In 1985, Gil Homstad recognized a need and took action. That action resulted in the creation of the Black River Falls Area Foundation, which set a record as the smallest (population) community in the entire country to have a Foundation. Starting with zero dollars, the Foundation set course with their first fund raising campaign called ‘The Black River Spirit.’ From those humble roots the Foundation has grown to over five million dollars in assets, assuring that it will continue to enhance the quality of life in the BRF area far into the future. For thirty-five years, Gil’s purpose, foresight, and leadership, together with amazing community support, has allowed the Foundation to grow into what it is today. The continuous generosity of the people in our community indicates ‘The Black River Spirit’ is very much alive and going strong. In 1987, the Foundation awarded its first grants, $2,562 to four local non-profit organizations. Since then, more than 800 Grants have been awarded to 117 diverse, local, non-profit organizations, totaling over $6.7 million dollars! What an astounding community accomplishment for which we are very grateful!

A common misconception is that in order to use the Foundation to make a difference in our community, donors must be very wealthy and make large contributions. This is absolutely not the case! In fact, smaller donors use the Foundation for their charitable giving preciously because a donation of any size will touch many in the community. Contributions to the Foundation go on to support a large number of local non-profit organizations. These organizations support an even larger number of area residents in a variety of different ways, which results in many grateful people!

On pages 4 and 5 of this report is a story about local people and organizations that have recognized a need and taken action. This story offers examples of ways to take action without necessarily donating money. Younger people often find it difficult to give financially, but many are willing to volunteer their time and talents providing valuable services that fulfill many community needs. Some of these generous people are taking action to help foster parents and foster children in our area. The shortage of people willing to act as foster parents is a serious and growing concern. As of November, there were 60 children in Jackson County requiring out of home placement. For all of those individuals willing to volunteer services, or work in careers helping others, we are very grateful!

I personally have a new appreciation of, and gratitude for, those who are willing to give of themselves to foster children. I would like to share the story of my recent experience with the foster care system, and the lessons I learned. My granddaughter, Evie, is 19 years old and graduated from high school this year. This young woman has been a ‘little mother’ since she was a baby herself, always taking care of others and helping wherever she could. While in middle school she decided when she grew up she wanted to be a counselor and help children. Evie never wavered in that decision. As graduation grew near, her family anxiously urged her to decide where to go to post-secondary school. However, between the chaos of the pandemic, some health issues, and holding down a job, Evie’s senior year had been a definite struggle, she was simply worn out. She wanted, and needed, some time to regain her strength and simply catch her breath. Evie told us she was not going to school right now, and possibly not ever. While this was difficult for her family to accept, we were eventually forced to acknowledge that she is a very mature and level-headed young woman, who is perfectly capable of making her own decisions.

Evie and her boyfriend Brandon, who is 21, both have jobs which they really enjoy, and they rent their own home. Early
this fall, through a chain of almost unimaginable events, and circumstances far beyond their control, Evie and Brandon found themselves caring for a new-born baby girl, and facing a decision about becoming her foster parents. Looking back, we ‘adults’ knew what we wanted for Evie and believed that was what was best for her. I am ashamed to admit, we were not listening to Evie, or considering what she wanted for her own life. Selfishly, I also never gave much thought to what would happen to the baby and where she would go. I believe, without really thinking about it, I assumed that surely someone else would take her in and she would be fine. I was focused on the tremendous responsibility my granddaughter would be assuming and the burden caring for this child would be for her. I asked Evie, “What about your dream of being a children’s counselor, and what if your heart gets broken?” She replied, “No one knows what the future holds. I’m young, if I want to I can still go back to school someday, but I know right now, this child needs us and we can help. Our hearts may get broken, but that won’t take away the positive impact we can have on her life.” Evie and Brandon’s minds were made up. They were, and remain, determined to provide this tiny baby girl with a safe and loving home.

Now, five months later, I am in total awe of the wonderful parents Evie and Brandon are, and I am happy to have found my own way to recognize a need and take action. When Evie and Brandon’s work schedules overlap, or there are errands
to run, or appointments to attend I am there, as is our entire family. This tiny baby girl entered our lives and because of the love she gives us, and that we feel for her, no one in my family will ever be the same. Evie and Brandon have taught us that helping where and when you can, sharing what you have even when it isn’t much, and giving love selflessly is the best possible gift you can give yourself. I still struggle with fears about my family getting hurt, but I am grateful to Evie for helping me see that we shouldn’t miss happiness in the present with worry about sadness in the future. Yes, at some point we may all have our hearts broken by this situation, but for today we are focused on the joy this child brings, and to the solid, loving, foundation we can provide for her tomorrows.

Thank you Evie and Brandon for recognizing a need and taking action. I am so very, very proud of you!

Hoping each of you had a Merry Christmas and an opportunity to truly appreciate time with your family. May each of you
have a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous New Year. As always, an acknowledgment of sincere appreciation and gratitude for the wonderful donors who continue to support our community through the Foundation, and for the Trustees who donate their time and talents. Without these generous gifts of time, talent and money, there would be no Foundation. Until we can gather again, please stay safe, focus on all we have to give thanks for, and don’t hesitate to ‘Recognize a Need and Take Action.’