Open Houses at COTS

Each month, COTS invites the community in to tour our “campus of change” first-hand, and connect with our mission of “Ending Homelessness in the Fox Valley”! You will have the opportunity to hear residents’ testimonials and learn about more ways you can become involved.

Light refreshments will be offered. Open houses are held on the fourth Thursday of each month from 5:30-6:30 pm at 819 S. West Ave, Appleton.

Please RSVP to Lindsey Macdonald at lmacdonald@appletoncots.org or 920-268-0603 ext. 704. 

Help for the Homeless 2015

91.9/91.5 The Family’s “Help for the Homeless” hygiene drive will be collecting new personal care and cleaning products for  area crisis agencies…including ours…. so that we can dedicate our limited financial resources to providing  qualified personnel, safe housing, nutritious food, education, and case management to those we serve. The goal of Help for the Homeless is to provide a year’s worth of supplies to each agency.  Donations remain in the communities where they are collected.

 “Last year, it was so inspiring to see our community come together to support our residents. It is amazing how much dignity can be afforded to our residents simply from them having the necessity items they need.”  - Andrew Wilson, COTS Executive Director

Families (or people) come to COTS who have had to share a toothbrush, gone without soap for their faces, hands, and hair, and some working parents in tight times who are washing and reusing their baby’s disposable diapers at home in order to have enough unused diapers to send with their child to day care – children are not admitted to daycare unless parents supply new disposable diapers.

Thanks to hundreds of local churches, businesses, and schools for joining together to collect for the drive!  Please donate generously at church, work or school, or at any area Festival Foods Stores, Shopko, or Walgreens from Feb. 22 – March 15  and help us help our neighbors in need right here in Appleton.  Thank you!  

 PS:  People who have access to WIC or Food Share (Food Stamps) cannot use these programs to obtain any hygiene items or diapers. These are expensive items for non-profit organizations like ours to purchase.

 More at thefamily.net or call their studios at 800-236-9364

or download the Help for the Homeless 2015 Flyer 

A video Valentine from COTS

We wanted to “share the love” by creating a video Valentine for all of our amazing supporters! Click here to watch the video on YouTube. Thank you for all that you do to help our residents transform their lives! 

Volunteer Spotlight: Katie Daw

“I just wanted to do something,” says Katie Daw, COTS’ volunteer Activities Coordinator. Katie began volunteering at COTS three days a week at the beginning of December. “I wanted the experience,” she says.

Katie first learned about COTS when she was looking for an ongoing volunteer opportunity. A friend gave her a booklet of local volunteer opportunities, and after reading about COTS, she thought it would be a good fit for her. She approached COTS with a willingness to do anything, and staff quickly came up with the idea of having her serve as Activities Coordinator.

Katie had previously worked at AT&T for 10 years, but received her human services degree in 2013. She was looking for opportunities to get more experience in the human services field. “Volunteering here is the best thing I ever did because I’m now 100% sure I’m in the field I want to be in,” she grins.

Bringing the community together
 

As Activities Coordinator, no two days are the same. Katie is currently working on starting a book club, a creative writing class, a movie night, and a pool and dart tournament. She’s able to meet with residents to learn about what they would like to do.

“We want to give our residents as many opportunities as possible to come together as a community,” explains Andrew Wilson, COTS Executive Director. “Since we also work with our residents on budgeting, it’s important for us to show them that it is possible to have a good time with minimal expenses. It’s wonderful having Katie here because she is able to focus on creating low-cost, fun activities that also ideally make our residents better human beings.”

 For Katie, the best part of her volunteer experience is “just talking with the residents.”

 If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at COTS, please contact Lindsey at lmacdonald@appletoncots.org or (920)268-0603 ext. 704.

New Collaboration Generates Hope for Homeless Veterans

For the past few years, COTS has sought to initiate programming for area veterans in need. Towards the end of 2014, COTS began collaborating with the Fox Valley Veterans Council in order to provide a safe and stable place for veterans as they wait to receive a government housing voucher and search for independent housing. In order to qualify for a voucher, veterans need to have a physical mailing address for a short period of time. COTS is able to provide this necessary component, while simultaneously providing the space and attention that a veteran experiencing homelessness needs.

The three veterans who are currently receiving services through this collaboration were previously considered homeless and also suffer from combat injuries, not to mention PTSD. As the only provider of transitional shelter in the area, COTS is the most viable option when taking into consideration the health needs of our vets. At COTS, we provide individuals with the tools needed in order to achieve self-sufficiency, while other housing providers in the Fox Valley serve emergency and crisis needs. 

