“I Am SO Enough”

First annual Women’s Empowerment Retreat helps residents reclaim their power

Soft guitar music played as the women entered the banquet room. As they gazed around the beautifully decorated room, they were immediately welcomed by four life coaches. Thus marked the beginning of the first annual COTS Women’s Empowerment Retreat, “I am SO Enough…Possibilities Are Abundant.” The retreat was held over two Saturdays in July at Atlas Coffee Mill, which generously donated their lovely space.

The retreat was made possible by a generous anonymous donation from an individual who wanted to do something special for the residents of COTS’ Women’s Program. “When I was told of the donation and its goal I knew I wanted to do something that would help strengthen the women and have a long-lasting impact to enrich their lives,” explains Dawn Butler, Women’s Case Manager. “I’ve worked with women for years and have been a firsthand witness at the oppression, struggles, low self-esteem, lack of affordable mental health services, addiction, domestic and sexual abuse, and trauma many women face–often daily.  It seemed natural to hold an event that drew them together as strong/independent women and to focus on the possibilities and what they CAN achieve.”

Creating vision

The retreat was led by four area life coaches: Cassie Schuh (Zaptastic Professional Coaching), Lynn McLaughlin (DandAlliance, LLC), Sarah Crawford (Siwati Life Coaching LLC), and Jeanne Loehnis (Songs for Your Spirit, LLC). This was the first time that the four women had the opportunity to work together. As expressed by Cassie Schuh, “Planning the COTS Women’s Empowerment Retreat with the other area Life Coaches was a great experience! Having different backgrounds and a variety of coaching experiences and tools allowed us to incorporate different perspectives into the retreat experience for the COTS women.”

Current and past residents of COTS Women’s Program were invited to attend. During the retreat, they discussed topics such as creating vision, empowerment, identifying personal strengths, and building trust in self and others. In total, 21 current and former residents attended the retreat.
“We all have our own story to tell”

After attending the first session, one COTS resident said her goal was to “Take [her] power back.” Erin, who also attended the retreat, says that the experience was life-changing.“ I never really knew how to stand up for myself as a woman…Yeah, we all have our own story to tell. But I learned how to understand women better, and I learned how to understand myself better as a woman.”

For Erin, part of the joy of the retreat was simply being able to share stories with other women. She was particularly inspired by another attendee who is also a single mom. In fact, Erin’s experience echoes that of many other attendees, who all noted that they felt comforted by the commonalities between all of their experiences–and the level of trust that the women felt with each other as they shared their stories.

“It was so beautiful because I knew I was meant to be there,” Erin grins.

Dawn enjoyed watching the retreat come to fruition: “It was emotional, heartwarming, strengthening, beautiful, and so much more than I had originally imagined.”

The retreat was only made possible by the generosity of numerous donors, including Atlas Coffee Mill & Cafe, Fox Banquets & Rivertyme Catering, Woodman’s Markets, Insta Print Plus, Inc., DandAlliance LLC, The Mooring Programs, Inc., Songs For Your Spirit Life Coaching, StoweGood, and a generous anonymous donor.

An Insider’s Look at COTS

Written by a resident in COTS’ Living Debt Free Program
Before coming to COTS, I had just spent a year in prison for an OWI. Upon release, I had no place to go so I was put in transitional living quarters that the Probation and Parole Department provide.  I had nothing. No clothes, no furniture. It was very rough for a couple of weeks.

I heard about the COTS Men’s Program from one of the paroles where I was living. I called and checked into COTS and felt that this was a place that I could benefit from. COTS offered food, a bed and some structure that I felt I needed in my life. They offered living skills, like Financial Peace University and RentSmart. They also encouraged healthy activities for living sober, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

I have been at COTS for 2 ½ years.  In those 2 ½ years, COTS has supported me through the deaths of friends. They have provided me transportation to and from work when my car had broken down. They have worked with me when my expenses, like car repairs, took all of my money. They have provided me with clothes vouchers and Christmas presents at a time in my life when I felt like no one cared.

Since coming to COTS, I have gone back to school to accomplish something I have never had in my life. I was a high school dropout. If everything goes well, this spring I will earn my two-year diploma for Industrial Metal Fabrication and Welding. COTS provided me with a tutor from Lawrence University who helped me achieve a B in math for the trades. I have been on the Dean’s List for two years.

