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La Crosse man hopeful to raise $20,000 for local nonprofits by catching musky

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Al Louis and the 2020 Musky Challenge

Al Louis, owner of Designing Jewelers and member of the Rotary Club of La Crosse, is catching fish to raise money for local nonprofits for the second year in a row.

Last year, while Al Louis was fishing with a friend on Lake Vermillion in northern Minnesota, a thought occurred to him that he could be using his hobby to help his community.

“I’d like to raise some money for charity while fishing. What do you think?” he recalls asking his fellow Rotary Club of La Crosse members.

In just a few short weeks, Louis and the group helped raise $4,100 for the Parenting Place, which paid for three months worth of diapers for the child-care center.

This year, Louis is ready to turn fish into dollars again, with the 2020 Musky Challenge, which has a goal of at least $20,000 and five nonprofits chosen to be recipients, though Louis said he is hopeful they’ll double that goal.

The project raises money from fish sponsorships: people pledge to pay a certain amount of money for every musky Louis reels in — which is a hard fish to catch. Louis only collected four last year, though his personal best is eight.

That means, if someone pledges $10 and Louis catches five, that person will end up donating $50 total. People can also donate a total dollar amount instead of pledging per fish.

Louis is set to leave Saturday for the four-week fishing trip, and has already raised $14,000. He’s hopeful they’ll reach their $20,000 goal before his departure and double it while he’s fishing.

Five groups will receive the money donated from the fishing challenge, but the largest donation will go to New Horizons, a nonprofit that helps victims of abuse.

“It’s going to help fill a big part of the gap that we have right now,” said Patty Nuttleman, the development director for New Horizons and fellow Rotary Club member.

For many nonprofit organizations, annual fundraising efforts have had to be put on hold because of COVID-19, and New Horizons is down nearly $50,000 Nuttleman said, though the community it serves is particularly hard-hit because of the pandemic.

“We work with victims of domestic abuse and that’s been a really lousy situation with COVID. If you can imagine having to shelter-in-place and being with your abuser, that makes it even more daunting,” Nuttleman said.

“It just really creates a powder keg of terror for a victim of abuse if they’re stuck at home,” she added.

“It’s tough. It’s really tough on them,” Louis said of the impacts COVID-19 is having on nonprofits and communities.

New Horizons will use the money from the 2020 Musky Challenge to sustain programs like trauma counseling, its shelter and supports for those in abusive homes, but it will primarily support its Stewards of Children program, which is a community education tool to help people recognize when a child is being sexually abused and appropriately act on it.

“I really think New Horizons does incredible work,” Nuttleman said, who’s been with the group for three years.

“When I first started here I didn’t realize how much they do. You think it’s just a shelter, but it’s way more than a shelter,” she said.

“It does so much behind the scenes, if you will, kind of behind the dark corners of our community that people probably don’t want to look at,” Nuttleman said. “It’s a nonprofit that isn’t dogs or puppies, so it’s hard to capture people’s hearts with something that is just kind of ugly.”

In addition, the Mobile Meals, Gateway Area Council, La Crosse Public Education Foundation and the Family and Children’s Center will each receive at least $1,000 from the project.

Louis, who owns Designing Jewelers and River City Gold and Silver, said that living in La Crosse has shown him how impactful giving back to the community can be.

“I’ve been one who’s been involved with many nonprofits in town my whole life. I just believe in giving back,” he said. “I’ve been here 38 years now, and I’ve just been absorbed in the community, a part of the community.”

Those interested in donating can do-so at the Rotary Club of La Crosse’s website — and Louis is encouraging folks to be creative and reach out to him personally and challenge him to do wacky things for even more money.

“Maybe there’s a crazy way we can make money?” Louis said. He’s already been challenged to wear a Cubs jersey — his rival team — in a photo with one of the fish, or shave an image of a musky into his head for a larger donation.

“We’re open to almost anything,” Louis said. “It’s all about charity.”

Leaving on Saturday, Louis will fish for muskies every Tuesday and Thursday for four hours a night, where the odds of catching one of the large pikes are one in every 10,000 line casts — but he said it’s just the right fundraiser for him and the community.

“This way I’m social distancing,” Louis said,” I’ve got just me and my buddy, we’re raising money, and it’s all going to come back to the community of La Crosse.”

“I’ve been one who’s been involved with many nonprofits in town my whole life. I just believe in giving back. I’ve been here 38 years now, and I’ve just been absorbed in the community.” Al Louis, owner of Designing Jewelers and River City Gold and Silver

“We work with victims of domestic abuse and that’s been a really lousy situation with COVID. If you can imagine having to shelter-in-place and being with your abuser, that makes it even more daunting. It just really creates a powder keg of terror for a victim of abuse if they’re stuck at home.” Patty Nuttleman, development director for New Horizons and fellow Rotary Club member

"We work with victims of domestic abuse and that's been a really lousy situation with COVID. If you can imagine having to shelter-in-place and being with your abuser, that makes it even more daunting. It just really creates a powder keg of terror for a victim of abuse if they're stuck at home."

Patty Nuttleman, development director for New Horizons and fellow Rotary Club member

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"I've been one who's been involved with many nonprofits in town my whole life. I just believe in giving back. I've been here 38 years now, and I've just been absorbed in the community."

Al Louis, owner of Designing Jewelers and River City Gold and Silver

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