Client Stories

Camp Stories

“We started sending our son, Jim, to Easterseals Wisconsin Camps when he was 10. His three siblings were often invited to birthday parties, sleepovers, and other outings; Jim was not. So, camp became Jim’s special place. When his siblings were younger, each of them attended camp with Jim for a weekend. It enlightened them how camp was adaptable to those with different abilities. They were happy to see that their brother had a definite place at camp, was remembered by, and was popular with, many of the counselors and fellow campers.

“Nobody is ever too old to have fun at camp! Jim is 32 now and still goes to camp every year. He loves music. It’s his favorite activity at home and he enjoys it a lot at camp, too. He enjoys all the singing, listening to music or playing it himself, as he can play piano/keyboard one-handed, by ear. At Respite Camp, Jim gets a kick out of the fact that the DJ for the morning wake-up music always includes his favorite Fleetwood Mac song, “Never Going Back.” He always lets me know they don’t have the morning wake-up songs at Wawbeek! Haha! Jim loves hanging out in the pool, loves the trips into the Dells, going to the Trading Post, the Thursday night dances, and the campout. Oh, and the food!

“For years, Jim only attended Respite Camp. One summer, a counselor from Camp Wawbeek, who was helping out at Respite Camp, told us he thought Jim, in part because he was so social, would do well at Wawbeek. The next year, Jim gave Camp Wawbeek a try and really liked it. Since then he splits his time between both camps.

“As the years rolled by, camp was no longer just for Jim. We started really appreciating and looking forward to the break we can enjoy while Jim is having a great time at camp. The couple time is so nice, whether we camp in the Dells area or just relax at home. It’s a win-win for Jim and us! While we are now looking to get some in-home respite providers to help out when we need someone for a few hours, camp continues to be our main respite and it’s more important to us to have multiple days off than a few hours now and then. Camp provides that.

“We believe Jim’s life has been enriched at camp for so many reasons, as has our family’s life, seeing what it does for the campers. Although Jim doesn’t understand about other countries, cultures, and people from different backgrounds, as parents, we love how Jim has experienced so many counselors from all over the world. Easterseals Wisconsin Camps are safe and welcoming places for so many, and have made an incredible difference in the lives of every member of our family!”

— Katie Schierl, Jim’s mother

Mark and Kersten Drake own and operate a beef and crop operation on approximately 170 acres near Sparta. They have two children; a son, Erik, and a daughter, Haylee. Haylee, who was born with chromosomal anomalies that caused cognitive delays and behavior issues, requires full-time caregiving. With Mark running the farm and Kersten working as an Operating Room Nurse, they realized they couldn’t sustain both parents working outside the home and Kersten decided to step away from her OR Nursing career, work from home, and become Haylee’s full-time caregiver.

The role of caregiver, while rewarding, can be difficult and exhausting. Kersten soon realized she needed help, and what she was most in need of was respite – a break from the around-the-clock care she was providing to her daughter. She and Mark needed some quality time together and with their son. Their social worker suggested they look into the Wisconsin Elks/ESW Respite Camp, and it proved to be a great fit for the family. Haylee has attended camp for more than a dozen years now, and absolutely loves her time there, attending summer sessions and weekend sessions throughout the year when possible.

In November of 2020, Mark sustained an amputation and crush injury to the fingers on his left hand when it was caught in a corn picker. Just out of sight of the highway on a dreary, cold, rainy evening, Mark was trapped for more than three hours, periodically yelling for help. A group of Chicago bow hunters staying at a nearby deer camp heard his calls from nearly half a mile away and followed his voice until they found Mark and called 911. It took another hour for first responders to free Mark from the husking bed. On top of that, the weather conditions made it impossible for the medical helicopter to access his location to quickly transport him to the hospital.

Miraculously, after a week in the hospital, Mark only lost one finger. Unfortunately, though, because circulation had been cut off to his hand for so many hours on the day of the injury, he was left with little strength in his dominant hand. This injury, on top of the chronic back pain he had already been dealing with from degenerative disc disease and two previous back surgeries, left him wondering how he was going to manage the workload on the farm.

The family reached out to ESW again, this time contacting Jeff Kratochwill, Director of FARM and Vocational Services. Jeff was able to make a number of recommendations to Mark and, through the FARM Program’s partnership with Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), support was provided in the form of an automatic gate system, a quick connection for their tractor and wagons, and a net wrap system on the round baler that Mark can more easily access.

