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For Stephanie Lemancik and Rebecca Johnson, volunteering in WayForward’s garden was the seed for a strong, intergenerational friendship.

The two scientists first got to know each other as members of a “Green Committee” at their company, Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has been a longtime supporter of WayForward through food drives. They started volunteering for WayForward’s garden five years ago as part of the group, sparked by Johnson’s idea to garden to help others.

Over time, the group got smaller and just the two of them remained. Lemancik and Johnson have volunteered every week of gardening season since they began in 2018, except for days when the weather is too hot or severe to safely get out there. Both say they bonded over their love of volunteering and enjoyment of learning more about gardening along the way.

“I never considered myself to be a green thumb,” says Lemancik (at left in photo), who credits Dan Johnson, WayForward’s lead garden volunteer, for his mentoring and coaching. “We meet at the garden and he gives us our marching orders.”

The work is still challenging on some days, but both women say it’s worth it. 

“I think back to when we’re focused on watering those little pepper plants back in July, and it’s like 90 degrees and we’re miserable,” Lemancik says. “And then we see these tiny plants growing up and producing so much food. When you look back over the course of the months and how much things have grown and changed, it’s such a beautiful journey.”

“It’s just such an important initiative to support the people in our community, even if we never meet them personally,” she says.

Johnson (at right in photo) says the beauty of WayForward’s garden – and what it produces to provide people in our community access to nutritious food – is part of what keeps her coming back season after season.

“I think it’s our duty in life to give to others and this is a perfect example of where our hard work actually can improve someone else’s health,” Johnson says. “That brings a huge amount of joy and happiness and satisfaction.” 

Moving to Dane County promised a brighter future for David*, a single father with two young children.

He had been accepted to UW-Madison to study special education, a field with strong employment prospects after graduation. David also secured a full-time job to provide for his kids, Michael and Sara. But despite working day and night juggling school and work, David was in danger of falling behind on rent and losing the stable home he was building for his children.

Rent has risen faster here than anywhere else in the country, which threatened the dream David was working so hard to reach. A friend referred him to WayForward Resources, where a case manager connected David with rental assistance from our Housing Stability Program so he could maintain a home for his young children.

WayForward provided David with much-needed relief and peace of mind that allowed him to focus on getting his degree and taking care of his kids.

Thanks to our programs, David believes our community is where his dreams for his young family can become a reality. “I moved to Madison for a better and happier life; we felt as if we fit in.”

*name and identifying details changed

When Rafa*, 21, and his younger sister Gabriela, 19, came to WayForward, they were staying in an overcrowded apartment with a relative.

The siblings have lived in the United States for a couple of years while their parents remained in Mexico due to immigration issues. In the meantime, the environment they were living in became increasingly hostile and complicated. It did not feel like home.

A community member referred Rafa and Gabriela to WayForward’s Connections Program, which assists people in doubled-up living situations with finding and moving into homes of their own. With support from WayForwards’s Connections bilingual case manager, the two young adults learned everything about the process of finding housing, including what to look for and potential costs.

Within the first month, WayForward found an apartment that was perfect for them, both in price and location. They moved in over the summer and, after a long and complicated journey, they are motivated about the future and working hard on their next steps to be stable.

For Rafa and Gabriela, having a case manager who speaks their language and understands their culture meant the world as they navigated this major step to adulthood. They trust that their future is off to a great start and they don’t feel alone anymore. 

In the words of the community member who has kept in touch with the brother and sister over the last year: “You guys are changing lives.”

*names and identifying details changed

 

Kathleen and Roger* were overwhelmed when they came to WayForward for assistance.

Both in their 80s, the couple faced thousands of dollars in medical bills from Roger’s cancer treatment denied by their insurance plan.

Their WayForward case manager referred them to a patient advocate to assist with navigating their health insurance appeals, offering Kathleen some much-needed hope. She also connected them to the Aging and Disability Resource Center to learn more about potential eligibility for public benefits.

