Olivia Konrardy-Buchal donates to homeless group

Olivia Konrardy-Buchal of Onalaska, pictured in one of the recliners where homeless individuals sleep overnight at the La Crosse Warming Center, raised $100 for the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness by asking relatives and friends to donate to the cause instead of giving her presents for her 11th birthday.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

The longer Olivia Konrardy-Buchal lives, the bigger dent she might make in the world’s problems, as she develops the habit of chipping away at them — one crisis at a time.

The 11-year-old Onalaska girl has established a tradition of asking people to donate to designated causes instead of giving her presents on her birthday, with the most recent beneficiary being the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness.

Collaborative officials were so impressed with Olivia’s initiative that they made her an unofficial member, and she readily accepted the task of designing thank you cards to send to donors, said Julie McDermid, the collaborative’s project manager.

“If people need help, I always feel like I should try to help,” explained Olivia, whose birthday is Dec. 30 and who said people have responded well since she conceived her custom four years ago.

“They were excited — they all helped. Every year, I donate something. Last year, it was the (Coulee Region) Humane Society” in Onalaska, said Olivia, a fifth-grader at Eagle Bluff Elementary School.

Olivia’s 10th birthday donations totaled $90, and the year before that, her collection went to orphans in another country. Her $100 tally for the collaborative was the top so far.

Card: 'Thanks for leading way'

“I think everybody should be treated equally,” Olivia said.

Although Olivia’s favorite school subject is science, she doesn’t plan to go into that field, taking a different road diverging in the wood.

“I want to be a pastor,” she said simply.

A member of First Lutheran Church in Onalaska, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Olivia said she has enjoyed Sunday school but also is excited about confirmation training this year.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things,” she said. “It’s more stories than just doing crafts.”

Lower shelter demand in La Crosse may indicate housing push success, agencies say

The daughter of Kelly and Tina Konrardy-Buchal, Olivia is handy with the crafts, if the colorful cards she has designed for the collaborative are any indication. They feature messages such as “Thank you for your generous acts” and a particularly telling slogan, “Thank you for leading the way.”

But the humble Olivia downplays her artistic talents, saying, “I’m not that good.”

She plans to design more cards, and the collaborative intends to have them duplicated to send to donors, McDermid said.

Having the young girl as an adjunct member and producing cards is “a neat way of showing that our community has really begun to change the conversation around homelessness,” the project manager said.

Collaborative hits families target

The collaborative just hit another milestone in its wrestling match with homelessness, with the hope of pinning it to the mat for good, McDermid said.

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Julie McDermid of homeless collaborative

McDermid

The collaborative beat its original target date of Jan. 31 by more than a week to find housing for 10 homeless families within 100 days, she said.

The collaborative, formed last year with the help of New York housing consultant and homelessness expert Erin Healy, sets 100-day targets in what it calls sprints to achieve goals.

The 10 families range from three to five members, and the group has succeeded in housing almost 100 people in its three sprints, including veterans last fall and winter and chronically homeless individuals in the winter and spring.

The collaborative has made those strides largely with the work of volunteers from a broad range of stakeholders, including social and human service agencies, city and county officials and committees, law enforcement, veterans and vets organizations, faith communities and businesses.

The group hired two full-time outreach workers/housing navigators not only to be more readily available to people who need help but also to ease the burden on the volunteers who have toiled for so much time beyond their daytime jobs.

The positions, originally intended to be part time and funded with a private donation, were expanded to full time courtesy of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, McDermid said.

In training last week to be those outreach workers were Barb Pollack of La Crosse and Doreen Averbeck of West Salem.

“I know what a great need there is out there, and I am drawn to help,” said Pollack, who previously worked for the Great Rivers 2-1-1 crisis line and continues to work part-time as a La Crosse County crisis responder.

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Barb Pollack collaborative

Pollack

“Every day I dealt with that,” she said, adding that she expects the outreach will “help the community get in between” circumstances that might lead to homelessness and vulnerable individuals.