Although it has been a terribly rough road for the Drake family, they keep pushing forward. “I cannot say enough good things about Jeff in the FARM Program and the team at Respite Camp,” says Kersten. “They were there when we needed them and have made a tremendous difference in our lives.”

“You signed on the same dotted line we all did.” This is one of the most impactful statements Marine Corps veteran, Sergeant Don MacLeod, has ever heard during the nine years he’s attended Veterans Family Camp, a free weekend retreat for veterans held twice a year at Easterseals Wisconsin Camps in Wisconsin Dells.

Since the program’s inception in 2009, the camp has served nearly 1,500 veterans and family members. The camp sessions are designed to give families time to reconnect with each other and network with other veterans during a fun, relaxing weekend with a variety of planned and optional activities.

Read the full story

Camp Wawbeek isn’t just for kids. We offer Adult Camp Sessions all year-round! Camp Wawbeek divides its weekend and summer sessions by age, to provide engaging activities for the entire group and encourage social development. Camp Wawbeek offers three different sessions for adults: Adults Camp (18+), Older Adults Camp (40+), and Pioneer Camp (outdoor camping).

For any questions you may have regarding our Adult Sessions, please contact our camp office via e-mail or by phone at 608-237-1979. To view Camp Wawbeek sessions, please visit our camp calendar. To find out how to register for camp, visit our registration page.

See how Camp Wawbeek impacted an AmeriCorps member last summer!

“Easterseals Wisconsin Camps is so hard to describe to other people, for what we do here is not so easily put into words. All outsiders know about my summers is that I work a lot of hours and do ‘campy things’. As someone once said about camp, “From the outside looking in you can’t understand it, and from the inside looking out you can’t explain it”. That’s part of why when people ask me why I keep coming back, I don’t know what to say at first. Three years ago, when I applied to the AmeriCorps program at ESW Camps, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea how it would change my life, that it would change me. And yet, at the end of my third summer I find myself amazed at how much I’ve learned since the beginning of that first summer.

When I first got to camp I was nervous and terrified – I had never done anything like this before. I had no idea what to expect. Now, three summers later, I leave amazed and proud. The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met have had a huge impact on how I approach and view the world now. So many of the things I’ve seen at camp can only be experienced at Easterseals Wisconsin Camps. A great example of this was seeing one of our campers shoot a basketball standing up and using his walker for the first time in a very long time. Or something as simple as being able to provide an accessible shower for someone who is unable to get into their bathtub at home. Not everything we do seems monumental to outsiders, but the help we provide may mean everything to those that we serve. And that’s the reason I keep coming back to Easterseals Wisconsin Camps. If I have the chance to be a part of something so meaningful and the ability to make someone else’s life a little easier, even if only for a week, I’m going to take every chance I get.”

-Dani Polewko | senior at Cornell College studying art education

FARM Program Stories

NEVER take shortcuts. FARM Program client, John Mitchell of Larsen, Wisconsin who was injured in a farm accident in September 2022, shares his story about overcoming tragedy and how Easterseals Wisconsin played a major role.

We hope you’ll sit back and listen, and maybe even join us in our annual campaign to support farmers just like John and his family. John’s segment starts at the 16 minute mark: And if you aren’t able to listen to the entire interview, skip ahead to the 40:10 mark, “It’s unbelievable what they did for me. It changed my life.”

Thank you, John, for sharing your story and bringing awareness to a very serious topic.

See how our Rural Rehabilitation Specialists do so!

Our team of Rural Rehabilitation Specialists will meet on-site to conduct work assessments, determining work-site and equipment modifications that will help farmers with disabilities maintain their independence and continue farming. Created in 1989, the Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program helps farmers return to farming after a disabling accident or illness. Since its inception, the FARM Program, with a better than 97% success rate, has helped thousands of farmers with disabilities continue in agriculture, enjoying independence and supporting themselves and their families. The FARM Program proudly serves as a model for similar programs nationwide.

If you would like to receive more information about our FARM Program, or know someone who may be interested, click here for more details. We’d love to talk with you!

