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La Crosse receives $430K grant for recovery house run by those with substance abuse experience

La Crosse Lighthouse announced Wednesday that it received a $431,500 federal block grant to fund the program, which advocates say has been in the works for around six years and fills a major gap in services in the community.

“The rates are going up and up and up for those that have died of drug abuse, and we have to stop that. We can turn a corner and at the same time provide recovery,” said Scott Mihalovic, president of the board of directors for Lighthouse.

“Our hope is to provide them a home-like situation, a nurturing environment that will allow them to begin their recovery. And we say in the business: ‘When it’s their day.’ When it’s their day, they can come to us and get that start that they need, with people that have lived this life,” Mihalovic said.

Mihalovic

La Crosse Lighthouse started in 2015, an extension of what was the La Crosse County Heroin Task Force and now the Alliance to HEAL. The group has been solely focused on establishing a short-term safe house for those battling addiction and mental health.

But the unique part of the program is that it is peer-run, meaning that those involved have lived experiences with substance abuse, either personally or through a loved one — including the staff at the house and much of the Lighthouse board of directors.

The group began its work after an individual shared his story of going through recovery on his own and eventually began to help others through the process in his home, too, pointing to the success the environment provided.

Officials said that they found that this type of recovery support was missing in the community.

“There definitely was that gap between what we had to offer and the needs in the community,” said La Crosse County Board chair Monica Kruse and Lighthouse member.

“So when Brady came along and had this idea, we jumped on it,” she said.

Peer-run respite is a practice that has been growing successfully around the country and state for the past decade, officials said, calling it “faith-based and evidence-based.” In the six years of planning, Lighthouse has been engaged with the handful of other respite centers introduced throughout Wisconsin and will use those as a blueprint.

Contributed 

La Crosse County Board chair Monica Kruse

Cheryl Hancock, Coulee Recovery Center executive director and Lighthouse member, described an afternoon at the peer-run respite center in Madison.

“It was peaceful and quiet. A couple people were watching TV,” Hancock said, saying it was not what she would have thought or stereotypes would have led her to believe. “It was just very calm.”

The group is still looking for a location for the safe house, which they hope to open in September, and no later than October. Officials are welcoming help from the community on locating a three- to five-bedroom home.

It won’t act as a detox center since it’s intended to house short-term, voluntary stays only, and many residents will only stay a handful of days while they begin recovery and are connected to other long-term resources. No medical care will be provided on-site, but the group will be connected with resources to intervene in the event of a medical emergency.

The program will use existing resources in the community to direct individuals to stay at the respite space, a voluntary program for those battling substance abuse and are in the right place to begin recovery.

Organizations such as Coulee Recovery and the Alliance to HEAL will be able to make a call to Lighthouse if an individual could benefit from the program, where they will then go through an interview process.

Cheryl Hancock is executive director, CCA in the Coulee Recovery Center

Eventually, police, social workers and firefighters will likely also be able to directly connect individuals to Lighthouse for support, mews that comes the same week the La Crosse Police Department announced it will begin to integrate more mental health supports in the field.

“There are resources,” said Mihalovic, former principal for Logan High School. “It’s just about navigating those resources.”

La Crosse County had a record 39 overdose deaths in 2020 and is already on pace to match or exceed that number in 2021, with at least 20 deaths already.

This increased emphasis on mental health supports in the community coupled with the pandemic’s impact on the addiction crisis makes it feel like perfect timing to begin this new recovery resource after so many years of planning, officials saying it was “meant to be.”

Lighthouse will staff the house with an executive director, house manager and nine staff members — all of which will have lived experiences with substance abuse.

The group will be able to re-apply for the federal grant for the next four years, which will fund staffing, training and possibly rent.

Officials are hopeful for community support at several levels — from donating food to the home, to welcoming the respite center into whatever neighborhood it settles in, in the coming weeks.

“Everybody’s in this for the same reason and we’re going to get there,” Mihalovic said, “and this is one big step for our community to help people ready to help themselves.”

IN PHOTOS: Local community members wear face masks


Watch now: History made as Bucks win their first NBA title in 50 years

MILWAUKEE — History is no longer in the making.

The Milwaukee Bucks grabbed their first NBA title in 50 years Tuesday in front of a global audience, more than 17,000 inside Fiserv Forum and an overflow crowd of tens of thousands of people at an outdoor watch party in the Deer District.

