COTS Honors Meal Ministers at Chili Cook-Off

Monday, September 21st marked COTS’ second annual chili cook-off to thank our wonderful Meal Ministers, who graciously prepare home-cooked meals for individuals residing at COTS every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the year. Meal Ministers attending this special event were greeted by the overwhelming gratitude of COTS residents: “It is said, ‘home is where the heart is…’ Although COTS may be a ‘homeless shelter’ of sorts, the meals you provide us with have made it feel much more like a home. “ COTS staff and Board members were also present at the cook-off, contributing to a successful turnout.

Residents and staff members worked together on teams to see who could concoct the tastiest chili. Some of the individuals in our Women’s Program were excited to show off new skills learned during a volunteer-led COTS cooking course. Krista Krueger, our Women’s Case Manager, relayed that “residents greatly enjoyed interacting in a positive event to give back to those who give so much to our community.”

A total of five different varieties of chili were prepared: Santa Fe chicken, turkey, vegetarian quinoa, beef and a special garden blend with a kick. Most attendees tasted each kind of chili, as they were then given the opportunity to place a vote for the best one. And the winner was the chicken chili, with the vegetarian quinoa and turkey chilies following at a close second! As recalled by John Polakowski, COTS’ Aftercare Coordinator who helped to prepare the winning chili, “Those in attendance raved about the food choices and enjoyed each other’s company.”

Thank you again to our Meal Ministers, who truly serve as a valuable part of the COTS Team! As expressed by a COTS resident, “Bless your hearts for all the hearty food!”

Need a new recipe for a tasty chili? Here’s the link for the winning Santa Fe chicken chili:

A Purpose-Filled Life

Written by a resident of COTS’ Women’s Program

I came to live at COTS after being in treatment for my alcoholism.  I knew that I couldn’t return to my old surroundings, so I made the decision to separate myself from my grown children and recreate myself.  Due to my disease, I knew that living alone was not an option.  After researching many avenues that offered a structured community living environment, COTS offered the ultimate opportunities for my success.

I have lived at COTS since October of 2013.  When I first walked through the door my intentions were to only stay one year but I have benefited so much from this program that I decided to stay the entire two years.  I will walk out this door with all the tools necessary to live a very productive, successful, happy and sober life!

The benefits of this program are immense!  I am an older middle aged person and thought that I knew enough to live a productive life.  In hindsight, I only had the mindset to get by, but now I have the skills to succeed!  This program addresses every aspect of life.  My personal experience is one of pure gratitude. I have learned to budget and save money effectively.  I actually have a savings account for the first time in my adult life.  I overcame codependency issues through meetings with my case manager, resources offered by COTS and living with others that can relate to my past experiences.  I learned what is required to transition into an apartment and what the monetary expectations are to move.  I learn something new every day.  May it be in general conversation with another resident or in casual conversation with my Case Manager or other members of the staff.  Through my hard work, dedication, setting healthy boundaries and being receptive to feedback from a well-educated staff, I will be able to apply all that I have learned to my future after the COTS program.

One of my biggest accomplishments since being part of the COTS program is my 2 plus years of sobriety!  One of the rewards from this feat is that I am gainfully employed and have made retirement provisions with a retirement account.  Along with this, I have insurance benefits and will not be at the aid of the State or County.  For me, this translates into being a great member of society and having a purpose filled life.

My plans for the future are bigger and brighter than I ever thought to be imaginable. I know for a fact that when I move into my own apartment that I am armed with all the tools for success.  I will continue my full time career until retirement.  Within the next 4-6 months I would like to visit my elderly parents before they become my Angels.  I have a five year goal to take a cruise and to continue to save money to do some traveling.  And at my age, I have a “bucket list” that I will be checking off.


Life as an Intern: Creating Vision at COTS

Written by Amelia Bemis

I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin and came to Appleton to attend Lawrence University in 2012. I started out as a music major, but realized that I didn’t want to pursue music as a career. After that, I ended up taking a few psychology classes and really loved it. I think my love of psychology stemmed from having a history of mental illness in my family.

I learned about COTS through a recommendation to take a tour of the facilities during a resume builder at Lawrence University. I thought the program was fascinating and very helpful, so I contacted COTS and ended up receiving an internship.