Each veteran that is referred to COTS through the Fox Valley Veterans Council is expected to participate in all aspects of COTS programming, including paying a monthly program fee to cover the cost of case management and basic needs. The council will fund up to three months of program fees for each veteran that moves into the COTS program.

A closer look at the life of a vet experiencing homelessness

As an active member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Josh was the first veteran referred to the COTS program through the Fox Valley Veterans Council. Josh served in the army for about six years and now suffers from physical limitations that forced him to let go of his job as a mechanic. But this was only the beginning of a tumultuous series of events.

While struggling with his medical condition and unemployment, Josh was also undergoing marital issues, which would later lead to a divorce. He now has designated visitations with his daughter and attends child support court. After the separation, he experienced financial hardship, making it difficult to rent on his own. As a result, he spent time couch surfing from one place to the next. Eventually, he decided to seek help from the Fox Valley Veterans Council, which resulted in a referral to COTS. This was a turning point for Josh.

Turning life “180 degrees around”

On December 6, 2014, Josh moved into COTS, where he has been given time to reflect and learn more about himself. When asked what he has taken away from his time at COTS so far, he hopefully replied, “There’s more help out there than I thought there was…I honestly didn’t know there was a program like this.”  He is currently learning valuable lessons about budgeting through Financial Peace University, which is offered to all residents of COTS.

After only a month and a half, Josh has already received a government-issued housing voucher, and is taking the necessary steps towards self-sufficiency. If everything goes as planned, Josh will be moving out of COTS by the end of February. He is also looking forward to the possibility of going back to school to get a degree in a new field. After everything he has been through, Josh now realizes that “Even when your life is in the dumps, you can still turn it 180 degrees around.”

This story undoubtedly sheds light on the importance of the collaboration between COTS and the Fox Valley Veterans Council. There is a newfound hope for veterans in our community: Josh may represent the first of many who will succeed in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Home for the Holidays

When asked what their plans were for the holidays, many residents at COTS had similar responses. They didn’t have any special arrangements with family, or it just wasn’t possible to go home. This is the case every year for our residents, which is why it’s so important for COTS to serve as a place to call “home.”

On the evening of Tuesday, December 16th, we held our annual resident holiday party. To open up the night, our Outreach Coordinator announced resident milestones, celebrating everything from anniversaries to birthdays. A festive meal, provided by the Holiday Inn in Appleton, Rotary Club of Appleton West and Network Health, was served shortly thereafter. Residents gazed upon the hearty buffet of chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, rolls and dessert of course, wide-eyed.

Upon finishing the delicious meal, it was time for the much-awaited gift opening. We would especially like to thank 91.9/91.5 The Family for coordinating their annual Christmas Care Program and Thrivent Financial for donating the special backpacks filled with goodies, not to mention the enthusiastic volunteers from Christ the King Lutheran Church who single-handedly stuffed the additional gift bags for each resident. Thanks to everyone mentioned, in addition to the numerous kind-hearted individuals and organizations in our community who support COTS, we were able to give our residents a holiday to remember!

It is impossible to describe the amount of joy and gratitude that filled the air that night. Residents were simply overwhelmed by the generosity of those around them. In fact, while opening gifts, one resident exclaimed, “This is too much…I may never come back down to earth!”Others let their faces do the talking. Looking around the room, every face was lit up, mimicking the colored lights that adorned the tree. Even the simplest of gifts, like a pair of winter gloves, did not go unappreciated.

Because of the overwhelming support and generosity of our neighbors, the residents of COTS truly felt at home for the holidays.

An Opportunity to Grow

Resha was a typical college student who, in her own words, “wasn’t great at budgeting.” She graduated without having a job lined up or a concrete plan, and moved in with a friend. After a series of financial missteps, she found herself with a lease that was almost up, a newborn son, and no place to go.

Fortunately, someone at her church told her about COTS’ Single Mothers with Young Children program. The Single Mothers with Young Children program focuses on the specific needs of single mothers with children under the age of 12. COTS can serve two families at a time. Resha was accepted into the program the week her lease was up.

Building up Savings

“There was a lot of support there, a lot of opportunity to grow,” says Resha of her time at COTS. While at COTS, Resha soaked up what she learned through Financial Peace University, a budgeting course, so that she didn’t repeat her past financial mistakes. She paid off all $4,200 of her debt other than student loans and saved up enough money to purchase her own car with cash. She built up a savings which she was able to use for the downpayment on her apartment.

She also enjoyed that she was able to stay in a duplex with her son; “You get to feel what it’s like to be responsible for a house and a kid.” At the same time, she enjoyed being able to socialize during dinner time with the women next door in the Women’s Program.

