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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Former COTS resident reflects on her time at COTS
My life before COTS was chaotic and dangerous. Living in Milwaukee, I had fallen further into my addiction, and for the first time that I can remember, I became ready to surrender and change my life around. I ended up in jail, and it wasn’t the first time. I was released and expected to be in Oshkosh the following day to attend 28 days of inpatient treatment for my substance abuse. I completed the 28 days and realized that I needed something more. From there I went to living in a halfway house for 3 months which furthered the treatment that I desperately needed and wanted. After 2 months of living in the halfway house, I was informed that my insurance would no longer pay for my stay. The thought of moving back to Milwaukee scared me more than anything at that time because I knew what I would be going back to. I knew I had to figure something else out in order to continue on this road to recovery.
I talked with many recovering friends and my counselors about what I could do and where I could go to stay in the area. Once again, I didn’t feel ready, and I definitely wasn’t responsible enough yet to be on my own. I heard about COTS from many people in the recovering community, and I filled out the application immediately, hoping and praying that this would be the answer to my prayers. Well, let me just say that my prayers were answered.
I moved into COTS mid October of 2012, and it was exactly what I needed. I had structure and rules to follow, which kept me safe while entering the “real world” again. I believe that COTS had a big part in helping me become the responsible, productive member of society that I am today. I learned how to budget my money, save money, and take care of myself. Living in a building with 10+ other women also taught me the importance of teamwork and helped me see that I’m not the only one struggling through life and trying to persevere. It was a very humbling experience on my journey.
While living at COTS, I held the same job that I was working at when living in the halfway house. I have been able to grow with my employer and learn much more than I ever expected. I remember going into Dawn’s office, the Women’s Case Manager, and sharing my excitement with her every time I was able to move up in a position or take on more responsibility. I am still employed at that job and have also taken on a 2nd job part time at night for the time being. After 9 months of living at COTS, my parents gave me the push and help that I needed to get on my own feet. With the help of my parents, Dawn, and other recovering friends, I found an apartment that became my very own home!
I now live with my boyfriend, who is also in recovery, and we are working on building our lives together. I am enrolled to start school at Fox Valley Tech next semester, and I couldn’t be more excited and optimistic about what the future has in store for me. I just celebrated 29 months clean from active addiction and try my best to start every day with an attitude of gratitude for all the beautiful gifts I have been given. More than anything, I try to help other women, just like COTS and the women I lived with there have helped me.
Our latest annual report is now available! Click on the link below to see what we accomplished last year.
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.”
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.
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.