Creating a Stronger Community Contest
4th Annual (2015)
1st Place: Cycling Without Age – Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh $1,352
Intergenerational relationships, the sharing of stores, and making memories of a lifetime for elders to get outside Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh by providing the opportunity to ride in a three-wheeled bicycle.
2nd Place: Lighted School House Program $500
To empower students socially and academically by providing unique extended day learning opportunities in partnership with families, school, and the community. Also, to create life-long and compassionate citizens equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century.
3rd Annual (2014)
1st Place: H.O.M.E. – Helping Owners Maintain Equity $1,541
Improve the safety, security, weather efficiency, and quality of life and health for low income homeowners and the community.
2nd Place: Neighborhood Kids Crew $500
Oshkosh kids work together to do yard cleanup and native planting projects for people in their neighborhoods.
2nd Annual (2013)
1st Place: Growing Oshkosh $1,500
Growing Oshkosh is a network of local nonprofit urban farms, gardens, and edible landscapes in and around Oshkosh.
2nd Place: Party.o $750
Party.o is an alcohol-free sober house party organization spearheaded by UW Oshkosh students.
3rd Place: Oshkosh Arts Collective $350
Oshkosh Arts Collective is an art and music space collective started in collaboration with the local community and UW Oshkosh Students.
4th Place: Oshkosh Blues in the Schools $350
Oshkosh Blues in the Schools, is an initiative of the Oshkosh Native Sons Blues Society that provides after-school blues musics lessons to middle-school students in the Oshkosh area.
1st Annual (2012)
1st Place: Oshkosh Food Co-Op $1,750
A not-for-profit membership organization that connects local residents in the Fox Valley with healthy food choices.
2nd Place: Growing Seeds of Change $500
A community garden project designed by three, UW Oshkosh students for a political science class. Provides a place for Oshkosh residents to meet and share common interests in gardening and providing healthy food for their family and friends.
3rd Place: A Brush with Kindness $270
A new neighborhood revitalization project of our local Habitat for Humanity Chapter.
Shortening the Distance by Paul Van Auken TITLE: Creating a Stronger Community Contest back for Third Go-Round Oshkosh Scene, April 2014 I previously noted, in a column about the origins of this contest, that one of the reasons I love Oshkosh is that if you have an idea about something that could make local life better, you can give it a try, and it just might work. The Creating a Stronger Community Contest (CSCC) is itself the result of taking such a shot, and its purpose is to encourage others to pursue their own good ideas. Launched in 2011, the CSCC fielded 24 proposals in its first two rounds, from groups-in-the-making, student organizations, established local nonprofits, and individual people. They pitched a variety of ideas related to local food, the arts, youth voting, anti-poverty strategies, sustainability, bringing diverse groups together, and more. A screening committee representing CSCC sponsors ranked the applicants and chose three finalists the first year and five the second. All applicants, however, were invited to represent their project and network at promotional tables before and after the Earth Charter banquet, where I got to announce the groups that would square off at the finals event at Becket’s Center Court later in the week. Roughly 75-100 people turned out for the first two finals events, coming together to mingle and chat with the project representatives, eat Becket’s appetizers, hear an inspiring talk and reports from winners, and listen to each finalist’s five-minute pitch and some live music as they weighed their options. Most importantly, attendees were there to choose the winner; after making a nominal contribution ($5 or $10), they were able to vote for the project of their choice. These contributions were added to what we’d already raised from local sponsors, allowing the winner to take home more than $1,700 each year, with additional seed money awarded to the second and third place projects, as determined by the votes of attendees. Previous winners have gone on to create and build local initiatives that have already begun to make their mark in Oshkosh. The Oshkosh Food Co-op group won the inaugural event. Bridgette Weber, an environmental studies student at UWO, pulled the Co-op group together back in the summer of 2011 and is now the President of its board of directors. An incorporated entity, the Co-op has recruited more than 60 founding members who have invested $180 in the quest to create a natural and local foods oriented, full-scale grocery store in the central city. According to Weber, “The Creating a Stronger Community Contest really gave the Oshkosh Food Co-op leverage during the most vulnerable stage of the process, the beginning. We received $1750, which was crucial aid in helping to cover some initial marketing and promotional materials, and most importantly our initial legal fees.” She continued to explain, “The contest enabled us to set up our business structure with professionals in the field. It also gave us confidence and initial community support that put us on the map. The Oshkosh Food Co-op is very grateful for this opportunity in our community, and hopes that others take advantage of this amazing kickstarter.” Growing Oshkosh took first place in 2012. While it had a location, some solid plans, and board of directors in place, it was a fledgling urban farm, built upon Oshkosh native and UWO alum Dani Stolley’s vision of producing food, flowers, fish, jobs, and hope, which she honed through extensive training at Growing Power in Milwaukee. Stolley noted after the victory, “It feels absolutely amazing to have won the Creating a Stronger Community Contest – not just because we won, and not just because it means I’ve come full circle as a kid growing up in Oshkosh, going to school in Oshkosh, graduating from UW Oshkosh and now Growing Oshkosh – but also because this is a win/win/win for the entire community.” Since then, Growing Oshkosh has created numerous raised bed gardens, a sizable composting system, and hoop houses for year-round aquaponics and horticulture on a brownfield (contaminated former industrial site) near the mouth of the Fox River on the city’s east side. They grow and sell a variety of sprouts and other produce at the summer and winter farmers’ markets and to restaurants in Oshkosh, while working with local schools to produce their own gardens. Be on the lookout for the mercury-free, locally raised lake perch they will be raising and marketing in the future. Not only have the winners gone on to succeed, but the second-place finishers have as well. The Growing Seeds of Change urban community garden used its seed money to begin operations on Jefferson St. in central Oshkosh, and has since raised additional funding and expanded. Party.o, an organization that holds sober off-campus parties, brought a number of students out to the finals event last year and took home $750. A recent front-page article in the Oshkosh Northwestern highlighted their success. What other good ideas are out there, which could make a positive local impact with a little seed money and publicity? CSCC is currently seeking proposals, and anyone from the area can apply. This year, the contest is taking place in late April, coinciding with Earth Week at UWO. A link to the short, simple, online application is found at the ADP webpage (http://www.uwosh.edu/adp), and the application is due on April 20. The Earth Week banquet is happening on the evening of Monday, April 21 at 6pm, with the finals event at Becket’s Center Court from 7-9pm on April 24. Here’s hoping we have another great batch of ideas to consider and a whole mess of people at the finals, to build community, have some fun, and plant more seeds.
