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ARC expands service to Ellsworth

Lori Rodewald of the Assistance and Resource Center (ARC) showed a "fund-a-need" display toward donations for the gas cards the organization provides. River Falls-based ARC has expanded into the Ellsworth area, effective this year. <i>Bill Kirk photo</i>

The old saying, "It's always darkest before the dawn," is one people who are struggling through life may be able to relate to.

Daylight for strugglers from this area appears to be on the horizon with the arrival of Assistance and Resource Center (ARC). The River Falls-based non-profit organization expanded into the territory covered by the Ellsworth School District effective the first of this year, according to Board Chairperson Lori Rodewald.

ARC provides assistance to people of all ages and from all walks of life -- most anybody, Rodewald said Wednesday. About the only requirement for eligibility is the recipient live within the particular school district served.

"There's an intake process," she said, involving a form to be completed while volunteer staffers ask the type of assistance sought, residence location and the like. "It's not income-based, it's need-based," she added.

The request is taken and, within 24-to-48-hours, a reply from Client Service Coordinator Ronna Ellis can be expected, Rodewald said. After confirming the information given, a majority of the requests are approved, many for help with utilities or rent. Gas and groceries are other items regularly wanted.

"We don't say, 'how much do you need?'" she said. "Instead, it's 'what do you have?'"

ARC offers a hand up, rather than a hand out, by trying to match payments, she said.

For families or singles, the elderly or youth -- an assist is possible. She remembered a grandmother who was living in her car with her grandson. The grandma had a job; all she wanted was a place to take a shower.

"We arranged for a week's stay in a local motel," she said.

The all-volunteer group relies on donations and grants, presently having three grant writers within its ranks, Rodewald said. Much of its support comes from local churches, places also familiar with those encountering rough times. Grants have been obtained from Hugh Andersen, the Green Bay Packers, United Way, Best Buy and Kwik Trip, among others.

ARC's operation is extremely lean, which is why 96 cents out of every dollar goes directly to serve those in need.

Volunteers staff a phone for two hours daily, Mondays through Fridays. The hotline number is (715) 338-0755 and messages can be left.

Approximately 20-25 volunteers are now available, along with the ten board members, she said. Aside from the phone expense, costs are held to a minimum. A database is kept to track people who've been helped previously, not that such a listing necessarily precludes further assistance, she noted.

Last year, over 700 calls were answered, the board member said. In October, a milestone of $100,000 in help to those in need over the group's four-year lifetime was reached.

Fundraisers are organized throughout the year, she said, and that's where partnerships are valued. For example, this past Sunday ARC hosted a pancake breakfast at the Moose Lodge in River Falls, realizing proceeds from the event. The organization's volunteers have walked in the River Falls Days parade and have a strong relationship with the River Falls Chamber of Commerce plus area businesses.

Similar opportunities will be pursued in Ellsworth, Rodewald said. Representatives of churches and other entities here approached ARC officials last fall about the prospects for a presence in the local community. They satisfied an expectation for certain resources to be in place, so the expansion moved forward.

"Our goal is always to expand," she said, and the hope is to do so elsewhere in the future.

Already, an Ellsworth church has a supply of the gas cards the group gives to people needing gasoline, she said. It's for fuel only, just as the account set up with Nilssen's Foods is strictly for groceries once the store has been given go-ahead confirmation. An arrangement has also been made with a local mechanic to service vehicles.

"We do our buying locally," she said, indicating ARC's resources don't go directly to clients but rather to the utility company, food store, landlord, etc.

At the first board meeting since Ellsworth has been added, Ellis reported two requests from this area had been received, Rodewald said. Debbie Pittman has joined the board to represent the Ellsworth area.

Board members meet monthly, she said, usually hearing updates on requests, a treasurer's report, discussing by-laws issues and/or addressing situations with unique circumstances. Sometimes, two board members will be contacted for opinions between meetings if a response isn't readily apparent, as in the case of a client for whom a bus pass was sought to use to return home to Tennessee. The pass was ultimately arranged.

ARC isn't meant to be a means of long-term support, nor can it meet every request and has been known to make referrals to another agency or entity, Ellis told the River Falls Journal late last year. Its volunteers answering the phone occasionally act as counselors, giving guidance to clients who have difficulty budgeting money. They understand some people "just need to talk," too.

The organization began in 2008, becoming established as a corporation then, and as a 501c3 in 2009. It was the answer to an appeal from the River Falls Ministerium.

Visit ARC online at 715-338-0755.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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