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.”

Jake: Driven to Succeed

“I was struggling to figure out who I really was,” explains Jake. In his early 20’s, Jake began examining his identity. His family did not support his ultimate decision, and they kicked him out of the house when he was 20. He was able to stay with his cousin temporarily, but needed to find someplace he could stay long-term. He had only started working just 

before he was forced out of his parents’ home, so he didn’t have any savings to be able to live on his own.

Fortunately, he was able to come to COTS. He has now been at COTS for the past year and a half, and has used his time here to lay down the groundwork for living independently. He found a truck driving job in the field that he had his degree in (his Class A Commercial Drivers License).

“All my bills are paid off”

He also completed RentSmart and Financial Peace University, two of the life skills classes offered at COTS. The budgeting lessons he learned through Financial Peace University helped him to save up money to purchase his first vehicle with cash. “I’ve always been proactive while

here…I always get back on my feet,” he explains.

 Jake smiles as he says, “all my bills are paid off.” He has also started saving towards his own apartment. He plans to move out of COTS this summer and into an apartment with friends.

“I’ve learned to accept myself” 

In the future, he is considering going back to school for welding. Ultimately, he would like to be “able to buy a house, go on a vacation out of the country. I’d like to take a train ride through the mountains. And some day have a family.”

Aside from the more practical skills like budgeting he has learned, Jake also says, “I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am and others for who they are.Everybody has their own problems that they’re trying to solve.”

Help for the Homeless Has Record-Breaking Year

Each year, COTS participates in 91.9/91.5 

The Family’s “Help for the Homeless” hygiene drive, and each year, we are absolutely blown away by the tremendous amount of support provided by our neighbors! This year, $157,000 worth of hygiene products was collected through the drive, which is up more than $5,000 from last year’s record of $151,509. COTS is so grateful to be one of the 17 area crisis agencies that benefited from this community-wide effort.

“We are, once again, simply overwhelmed by the generosity of this community. I wish that everyone who gave to Help for the 
Homeless could see the looks on our residents’ faces as the items were brought into our agency, knowing they could have fresh razors, 
deodorant, and other essential items. Most importantly, they know that they are part of a community that supports them and cares about their well-being. We cannot thank you enough.” -Andrew Wilson, COTS Executive Director

Thanks again to everyone in our community who played a role in making this year’s “Help for the Homeless” drive such a huge success!

Want to see how you helped to make a difference? Check out this video for a behind-the-scenes look at the results of this year’s drive.

A Brief Glimpse at the COTS Aftercare Coordinator

Written by John Polakowski

As COTS’ Aftercare Coordinator, my activities and duties vary from one day to the next and tend to keep me very busy.  Thus a typical day includes interaction with current and former residents.  I do enjoy making contact and keeping in touch with clients in the Aftercare Program.  Many of them continue to call or visit me after reaching their two-year limit for aftercare services.

One of the women whom I see on a regular basis still comes to our monthly community dinners even though she has been living on her own for almost three years.  Not long ago, Mary called me to request a visit because of a recent surgery.  When I went to her well-kept apartment, she brought me up-to-date about her recovery and the progress she has made dealing with abuse issues.

Mary sees a therapist each week and has been able to use techniques that she learned in sessions to overcome post-traumatic stress.  I complimented her for the growth that I have witnessed in her for the past couple years.  She was very happy to see me because she has been unable to drive since her surgery and misses her involvements in volunteer programs and the people she interacts with there.  I offered to bring one of our interns who would like to accompany me on some home visits.  Mary quickly agreed to arrange a visit the following morning.

She is always so proud to give visitors a tour of her apartment complex and explain the amenities that are available to her.  I left with a sense of gratitude and smile when I think about Mary’s success.

Amanda: Success in Bloom

“I separated from my parents and family because of abuse, and they did not want me anymore.”

 To the outside world, it looked like Amanda’s life was on track. She was at Lawrence University studying music education when her family’s abuse reached a new level and they cut her off financially. Without their financial support, Amanda could no longer afford to stay in school, and she had no where else to go. She had just turned 19. “In the past, I’ve lived in shelters, on the street, and on various couches of people I know,” she remembers.

 Then Amanda learned about COTS, and she moved into the Women’s Program in February. This driven young woman has quickly turned her life around and glows as she talks about all of her accomplishments. “Since coming to COTS, I’ve gained stability in my life. I have been able to begin therapy and get back on medications I wasn’t able to afford before,” she explains.


Amanda was able to find a rewarding full-time position working with individuals with disabilities. She also recently was able to purchase her very first vehicle thanks to support from the Work-n-Wheels program through CAP Services. The Work-n-Wheels program provides interest-free loans to low-income individuals so that they can purchase their own vehicles.

She is also working to start a community garden at the

women’s building. The garden will focus on growing fresh vegetables for the residents of the program. “I want to teach my peers that they can provide for themselves,” she explains. She believes that gardening will be “a good therapeutic outlet for the women here.”

Back to School

Amanda is perhaps the most excited about recently gaining independent student status. This will allow her to receive more financial aid, since prior to this, her school financial package was based on her parents’ income. Now, she can afford to return to Lawrence University. She plans to continue studying music education this fall.

Amanda’s experience has given her insight that will benefit her as she works to “pay it forward” in the future in her work in education. “I’ve learned that there are many people just like me who’ve gone through just as much or more, and they can still turn it around.”