Michael Hansen, who owns and operates a farm in central Wisconsin where he raises organic meats, has Degenerative Disc Disease and Spinal Stenosis. The conditions, which worsened significantly in 2006, cause severe back pain and have made many of the everyday tasks his operation requires difficult, painful or impossible to do. Doctors gave him a 25 pound lifting restriction and he cannot stand or sit in one place for any appreciable length of time or sustain jarring (as would be experienced on a tractor).“It took me a long time to admit and accept that I have a disability,” Michael says. “Everyday chores were becoming a real problem.”

Michael was determined to stay in farming if at all possible, and after hearing about the Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program through the Marshfield Farm Medicine Center, he contacted the agency to see if they could offer any advice that might make his daily chores manageable.

Jeff Kratochwill, Lead Rural Rehabilitation Specialist for the FARM Program, contacted Michael and together they walked through a day on the farm, analyzing each task. Michael prepares and ships organic meat to customers all over the country. At max capacity, the boxes weigh 70 pounds, greatly exceeding Michael’s 25 pound lifting restriction. Jeff recommended using smaller boxes, bringing the weight of each into the acceptable range and installing a hydraulic lift cart along with a conveyor system that would reduce the strain on Michael’s back even further.

The tractor Michael was using presented a number of difficulties. Not only was the amount of jarring significant, the small operator’s station and the clutching and shifting mechanisms added to the stress on his back. To address these concerns, Jeff suggested a different tractor. The recommended model had a swiveling seat with impact-absorbing suspension, making it possible for Michael to monitor equipment being pulled without twisting his body in a way that aggravated his back. The more easily reached shifting and clutching mechanisms further reduced the strain on his back.

Jeff also suggested an automatic hitching device so that Michael could hitch and unhitch his equipment without having to climb on and off the tractor and perform the bending and lifting involved in the task. Jeff also offered advice on doing some chores in a slightly different manner and for making some smaller modifications to equipment. After the recommendations were approved by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), modifications were made and equipment purchased.

“I’m still learning to use, make or adapt tools and technology so that I can get the work done,” says Michael. “Without the help and advice I got from the FARM Program, I wouldn’t be functioning at the level I am today. I’m very grateful to Easterseals Wisconsin and the folks at DVR for helping me stay on the farm and keeping my dream alive. ”

Mary Housner and her husband, Gary, run Bo-Irish Farms outside Elroy, Wisconsin. Feeding the cows required Mary to bend down and lift heavy loads. Because of the pain caused by fibromyalgia, Mary had trouble doing the chores, and more work ultimately fell to Gary, aggravating his own back problems. Getting the farm work done was becoming increasingly difficult for the family.

The family’s banker told the Housners about AgrAbility of Wisconsin and Mary contacted them to find out what help and advice they might be able to provide. They directed Mary to the Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program and Mary made arrangements for a Rural Rehabilitation Specialist to visit their operation. The specialist visited the farm several times, walking through the operation with Mary, discussing each chore that needed to be done and whether it was causing her difficulties. The specialist suggested installing a TMR mixer and using new grain and silage carts to make feeding easier, reducing the strain on Mary’s back.

Recommendations were submitted to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which provided some financial assistance to purchase the equipment.

“I pinch myself every time I come out here because I can’t believe it really did happen; they really came through for me,” Mary said after the accommodations were made. Thanks to the changes made to the farm operation, Mary is confident that she will be farming well into the future.

Jerome Krautkramer, an older hunched man, speaks into a microphone while standing in a green field of short grass with trees in the backgroundJerome Krautkramer had just graduated from high school a few months prior to a car accident that would leave his body with limitations for the rest of his life. On a foggy August morning, Jerome and some friends were headed to Wausau to finish the last day of their summer job. Visibility was tough that morning and in an instant, Jerome’s life was forever changed. A gravel truck was traveling down the same road and happened to turn directly in front of their oncoming car. Unable to stop, the two vehicles collided. Jerome was pinned in the car but luckily was able to free himself and crawl out of the car just before a second gravel truck slammed into the rear-end of their vehicle. Jerome was severely injured and rushed to the hospital where they discovered that his right hip had been smashed into his back, rupturing his spleen and damaging his kidneys. He also sustained injuries to his shoulders, hands, and nearly lost the use of his right arm due to lacerations on his elbow. He would lay flat on his back in this position for two solid months before being released to in-home care, all the while hoping for a full recovery.

