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Graduation Day    

By Chris Byerly

NACF NOTES Column, Intercounty Leader, May 26, 2021

Did you know May is Foster Care Awareness Month?  May is traditionally associated with graduations, parties, and well-meant, but usually unsolicited advice on further education and career choices.  Most graduates are supported by family as they take the next steps in their lives - however, many teens in foster care programs experience more challenging circumstances.  It is reported that roughly 20,000 youth between ages 18-21 annually age out of foster care without a nurturing family, leaving them to make their own way.  Noting the need for interaction with teens aging out of foster care, the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation awarded a grant to the Workforce Resource Independent Living program, led by Coordinator/Program Manager Crystal Meier, to help expand its mentorship component for foster youth in Burnett and Polk Counties.

The Independent Living Program assists foster and former foster youth ages 14-23 with services to help them become self-sufficient.  The original plan was to develop in-person programs focusing on healthy relationships and connections through the Youth Advisory Council.  The pandemic, however, forced remote engagement through virtual meetings and classrooms.  NACF grant funds helped host a variety of online programs including a life skills course that provided cooking classes, taught Rent Smart certification, and connected youth to post-secondary options.  Additionally, youth developed Foster Club binders that listed the vital documentation needed when transitioning out of care - everything including birth certificates, educational records, medical records and acquired certifications, as well as other essential resources to ensure self-sufficiency and success as they move forward in their lives.

“We worked to create a community of youth who felt connected to each other during the isolation of the pandemic and also felt confident in the hopes and dreams for their future,” stated Meier.  “We are currently developing a mentorship program using new technologies that allow breakout rooms so youth can work with adults on specific goals each week.  Anyone who is interested in learning more about becoming a mentor is encouraged to contact me.”  Meier can be reached through Workforce Resource at 877-711-9390 ext. 2710.

Chris Byerly is a member of the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation, which is an affiliate of the St. Croix Valley Foundation. For more information, visit www.nacommunityfoundation.org.By Chris Byerly

Cooked2Serve program benefits families, restaurants and farmers.

Although Burnett and Polk Counties are home to several food shelves and distribution programs, many families with school-age children continue to have difficulty putting enough food on the table.  At the same time, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, our local restaurants have struggled to maintain their businesses and keep their staff working.

After reading about how larger communities reacted to food insecurities due to COVID-19 constraints, Mark and Nancy Buley developed a smaller scale plan called Cooked2Serve that sourced ready-to-heat, frozen meals from local restaurants and delivered them to schools to supplement support programs for students and families in need.  In addition, these businesses purchase much of their food from local farmers, thus expanding Cooked2Serve support to farmers and businesses.

A pilot program began in partnership with The Farm Table Foundation in Amery, and Cafe Wren and the Natural Alternative Food Coop in Luck, businesses that were already set up with to-go-foods including frozen soups and meals that were packaged, labeled and ready to be distributed.  To date, 198 quarts of frozen soup and chili, 124 take-and-reheat entrees, 80 frozen pizzas, 24 boxes each of spaghetti, pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese and 60 packs of cookies have been delivered to Frederic Schools.

“It’s all about making sure kids have equity in opportunity,” said Erin Hansford, Frederic 6-12 Principal.  “Students can’t learn if they are hungry.  In addition to helping provide food for families with children, we particularly focus on our students who are living independently – and there are many.  Cooked2Serve frozen meals are great because they just need to be heated.”

Frederic schools forwarded an email from a recipient of the meals that described job loss, a family with two teenage boys, and how they struggle to put healthy meals on the table.  “The BEST community help we have received has been the recent gift of prepared soups and entrees from Cafe Wren and Farm Table through the Frederic school.  Healthy, hearty, and delicious. We are so grateful.”

Mark Buley, a board member of the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation (NACF), approached the Foundation with the idea that NACF create a fund, capable of receiving donations from the public, to support Cooked2Serve and its possible expansion to other school districts.  The board agreed that it fits well with the NACF mission to nurture the strength and well-being of our community by offering guidance and providing resources that support positive solutions.

NACF has established the Cooked2Serve Fund through its parent agency, the St. Croix Valley Foundation.  Donations may be made online at https://nacommunityfoundation.org/ or by mailing a check to the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation, PO Box 111, Frederic, WI  54837.

(The above photos were provided by Cooked2Serve.)

Mark Buhley

Mark Buley delivers fresh produce to Cooked2Serve.