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Building Resiliency in Rural Wisconsin

It’s been said that one of the hardest places to gain momentum and provide services are also the places we love to call home. Treasured places such as our Chain of Lakes here in Waupaca or many other wonderful communities from Lancaster to Tipler.

Grand Opening of WisHope, a non-profit, peer-run Recovery Community Organization in downtown Waupaca

In a way, this is true. We have been working tirelessly for years trying to find ways to help those most in need, along with trying to increase the well-being of everyone who calls rural central Wisconsin home. Some of the counties that we work in have partnered with us to see residents with substance use disorder cared for and helped holistically with wrap-around programs and services. Others, however, either don’t or can’t see the epidemic of substance abuse disorder currently destroying an entire generation.

In the little sleepy town of Waupaca, something different is happening.

One year ago, there were a handful of recovery meetings. The smell of Folgers coffee and the sound of a wicker basket being passed was commonplace, and the people at the table were always there to help. But that was really all there was in terms of community in Waupaca County for those who suffer from substance abuse disorder.

Today, because of the Community Foundation’s Community Vision Fund, things are completely different. The Community Foundation understood the need and helped spark a literal grassroots revival of epic proportion.

In June 2023, Impact Wisconsin received a $15,000 grant from the Community Vision Fund for the purpose of opening a recovery residence for women, as well as supporting “The Ezra Project.” The project was designed to provide a space where folks in recovery could find support, and at the same time, the community at large would be welcome to come in and have coffee, a latte or a pour-over. It was designed to be a safe space for anyone who needed a smile, an ear or just a place to sit and warm up. Today the space is alive with kindness, a warm spirit, and even warmer coffee.

Our friends at WisHope, a nonprofit, peer-run Recovery Community Organization, in downtown Waupaca at 200 N. Main St. have lent us a space where we can make coffee and community connections. At WisHope, Justine Levitt, a local recovery hero who oversees the volunteers and provides resources and services to anyone who walks in the door, greets everyone with a smile.

Earlier this month, at the grand opening, folks from amazing local nonprofits such as CAP Services, Foundations for Living, Mission of Hope and ThedaCare all had tables set up to share resources with anyone who walked in the door. These are the unsung nonprofit heroes who make what we do at Impact Wisconsin possible. They really help “keep er movin” as is said here in rural central Wisconsin.

So where are things now? The Ezra Project is nearing its completion, espresso machine and all. Our community now has 18 recovery residence beds for women thanks to the collaboration between Impact Wisconsin and Mission of Hope, five beds for men opening this week, and six more opening in March. We now have recovery meetings seven days a week, meetings in the jail, peer support, an ADOA crisis line staffed by our peer support professionals, a recovery center in collaboration with WisHope, and in September our partner CORE Treatment Services, a licensed treatment center in Manitowoc, opened our first outpatient treatment clinic here in Waupaca.

Both the Mission of Hope Resiliency Center and The Ezra Project provide the first LGBTQ+ safe spaces in our community, and all of this in 12 short months. What an amazing journey!

Lastly, I’d also like to tell a short little story that we were a very small part of here right after opening the first women’s recovery residence. On a warm July day, a group of friends and family joined one another to witness the graduation of Justine from treatment court, an intensive 18-month program that helps participants in their recovery journey instead of incarcerating them. Justine had given so much back to the recovery community. It was a privilege to watch her graduation. But that was only the beginning… as soon as the judge graduated Justine, the court room emptied in seconds, as there was a wedding to go to, and everyone in that room was invited.

Two hours later, at South Park in Waupaca, our family got to watch Justine and Jarrod (also a treatment court graduate) tie the knot on a beautiful summer afternoon, and here is what makes this day so remarkable: Our police chief, our treatment court coordinator, two of our probation officers, several members of our faith community and a huge group of our recovery community all got to watch as Judge Vicky (who is the presiding judge over treatment court) performed the wedding. Our hearts have never been so full as they were on that day.

This is a community that is building resiliency from the bottom up, and something that would have been impossible to do without the Community Vision Fund and the amazing team at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

To learn more about recovery services in Waupaca, or to get involved, visit

Michael Hall is the Executive Director of Impact Wisconsin and CEO of Mission of Hope and
Recovery Development Director for CORE BHS.

What does a Community Foundation do? Glad you asked! Learn more here.

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