Jerome eventually moved on to obtain his diploma and worked as a print press operator for nearly 11 years – a job that requires hours of standing and heavy lifting. All the while he continued to fight through the pain of those life-altering injuries he sustained so many years before.

While working for a local newspaper, Jerome finally realized his heart’s true desire was to be outdoors, working on the land and with the animals. His brother approached him with an idea to start a farm and soon thereafter, they purchased the family farm they were raised on. Knowing the dedication it would take from each of them to make this a successful venture they started Krautkramer Brothers Dairy Farm.

After years of hard work on the dairy farm, at 61 years old, Jerome wasn’t quite sure he’d be able to keep working at his usual pace for much longer. Friends and family started noticing and pointed out how poor his posture had become. This was directly a result of the accident and the physically demanding labor of working on the dairy farm. But Jerome also knew he had to continue working until at least 65 years old to receive full retirement benefits. He couldn’t keep putting off the inevitable; he needed help.

That’s when fate stepped in one day while he was visiting with a local farm equipment implement dealer. The dealer mentioned Easterseals Wisconsin’s FARM Program and soon thereafter, Jerome was meeting with Rural Rehabilitation Specialist, Jeff Kratochwill, at his farm. On a bitterly cold January morning in 2015, Jeff assessed Jerome’s 500-acre farm, along with the dairy operation that consisted of 140 cows – shipping 8,000 pounds of milk every day. It was easy for Jeff to see the struggles Jerome had been facing every day for over 40 years.

After working with the FARM Program to obtain the appropriate accommodations to continue running his farm, Jerome is now happy to report that he turns 66 in just a few short months. He will be able to receive his full retirement benefits. And he gives all his thanks to Easterseals Wisconsin for helping him reach his goal.

“Easterseals worked for me. I think it’s a great program that can help a lot of people [with disabilities].”

FARM Program client Lyle Schlomer shares the story about his disability and how he has been successful in the agriculture industry. But his success hasn’t been easy and with a lot of hard work comes wear and tear on the body. See how the FARM Program has made his job a bit easier with assistive technology and equipment adaptations.

Donate to FARM

Farmer using a hydraulic lift chair to get into his tractorFor Darrel Jones, the four-generational Auburndale dairy farm is his life. “It just kind of gets into your blood,” Jones explained about farming. Approximately 25 years ago, Darrel was involved in an ATV accident that paralyzed him from the chest down. Darrel and his wife, Kathy, have made quite a few changes since that time in order to successfully continue farming.

Darrel had connected with AgrAbility of Wisconsin to help him with additional modifications that he was considering. Since enrolling in AgrAbility, Jeff Kratochwill, Rural Rehabilitation Specialist for Easterseals Wisconsin’s FARM Program, has visited the farm several times to help develop a plan so that Darrell can continue to farm. Initially, the work focused on mobility for Darrel so that he could access all areas of the farm. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) was helpful in supporting the changes and provided the funding for items such as a utility vehicle with hand control modifications. “The biggest thing to start was the Ranger,” said Jones. He is now able to easily access all areas of his farm, including the uneven terrain of the pasture.

AgrAbility also worked with Darrel to develop a way for him to do other tasks such as feeding his cattle and completing the fieldwork. Recently, AgrAbility was involved to help him access his tractors. For many years, he had pulled himself from his wheelchair to the tractor’s operating station using a rope that was hanging in the shop. This was difficult to do and was becoming problematic due to the strain on Darrel’s shoulders. Ultimately, the solution was a portable lift system that could be pulled behind the utility vehicle. This equipment was also supported by DVR. The lift consists of a self-contained hydraulic system that is powered by battery and was constructed by Life Essentials in Brookston, Indiana. Darrel can move the lift using a wireless control pendant, allowing him to independently enter and exit all of his equipment on the farm.

Darrel plans to continue farming long into the future. He is grateful to everyone who has helped with the farm over the years, “Without the changes, I wouldn’t still have the farm,” said Jones.

See photos and videos of Darrel using the hydraulic system.

Did you know that the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) is contracted with AgrAbility of Wisconsin, a collaborative partnership between University of Wisconsin Extension and Easterseals Wisconsin? Here’s a story about one of our clients, and, how as a team, we have helped him continue doing what he loves.

