What a Gift!

The greatest gift of them all is LOVE. It can take many shapes and forms, but as Christ said, there is no greater gift or expression of our love than giving one’s life for another.

This reality is what makes life so fulfilling. We see and experience with our senses the LOVE of God in His creation, in the beauty of nature, in art and in music. We also experience it in our souls when we find truth, peace and goodness, and in relationship with others. In other words, we find GOD in all because He is LOVE and He created all.

God’s loving plan for us is very specific, and He invites us to be participants in that plan as a family. Pope Francis, in his address to families in Philadelphia made a statement that stuck with me. He said, “God made this marvel in which we live and since we’re a little mixed up, we are destroying it. But the most beautiful thing that God made, the Bible says, was the family. He created man and woman, and He gave them everything. He gave them the world! Grow, multiply, cultivate the earth, make it produce, make it grow. He presented to a family all of the love that He made in this marvelous creation.” Then he said, “All of the love, beauty and truth that God has in Himself, He gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love. When God the Father gave His only Son to us and sent us the Holy Spirit, again He was donating Himself completely to us, His family.

On December 25th we celebrate the birth of Jesus, a gift from the Father who in His infinite wisdom, chose a humble Virgin mother and a faithful husband – the Holy Family – to receive His only Son into the world. The creator of all, the ruler of the universe, the almighty gave us His Son so that we could enjoy eternity with Him. What a gift! What Love!

Volunteering is as Simple as Remembering That We Are All More Alike Than Different

The La Crosse Community Warming Center opened for the season on November 1, 2016. While the temperatures continue to drop, our need for Warming Center volunteers grows. Without volunteers like Sue, we would never be able to keep our doors open to serve the hundreds of members of our community experiencing homelessness each season.

Sue started volunteering at the La Crosse Community Warming Center 5 years ago after hearing about the Warming Center mission through her church, First Free Onalaska. Sue believes all people deserve love and compassion, and she hopes that by helping and serving people, she can make a difference in the life of someone who has a difficult situation.

As a volunteer at the Warming Center, Sue said she has gained a lot including a richer life experience and a great appreciation for all God has blessed her with – including her friends at the Warming Center. She said, “I’ve made lifelong friends, guests and volunteers alike. We’ve celebrated weddings and cried at funerals. We’ve laughed together and problem solved. We’ve shared our joys and our challenges.”

Sue shared with Catholic Charities that her favorite thing about volunteering at the Warming Center is the love and compassion and feeling of “family” among the guests and volunteers. She shared a story of one night when two men had a conversation over dinner: “They shared their love for music, the outdoors and other things in common. At one point, the first man said to the second man, ‘I’m surprised you are here, you don’t seem like you would be homeless.’ The second man replied, ‘I’m not homeless, I’m a volunteer like you!’ And the first man said, ‘I am a guest here tonight.’ And a friendship began.”

Sue was so excited to share her enjoyment of volunteering at the Warming Center. She said that volunteering at the Warming Center is as simple as remembering that we are all more alike than different, sharing a meal, and enjoying each other’s company. Sue shared her motivation and encouraged others; “Open your heart and mind to serve another human being who may not have the same life you do. Practice justice, show mercy, be compassionate and love others just as they are. To the world you are one person but you may be the world to another person.”



Bonding with the Homeless Community


The La Crosse Community Warming Center is now open for the season! Without volunteers like Joel, we would never be able to keep our doors open to serve hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness each season. Help us thank Joel by reading his story and consider signing up to volunteer at the La Crosse Warming Center this season!

Joel has been volunteering at the La Crosse Warming Center for 4 years. As a chaplain at the American Legion Post, Joel has watched solid men and women go from homes to homeless, and became interested in helping homeless veterans. Joel said that he was lucky enough to find the Warming Center.

Joel is a veteran himself and experiences some health challenges that make the early-morning shift from 2:00 am to 8:30 am ideal for him. Joel said, “It’s a win-win for me. I get to be productive, help people, make sure they get a warm breakfast and warm clothes, and my family (the Warming Center) gives back to me a sense of purpose.”

Joel said that he loves working the early morning shift because as all of the guests at the Warming Center get up to face a brand new day, he gets to encourage a sense of hope and promise for the day to come. The seemingly small gesture of providing a warm hat and a greeting, “Have a good day, stay safe,” that so many of us take for granted, Joel feels lets our guests know they are cared for and have value as human beings.

As a volunteer, Joel said the greatest thing he’s gained is a deep, complex empathy for the situations that drive everyday people from their homes into the streets. He has gained the skill of being able to truly listen to someone without being judgmental. Part of that, Joel said, is the atmosphere of equality at the Warming Center. He shared, “I can’t tell you how many times a season I will come to the door and knock to be let in so as to start my shift only to be told that we’re full…The advice I would give new volunteers is never to judge anyone. Essentially you can never tell who needs shelter or why they need shelter, only that they need shelter.”

Joel shared that his mission is driven by knowing. A long time ago the son of God carried the things he owned and relied on the goodness of the people he met every day for food, shelter, and companionship. No matter your mission or story, Joel encourages anyone who has a sense of service to others to volunteer at the Warming Center.

We know we have so much to give to those around us, but there is also so much to gain as a volunteer. After sharing a heartwarming story of laughing and joking with the guests, Joel said, “That is a memory I shall treasure for the rest of my life.”

A Home is More Than Simply a Shelter…

dan2The first line of the Beyond Shelter brochure reads, “A home is more than simply a shelter; it’s a foundation that allows one to focus on the future.

On June 8 three men walked into their new home for the first time. These three men who came from very different lives had one thing in common. Until that day, they were homeless. This was an emotional day for everyone. “This carpet is softer than the ground I slept on” was what one of these men said that first day. One gentleman spent his first day trying to find the recliner that was most comfortable after being discharged from the hospital earlier that day. Barely able to walk or stand for any length of time, he began to heal with a roof over his head instead of sleeping in the woods as he had the week before. “We have a fridge. We have food. I can take a shower whenever I want.”  These are all things heard that first day. Things most people take for granted. In less than sixty days the world as these three men knew it had changed.

One has already moved on and now lives independently in a house with his girlfriend. He has talked about going back to school to get a degree and a good paying job with the hope of getting involved in his young son’s life.

One has volunteered almost every day at the “Open Door” (a local program that helps recently released inmates get back on their feet). He now has a paid position there and has even been promoted to weekend supervisor and key holder. This gentleman has a passion for reading and music. He has begun building a “Free Little Library” as a way of giving back to his new neighborhood and to share his passion for reading. He continues to play his guitar and has even offered lessons to staff.

Beyond Shelter 021The third gentleman is still recovering from his knee replacement and continues to improve each day. He has physical therapy three times a week and is not only able to walk, but now rides his bike daily. He too has started to work again. Through the generosity of Goodwill’s training program, this gentleman will learn valuable job skills and get paid while rebuilding a work history.

Next week the life of another chronically homeless individual will change forever when he moves into the Beyond Shelter Home and begins to build his future…

Dan Mills
Beyond Shelter Coordinator

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