Shortening the Distance by Paul Van Auken TITLE: Contest Aims to Build Community, Seed Innovation Oshkosh Scene, October 2012 One of the reasons I love Oshkosh is that if you have an idea about, you can give it a try, and it just might work. This month’s column is about just such an idea. Like most things, it started with a seed of inspiration. A few years back I read an article in The New York Times about an old church in the heart of NYC where changing demographics had caused membership to drop to 17 people. Rather than closing the doors, a new pastor decided that to breathe new life into this place, it needed to become a community center again. So, he started renting the sanctuary to bands for practice and drama groups for performances, and more and more people from the neighborhood began to use the space in various ways, including as a pick up site for a CSA program. The article culminated with a description of an event—called Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics—that was emblematic of how it was indeed serving as a community center: “The church basement was packed with about 250 hipsters eating soup, listening to live music and voting on which of 14 artists’ proposals should receive a grant paid for with participants’ $10 and $20 entrance fees, based on a pay-what-you-can model.” The winner left with a bag full of $1,200 to implement a project called Green My Bodega, which would connect farmers from the region to corner convenience stores. I thought, “wow – that’s a broad definition of art.” And, “250 hipsters in one place – woah!” (I kid.) And—“we should try to do something like that here.” The idea germinated for a while. Then, shortly after joining the American Democracy Project (ADP) committee at UWO, I proposed that we sponsor a contest designed to award seed money to innovative ideas for improving local life. The idea was enthusiastically received. After we had worked out the parameters of the contest, we decided to pitch it the Earth Charter Community Summit committee. They were also excited by the concept, so it was added to the agenda for the annual Summit week. Some fundraising (led by ADPer Carleen Vandezande) yielded $2,000 from ADP and Earth Charter, and additional sponsors UWO Foundation and Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. And the Creating a Stronger Community Contest (CSCC) was born. We received 11 interesting entries for last fall’s inaugural contest—thanks largely to the promotional efforts of ADPer Mike Lueder—from established local nonprofits and groups-in-the-making, student organizations, and individuals. They pitched a variety of ideas related to the arts, youth voting, anti-poverty strategies, sustainability, bringing diverse groups together, and more. A screening committee representing CSCC sponsors ranked the applicants and chose three finalists. All applicants, however, were invited to represent their project and network at promotional tables before and after the Earth Charter banquet, where I got to announce the groups that would square off at the finals event at Becket’s Center Court later in the week. A nice crowd came together to mingle and chat with the project representatives, eat Becket’s appetizers, hear an inspiring keynote, and listen to each finalist’s five-minute pitch. Most importantly, attendees were there to choose the winner; after making a nominal contribution ($5 or $10), they were able to vote for the project of their choice. These contributions totaled $520, which was added to what we’d already raised. The Oshkosh Food Co-op group (see cover story) ended up the winner, taking home $1,750. Growing Seeds of Change, a community garden project designed by three UWO students for a political science class, was awarded $500, and Brush With Kindness, a new neighborhood revitalization project of our local Habitat for Humanity chapter, received $270 to help get the ball rolling. According to Brenda Haines, one of the Oshkosh Food Co-op organizers, “As we told the crowd that night, we believe it is worth exploring whether we can bring local farmers and local residents together for the benefit of us all. And, the crowd responded, voting for our project and ultimately, giving the project legs.” Seeing this all come to fruition was a lot of fun. The fact that the three groups remain actively engaged with their projects is gratifying and shows that perhaps this contest itself has legs. Haines added, “That grant gave us momentum. And, it is holding us accountable to make our vision a reality.” In a previous edition of Scene, Janine Wright profiled Amber McCord and the community garden that is now a reality on Jefferson St. near downtown, and Habitat recently its new initiative through which volunteers help with painting and exterior home improvements. This year, Scene is a co-sponsor for what we hope will be an annual event that continues to grow. We’re following last year’s formula, with the simple, two-page application found at the ADP webpage (http://www.uwosh.edu/adp) and due on October 7. The Earth Charter banquet is happening on the evening of October 8, with the finals event at Becket’s Center Court from 7-9pm on October 11. Here’s hoping we have another great batch of ideas to consider and a whole mess of people at the finals, to build community, have some fun, and plant more seeds.