Cebery uses a wheelchair while working in his garage.PHILLIPS, WI – In early 2009, a healthy 51-year-old Scott Cebery was operating his family’s beef cattle farm in rural Phillips, Wisconsin, logging in the winter, and doing some excavation work in the summer.

After experiencing sudden pain in his lower back and weakness in his legs, he was admitted to the hospital where an MRI showed a virus had caused inflammatory changes to his spinal cord, resulting in a diagnosis of transverse myelitis.

“It paralyzed me from the waist down, I couldn’t feel anything,” Cebery said.

With therapy, he was able to regain enough strength in his legs to get around with a walker, but he knew his life would never be the same. Today, the 64-year-old walks with a cane and wears leg and ankle braces to get around his century-old farm.

Yet despite these challenges, he maintains a herd of 100 cattle and 185 crop acres used to harvest hay, barley, and corn for the herd.

“It’s something I always liked to do as a little kid as I followed my dad around; I always planned that I would farm,” he said. “You got to do what you like to do, and this is it and at this stage in the game, I’m not going to do something different.”

Cebery credits his ability to continue to do the work he loves to a friend who told him about the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). The division’s programs offer a wide range of employment services to Wisconsinites with disabilities including farmers and other business owners seeking to maintain their existing business operations.


Check out this special segment of Life on the Farm with Jeremy Hanson at CBS’s Green Bay affiliate station as Jeff Kratochwill shares about the impact Easterseals Wisconsin’s FARM Program has on the life of farmers with disabilities in Wisconsin.

USDA Grant Now Offers Assistance to Veteran Farmers: Easterseals Wisconsin’s FARM Program and its partner, AgrAbility of Wisconsin, have provided services to farmers with disabilities in Wisconsin since 1989. Since the program’s inception, over 3,000 farmers in the state have received services. New to the program is expanded outreach services through a three-year grant funded by the USDA’s 2501 Program. The outreach grant provides 100 current and new Wisconsin veteran farmers and Socially Disadvantaged (SDA) farmers and ranchers with awareness of, increased access to, and participation in USDA programs and services within the three-year project period. Read the full article.

Listen below as Pam Jahnke the Fabulous Farm Babe shares about the grant and speak with FARM Program Director Jeff Kratochwill.

Self-Employment Services Stories

Our nation has recognized the contributions of workers with disabilities since 1945, first as a single honorary week in October and then, beginning in 1988, the entire month of October. Easterseals Wisconsin has two programs that works with people with disabilities. Check out our Self-Employment Services program and our FARM Program.

National Easterseals shares a story about an architect whose career reached a whole new level after he became blind at 45 years old: Meet Chris Downey

Did you know our Self-Employment Services program played a role in helping a maple syrup producer start his own business?

Due to two major work-related injuries, Perry Frahm was no longer able to work in competitive employment and was receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) when he was referred to Easterseals Wisconsin Self-Employment Services (SES) in mid-2015. Perry’s goal was to be productive and self-sufficient again and to earn enough income that he would no longer need SSDI. Julie Jensen, SES Specialist, helped Perry research self-employment and conducted a self-employment feasibility analysis, followed by a business plan.

Maple trees with cables tied to them in forestPerry’s home has a number of wooded acres on which the previous owner had tapped the trees to produce syrup. Because Perry grew up in a family that tapped maple trees in the woods on their farm and made maple syrup for friends and family as a hobby, Perry had knowledge of the process and the desire to build a successful business from it. Existing buildings on the property could be converted to a production facility and a small store to sell his syrup. And innovative high-tech equipment existed to help process the syrup that would make it possible for Perry, with some assistance from family and friends, to make the syrup, stay within disability limitations, and work towards independence.

While his first year in business had some weather-related drawbacks, he is very excited and enthusiastic about his progress and has plans to increase his yield by renting additional land with sugar maples and purchasing available sap from others. He also plans to branch out and add more maple products as well as other Wisconsin products to sell to his customers.

Jon Wos sitting in an electric wheelchair working with a blowtorch to bend glass on a workbenchBorn in Lena, Wisconsin, Jon Wos was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, more commonly known as “brittle bone” disorder. Because of his disability Jon experienced frequent hospital visits for fractures, body casts and surgeries. While in the hospital he spent most of his time in bed drawing or making things with his hands. “I couldn’t do anything the other kids could do, so I drew,” said Wos. “My mom would give me art supplies like paper and pencils. That’s how I started. All through school, my art teacher and I knew that I had more art in me than other kids.”