“Bucks in six,” a chant started after Milwaukee dropped the first two games of the best-of-seven series to the Phoenix Suns, became reality. “History in the making,” a moniker plastered on the face of Fiserv Forum, became past tense as Milwaukee defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98.

“I don’t think the magnitude has hit anyone quite yet, but it will,” said Drew Griswold, a lifelong Milwaukee resident who paid $1,200 for a standing-room-only spot in Fiserv Forum. “I don’t think I can really comprehend how big of a deal it is for the state for the city, for Giannis, for the Bucks, for everybody.”

It marked the first time since 1971, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ruled the court, that an NBA trophy has been hoisted in the city. It also marked one of the few times over the past five decades that the state could collectively bask in a championship by one of its major sports teams.

The Marquette University men’s basketball team won the NCAA title in 1977 and the Green Bay Packers have 13 world titles, but only two of those came after the 1967 Super Bowl victory. The Milwaukee Brewers have yet to win a World Series and the Wisconsin Badgers football and basketball teams continue to chase national championships.

Tuesday night’s feat created a moment that may have put Deer District in prime contention to one day be placed on the state register of historic places. But instead of the German heritage celebrated on nearby Old World Third Street, the major players are of Greek, African, Cuban and Irish descent and with names like Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Lopez and Connaughton.

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Jesus Villegas, of Sheboygan, encourages Bucks fans Tuesday outside Fiserv Forum.

“This is so great. So great,” said Jim Davis, as he joined the crowd in celebrating in front of the big outdoor screens. “We should have won it last year, but that makes this so much better.”

Crush of people

Deer District has frequently drawn more than 20,000 people to the plazas outside the arena but in anticipation of a much larger crowd, the viewing party area was expanded for Game 6 to accommodate up to 65,000 people. But it wasn’t enough.

Fans were turned away just prior to the game while a steady stream of others exited the District due to overcrowding and long waits for beer and bathrooms.

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Milwaukee Bucks fans celebrate during the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the Deer District outside Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Zach Solomon, 18, and his brother, Evan, of Milwaukee attempted to get in but the crush of people outside Turner Hall was too much as police turned newcomers away. The Solomons opted to peer over the chain-link fence, but a few were successful at scaling the fence before police halted the practice.

“It’s a bad angle, but it’s better than nothing,” Zach said of their vantage point.

Deer District featured four large screens in three different areas outside the arena, several streets were closed and scores of police, some on horse and bike, patrolled the area. One of the overflow areas with a screen was on the site of the since removed Bradley Center. The gravel lot was packed with jubilant fans, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the shadow of the Milwaukee Arena, where the Bucks played until the Bradley Center opened in 1988.

‘This is history’

Cisco Claudio, 50, and his son, Noel Patelski, 28, of Milwaukee had been in the massive crowd but didn’t want to wait 40 minutes to use the bathroom They exited and were perched on the fifth level of an adjacent parking garage along with more than 40 other fans.

They had a birds-eye view of some of the crowd, a sweeping view of the city and could even make out game action on the jumbo screen.

“This is history. I can’t believe I’m seeing this,” Claudio said. “This is amazing.”

Tuesday night’s scene stood in contrast to last fall, when Milwaukee hosted the Democratic National Convention amid the peak of the pandemic. Few traveled to the city for the virtual convention and hotel rooms, bars and restaurants were largely empty.

But the NBA Finals brought more international attention to Wisconsin’s largest city, thanks to a fan base that swelled to Packers-like proportions, a team that refused to buckle and the play of its Greek superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was drafted by the Bucks in 2013. In his first season, the Bucks won just 15 games, but he led the team to the playoffs in six of the next seven seasons.

And it has all come just three years shy of the opening of the $524 million Fiserv Forum, which is helping to transform Milwaukee’s downtown.

Nate Lauber, 48, came from Fond du Lac, arrived 10 hours before the tip and a wore a foam deer head as a hat.

“If you’re going to come down you might as well soak it all in,” Lauber said. “People overuse the word electric but when you’re down here for the big games it is electric. It’s great for Wisconsin, it’s great for basketball. It’s great for all the fans who love the Milwaukee Bucks.”

A hotel will be built in the District, there is talk of more development on the former Bradley Center site while the plaza has turned into a community gathering place for art festivals, night markets and music.

Business booming

Bars and restaurants in and around the District filled hours before the tip-off and fans roamed the downtown in anticipation of a game 50 years in the making. Tickets on reselling websites ranged from over $1,000 each for standing-room-only views and to more than $17,000 for a ticket courtside. Two fans won tickets to the game in a lottery after being vaccinated at an on-site clinic hosted by the Bucks and the city of Milwaukee Health Department.

