Basic Needs Grants Top $1 Million

School-based mental health services and self-sufficiency coaching were among six new grants awarded to more than 17 nonprofits in the Oshkosh area to fight poverty. The grants total $1,037,400 — almost twice the highest amount awarded in any year during the Basic Needs Giving Partnership grantmaking program’s 9-year history at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.

The Basic Needs Giving Partnership is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs within the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation , the J. J. Keller Foundation, and other community partners. Proceeds from the U.S. Venture Open help fund the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs. The golf outing raised $3.6 million in 2016, and this year’s event scheduled for August 9th may set another record!

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The Rise Up Program will receive $300,000 over three years. The program will support the expansion of emotional wellness screening provided by Samaritan Counseling and site-based mental health services provided by Catalpa Health to select schools within the Oshkosh Area School District (OASD). Matt Kaemmerer, Director of Pupil Services, says it “will create a streamlined model at both high schools where students who are identified as being in need of support through the screening process can access the clinical services they need right at school.”

“The evidence showing the connection between mental illness and educational achievement as well as poverty is everywhere, and we are hoping that the Rise Up program will help close the gap in mental health services for area youth,” says Amy Putzer, Director of Programs for the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.

The suicide rates among Wisconsin’s youth are 30 percent higher than the national average. Findings that were self-reported by OASD students show that 19% of high school students and 20% of middle school students considered suicide in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, adults residing in the OASD will benefit from increased access to Hub coaching, thanks to a $285,000 grant over three years. The Hub is a network of over 25 local organizations working together to wrap services around people in need to help them get ahead and stay ahead.

Hub coaches help participants who are motivated to improve their lives to set and achieve goals and access multiple supportive services in the community.

Other grants were awarded to:

Integrated School to Work Program

A planning grant will support the research and piloting of a new program that provides Oshkosh Area School District students with the opportunity to earn their high school diploma while receiving on-the-job training at area employers. This integrative approach will have students building real-world skills needed to be employed immediately upon graduation in a job that pays a living wage. Collaborators are the Oshkosh Area School District, Oshkosh Chamber Foundation, and Fox Valley Technical College ($25,000 for one year).

Readers’ Cafe Student Literacy Interventions

Readers’ cafe programs will increase reading confidence, fluency, and proficiency for Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh members who are experiencing academic challenges with reading. Low literacy skills will be improved through tutoring, readers theaters, choral reading, and book clubs.  Collaborators are the Winnebago County Literacy Council and Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh ($150,000 over three years).

Recovery House for Men

A third sober living house will open for men who no longer require the strict rules that are enforced in Mahalo, the current men’s house, yet who still require some support on their journey of recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. Collaborators are STEP Industries, The Mooring Programs, and Nova Counseling ($170,000 over three years).

Vocational Training Center

A Vocational Training Center located at STEP Industries will expand educational opportunities for STEP participants and enhance their ability to secure full-time employment or enroll in higher education. Collaborators are STEP Industries and Fox Valley Technical College ($95,000 over three years).

Fresh Start Regional Hunger Coalition

Several area pantries will come together to form a regional hunger coalition in order to learn about each other and identify opportunities to align resources to impact hunger and poverty at the regional scale. Collaborators are Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, St. Joseph Food Program, Salvation Army Fox Cities, and the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry ($24,800 for one year with $12,400 from the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation and $12,400 from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region).



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About Basic Needs Giving Partnership

The Basic Needs Giving Partnership funds innovative solutions to address the root causes of poverty in northeast Wisconsin and is funded by the U.S. Venture Open and J. J. Keller Foundation. The U.S. Venture Open is one of the nation’s single largest one-day charitable events with 1,100 participants representing more than 500 partners. More than $33 million has been raised since its inception in 1986. U.S. Venture pays all event expenses, ensuring 100% of contributions go directly to the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs. The Basic Needs Giving Partnership collaborators include the: U.S. Venture, J. J. Keller Foundation, Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, and Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. Find out how to get involved on Facebook, Twitter, or the U.S. Venture Open website.




Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 10.26.21 AM.pngTo learn more about how the Basic Needs Giving Partnership is fighting poverty inNortheast Wisconsin, dive into the details of their 2016 Community Report.

For more information on how to apply for a Basic Needs Giving Partnership grant, read all about it on our website.  Additional questions can be directed to Amy Putzer, Director of Programs, at




Board Spotlight: Dave Elbing

To those who have been given much, much is expected.

The role that a community foundation plays is shaped and molded by the vision and expertise of its board of directors.  In honor of the role that each member of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation (OACF) board plays, it is a pleasure to feature a board spotlight every month.  Today’s featured board member: Dave Elbing.


What is your role in the community outside of OACF?

“For many years I worked for a company called Laser Specialties (a promotional product company) as their head of sales and marketing.  Currently I’m working up to 50 hours each week as a professional handyman.”  

How did you get involved with the OACF board?

“It was just about 16 years ago when Eileen Connolly-Keesler (former President/CEO of the Community Foundation) invited me to serve on the finance committee.  I really enjoyed my time on that committee.  I served there for three years, joined the grants committee, served there for another three years, and then eventually I was invited to join the board.  It’s bittersweet, but this year marks the end of my term-limit as a board member.”  Dave will continue to serve at as the chair of the OACF marketing committee after his board term is over.  “With regard to the marketing committee, I’m a firm believer that the more ideas you have coming at you from talented smart people, the more informed your decisions will be.”

What are your thoughts on volunteerism?

“To those who have been given much, much is expected.  I’m a big advocate for volunteerism.  Once upon a time I was on the boards for the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, OACF, Christine Ann Center, Meals on Wheels, and the Traffic Advisory Board for the City of Oshkosh simultaneously!”  On top of Dave’s board service, he participates in medical trips to Haiti twice annually where he runs triage for the team, collecting vitals, stats, and determining who each patient is going to see and when they will be seen.  


What has been the most rewarding board experience for you to date?

“As a general observation, any time you’re a part of something prosperous, it’s fun!  It’s been rewarding to see how much the foundation has grown and developed since the turn of the century.  I’m particularly proud of how visible OACF has become in our community.  For example: whenever I see the Tri-County Dental bus (Mobile Clinic) around town I feel great seeing our logo and knowing that we helped bring this service to people in need of it in our community.”  In addition to large projects like the mobile clinic, Dave appreciates the intimate experience of seeing all of the help that his family funds make possible.

Why do you like to give?

“I like to give because it makes me feel good!  I was brought up to understand that there are just situations in which you need to help others.  If you want a great community, then you need to help your community!  That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the work that OACF is doing”

Thank you for all of your service to the
Oshkosh Area Community Foundation!


About the author:  Kristopher Ulrich is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.  While his almost a whole foot taller than Dave, he still looks up to him for his outstanding commitment to the Oshkosh Area!  

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 or 920-426-3993.