Resha stayed at COTS with her son for the full two years, and now continues to stay involved through our Aftercare Program. She has worked full-time since being at COTS, and recently started a new job with higher pay and benefits. She is proud to show off her lovely two-bedroom apartment complete with a Christmas tree.

“There’s Always a Solution”

“When I first came to COTS I worried about being a burden–letting my son down, letting myself down. Needing to breathe. Finding that ladder out of the ditch. COTS made sure I didn’t have a reason to feel hopeless. There’s always a solution,” she states as she puts the finishing touches on dinner for her now two-year-old son.

“Things are good right now…For the first time, I’m not stressed about money. I’m actually prepared if a hiccup were to arrive.”

COTS Cooks Up a New Kitchen

Last month, thanks to the generous financial support from the J. J. Keller Foundation, we were able to renovate the kitchen in our young adult building. The idea behind the renovation project was to transform an old cafeteria-style kitchen into the “center” of the home, promoting a stronger community atmosphere.

At COTS, we encourage relationship-building, as it helps to prepare our residents for life beyond COTS. Our newly updated kitchen is a space where residents  in our Young Adult and Living Debt Free Programs can come together as they eat and prepare meals. In fact, the revitalized kitchen goes above and beyond its original purpose, as it now serves as the gathering space for every resident at COTS, and some former residents, during our monthly community dinners!

Thank you again to the J. J. Keller Foundation for turning this dream into a reality!  

Studying Success

Young adult resident is determined to beat the odds and lead a happy life
Dominic left home right after he turned 18. He was still a senior in high school, but he knew that he had to escape the environment of abuse he had lived in his entire life.

 Dominic grew up in Chicago in poverty. “Everything we had came from the trash,” he remembers. “We were used to having nothing.” His family sold drugs, and he felt as if he was in constant danger. They eventually moved to Appleton to try to lead a safer life.

“She wasn’t interested in me”

  However, even after the move, Dominic continued to experience severe abuse from his entire family. Dominic also felt distant from his family because of his focus on schooling. “I wasn’t in a family that knew how to organize and be successful. The more educated I got, the more distant my mom was from me. She wasn’t interested in me,” he says.

 

He knew he couldn’t continue in his current environment. After moving out, he continued his senior year of high school while working and trying to live on his own. “I worked as much as I could, but I couldn’t afford my rent,” he remembers.
Finding community

 He had heard about COTS from someone in the community and met with a COTS staff member. He soon was accepted into the COTS program and was able to move into the COTS Young Adult Program in April 2014.

 At COTS, Dominic says, “It feels good to be in a community.” He has been taking advantage of the life skills classes, as well as doing chores and “learning responsibility.” He has also been able to learn how to network. Dominic was especially happy to be connected with the Dental Bus earlier this year. He says that COTS “helps makes someone more confident in themselves.”

 While at COTS, he was able to finish his senior year of high school and graduate this spring. He is currently enrolled in college and studying mechanical engineering. He was even recently awarded a $2,000 scholarship. Dominic continues to work while attending school.

In the future, he plans to finish school and get a good job. His main goal is “bringing [his] mom back to a life she deserves, finding treatment for [his] mom–having enough money for that.” He also wants to help his family start on a new path that is full of success and healthy relationships. “I want to break away from the cycle of abuse and give an opportunity to anyone who is born after me to have an equal chance,” he explains. Dominic is determined to beat the odds and lead a successful and happy life.

Beyond a Bed

On the evening of Thursday, October 23, COTS held a long-awaited fundraising event, Beyond a Bed. Adorning the tables were seasonal pumpkin centerpieces (pictured above), painted by a creative resident in our Young Adult Program. During the event, attendees had an opportunity to learn more about COTS and hear testimonials from current and former residents. One of the former residents who spoke had previously been exposed to gang life. His criminal activity and alcohol addiction led him even further down a dark path. COTS provided him with the second chance that he needed. Because of what he learned in our program, he now has a car financed, he has an emergency fund and he has paid off old loans. His story truly inspired everyone in the room: “I finally love myself…Who would’ve thought a gangbanger, alcohol and drug user, 3-time felon [like me], with no high school diploma, would’ve made it this far and want to do something with my life because people gave me a second chance?” Today, he is happily sober and has plans to open a metal and paint shop with a close friend.

The $9,000 earned from this event will help COTS give other individuals experiencing homelessness a second chance. Our goal, with the help of our wonderful supporters, is to make success stories, like the one above, a reality for every individual in the COTS program.

We would like to thank Nicolet National Bank for providing $1,000 in matching funds for the event, as well as our friends at Riverview Gardens, who graciously offered us their beautiful space. And of course, thank you so much to everyone who came out to support our cause! We are truly grateful to be a part of such a giving community.