Jon went on to pursue his love of the arts at the University of Oshkosh and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting, drawing and sculpture. “I knew that I wanted to support myself by making and selling my art, but I had no idea how to put together a business plan,” said Wos. “There were no examples that I could find that showed what I was looking for. The Self-Employment Specialist knew how to tailor a business plan to my needs and then helped by breaking it up so I was not so overwhelmed.”

Easterseals’ Self-Employment Specialists provide three essential services: an assessment, a feasibility study and a business plan. The assessment is to look at the idea in a broad view. The feasibility study looks at competition and the market, and locates any potential barriers. The final stage is the development of a formal business plan. Jon recently completed his business plan. He now manages a co-op gallery in downtown Oshkosh where he has his studio. He feels that through this process he now fully understands his business and has laid the groundwork for a profitable future.

As a truck driver for many years, Mark was injured in an accident that left him with nerve damage and an ankle injury that made it impossible to push the truck’s clutch or to sit for long periods of time. After the accident, he was unable to work for two years.

While truck driving, Mark had also run a small, part-time used car dealership on the side. After his recovery, he decided to train as an auto mechanic and make his used car dealership a full-time business. While he had some business knowledge, he needed help to make the transition. “I had no idea what I needed for a business plan,” he said.

To get the assistance he needed, Mark met with a Self-Employment Services specialist from Easterseals Wisconsin. The specialist did an assessment and feasibility study to determine if the business could work and then walked Mark through the process of developing a full business plan. “The Self-Employment Services specialist gave me an outline and a lot of resources. She guided me through the process, helping with research and obtaining information I needed.”

Mark successfully launched his business and is currently looking for a shop for expansion. “Thanks to Easterseals Wisconsin, I have my business up and running,” he says, “and I’m looking forward to a successful future.”

Did you know October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month? Listen in as Ami Cooper, Rehabilitation Specialist, shares about the programs and services we offer which help people with disabilities continue working, build a business that’s suited just for them, or learn more about career opportunities they didn’t know existed!

Disability HelpLine of Outagamie County

For 23 years, the Nerenhausens searched for answers, trying to find a diagnosis for their daughter Leah’s disability. Leah is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair. But none of the appointments with doctors or specialists, the thousands of questions answered and unanswered, the various blood tests and muscle biopsies, have yet given them the answers they seek.

But it spite of no clear diagnosis, the Nerenhausen family are, in their own words, “on an even keel.” Things are going pretty well right now,” says Leah’s mother, Lisa Nerenhausen-Sorensen. “Leah is healthy, so we just keep pressing on.”

The Nerenhausen family poses in front of a stand of pine treesBefore 1998, Lisa had never heard of Easterseals Wisconsin. She and her husband, Brian, had two healthy boys and, until Leah’s birth, had no experience caring for a loved one with disabilities. When Leah was three years old, the Nerenhausen family decided they needed some assistance. That’s when they first got in touch with Easterseals Wisconsin’s Disability HelpLine of Outagamie County. The HelpLine has been an important part of their lives ever since.

Over the years, Lisa has been a member of the Parents-4- Parents (P4P) support group for families caring for a loved one with disabilities. “From the very beginning, our experience with Jill [Gretzinger] was smooth and easy. She’s so smart and knew all the organizations to connect us to.” Gretzinger, who has since changed her role with the HelpLine to Coordinator of the Guardian Assistance Program, served as the Coordinator of the Outagamie County Disability HelpLine for more than 25 years. She has deep roots in Outagamie County communities and has been the driving force of the HelpLine, which serves hundreds of families in the area each year.

“P4P proved to be a great way to meet other parents caring for children with disabilities. Jill was there to facilitate meetings and has been a great resource for all of us,” Lisa shares about the unique program.

Made possible through a trust established by the estate of Loretta K. Ricker, the Disability HelpLine of Outagamie County is located in Appleton, and provides a variety of services to Outagamie County residents with disabilities including:

  • Information and referral
  • Grants to individuals
  • Parents-4-Parents support group
  • Guardian Assistance Program
  • Community projects
  • Recreational opportunities

Along with the P4P support group, one of the most helpful projects Easterseals Wisconsin has helped with was the installation of an accessible entryway to accommodate the wheelchair ramp for Leah.

