Did You Know? Learn how Easterseals Wisconsin impacts you and your community.

A place where we share inspirational stories and promote awareness – Learn how Easterseals Wisconsin impacts you, your family, friends, neighbors, and community!

Employment is possible with a disability.

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!

Life on the Farm – did you know we play a big part?

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.

Jeff Kratochwill, ATP and Director of FARM & Vocational Services at Easterseals Wisconsin interviews with Jeremy Hanson of Green Bay’s Life on the Farm.

Did you know we’re celebrating our 95th anniversary?

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.”

Did you know our President & CEO once had dreams of becoming a farmer?

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.

Did you know we can help veteran farmers?

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.

One veteran shares about the impact of Veterans Family Camp.

“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.

Did you know October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

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 we help farmers gain access to Assistive Technology?

Watch as one client shares about his experience with the Easterseals Wisconsin FARM Program and AgrAbility of Wisconsin.

Did you know we offer a Guardianship Program?

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.

Did you know we help people reach their retirement goals?

How the FARM Program helped one farmer reach a goal he wasn’t sure he ever could.

Jerome 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 and 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].”

When you enjoy maple syrup on your pancakes – think of us!

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.

Perry’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.

Did you know one change can make a world of difference?

For 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. Click here to see photos and videos of Darrel using the hydraulic system.

Did you know we offer Adult Camp Sessions?

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.

Did you know we help farmers with disabilities continue to farm?

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!

Did you know AmeriCorps connects over 70,000 Americans each year? We play a role in that too!

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

Did you know we play a role in farm-to-table?

See how Easterseals Wisconsin’s FARM Program impacted Good Earth Farms:

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, the 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. When full, the boxes can 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 Michael experienced when operating it 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 Michael’s 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, 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 and the folks at DVR for helping me to stay on the farm and keeping my dream alive. ”