In the last six months, I have been moved out of the COTS Men’s Program and into the Living Debt Free Program here at COTS. This program helps me keep a budget that focuses on getting all of my debt paid off while keeping my current expenses up to date.  I am also a mentor here at COTS for the younger men.  I try to show them responsible behavior by doing my chores and helping out where needed.  I’m also a listening ear when they need one.

What I have learned here at COTS is financial responsibility, as well as dealing with life on life’s terms. I have learned that there are people out there, when you are at the lowest point in your life and have nothing, that do care and want to see you succeed.

COTS has showed me kindness and love when I felt like I was going to be another statistic. I know that my choices are my own, and no one can change them but me.  But I am certain that COTS is a big reason that I am a better person at this point in my life.

My plans for the future are to finish college, get my own apartment and give back to the community.

COTS Accepting Applications for Case Manager Position

Are you interesting in a meaningful career? COTS is currently accepting applications for a Case Manager position! Please click here to view the complete job description. Please submit applications to employment@appletoncots.org.

Creative Writing Group Creates Bonding Opportunities

Written by Lisa Danes, COTS Volunteer

When I approached COTS with the desire to volunteer, they considered my background and interests before suggesting I lead a creative writing group. The creative writing group at COTS was a great opportunity for me to sit down with residents once a week to share my skills while helping them to develop their own.

The class started out more formal, but after getting to know the residents who attended, evolved into a fun and creative experience. We worked together on different poems and short stories covering nature, animals and art. A few of our sessions were held in the classroom, with two at area parks where we practiced observing our surroundings and looking for inspiration. One resident also submitted a piece of poetry written in the group to be included in the COTS resident newsletter. The class was capped off with a trip to the local Harmony Café for Open Mind (Mic) Night.

The group gave the residents a chance to explore their imaginations in a safe and open learning environment. Sharing what we had written gave us a chance to enjoy each other’s creative minds while offering our opinions and praise.

Each class also gave us a chance to share some details about ourselves and get to know each other a little better. We discussed our hobbies as well our favorite books. I felt like the class allowed the residents to open up to each other as well me. Getting to know the residents in attendance was a truly fulfilling experience that made me happy to offer my time as a volunteer at COTS.

Pam: Learning to Trust

Sitting in the peaceful, shaded yard of her duplex, one would never guess that Pam had once faced addiction and homelessness. The quiet 30-something explains that her addiction to pills began years ago, right after she had lost a good, steady job at a hospital. She was in a bad relationship at the time, and her boyfriend introduced her to pills. Even though she had never used drugs before, she was feeling so depressed from her job loss that she looked towards them as a way to escape her current circumstances.

Flash forward several years and two bouts in treatment later, and Pam arrived at COTS. The most recent treatment facility she had been in told her that she needed a stable, supportive environment in order to break her cycle of addiction. “In order to get a better life, I changed everything,” she explains. That meant setting up a new life for herself in Appleton, three hours from the town she grew up in.

Coming out of her shell

Pam was nervous when she first came to COTS. “I isolated myself a lot in the beginning,” she remembers. Fortunately, she eventually came out of her shell and began making friends with the other COTS residents.

She also found employment at STEP Industries, a company that employs and supports individuals in recovery. “I was excited to start working again,” Pam remembers. However, her career goal was to be a Certified Nursing Assistant again. So, while working at STEP, Pam continued to search for jobs in her field. She was eventually hired by a nursing home.

For Pam, being able to return to the field she loved was a significant turning point. She has been at her current job for six months. “I love it,” she laughs. “I love working with the people, especially the residents. I treat them like I would my family. I don’t take it for granted.” She is always sure to give special attention to the nursing home residents that don’t get many visitors.

“I know they’re always there”

With her new job, Pam saved up enough money to be able to move out of COTS. She now lives with her boyfriend and his son, and is proud to show off the beautiful garden in her backyard. She has stayed involved with COTS through our Aftercare Program, and, in addition to communicating with the Outreach Coordinator regularly, is also still in touch with the Women’s Case Manager. “I’ve never had that before,” Pam states as she describes how she feels cared for by the COTS staff. “I know that they’re always there if I need something.”

Pam also stays in touch with COTS by coming to monthly resident dinners. She says they are a great way to catch up with her friends from COTS.

In the future, Pam would like to go back to school to become a nurse. Through this experience, Pam says that she has learned, “To trust other women. To ask for help. Knowing you’re not alone is always nice.” 

Ricky: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Learning Accountability

“I didn’t know anything different or better,” explains Ricky* when speaking of his past. Ricky watched his father deal drugs starting at a young age, and Ricky eventually took over for his father. He thought it was an easy way to make money and an easy way to support his own drug addiction.

