In 2012, the generosity of the Robert and Eleanor FrankeFoundation helped launch WisCorps’ Neighborhood Crew program, providing teens and young adults with work experience, life skills and a focus on volunteering. In 2017, the organizations will team up again to expand the crew opportunity to people with disabilities.
WisCorps was chosen from among several nonprofit organizations to receive the first-ever Franke Foundation’s Community Initiative Award, a $45,000 grant they will use to implement an Inclusive Neighborhood Crew Program this spring. The organization was selected by the boards of directors of the Franke Foundation and the La Crosse Community Foundation.
“The award is an effort to make a little more impact on the community than we can with some of the smaller grants,” said Mel Hoffman, executive director of the Franke Foundation. “All the applications we received were very worthy, but there were a lot of factors we thought made (the WisCorps Inclusive Neighborhood Crew) special. WisCorps is marrying the concepts of helping the disabled, helping youth and helping the neighborhood.”
“What WisCorps is doing for our community is amazing,” agreed CJ Hoffman, executive assistant of the Franke Foundation. “They have big hearts, big ideas, and they always follow through.”
The Inclusive Neighborhood Crew is a passion project of WisCorps executive director Matt Brantner, who helped develop a crew adapted for people with visual impairments in Vermont and was anxious to continue the inclusive work program in La Crosse, providing mentoring, confidence and independence to those who require accommodations.
“Corps have developed these amazing programs around the country that make the Corps experience accessible to everyone — those with blindness or limited mobility or a cognitive disability,” Brantner said. “The focus of what we do is job training, but there are all these other amazing pieces that come with it — helping the community and those in need.”
Crew members put their skills towards community revitalization projects, assisting the elderly with home repairs and environmental restoration and protection efforts. Brantner says WisCorps will form a connections team, reaching out to local organizations and agencies serving individuals with disabilities to discuss program design, share adaptive equipment and resources and recruit young adults for the Inclusive Neighborhood Crew, providing them with a full support system.
“I’m very excited and so grateful for this award” Brantner said. “I don’t even know how to put into words how much gratitude we have for the support of the Franke Foundation and the La Crosse Community Foundation board. The Franke Foundation has helped us pilot so many of our projects, and (we) couldn’t get this off the ground without them.”
This story originally ran in the La Crosse Tribune, Dec. 4, 2016.