Blugold Beginnings receives the Otto Bremer Trust grant

A $60,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Trust will help support college outreach program on campus

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Photo by Amanda Thao

Blugold Beginnings accepts the Otto Bremer Trust grant. Pictured: James Lahti, Otto Bremer Trust market president; Jodi Thesing-Ritter, UW-Eau Claire executive director for diversity and inclusion; Matt Flannery, Otto Bremer Trust senior retail sales manager; and Betsy Kell, advisory committee chair for Blugold Beginnings

An organization geared towards building better communities, the Otto Bremer Trust gifted $60,000 to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation last November in support of Blugold Beginnings, a college outreach program on campus.

Blugold Beginnings, one of 142 grants offered across three states, is excited to have been recognized, Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jodi Thesing-Ritter said.

She applied for the grant jointly with Kimera Way, president of the Eau Claire Foundation and Executive Director of University Advancement, Thesing-Ritter said.

After their application successfully passed the first round of judging, Blugold Beginnings then hosted a four hour site visit. They held discussions regarding their programming and the goals they intend to make reality with the grant’s support, Thesing-Ritter said.

“Our primary goal is to ensure every student in our region knows college is possible for them,” Thesing-Ritter said. “This grant allows us the opportunity to invest in individuals that are then going to go out and make significant changes in the world.”

Most of the grant will go toward funding monthly events, providing supplies for outreach programming and supporting mentor training. Another portion of the grant will be used to fund living stipends for the program’s hired AmeriCorps members, which will exponentially impact students in the community, Thesing-Ritter said.

Marshfield Clinic AmeriCorps member Olivia Vruwink is currently serving Blugold Beginnings, directing site coordinators and college mentors at various locations such as Manz Elementary School.

Blugold Beginnings is a valuable and important program for young students, Vruwink said.

“Some children don’t have a mentor or role-model in their lives, so this is an opportunity for them to have one,” Vruwink said. “Every kid needs a champion. Mentors can be that child’s champion and they might not realize it immediately, but they are changing the lives of those we are serving.”

As a former Blugold Beginnings mentee, Whisper Kappus-McDew said her program participation impacted her positively. All the mentors she had through high school were helpful to her, especially with homework and ACT preparation, she said.

Now in college and studying at Eau Claire, Kappus-McDew said she is working for Blugold Beginnings as a receptionist, a job she values.

“The office became my home away from home,” Kappus-McDew said. “Everyone that works here is basically my family. It’s where I go when I have down time and where I go just to say hello. There is always someone there to help me out if I need something.”

Kappus-McDew said programs like Blugold Beginnings are worth investing in because they help so many in a variety of ways.