He was eventually arrested and went to jail before being released to the Mooring House to help him deal with his drug addiction.

He came to COTS when he was 21 years old because he “needed a place to stay and support.” At first, Ricky struggled to adjust to his new life at COTS. “I didn’t initially take it seriously,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to change behaviors.”

After a while, Ricky began feeling secluded and depressed. “I knew something needed to change,” he explains. Ricky then started taking the steps he needed to make in order to truly transform himself.

One of those steps was returning to his previous employer, STEP Industries, a company that employs individuals recovering from addiction. “STEP gave me a place to be around people who’ve worked at recovery,” Ricky explains.

At COTS, he began opening up with staff and the other residents. “Staff gave [him] the opportunity to talk about things.” He began applying the lessons he learned during the life skills classes at COTS, such as maintaining a weekly and monthly budget, which, “forced [him] to look at [his] spending habits.”

In February, after two years at COTS, Ricky moved into his own house with roommates. He is now in the COTS Aftercare Program, which supports former COTS residents for two years after they move out. Ricky also credits COTS and STEP Industries with giving him the emotional supports he needed to succeed.

Ricky continues to work at STEP full-time as a Project Lead. “I used to be very passive,” he explains. “Now I have to be the leader.” In the future, he would like to attend college so that he can become an inventor of culinary tools.

*Name has been changed to protect his privacy

COTS Meal Ministry Program Turns Over New Leaf


Don Stoegbauer started COTS’ Meal Ministry Program not long after COTS was first established as a nonprofit organization in 1998.  Our Meal Ministry team is an “army” of hundreds of volunteers who deliver hot meals to more than 60 residents experiencing homelessness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.  This extraordinary effort provides the basic need of nourishment to the residents of COTS.

About fifteen years ago, Don reached out to Meal Ministry volunteers, hoping to find individuals who were willing to step up to the task of coordinating the Meal Ministry Program.  Lynn Van Zeeland and Jean O’Brien (pictured from left to right above) were the only individuals to respond to Don’s request. Lynn and Jean then became known as Don’s “call girls,” as the Meal Ministry Program became dependent on them calling volunteers who were willing to prepare meals.

Don was a real inspiration to both Jean and Lynn.  In Jean’s words, “Don could find a meal any place in the Valley.”  He would take it upon himself to visit area churches and talk with congregations whenever a need arose for more Meal Ministers.


According to Lynn, “COTS has come a long, long way,” since Don was involved with Meal Ministry, and “Don would be very proud.”  In fact, during Don’s time with Meal Ministry, Meal Ministers were warned not to go in alone when dropping off food at COTS.  Jean and Lynn both recall that residents wouldn’t even make eye contact with anyone who was dropping off a meal.

Today’s Meal Ministers have a much more positive experience.  COTS’ residents greet Meal Ministers with a friendly smile and even help them to unload their cars.

After fifteen years of service, Jean, the Men’s Meal Ministry Coordinator, is set to retire from Meal Ministry at the end of June.  One of her fondest memories during her time as a volunteer is having Meal Ministers call her to tell her how well their food was received by COTS’ residents.  She remembers one Meal Minister saying “One guy cleaned out my pan…I was willing to take it home dirty.”

Jean will certainly be missed, but as with any other program at COTS, change is inevitable.  Jen Gaerthofner, one of COTS’ many dedicated Meal Ministers, has graciously agreed to serve as Jean’s replacement.  We are so grateful for all of the wonderful Meal Ministers who stand with us in the fight against homelessness.  Each and every volunteer is truly a valuable member of the COTS team.

If interested in learning more about COTS’ Meal Ministry Program, please contact COTS’ Development Director, Lindsey MacDonald at 920-734-3609 ext. 404 or lmacdonald@appletoncots.org.

“You Have to Work Hard for What You Want”


Joe* first came to COTS because he wanted to get his life back on track. After being released from jail, he was able to find part-time work, but he knew that his life wasn’t moving in the direction he wanted it to move in.

Joe has been a resident of COTS since September 2012. He first entered the Men’s Program, where he learned about budgeting and responsibility. He was able to find two news jobs, a full-time job and a part-time job. He now works over 50 hours each week so that he can keep paying down debt and increasing his savings.


Five months ago, Joe entered COTS’ Living Debt Free Program, which works with men who have completed COTS programming but need additional time to pay off debt and achieve financial stability. Living Debt Free residents also serve as mentors to the young adult residents. “It’s a good feeling [being a mentor],” says Joe.