Instead of playing its scheduled night game, the Brewers moved their game Tuesday against the Kansas City Royals to 3:10 p.m.

“It’s the Bucks’ night,” Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers president of business operations, told MLB.com. “We want them to win it, and we want it to be special.”

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Fans of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate during the fourth quarter as the team earned a 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns to win their first NBA championship since 1971.

And it was.

Not since the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the 1982 Brewers have crowds amassed to the size of Tuesday night’s in the city’s downtown. While not Wisconsin Avenue, Deer District was a sea of fans chanting en masse and loudly cheering after each Bucks bucket.

Across the state

Cheers erupted across the state, with Gov. Tony Evers tweeting “Ho-ly mackerel. Our Milwaukee @Bucks have done it in six! Wisconsin could not be prouder of these players or this team.”

In Madison, in the final minutes of the game, sporadic cheers cut through the muggy night on Madison’s State Street as full houses in popular establishments pushed fans out onto patios.

The crescendo grew louder as the win was sealed, and a steady stream of revelers left wherever they watched the game on their path to celebrate elsewhere.

Danny Glickman, 22, a recent UW-Madison graduate, took in the final seconds watching the game with friends through the windows of an at-capacity State Street Brats.

“We’ve been waiting for this for years, and all I want to do is walk in this bar and celebrate with all these people,” he said. “With that being said, I’m sure in a half hour all these places will be filled.”

Hector Martinez snagged a spot earlier in the night at State Street Brats to see the historic win.

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Jesus Villegas, of Sheboygan, encourages Bucks fans Tuesday outside Fiserv Forum.

“It’s been so many years,” the 36-year-old said. “We’re so happy man, Wisconsin is so happy. Can you imagine Milwaukee right now?”


Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo moves toward the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday in Milwaukee.


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La Crosse fire truck dedicated to James McCormick Sr.

While most of La Crosse was asleep ahead of a long Thanksgiving weekend, James McCormick Sr. was performing his duty as a city of La Crosse firefighter engineer. He responded during the overnight hours of Nov. 28, 1957, to a Ferry Street address, where a blaze damaged a living room and a kitchen.

After the fire was extinguished, McCormick attached his smoke mask and began roof operations. Shortly thereafter, he experienced chest and stomach pains and was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where he died at age 46.

It’s been more than six decades since McCormick’s death, but the La Crosse Fire Department has never forgotten his service. On Tuesday, the department dedicated a new fire truck in his honor at the Fifth Avenue South fire station.

“We are so pleased to have our loved one honored in this way,” said Mike McCormick, James McCormick’s grandson. “It’s humbling, unexpected and exciting.”

Fire department chief Ken Gilliam said it wasn’t difficult tracking down James McCormick’s relatives for the ceremony. McCormick’s son, James McCormick Jr., served alongside his father in the fire department before retiring in 1987, and Mike McCormick worked for the city of La Crosse.

Mayor Mitch Reynolds noted the turnout of McCormick’s family.

“Family members don’t forget, and the city of La Crosse won’t forget either,” Reynolds said.

The ceremony was interrupted by a loud crash that could be heard by everyone in attendance. It happened only a block away at the corner of Market Street and 6th St. South, where a two-vehicle collision resulted in one of the vehicles flipping over on its side. Fire and rescue personnel assisted at least one person from the vehicle, but nobody was seriously hurt.

When the ceremony resumed, assistant fire chief Jeff Murphy touted the features of the new truck, which was built in Wisconsin. He said the truck carries a 107-foot ladder, holds 500 gallons of water and operates on a single axle, which helps comply with weight restrictions.

Murphy said purchasing a fire truck is a complex task and that members of the department’s Fire Apparatus Committee have “become experts in buying fire trucks.”

Gilliam expects the truck to be in service for roughly 20 years.

“This memorial will be around for a couple of decades,” he said.

Another monument to McCormick is the 612 Ferry St. residence he helped save. Sixty-four years later, the building still stands.

Mike McCormick says his family always keeps firefighters in their prayers.

“Our family’s wish for this shiny, red truck is that it plays an essential part in saving lives and providing aid for many years,” he said. “And it is our prayer that all firefighters be healthy and safe as they provide aid to those in need.”

IN PHOTOS: Fire on Pearl Street in Downtown La Crosse


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