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Make a meal, make a connection

Community members broke ground today on a new kitchen that will benefit the Ascend Initiative, a program of Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities and NAMI Fox Valley. Ascend serves young adults with mental health challenges in semi-independent housing in Neenah.

Last fall, the J. J. Keller Foundation invited local nonprofits to participate in Kickstart, an empathy-based design process to test solutions related to the challenge of reducing suicide attempts in our community. The Ascend team shared the opportunity of creating a sense of belonging and family-like connections through a shared meal. Thus, the kitchen project at Ascend was born.

Part of the program is a small community center, where residents work with their case managers, have group sessions and celebrate holidays. In most families, food and cooking bring people together, creating positive memories, good feelings associated with the smells and tastes of delicious meals, along with nutrition in filling a belly with food. Cooking together also provides a sense of belonging, reinforces supportive relationships and gives residents an array of skills, including how to cope when something goes wrong in the kitchen.

Three charitable funds within the Community Foundation supported the project, including $20,000 from the Robert Dohr and Lilas Dohr Current Community Needs Fund, $25,000 from the John J. and Ethel D. Keller Fund and $15,000 from an anonymous donor. The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation also supported the kitchen. Leadership Fox Cities hosted fundraisers and sought donations.

Ascend helps young adults who have a mental health challenge to navigate their transition from adolescence to an adulthood of self-sufficiency and stability.

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