I loved interning at COTS. I met a lot of great people and learned a lot. My internship involved talking with residents, working on documents and running errands. I learned to appreciate every person for who they are. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a bad person, and this internship really drove that home for me. Meeting everyone and hearing their stories was truly inspirational. It also drove home the point that, even if you are struggling, there is truly help available and there will always be someone there to try and pick you back up.

My favorite experience from the internship was teaching a vision board life skills class to residents. I truly believe that thinking positively andvisualizing good things for oneself can change the direction a person’s life is going. I thought that it would be interesting to give people another way of thinking about things. Instead of just jumping to the easy thought process, which would be to think about things in a negative manner, maybe they could try something a little harder and think about most things in life positively.

Now that I have completed my internship at COTS, my plan is to graduate from Lawrence University in June of 2016 with an undergraduate degree in Psychology.  I also hope to eventually go to grad school and move out to the west coast.

“Learning How to Live Again”

A young man’s journey from addiction to independence

“Don’t ever use drugs….they caused me financial, legal, relationship, and emotional problems.” Garret is a 23-year-old resident of the COTS Young Adult Program. He came to COTS after going through treatment for his addiction at The Mooring House. His life journey has been a winding one, but now he finds himself staying on the path to a successful life.

Garret comes from a family background of addiction and mental health issues, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of six. He began experimenting with drugs at an early age, but it wasn’t until he graduated from high school that his addiction became more serious. He had a falling out with his father, and finding himself with no income, he resorted to dealing drugs in order to pay his rent. He stopped taking his medication for his bipolar disorder, and instead began to self-medicate with more and more drugs.


His life began spiraling out of control, and one night he wound up in the hospital after taking a mix of hallucinogens and ecstasy. He woke up in the hospital with no memory of what happened, and looked down to see that he was wearing a bracelet with the word “lucky” in beaded letters. “I’ve never missed a day wearing it…it reminds me that I’m lucky to be alive,” he explains.

He went into treatment at the Mooring House. “At first, I wasn’t ready to be clean. But then I heard how it had changed peoples’ lives…from then on, I never looked back,” Garret remembers.

Garret’s counselor at The Mooring House referred him to COTS after he completed his treatment. He moved into COTS in January 2015, and has been taking steps towards independence ever since.

“Learning to live without drugs”

At COTS, he says he is “learning to live without drugs.” Garret has learned how to save money, how to control his spending (he now focuses on “needs” vs. “wants”), and “how to stand up for [himself].” He has been paying down his debts and saving up for school.

This hard-working young man currently has two jobs and works around 60 hours a week. One of those jobs is at STEP Industries, a company that employs and supports people who are in recovery. He has been sober for over a year, and continues to go to Narcotics Anonymous every night. He is back on his medication, and says that his mental health is stable. He is in the process of enrolling in school, and plans to study biology. He hopes to one day move to Florida in order to become a marine biologist.

Perhaps most importantly to him, he has been repairing his relationship with his family. “I thought I had it made…in doing all these drugs, I didn’t realize how much I had pushed away the people who actually mattered,” he explains. “I’ve finally been getting my family’s trust back.”

Garret has learned many powerful lessons in his young life, but perhaps his most poignant lesson is this: “You have to work for the things you want. You can’t just coast. I coasted for years and never got anywhere. You’re behind the wheel of your own life.”

New Financial Wellness Class Offers “Personal Kind of Touch”

For the last several years, COTS has benefited from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University virtual course. Dave Ramsey is an expert in the field and offers wonderful guidance and advice. One thing that was lacking, however, was the ability to interact with him or someone like him. Now, thanks to Alan Prahl from FISC and Lisa Werner, an independent financial consultant, we recently finished up our pilot of a live interactive five-week class which focuses on the resident’s individual needs.

Residents who attended the pilot were given the opportunity to learn about budgeting basics, banks vs. credit unions, credit reports, cash flow and debt management. After the first four weeks of education, participating residents worked one-on-one with a financial planner to take a really good look at their future and gain a deeper understanding of their individual situation. As expressed by our Men’s Case Manager, Brent Wojnowski, who sat in on the pilot, “having personal interaction with the instructors is extremely beneficial for the residents.” 