Kathleen was relieved to get some help and to learn from her WayForward case manager that they could use the food pantry to make ends meet and access nutritious food when Roger needs it most.

“I went last week and it was wonderful,” she told her case manager. “We got four apples and my husband ate one every day.”

WayForward’s food pantry is open to all Dane County residents who need it and the number of visits has risen 237% since January 2022.

*names and identifying details changed

Lou Ann Wagner has always volunteered and believes in giving back to her community

As a single mom working full time and supporting her three young children, she made sure to set enough aside to buy holiday gifts for people who had less than she had. “She carved out money to do that when we didn’t have much,” says her oldest daughter, Jennifer Murphy.

Lou Ann’s connection to WayForward (formerly Middleton Outreach Ministry) goes all the way back to when the family moved to Middleton in 1981 and joined St. Bernard Catholic Church. Jennifer recalls her mother doing a number of jobs in support of WayForward’s work, including years of  stopping on her way home from work to do an hour of volunteer data entry. She has continued to support the organization’s mission over the years.

But Lou Ann’s volunteer service and her life came to a halt in August 2022, when she fell off a ladder at home and suffered a traumatic brain injury. 

Her injury was life-threatening, requiring extensive interventions, rehabilitation and therapies.  As her recovery progressed, Lou Ann’s desire to help others kicked back in.  Even though she wasn’t really “allowed” to be on her computer without support, she would not be deterred.

“I signed myself up to volunteer” she said, after remembering her log-in and password to WayForward’s volunteer site. Since she wasn’t yet cleared to drive herself, Jennifer found herself recruited to volunteer with her. For the last year, the duo has been part of the “clean team” – Lou Ann vacuuming and tidying up the Clothing Center and Jennifer sweeping and mopping in the food pantry and the lobby of the building.

“This work is a reminder of how many unseen roles matter to WayForward,” Jennifer says. “Even ‘invisible’ jobs can be so valuable. If I am someone walking into this space and it’s clean, that means something.”

Both women consider their time volunteering as a key part of Lou Ann’s recovery from her injuries. “I’m feeling really good,” says Lou Ann, who no longer needs a ride from her daughter because she can once again drive herself to WayForward.

“This means a lot to us because we see how long she’s been giving back here,” Jennifer says.

“It is right in our backyard,” Lou Ann says.

“And people need help.” Jennifer adds.

Their time volunteering together adds to Lou Ann’s legacy of helping others and they hope others feel inspired to do the same. “There’s so many ways to be helpful,” Jennifer says. 

Gina Patel, President & CEO of Patel Kwan Consultancy, has a strong and personal motivation for supporting WayForward Resources.

Patel’s company donated and packed 35 kindergarten backpacks for this year’s Back to School Program. Members of her team also volunteered to organize school supplies and get them ready for distribution, joined by her own kindergartner, Hari (in photo at left with Patel Kwan intern Grace Liew).

“Way Forward provides much-needed resources to families in our area,” says Patel (at left in photo at top).

“I am originally from the UK, but as a child I received free school lunches, uniform, etc. As a family we received about 40 GBP per week in ‘benefits’ to use for food, heat, transport, and anything else needed. That is approximately what it ended up costing for these backpacks including supplies. Having this extra cost burden can mean the difference between families going without heat or food and being able to send their kids to school with backpacks ready for the school year. There is a lot of drive in our community to support one another, so thank you, WayForward for facilitating this.”

 

This is the 10th year that Middleton-based NET (Network Engineering Technologies) has made it easy for its employees to get in on the fun of supporting Winter Wishes and the reason is both simple and powerful.

“We care about our community and we really believe that helping others strengthens those bonds that hold us all together,” says Laura Duffield, NET’s Accounts Receivable Manager, who organizes the effort.

Winter Wishes provides $30 gift cards to participants. It’s a great opportunity for co-workers, teams, families and groups to come together to make the holidays special for people in our community. 