“As Leah has gotten older, so have we,” laughs Lisa. “The accessible entryway makes it much easier on all of us.”

“Having this community of people in our lives has been such a blessing. We’ve especially realized how invaluable the HelpLIne is over this past year.” As Leah moved into adulthood and Lisa and Brian took on the role as her financial guardians, the HelpLine’s Guardian Assistance Program has been a tremendous help.

“Learning how to handle her finances and estate has been more involved than we had imagined,” says Lisa. “And we’re so grateful the HelpLine added this program a few years ago. Jill explained every aspect of the responsibilities of a guardian and walked us through the documents we needed to complete for the county. The Guardian Assistance Program isn’t a program that someone would need to use every month, but knowing it’s there and someone can help you is such a relief. It’s wonderful to know someone is there to look out for you.”

The Nerenhausen family will continue to fight for Leah, in hopes that a diagnosis will finally reveal itself and possibly open up the door to steps that could help her. A clear diagnosis would, for genetic reasons, also be helpful to her brothers.

One client’s story about how the program helped her and her husband during difficult times.

Cecilia and her husband had been married for over 50 years and never quite got around to doing too much planning for their senior years. When her husband started down the road of dementia, Cecilia’s time was consumed with caring for him and keeping him safe. When she felt she could no longer care for him – and he could no longer make decisions – legal guardianship was needed to admit him to a care center.

Cecilia was then overwhelmed with the paperwork required for his new living situation and her role of legal guardian. Luckily for Cecilia, the Outagamie County Department of Health and Human Services contracts with the Easterseals Wisconsin Disability HelpLine in Appleton to provide training and assistance to county guardians through the Guardian Assistance Program. As part of this program, Cecilia was able to attend a group training session and meet with staff multiple times to help her understand her role and complete the required paperwork. “I don’t know how an old person like me would have gotten through this overwhelming process if this program wasn’t here,” says Cecilia. “I am so thankful to everyone who makes it possible.”

Since Easterseals Wisconsin began this program in 2017, over 800 people have received training, assistance with completing paperwork, or simply gotten questions answered.

“Working with the Guardian Assistance Program has really opened my eyes to the importance of making our wishes known through the appropriate paperwork in regards to healthcare and finances, regardless of age, because we never know what the future holds,” says Jill Gretzinger, Disability HelpLine Coordinator.

General Agency

The national Easterseals, Inc. organization was originally founded in 1919 by Edgar Allen as the Ohio Society for Crippled Children. By 1967, the organization adopted the name Easter Seals. after many decades of fundraising around the Easter holiday selling stamps (seals). Although the organization has evolved with the times, expanding in scale and scope to meet new and emerging needs in the communities they each serve, there are thousands more people who could benefit from assistance who just don’t know enough about the organization.

So with that in mind, national Easterseals underwent a rebranding effort in 2016 to reflect the ever-changing environment of disabilities. The rebrand is a continuation of an evolving organization (combining Easter Seals into one name). Disabilities have become increasingly complex in the 21st century. The definition of disability itself is broader, going beyond the physical to include emotional, intellectual, social, and educational issues.

In 1926, Easterseals Wisconsin joined the national organization as an affiliate. For 95 years, Easterseals Wisconsin has used its expertise and resources to create services that offer solutions for children and adults with disabilities seeking greater independence and support for their families. As Easterseals Wisconsin celebrates its 95th anniversary, their missions continues as they strive to make opportunities available that are impactful through various programs and services.

Noteworthy accomplishments: Easterseals and its affiliates helped to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which prohibits discrimination against anyone with a mental or physical disability. In 2001, Worth magazine named the organization one of the “100 American philanthropies most likely to save the world.”

Easterseals Wisconsin President and CEO, Paul Leverenz, recently joined Josh Kosnick – Inspire People, Impact Lives Podcast! Paul shared about his career experience, lessons learned, and valuable career advice. Below is a snippet of the interview, but you can check out the full episode on iTunes or Spotify where you’ll hear about his dreams to be a farmer, but the path that indirectly brought him to where he is today.