The following testimonial provides a sense of just how beneficial the class was:

Alec, a resident in our Men’s Program, was one of the seven individuals that participated in the pilot. Along with many other residents in our program, Alec previously completed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. According to Alec, the new financial wellness class offers a “much more personal kind of touch.” He especially enjoyed being able to sit around a large table with other class attendees. 

When asked to describe one of the biggest lessons he learned during the pilot, Alec replied, “Saving a little bit of money every week can really add up.” The class offered insight on how to better manage monthly program fees while staying at COTS. Alec plans to make a small payment towards his fees each week so that he has more money to work with in between paychecks. 

He also learned how to decide whether or not a bank is the right fit. In fact, after having completed the financial wellness class, Alec now plans to switch his banking over to a credit union. He would like to “get a credit card for small purchases to build up credit” in the near future.

Alec truly feels that the class was worthwhile, as “it gave [him] some good ideas… [He’d] recommend it to anyone.”

The ability to understand and manage personal finances is one of the many factors that are important when working to successfully break the cycle of homelessness. We are hopeful that our new financial wellness class will help our residents to build a sound financial future, thus enabling a successful transition out of our programs and into independent and stable housing.

Mission Not Impossible: New Case Manager Helps Residents Achieve Goals

Written by Katie Daw

I graduated from UW-
Oshkosh in December of 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. Previously, I worked for Family Training Program, where our goal was keeping families united. I started out at COTS as a volunteer in December of 2014 while I was working at Family Training Program.

I chose COTS as a volunteer opportunity because I believed in their mission and really wanted to learn more about the organization. The more I learned, the more engaged and passionate I became about working with the residents and helping COTS with their mission.

I started as a case manager at COTS in mid-May of this year. I continue to learn and grow in that role everyday. What I love most about my job is building relationships with and interacting with the residents. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had is working with a resident on filling out job applications/resume writing and then having that resident become employed. It is such a good feeling to help people realize their goals and later watch them accomplish these goals.

Volunteer Teaches Residents at COTS to Think Rationally

“I always get more than I give in these [volunteer] situations,” states Mary Lou McCord, an enthusiastic volunteer at COTS. Mary Lou spent a good portion of her adult life working as a social worker for the Department of Corrections. Before bringing her vast wealth of knowledge to the COTS community, she was a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, where she got to know and become good friends with Andrew Wilson, who was serving as the organization’s Director at the time.  Andrew introduced Mary Lou to COTS after taking on the role as COTS’ current Executive Director.

Learning “how to live with crisis”

Mary Lou recently taught a rational behavior class to a few residents in our Men’s Program. The class originated from a book called Help Yourself to Happiness written by Maxie Maultsby. During her time as a social worker, Mary Lou actually took the class herself, as she needed to “learn how to live with crisis.” She knows from firsthand experience that the class “works” and has been teaching it to various groups for the past twenty years or so. 

Each week when the class was held at COTS, Mary Lou would strive to teach residents that “any situation that happens to you, you can decide how upset or angry you’re going to be.” As spoken by Maxie Maultsby, whose writings inspired the class, the rational behavior class focuses on “helping people solve their own emotional problems using their ability to think.”

Residents at COTS are “amazingly intelligent”

Throughout the course of the class, Mary Lou noticed that the residents who were participating did indeed start looking at things differently; she was surprised to discover how “amazingly intelligent” the men at COTS are. In fact, the most important lesson that Mary Lou took away from her time teaching the class was that“being intelligent does not keep you from becoming homeless. [Homeless individuals] struggle with the same things that the rest of us struggle with.”

Mary Lou continues to spend time at COTS and plans to teach the class again in the near future. She encourages others in the community to get involved as well: “[COTS is] a good place to volunteer. I’m always glad to come…and get treated like a queen.”

If interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at COTS, please contact Lindsey MacDonald at 920-268-0603 ext. 704 or


In Her Shoes: A Closer Look at the Women’s Case Manager

Written by Krista Krueger

 I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UWO) with a degree in Communication, emphasizing in Rhetoric and Public Advocacy. I minored in Social Justice, concentrating on Social Activism and Women and Gender Studies. At UWO, I was a member of Women’s Advocacy Council, Social Justice Club, and Communication Club, where I was able to participate in the following: Wack-a-scale, Walk a Mile In Her Shoes and Take Back the Night events. Outside of work, I enjoy staying active in musical theatre, an outstanding bowl of pasta, live music, volunteering, oxford commas, and overindulging in travel.

I was drawn to COTS due to my drive to create social change and my commitment to breaking cycles of oppression and injustice. COTS’ dedication to the empowerment of individuals and its active role in the improvement for poverty was not only striking but effective. COTS’ ability to address social, economical, and political empowerment creates positive and lasting change for its residents, as well as the community. With an area that is constantly evolving, I saw COTS as a vital and trailblazing organization in the advocacy for social justice in the Fox Valley.

 Since joining COTS, the biggest reward has been the individuals I have had the opportunity to experience. The entire COTS staff and residents have been nothing but insightful, welcoming, and inspiring, making COTS a truly great organization to be a part of. From seeing my first client successfully move out on her own, to working in the women’s garden, to attending a counseling session with an individual living out of her vehicle, I am more dedicated than ever to alleviating the perpetuation of poverty with COTS. I look forward to continuing to cultivate relationships, share laughs, advocate for equity, and end homelessness in the Fox Valley!

Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah O’Hearn

Sarah O’Hearn first learned about COTS’ Meal Ministry program when she was looking for Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities for her and her husband. She found the opportunity on our website and knew she had found her calling. “I love it!” she exclaims. “For me, it’s perfect because I love cooking and I get to help others.”

COTS’ Meal Ministers take turns providing a meal for COTS residents each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They prepare delicious meals, either as a group or individually, and then drop the food off at COTS. Our Meal Ministers not only provide COTS residents with a scrumptious, home-cooked meal, they also show our residents that our community cares about their well-being. 

Sarah is a native of Fond du Lac and is in the process of building a home in Neenah. She serves as an IT Business Analyst at Humana. Humana recently began providing its employees with eight hours of “VTO”–volunteer time off. This allows Sarah to take some time off work on the days she cooks for the residents. It also allows her time for her other volunteer roles, including volunteering with the Neenah Soccer Club.

“So thankful”

This past Thanksgiving, it took Sarah and her husband all day to prepare the Thanksgiving feast for the residents. They prepared everything from scratch–even the mashed potatoes. Her coworkers pitched in as well, providing 10 desserts to accompany the meal. “The residents were so friendly, so thankful,” she recalls

Sarah just prepared her second, cook-out themed meal for COTS residents, which consisted of hamburgers, brats, potato chips, baked beans and rice crispy bars.

Volunteering has always been important to Sarah. “I think because growing up I was very blessed–we were never hungry.
It’s so important to give back because there are people in need in our own backyard,” she explains.
If you would like to learn more about COTS’ Meal Ministry Program, please contact Lindsey MacDonald at or (920)268-0603 ext. 704

A Home of His Own

Jeremy moved into COTS because, “I was homeless in that I would have wound up on the street.” Jeremy had been in and out of the hospital three times due to his excessive drinking. The third time, he decided to go into treatment at The Mooring House. Once his time at The Mooring House was over, he moved into COTS.

 Jeremy says that the biggest thing he learned while at COTS was about setting goals. His first goal was to find a full-time job. “I was able to save every penny to buy a car…that was a huge step in improving my life.” Having transportation opened up many more job opportunities for him, and he was able to secure a full-time job.

                                         A life rebuilt

This past February, Jeremy moved out of COTS and into his own home. His best friend purchased a home, and Jeremy contributed his own savings of $7,000 toward the purchase. Jeremy glows with pride as he walks around his cozy house. “I really enjoy having a yard,” he grins. Jeremy also loves the fact that he was able to adopt a rescue cat.

 Jeremy hasn’t stopped his goal-setting. He plans to pay off his final remaining credit card debt, and then save up enough money to either buy the house from his friend or buy another home of his own.
“I want people to realize that you can rebuild your life…The [COTS] environment made it possible to do that.”