In 2011, six Chippewa Falls churches banded together to figure out ways to aid the local community with a volunteer group called the Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition.
Now there are 17 Chippewa Falls churches and more than 20 nonprofits involved in the coalition which is connected to successful outreach programs like Hope Village Tiny Housing Alternatives, Soles4Souls, Lighten Your Load and Lather with Love.
The Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition meets monthly to look for opportunities to meet the community’s most pressing needs.
Its mission statement is, “Faithful People joining hearts and hands to be God’s Love in action for our neighbors near and far.”
Tom Drehmel is coalition director. Also heavily involved in the mission coalition are Mike Cohoon, Hope Village Tiny Housing Alternatives director, and Gayle Klitzke, Hope Village board president and director of Lighten Your Load.
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“What we try to do is stay in touch with the community and see what’s needed out there. Be proactive,” Drehmel said. “Every month during our meetings we’ll invite somebody from one of the nonprofits or a church that has something going on, to explain what they’re doing. And then the group helps as they’re able.”
The point is to make sure that the various religious and philanthropic outreach programs in Chippewa Falls support each other and, by extension, support the community.
“We can accomplish so much more together than separately. When we support each other some pretty amazing things happen,” he said.
Some of the work is credited to the coalition as a whole such as free clinics in Chippewa Falls, or the Kids Against Hunger food packaging events. Other work is the responsibility of individual churches or local organizations which inform the coalition when seeking support for outreach efforts.
“Churches in the mission coalition might have a project that they’re doing, and then we all kind of jump on board and support it,” Cohoon said.
“I think that oftentimes we’re just a resource for the different agencies in town. Like an agency has a client that needs something and when I hear about those needs, oftentimes I’ll run that by Tom and then Tom will get the word out in an email to the rest of the members.”
Getting the word out has helped a number of residents get the help they need.
“One lady showed up with a couple of kids to Lighten Your Load — the free laundry program that Gayle runs — and she had about five or six bags of sopping wet laundry. We were asking what happened and she said that her washing machine had broken in her basement and water was all over the place and had damaged all the clothes,” Drehmel said.
The woman who lived in Stanley said she’d heard about Lighten Your Load and was seeking its free laundry service.
“It wasn’t a week later when out of the blue we got someone from a church contact us saying, ‘we’ve got a washing machine. Do you know anybody that could use the washing machine?’ And I said, “I think I do.”
Drehmel said they hadn’t requested a washing machine from the coalition members. The washing machine found them.
“It was just kind of like a God thing,” he said.
They contacted the woman to offer her the washing machine, delivered it and even hooked it up for her.
“Now she can wash her and her kids’ clothes,” he said.
Through her involvement with the coalition, Klitzke formed the Lighten Your Load ministry which helps community members, like the woman whose washing machine had broken. Others who use the service may struggle financially and not be able to afford laundromats.
Four times per month Klitzke and her volunteers meet at a local laundromat to pay for laundry expenses of those in need.
Klitzke does the grant writing and volunteer coordination for this ministry.
“Lighten Your Load was a product of the Mission Coalition,” she said.
Cohoon credits the coalition for helping get Hope Village Tiny Housing Alternatives off the ground. The tiny houses project provides low income housing to those in need. It recently opened a community of tiny houses in Chippewa Falls along with a community center for the tiny housing residents. It’s a $2.7 million project.
“I think the mission coalition was kind of an incubator for the idea about Hope Village. The first thing that happened was that Chippewa churches got behind it with lots of volunteers but it really grew out of the mission coalition,” Cohoon said.
Another time the coalition was able to help locals was when a man was getting ready to have surgery and wasn’t going to be able to lay down in bed post-surgery. His wife was also concerned that she wouldn’t be able to sleep beside her husband after surgery. That bothered her.
The coalition put out a call to see if anyone had any recliners that the couple could use.
“One guy called back and says, ‘I think I’ve got a line on two recliners right now. Do you want to go and look at him with me?’”
Despite the fact that it was Thanksgiving day, Drehmel got in his car and went to inspect the recliners.
The man who had found the pair of chairs delivered them to the couple in need and the two were able to sleep next to each other after the surgery.
“There’s a lot of things like that which happen, you know, it’s like, ‘where did that come from?’ It’s kind of like God in action, I guess,” Drehmel said.
The next meeting of the Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition will be held at Trinity United Methodist at 5 p.m. the first Monday in February. All churches and local outreach organizations are invited to send a representative.
Dale Kortesmaki is a 54-years-old Chippewa Falls resident who lives in a tiny house behind Landmark Christian Church. The church hosts a couple of tiny houses for the housing insecure.
Hope Village is a non-profit 501C3 providing temporary tiny housing for the homeless in Chippewa County. Its mission is to provide short-term and longer-term housing alternatives, and service to people experiencing homelessness.
Gayle Klitzke, 72, of Chippewa Falls keeps busy with volunteer work. She’s the President of the Hope Village board of directors and the team leader of Hope Village’s Mentor Team. She’s a long time member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Chippewa Falls. And she’s regularly involved with the Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition and its many outreach activities.