Contact, develop relationships

“Everybody has a story, and everybody has different needs, she said. “You’ve got to have a relationship, a first contact, to meet people where they are at.”

Averbeck, who has held a variety of service and retail jobs, said, “We want to be on the ground to help it get off the ground. We want to be able to help them in place, where they feel comfortable.”

+3 
Doreen Averbeck

Averbeck

Along those lines, the pair’s training has included visiting sites such as the La Crosse Warming Center, the Franciscan Hospitality House, The Salvation Army, RAVE and other places people gather in search of companionship and/or services.

“We’re not going to be in the office. We’ll be going to them,” Pollack said, to which Averbeck added, “We want to break down barriers.”

Eventually, the collaborative’s offices in the building that also houses the Warming Center and some Catholic Charities offices at 413 S. Third St. will have a dedicated phone line for the outreach workers, who also will attend community events and visit jails, hospitals and care centers, McDermid said.

The outreach workers will be able to help people find services to avoid homelessness or, once they have secured housing, to prevent them from sliding back, she said.

Homeless collaborative sets next goal to house 10 families in 100 days

The “housing navigator” part of their job descriptions is intended to help people connect with affordable housing, obtain furniture if they don’t have any and get settled in, McDermid said.

Only one of the people the collaborative helped secure housing has not worked out, McDermid said, but she and others are keeping tabs on that person.

Pollack, who has a home in Onalaska but lives at 3 Rivers Scholar House in La Crosse as a mentor/house mother for the single parents who live there while attending college, said that role “is dear to my heart. It’s very important to have housing, and safe housing, so when singling parents are off in class, they don’t have to worry” about their children.

“It lets them reinvent their life, to give them a second time in life,” she said. “That’s a gift.”

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Reporter

Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(14) comments

duster

Mo Money--So I reread article and do not see any mention of Olivia asking for career choice advice from you or anyone else. Let's celebrate and congratulate this 11 year old for her leadership and compassion and extend best wishes for the future. Thank you Olivia!

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Olivia is an outstanding role model for children and young people everyone! And yes there is no request for career advice, that much is true. That's why I offered my advice to stay with Math and Science, because they alone hold the keys for bettering humanity.

See Duster, I asked if you reread my comment, not the story. Given your response, it's clear you did not understand what I wrote, and are unable to grasp the point I was trying to make. If she wants to continue helping people, the best option IMO would be to try and fix humanity's problems. Instead of peddling fantasy, and taking people's money for knowingly lying to them. There is no honor in perpetuating this myth, and we as adults are guilty of lying to our children. All because we are afraid of death, uncertain of our future, and therefore unwilling to face day to day life without the safety blanket of our invisible and pretend friend.

Religion doesn't solve any problems, it is the problem.

duster

Mo-Money, what is wrong with you? 11 year old (church-goer!) asks family to make gifts to support people who are homeless. Maybe one day you'll find yourself homeless and a child will care about your wellbeing---Hey....that could be a prayer:)

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Duster, did you read my comment? Did I suggest she should not support people in need? No, I did not.

I encouraged her, as I would anyone, to empower herself with legitimate tools like math and science.

Duster, your reading comprehension classes may have failed you.... but Nothing Fails Like Prayer!

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Great story, but Olivia please consider a career worthy of your time and ambition. Math and Science will give you the tools you need to truly help people. Leave the fairy telling to others. Religion helps no one, except those who preach it, and those who steal from the people who preach it, as they did at St. Pats.

If you can learn to see through the veil of fantasy that is religion, and stick with Math and Science, you'll stay rooted in reality, and be able to truly help those in need.

kingman10

who the h*ll are you Mo"money to criticize this young woman, one you don't even know, about her career choice. We are all called to do different things in life. You are called to keep your mouth shut. I would be willing to bet this young woman has done more good in her 11 years on this earth than you ever have or ever will. If you want to forgo religion or spirituality, go ahead. I can respect that. but I can't respect those who that can't keep their big trap shut and continue to criticize others who differ from you.

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Kingman10, what are you complaining about? I would never criticize someone for such noble intentions. I am extremely proud of her, and I hope more young people realize the value of giving over receiving. If that was not immediately clear from my original comment, then you too suffer from some reading comprehension issues.

As for your ridiculous judgement about my personal worth, it's pretty clear you are easily offended by anyone free of your mythical sky king fantasies. That's really all religion is anyways, a club to help justify your discrimination of non-believers. Stay fragile, my friend!

kingman10

as is plain to see, you have comprehension difficulty. You did say she should seek other ways to help through science or math. That is being condescending and judgmental toward her because she believes in a God and you choose not to. Want to be an atheist, fine that is your right, but don't belittle anyone because they believe differently than you. Calling all religions fairy tales shows your unwillingness to let people believe without interference from your self righteous know it all attitude. Save you judgement for those who do harm to others, not the ones genuinely trying to help.

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Kingman10, not sure what your problem is, perhaps it's my handle, perhaps it's your bias.... who knows, but you are just plain wrong. Olivia choose to help others, which I absolutely applaud. What an outstanding thing to do at such a young age!

She said that later on she would like to be a pastor. My comment to her is to not be a pastor. That's it. I didn't attack her, I didn't judge her. Just don't be a pastor.... IMO, Pastors/Preists don't help anyone, unless of course they're doing actual community work, but other than that... preaching fiction to a captive audience does nothing.

So I hope she chooses something more worthy of her talent and ambition. That was the point. Reread my comment, maybe slower next time. It's all there.

Before you go foaming at the mouth and replying to people, maybe you should reread their comment, and make sure you understood it the first time.

kingman10

yes even Mother Theresa had her critics, probably you are one of them. I didn"t read anywhere where this young woman is soliciting advice from you or anyone else. Being a pastor is a noble choice whether you think so or not. Telling her not to be a pastor is a judgmental statement, condescending and critical too. Generalizing about all priests and pastors as doing nothing more than preaching fiction shows the height of your arrogance and ignorance. anytime anyone generalizes like you did is the one preaching fiction and falsehoods.

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Kingman10, nothing could be further from the truth. I have not criticized, or judge her. I don't know how you can read my comments, and think I am attacking an 11 year old. You are way off, illogical, and obtuse.

Telling her not to be a pastor is not judgemental towards her in any way shape or form. I have offered guidance, advice which you clearly disagree with, and thus continue to insult my character.

Kingman10, you remind me so much of parents I know who refuse to allow their children to talk to anyone who may contradict their fragile belief structure. So I ask you: Why inculcate them in your beliefs when those beliefs can even pass modest scrutiny? Why not teach them to use their brain, and think critically? What are you afraid of...immorality, hell, or just being wrong? Instead, it appears, your answer for today's youth is to lie to them about reality, and promote pastoral showmanship as a solid career choice. Why choose that over learning the skills acquired from education, and putting that to good use and help others with the fruit of your efforts. I can think of nothing more charitable, which is why I encourage Olivia to choose math and science over religion.

kingman10

wow you are way out wacko. Where is that story does this young woman ask for your advice? No one said she shouldn't use her brain, and think for herself. And who the h*ll are you to tell anyone how to raise their kids. Wow talk about the height of arrogance. Saying that she should look for another career is disrespectful to her. And no one really cares what your religious beliefs are so keep them to yourself, you are not that important, This was a sweet article about a young girl wanting to make the world a better place in your own unique way, and you turn it around to promote your atheistic thinking, and to pass judgement on those who are not. Something the world needs a lot less of. Hope your comprehension skills can one day understand that. Lead on Olivia!

Mo' Money Scott Walker

Kingman10, you are insane. I have not disrespected Olivia, and you know that. As I have said several times, I think she is outstanding, and a great example. She should lead on, absolutely!

The only people who have turned the comment section of this story into an absolute sh*tshow (excuse my french) are you and duster. You have no one else to blame but yourself. Perhaps you should pray on that.

kiteguy

This story and picture made a beautiful kite, hope I can give it to her someday

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