Since being at COTS, Joe says that his work ethic has improved dramatically. “One thing I’ve learned is…things don’t happen overnight. You have to work hard for what you want. I actually really like working, and I didn’t used to,” explains Joe.


Joe has already paid down $4,500 in debt and plans to keep paying it down until he is debt-free and has savings.  Joe is proud to share that he is almost off of probation. He also says that he now feels fulfilled. “I’m finally in the right direction in my life,” he grins.

Once he achieves financial stability, Joe plans to move out of COTS. He is also considering going back to school for computer technology or graphic design. The major lesson that he has learned in life is that, “If you want to make it in life, you have to have a steady job.” With his work ethic and determination, Joe is on track to become a successful, independent adult.

*Name has been changed to protect resident’s privacy

Brad: Finding Stability


Brad* began his young adult life with an admirable goal: To become an architect. He went to college for 1 ½ years to study architecture, and even found a job at an architectural firm. However, once he saw what day-to-day life was like as an architect, he realized it wasn’t for him.

Around the same time, he ran out of money. “My family’s always been in financial crisis,” he explains. “My family has gone through a lot…my dad’s in prison. There’s been a lot of heartache.”

Without receiving financial support from his family, Brad felt like he didn’t have any choice except to drop out of college. Finding himself with no career prospects, he began drinking heavily. His heavy drinking led to a string of poor choices. Eventually, he lost his apartment and found himself with nowhere to go.

“I want to have a happy life”

Fortunately, Brad found COTS. The now-24-year-old has been in COTS’ Young Adult Program for the past year. He explains, “I’ve been in troubled spots in my lifetime. I’ve been trying to learn from my mistakes and move on. I want to have a happy life.”

“I’ve been learning a lot financially,” Brad continues. “Financial Peace University has been working well.” Brad’s major goal is to pay down the student loans he accrued while in college. He has paid down $1,500 in debt since being at COTS.

Brad has also found job stability, which he hadn’t had until recently. With the assistance of COTS and Riverview Gardens, a close partner of COTS, Brad was able to find a stable, full-time job. “Job stability was the number one thing I needed,” Brad explains.

Helping animals in need

Brad has also been giving back to the community by volunteering at a local animal rescue. He has volunteered “thousands” of hours working there. “Every hour that I’m there, I just love it,” he grins. “It’s my home away from home.”

Brad also recently received assistance from the COTS Barrier Removal Fund, which helped him get back his driver’s license. Now, Brad hopes to save up enough money to purchase his own vehicle. After paying down debt, Brad’s ultimate goal is, “To have a good, stable job—something I can be stable with. And have a family.”

*Name has been changed to protect resident’s privacy

Cooking With Andrew


Residents learn to be “resourceful with food”

Once a month, COTS’ Executive Director, Andrew Wilson, offers a class to residents at the men’s campus, naturally titled Cooking with Andrew.  Andrew works one-on-one with three to five residents during each class, teaching them how to prepare a meal using only the ingredients available in the COTS pantry.  By using only what is available to them, residents learn “to be resourceful with food,” remarks Andrew; “Basically, we’re multiplying what we have.” 

Andrew enjoys having the opportunity to spend quality time with residents, while simultaneously teaching them a basic living skill.  He especially likes witnessing each resident’s individual way of cooking.  Once the food is prepared by the residents participating in the class, the meal is then shared with all residents on the men’s campus.

Positive results

Although the class was only initiated in April of this year, Andrew has already seen positive results.  In fact, after the first cooking session was held, one resident said he was going to use what he learned when cooking for his grandchildren.  Jay, a resident of the Men’s Program, also attended the first session and felt that “it was interesting learning how to make [chicken pot pie].”  He had previously never made a pot pie, other than a pre-made one from the frozen food section.  The hardest part, according to Jay, was making the dough, as it was made from scratch.  He happily reports that “[the chicken pot pies] turned out good, and it was amazing how simple it was.”  Jay and Andrew, pictured below (left to right), show off their tasty creation.

“More options and fun” to come

During the summer, there will be more resources for cooking, as COTS’ greenhouse will supply fresh vegetables grown by residents.  Andrew looks forward to having “more options and fun” when working with residents to prepare a meal.

Through teaching this class, the Director is also able to see what resources we consistently don’t have that are necessary when cooking.  Among these resources are olive oil and non-salted butter. If interested in donating either of these items, please contact COTS’ development office at 920-734-3609 ext. 404 or lmacdonald@appletoncots.org.