By Ben Rodgers
GREEN BAY – With 60 percent of the 40 local nonprofits selected for this year’s Give Big Green Bay being new to the event – awareness of the issues they support is at the forefront for participating organizations.
The Jackie Nitschke Center has a campus downtown, and unless a person has benefited from its services, he or she likely passes by without a thought about the work that happens inside the walls of its five buildings.
“Success for us is creating more awareness of the disease of addiction and providing access to those in need of treatment,” said Larry Connors, center CEO. “Addiction is a chronic illness that can be treated and managed with the proper support. If more people in our community became aware of this and the services we provide, we would consider this campaign a big success.”
Nearing 50 years in the community, the Jackie Nitschke Center started out as a halfway house for alcoholism known as Samaritan House.
In the 1990s came a name change and an evolution of services to treat more addictions.
Today, the center is the only adult treatment center in Brown County with a license for not only treating addiction, but the underlying co-occuring mental health conditions that go along with it.
It’s one of only five in Wisconsin.
“Understanding that this is a disease, not a choice, is where many people struggle,” Connors said. “Yes, there is a choice to use a substance. However, in a substance use disorder, the use has led to a condition where the brain chemistry has been altered to the point that the frontal cortex of the brain is impaired. The frontal cortex is the part of our brain that involves choice and consequence. When this is impaired, a rational choice can be difficult to make.”
According to a report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Brown County saw 161 cases of suspected opioid overdoses in 2019.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Population Health Institute released a report which shows binge drinking costs Brown County residents $205.5 million a year, or $795 per resident.
That cost is broken down into healthcare and criminal justice costs and lost productivity.
“If the part of our brain that involves choice and consequence, the frontal cortex, is impaired, then how can one make a rational choice? They can’t,” Connors said. “But the good news, our brains have an incredible ability to heal, create new neural pathways. Once we get to the point where we’re clear of the substance, we can begin to build new pathways, new ways of thinking.”
The Jackie Nitschke Center provides tools, support, compassion and professional care through a comprehensive treatment program, giving those struggling with substance use addiction a chance to restore their lives and create a meaningful future.
It provides support through residential and outpatient treatment, family support and education, recovery homes and an active alumni group.
Jackie’s Legacy Financial Assistance program was designed to supplement personal resources to ensure all individuals and families suffering with substance use disorders, have access to the support they need.
Donations given on Give Big Green Bay will enable the center to help even more in the community.
Alumni for the program get their name on a wall as a sign of successful completion of continuum of care.
“People have come back and said to me ‘You don’t know how much this means to me, that I’ve completed this. It’s life-changing, you’ve given me the chance to create a new story,’” Connors said. “We tell people ‘We set the table, you did the work.’”
Just as recovery from addiction is a personal journey faced with mental challenges, another first-time participant of Give Big Green Bay wants people to channel their inner-strength, but instead use it to create art.
“While art is something pretty you can hang on the wall, there’s the creation process,” said Silvija Jensen, executive director of Mosaic Arts. “So it goes much deeper than what you see on the outside.”
Jensen said Mosaic Arts is known for Art Street and Artigras, but right now there is a need to get more members of the community involved in art through programming.
“A lot of times people get involved in the arts because it brings them peace, it brings them happiness and it lets them escape for a while,” she said.
Any donations through Give Big Green Bay would expand current programming.
Currently Mosaic has programming in Fort Howard and Leopold elementary schools, as well as programs with the ARDC, and plans to partner with the Micah Center.
“Right now, I think we’re in a very early growing stage, but ultimately we would love to have the funding to hopefully be able to pay artists to do this for us,” Jensen said. “They’re the professionals.”
The effects art has on people from students, to the eldery, to the homeless have been documented, she said.
“There’s a lot of stuff that happens inside of a person when creating art, and the research has shown that what’s happening on the inside is all good stuff,” Jensen said.
For the third year in a row, The Green Bay Packers Foundation is providing a matching grant of $250,000, so every dollar donated from noon, Feb. 18, to noon, Feb. 19, will be matched up to that amount and beyond, thanks to other donors.
The 40 groups represent 11 different sectors.
A complete list can be found at givebiggreenbay.org.
Amber Paluch, vice president of community engagement for the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, said selecting those 40 organizations for Give Big Green Bay is one of the hardest parts of her job.
“The quality of life in a community hinges on all of these areas thriving,” Paluch said. “It’s not just tackling this issue or that issue. You need a strong arts and culture community, you need attention to environmental causes, the human services, all of these sectors are critical to a healthy quality of life. If we can lift them all up, you’ll see a thriving community.”
Indeed, communities are already forming within the 40 nonprofits.
Groups are reaching out together to form partnerships and share ideas, she said.
Groups have also reported gaining new volunteers or even board members after being selected for Give Big Green Bay.
“We’ve heard some good stories come out of this where organizations have found new board members, they have connected with new volunteers, they’ve maintained relationships with people who have supported them,” Paulch said. “I think it’s that lasting impact we’re hoping this has. We’re thrilled with the generosity of the community, but we’re hoping that this opens the door for these organizations.”