, who operates Monumental Cleaning and Restoration LLC. Peik helps identify which gravestones can be repaired based on the amount of money available. Last year, 12 gravestones were restored.

Neubauer says getting community backing has been easy.


“We have seen a kind of resurgence with the support for preserving history, with a lot of downtown building restorations happening in the region,” she says. “We lose a lot through modernization, and I think that’s why the community has embraced this.”

This is evidenced in thousands of dollars raised through grassroots bake sales and raffles, to a community clean up day.

“To me, it’s kind of like sitting in history class in high school. When you go to the cemetery, the history of your city is right there. You hear the stories of who they were and what they did and didn’t do. I’m just a history nut that way.”

— Shane Peik, of Monumental Cleaning and Restoration, LLC

Peik, from the Chilton area, has restored dozens of gravestones in the Princeton Cemetery since the restoration project began two years ago. He says most of the cracks and broken pieces can be repaired with a natural bonding material, or epoxy as a last resort. Special agents will clean moss and lichen off so the engraving is readable.

For more information, go to gravestonecleaning.com.

Mayor Charlie Wielgosh was one of more than 30 volunteers who scrubbed gravestones with a brush and hot soapy water when the project was launched. It was gratifying to see so many people give their time to preserving history.

“You hate to lose all the history that’s out there, and I think it’s important to keep that history in our present,” Wielgosh says.

The mayor is one of dozens of people who have offered historical information of record. Wielgosh’s mother and father saved the burial cards of every funeral they attended. “It was a huge selection of cards, probably dating back 80 years ago to present.”

After his parents passed away, Wielgosh sorted the cards by year and brought them into city hall in case any of the names could be matched with graves that are missing information.

“I didn’t want to just throw them away because it’s like throwing away history,” he says.

People from across the country — New Mexico, Illinois, Ohio and Florida — have reached out to contribute information about their family members buried in the cemetery.


Nickel says volunteers have been invaluable chronicling each gravestone with a photo and any historical information on a free website, findagrave.com.

Every bit of history is stored in thick binders. Thanks to the Internet, historical information from people with roots in the area but live elsewhere is among the records.

Some of the gravestones have missing information, which Nickel hopes can be found with more awareness and publicity. Finishing the restoration project depends solely on the generosity of donors.

To contribute to the Princeton Cemetery Restoration Project, call Cheryle Nickel at 920-295-6612 or go to http://www.cityofprincetonwi.com/index.asp.

Throw it on the wall, see what sticks

Mom said don’t write on the walls, but we broke the rules on Wednesday night and encouraged people to do just that!

We asked attendees of OACF’s Donor Appreciation event:

What’s your vision?

What’s your passion?

We gave out markers and sent people to the wall to fill our pictures frames of the future with their great ideas.


We were thrilled to see so many great ideas! Curious to know what they were? Ok, let’s be honest, some of these are a bit tongue-and-cheek, but all in fun and good spirits.


Ideas from the “wall”:

  • Support for the arts
  • The Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra and Oshkosh Chamber singers and the UWO Music Dept. are proof that NYC & Chicago are competitive with Oshkosh
  • Engaged older adults – no isolation, inclusion, intergenerational outreach
  • New Oshkosh Corp HQ in Oshkosh
  • Restore Pioneer Inn
  • Obtain Dept. Store for city
  • Retain the Council Mgt form
  • Redevelop south Main St. area
  • Ending Alzheimer’s
  • Rowing Club
  • Harbour/Boathouse
  • More Chuck Berry (really???)
  • Milwaukee Bucks minor league team where Buckstaff is/was
  • Pioneer Inn Redo
  • River Walk Continued
  • Billy Wyman Dance (what??)
  • Addiction issues & recovery support
  • Oshkosh Youth Symphony
  • Building leaders through music education
  • A community works project to encourage the arts in Oshkosh
  • Making Oshkosh a great place for millennials to raise a family, young professional to move here. Help our economy grow.
  • Promotion of our 2nd amendment rights
  • Curb appeal for OASD
  • Zero suicides
  • Support Community Band & Senior Center
  • More music
  • Retail
  • More youth activities
  • Volunteer center
  • Support public school
  • Sailing classes for poor kids/women
  • Main artery into downtown cleanup, parking restriction & neighborhood pride
  • Venetian Boat parade
  • Warming shelter
  • Collaborate
  • New catholic elementary school
  • Veteran’s support
  • Year round homeless shelter
  • Resolve the Pioneer issues
  • A decent space for day by day warming shelter
  • Cellular-free initiative
  • Education
  • Establish a library on the west side of 41
  • Safe & clean rental units for all
  • Elder care focus
  • Permanent warming shelter
  • Ice skating rink
  • Enhance river usage
  • Walking trail advertisement
  • Let’s make Oshkosh area the Capitol for moving the 1st year of college into senior year of high school
  • Better street maintenance
  • Buck’s D-league arena
  • Poverty among the elderly
  • Intergenerational recreational activities
  • Change in leadership at the chamber
  • Gardens in all our schools with classes to match Growing Oshkosh – Also in Ripon
  • Permanent home for Oshkosh Farmers Markets

The exercise was all in an effort to get our community thinking about the future and what the potential needs might be. The Foundation has over the past year surveyed potential donors, existing donors, agencies and partners about the future of our community. Gathering all of the input is so vitally important to creating a vision for the Foundation as it maps out a strategic plan for the next three to five years.


And, the evening also was the launch of the Good Samaritan match campaign, which seeks to raise at least $150,000 for the Good Samaritan Fund by Dec. 31.

The Good Samaritan Fund was created with a generous $150,000 gift from the John E. Kuenzl Foundation. The fund is unrestricted in its purpose which allows for maximum community impact.

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who helped fill out our wall of ideas! Keep them coming!

Call the Doctor, We have Scholarship Fever

Little known to the rest of the community, May means scholarship season for the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. Our staff, especially Education Coordinator Cheryl Fowler, work at a feverish pace this time of year to coordinate the selection process and the awarding of hundreds of scholarships to students in the Oshkosh area.

This year, the Foundation will award more than 200 scholarships totaling $287,020. Our volunteer committee members have a tough job narrowing down more than 600 applications, all from worthy students with plans to pursue further education. Continue reading Call the Doctor, We have Scholarship Fever