Last year, NET sponsored 100 Winter Wishes participants. This year, the company is increasing its commitment and purchasing gift cards for 200 people. 

About 30 employees typically take part by going out to shop for cards and if they choose to, they can donate small trinkets or stocking stuffers geared toward the age of the recipient to add to the bag with the gift card. Employees also donate wrapping paper to add to the stash recipients can choose from when picking up their gift cards at WayForward so they can wrap up the gifts they buy.

Duffield says the program resonates with employees who started at NET early in their careers and now have families of their own and want to support other parents.

“We’ve all had times in our life where we needed help without judgment or just a little boost to get us through,” Duffield says. “The holidays are hard. … so anything we can do to try to lighten the load for a parent, it just feels so worth it.”

WayForward is seeing increased demand across all of our programs this year and we are expecting a record number of people to sign up and qualify for Winter Wishes this year. Supporting Winter Wishes is a great way to engage your employees during the holiday season and bring joy to others in our community. 

Sign up by December 4 to get matched with participants or donate funds to help purchase gift cards. Have questions? Contact Jill Bradshaw, Community Engagement Manager, at jill@wayforwardresources.org

WayForward was honored this week for being named to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards 2023 Business Honor Roll, which recognizes outstanding local businesses that support their schools.

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District nominated WayForward, which was among five nominees in the community selected, including Bridging Brighter Smiles, Lake Ridge Bank, One Community Bank-Middleton, and USI Insurance Services. The district’s nomination highlighted WayForward’s role in ensuring that individuals and families throughout Dane County have access to nourishing food. WayForward Executive Director Ellen Carlson and Case Manager Claire Baker accepted the honor at this week’s school board meeting from Superintendent Dr. Dana Monogue and Board of Education President Sheila Hibner (center in above photo).

“Their remarkable efforts have made them an invaluable partner to our social workers and education foundation,” Monogue said. “We extend our sincere gratitude to WayForward Resources for tirelessly providing us with food and personal hygiene items to better support the students, staff and families in our district. Their dedication to helping others is both humbling and inspiring, and we deeply appreciate the role they play in our mission to uplift and empower those around us. With their unwavering support, we can make a meaningful impact on the lives of those we serve. WayForward Resources, thank you for being such a crucial partner in our pursuit of a better and brighter tomorrow for all.”

We are proud to partner with the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District to build a community where everyone has the stability to thrive.

 

Members of St. Bernard Catholic Church’s Human Needs Commission devised a simple plan for a food drive that yielded amazing results. 

During the weekend of October 7, they handed out paper grocery bags with WayForward’s shopping list stapled to them and encouraged families to fill them with items from the list. Churchgoers were invited to return the bags the following weekend and drop them in food barrels stationed at the entrances to the church parking lot. That weekend the barrels were overflowing.

“The participation was great,” says commission member Barbara Roberts, who delivered the results of the church’s drive along with Dick Seifert (pictured above).

The group handed out an estimated 200 bags and about 170 came back. The drive collected 1,212 pounds of food for WayForward’s pantry, the equivalent of more than 1,000 meals.

Roberts says she thinks giving people a physical reminder to take part was the difference in making the food drive a success.

“What people have told us is that it’s a visible reminder during the week,” she says. “You see it on the kitchen counter and you’re reminded, ‘I’ve got to stop at the grocery store.’”

You can hold a food drive in your office, school, team or organization. Our shopping list includes: breakfast cereals/oatmeal, rice, pasta and sauce, mac and cheese, peanut butter, canned soup, snacks, condiments, canned chicken and tuna, flour and sugar, cooking oil, toiletries, diapers and wipes.

Our Clothing Center offers free clothing and household items thanks to your generous donations. As we continue to adapt to the need in our community, we recently updated our guidelines for what items we can accept due to space and volunteer capacity.

Please review the list below before you bring donations and remove items we cannot accept. Otherwise, we have to dispose of these items, which unfortunately adds to our costs.

We CAN accept these items:

We CANNOT accept these items: