The Coulee Region can say goodbye to its recent spell of gentle winter weather.
A winter storm moving through through the region Wednesday night and Thursday is expected to dump up to 11 inches of snow and complicate Thursday commutes.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch from 9 p.m. Wednesday until 6 p.m. Thursday for western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa — including La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon and Trempealeau counties in Wisconsin, and Houston and Winona counties in Minnesota.
The NWS predicts snowfall totals of 5 to 9 inches overnight Wednesday in La Crosse and cautions drivers to be wary of slippery roads Thursday morning. Snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour is possible, and an additional 1 to 2 inches is forecast for Thursday.
Warmer temperatures in southwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa could result in a rain-snow mix — meaning lower snowfall totals and particularly hazardous driving conditions.
Temperatures in La Crosse will remain relatively mild, with Wednesday's high nearing 34 degrees, an overnight low of 28 and a high of 32 on Thursday.
“This will be a very wet, dense snow as temperatures will be near freezing,” said Andy Boxell, National Weather Service lead forecaster.
While the NWS notes that the forecast can change, it expects most of the Coulee Region to get more than 4 inches of snow — giving La Crosse, Winona and Black River Falls a 99% chance of at least 4 inches, Tomah 98% and Viroqua 92%.
La Crosse has an 85% chance of 6 inches or more and a 43% chance of 8 inches or more. Winona and Black River Falls both have an 88% chance of getting at least 6 inches, while the former has a 55% chance of getting at least 8 inches. Tomah has an 80% chance of getting at least 6 inches, and Viroqua has a 66% chance.
While all snow is favored north and west of Madison, far southeastern Wisconsin is currently favored to see mostly rain, the National Weather Service said.
In between, including the Madison area, there will be a mix of rain and snow, and occasional freezing rain and freezing drizzle, is expected. That area will see a sharp gradient in snow totals, but exactly where is uncertain, the Weather Service said.
Wisconsin's child care industry continues to face a critical staffing crisis — one that is expected to get worse if federal COVID-19 relief funds the state allocates to providers dry up.
That's according to a recent national survey of early childhood educators, which showed that 63.3% of Wisconsin centers are experiencing staffing shortages and that 79.8% of workers are facing burnout and exhaustion. The survey, conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, garnered its Wisconsin data from 1,173 respondents. The association released its data in December through the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association.
The survey also indicated that 32.1% of state child care centers would consider leaving their job or closing their program in the future if economic conditions don't improve.
Dane County child care providers within the last few weeks echoed the workforce sentiments expressed in the survey and said the money they receive from the state is merely keeping their businesses afloat.
The U.S. economy loses more than $50 billion per year in revenue, wages and productivity because of "persistent child care problems," according to a 2021 report by Washington, D.C., thinktank Brookings Institution.
And fueling the state's child care staffing crisis are wages that haven't kept up with the rising cost of living, as well as financial burdens and closures brought on by COVID-19. Wisconsin was already seeing child care "deserts" before the pandemic, or regions where a center can't be found for miles despite major need, WECA said.
The average wage that child care workers make in the state is $7.50 to $13 an hour, which for a 40-hour work week puts a family of four at or below the 2022 federal poverty rate.
"We need to start understanding that child care is a public good," said Ruth Schmidt, WECA executive director, adding that the report's results are "striking" but not surprising.
Moreover, 45.6% of Wisconsin survey respondents said they are currently serving fewer children than they would like, with 51.5% reporting longer waitlists of parents needing their facilities.
The backlogs are a consequence of staffing shortages, respondents said.
Meanwhile, 27.1% of state providers said their program would close without current financial supports. More than $700 million in federal pandemic relief funding has been given to providers by the state since the start of the health crisis, but it expires in 2024, Schmidt said.
In Wisconsin, a majority of that funding has supported the Child Care Counts program, which provides payments to child care facilities to increase wages and offset other operating costs. WECA said it is advocating for a $300 million investment to continue the program in the state's 2023-25 biennial budget.
That money would "keep the status quo," Schmidt said, adding that much more is needed from both the public and private sector to help child care providers flourish, not just be stable. "It will keep (the child care industry) from further receding in our state."
There are some glimmers of hope. Efforts within the last year to financially stabilize the beleaguered child care industry have come from other state organizations, too, as consciousness about the sector's economic necessity has risen.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families in 2022 implemented a program called Project Growth, which included $10 million to help businesses purchase slots for employees at regulated child care facilities, as well as $8.1 million to incentivize communities across the state to address local child care workforce and resource needs over the next few years.
Madison Area Technical College received a $2.9 million grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to help build capacity for child care on the South Side, and for other MATC campuses in the region.
Brenda Fritz, owner and administrator of child care center Academy of Little Vikings in Mount Horeb, said she hasn't seen a resume come across her desk in months.
The business opened in 2013 and has about 42 employees, Fritz said, and she's looking to hire at least five more. And because of a waitlist of 75 children and growing, Fritz said the center is eyeing an expansion.
But that's not economically viable right now, she said, because of her staffing shortage. The academy's waitlist extends into 2024 and includes "babies that haven't even been born yet," she said. The center currently cares for 165 children ages 0-12.
The academy is a recipient of Child Care Counts funding ($25,000 a month since May 2021), of which $15,000 boosts employee wages, which average between $15 and $17 an hour, by $500 a month.
The center gets a separate monthly Child Care Counts stipend of $10,000 to go toward operational costs, and Fritz said that money has been a good retention and stabilization tool but nothing beyond that.
Fritz said she tells her staff members to think of their grant money as bonuses rather than wage increases. That helps fuel the awareness that the funding may soon go away. Without the grants, she would have to raise tuition for families that use her center.
Jen Bailey, executive director of child care program Reach Dane, also receives Child Care Counts funding. That's roughly $112,000 a month since spring 2021, Reach Dane said.
The program services mostly low-income families (1,000 children ages 0-5) across several Dane County locations and has 280 employees. It needs to hire 40 more, Bailey said.
"Currently, we have 10 classrooms that are closed due to lack of staff," Bailey said.
Both providers said they've additionally helped their employees get child care with Project Growth money.
"We pay a lot of lip service, but we don't put our money where our mouth is," Bailey said. "We need to treat it like the profession it is. We are asking people to care for (children) that are in this critical development stage."
Andre Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Memphis and an award-winning author and pastor, delivered the 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration keynote address Monday night to a packed Viterbo University Fine Arts Center and over 100 online viewers.
At the University of Memphis, Johnson teaches classes such as African American Public Address, Rhetoric Race and Religion, Media Studies, Interracial Communication, Rhetoric and Popular Culture and Hip Hop Studies. He is renown for his books on Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, an influential Black religious leader and orator, along with other articles on the relationship between rhetoric, religion and social movements, including Black Lives Matter.
In the address titled "Searching for the Beloved Community," Johnson drew on his published research exploring King's use of prophetic rhetoric during the last year of his life.
"For King, the Beloved Community was a sense of community where all lives are interconnected and respected. A place of transformative love," Johnson said. "For King, within the Beloved Community there was still a place for both oppressed and oppressor to live harmoniously together. However, as King neared the end of his life and as he continued to fight for human and civil rights, he quickly began to see that the stumbling block to many of his proposals, projects and programs that would have helped ushered in the beloved community stall because of the seeded, deeply embedded racism in America."
The community celebration included the presentation of the Lynda Blackmon Lowery Youth Leadership Award to Logan High School sophomore Na'Ziah McLaurin and the Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. 2023 Leadership Award to Bridget Todd-Robbins, concluding a day of service and learning hosted by Viterbo University.
Earlier in the day, Viterbo hosted three workshops led by La Crosse nonprofit organization Hope Restores co-directors Shy Jackson and Shamawyah Curtis, La Crosse School District cultural liaison Quartell Roberson and four high school students, including McLaurin, and Viterbo professor Keith Knutson.
This year marks a decade since Johnson's last community celebration address at Viterbo. The La Crosse Community Area Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, which organizes the celebration event, started its search for a speaker last summer.
"A large number of us were comfortable with bringing him back based on his last appearance," said Shaundel Spivey, committee member and executive director of Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge, a nonprofit dedicated to La Crosse's Black community.
Spivey said that Johnson's address demonstrated how many often "whitewash and bastardize" King, who was reviled for confronting systemic racism.
"When I get an opportunity to give these King Day talks, I like to ask the question: What did you come to hear about this man?" Johnson said in his address. "This man. Not the figment, not the image but this man, who while living was called the most dangerous man in America by the head of the FBI."
"Everything he did was about dismantling systems of oppression," Spivey said. "In our city, as we think about what side of history we're on, it's important for us to realize how we can dismantle systems of oppression for all walks of life."
Johnson was eager to return to La Crosse. "I was more of a professor," Johnson said of his 2013 address in an interview after the event. "I didn't want to do that this time. I wanted to really engage." Johnson said he wanted to ground the current racial justice projects many in the audience work on in the overarching civil rights struggle.
Much of Johnson's address detailed the efforts of Jude Huetteman, a member of Grosse Pointe Human Relations Council, to bring King to deliver a speech at the Detroit suburb's high school in 1967 after a summer marked by prolonged protests responding to poverty and police violence across American cities.
What should have been a simple speaking event was instead marred by what King called "white backlash," Johnson said. White residents' attempted to intimidate the school board to deny the meeting space, and police requested insurance and cooperation to prevent riots. Members of the committee were threatened and surveilled, and King's visit required high levels of security to protect him from attacks from protesters.
"If King was anything, he was a prophet, a prophet to America. A voice that needed to be heard. King started out optimistic visionary," Johnson said during the keynote address. "However, as time went on, and as King saw the massive resistance in the south and in the north, as the economic plight of the poor did not change, even though we declared a war on poverty, King began to become more pessimistic prophet. One who abandoned an absolute belief in the inherent goodness in the country to one who began to question the very fabric of America.
"However, this deep questioning and reflection did not make King run away or hide. He did not take up arms. He did not call to overthrow the government. He did not storm the Capitol, but he moved in the search of the dream for the beloved community. And it was that search that kept him going."
Johnson explored the revived potential to create the "Beloved Community" in 2020, when protests in the streets were backed by a broader consensus on confronting racism than in 1967, but also noted the revived "white backlash" to Black Americans' progress as in 1968.
"What I find baffling today, is that mentioning King calling America racist or saying racism is a problem in America can land you into some trouble," Johnson said. "Talking about the conditions that King talked about that gave us those beautiful words can land you into some trouble."
Johnson concluded his speech telling the crowd to still dream, and dedicate action, to creating King's vision of a beloved community.
"With this dream I need for you to hear this charge, with this dream, take it back into your homes, take it back around the dinner table, take this dream back to your family and friends and relatives. Take this dream back to your work places and spaces," Johnson said. "Do the work that you've been doing, keep doing the work, keep standing on the right side of history, because we are all dreaming of the day when the beloved community can be ushered in."
A recording of the Community Celebration, which includes Johnson's address and speeches by McLaurin and Todd-Robbins, can be found at www.facebook.com/viterboethics. Recordings of this year's three workshops, along with workshops from 2022 and other resources, can be found at www.viterbo.edu/mlk.
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In 2016, Laquita Becker took the helm of the Boys and Girls Club mental health partnership, the sole staff member working to meet the emotional needs of area youth.
Now, the program, a partnership with Mayo Clinic Health System, has expanded to include additional staff from Mayo's Psychology and Psychiatry Department, with one each located at the Boys and Girls Club Amie L. Mathy Center and Erickson Club and, in 2022, at the Holmen and West Salem club site.
Becker is serving as Youth and Family Service director after a leave to work on the Mayo campus as a behavioral health specialist.
"Coming back to see it continue to grow is very exciting to me," Becker says. "... I started this alone and did the best I could, and I'm so excited to have a team so that we can have more organized and standardized programming."
Through the program, youth can meet with specialists one-on-one or in small groups and participate in programming suiting their individual needs to help foster strength and develop life skills. Parents and families can become involved as well to help formulate and encourage the best outcomes.
"Mental health is critically important for the success and well-being of youth, which is why addressing mental health is one of our priorities for improving the health of our community," says Dr. Paul Mueller, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System in southwest Wisconsin. "We continue to be inspired by the Boys & Girls Clubs' unique commitment and ability to serve youth in our community."
The Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse, says club CEO Jake Erickson: "Is extremely fortunate to have such a strong partnership with Mayo Clinic Health System. This partnership provides services to kids far beyond what we could offer on our own. It really sets us apart from other (Boys & Girls) Clubs across the state."
The program expansion comes at a crucial time, with COVID-19 disrupting everyone's lives.
"The past few years have been difficult for all of us but especially our youth who are experiencing life development milestones," says Becker. "I think now more than ever they need all the support they can get."
The location allows for youth to access services at a familiar place, truly meeting them where they are at.
"We've seen the kids who are really struggling to function access our wonderful supports here, (and they) are thriving and are able to better communicate their needs and cope with their emotions," says Becker. "I've had some kids tell me this is the first time they've opened up about what they're struggling with."
Becker praises the community and donors for their commitment to the mission of youth mental health.
"I really believe it's important to remember kids are our future, and we need to invest in them now to set them up for success later in life," says Becker. "... The limit is the sky at this point — how can we keep growing and how can we provide more services? That's the goal we are setting out to do today."
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