From “Giving back through flowers” — In a time of uncertainty, the Lions Clubs local to Kewaunee County helped Cathei Mincheski and her fiance, Russ Naze, with Naze’s medical bills when he was diagnosed with cancer. More than a year has gone by and Mincheski finds herself working to give back to the community that helped her.

Now facing graduation from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Leadership Development Program on May 9, Mincheski is finishing part of her coursework, which involves a “capstone project” that must encompass service learning.

She decided to use the skills she has acquired from the program to give back to the Lions Clubs. Mincheski decided to host a community plant sale at the Algoma Youth Club May 30. Funds raised will be donated in the name of the Luxemburg, Casco and Algoma Lions Clubs to fund children attending Lions Club Camp in Rosholt.

“If I can help them like they helped us, that is all I really want to do,” Mincheski said.

Looking at the project objectively and deciding that she wanted to incorporate more into the plan, Mincheski contacted Algoma Elementary School to see if the students would be able to help plant the seeds.

“They are our future leaders, and this gets them involved with community service, which hopefully, when they become adults, they will continue to practice what they learned as a child,” Mincheski said.

Algoma Elementary was more than willing to contribute the students’ talents and time. Coincidentally, the school had just received a grant for a fourth-grade science class to learn about planting and growing. Mrs. Tamara Smith’s fourth-grade class started planting two weeks ago with guidance from Mincheski and Smith.

The grant specifies the children are to do all of the work, including determining how much soil and water to use. Fourth graders will learn what plants look like when growing and how to instill proper care. The approximately 40 children Smith teaches will be involved in the growing of vegetables such as green peppers and tomatoes along with herbs, fruits, blooming flowers and organic seeds.

Planting and growing materials came from the school’s grant money. The majority of the plants will be going towards the sale, and a select few will remain with the school to be planted in a garden in front of the school.

So far, about 200 plants have been sown, with more to come from Mincheski herself and by way of the children who attend Tina Alsteen’s Country Heartland child care center in Luxemburg. Mincheski plans to visit the school as needed to plant more seeds or help the children transplant them to larger pots.

One obstacle poses mild worry at this time: the weather. Hopefully it will be favorable for the seeds to germinate and grow enough to be presented at the sale. The project plans are to involve the students in setting up fliers around the community advertising the sale and including them in the sale day productions.

Mincheski has been working on this capstone project since the end of January. She was required to do her project to assist an nonprofit group.

Luxemburg Lions member Johanna Peterson stated that Mincheski is not paying the Lions back, but rather, paying it forward.

“She is involving the community; it’s a simple and attractive project raising money for a good thing,” Peterson said. “Fundraisers are not easy things to put together, and she did it creatively while involving children into the mix.”

The Lions are also honored Mincheski decided to incorporate three clubs, because when it comes down to it, the Lions clubs work together to make the community a better place, Peterson said.

Mincheski has been employed as a teller at Harbor Credit Union for 20 years, and for the last five she has also been working at von Stiehl Winery. She enrolled in the leadership development program to expand her management, human resources and supervisory skills.

From “Northwoods college students design food pantry” — RHINELANDER – Some local college students helped design the new Rhinelander Area Food Pantry building. Nicolet Technical College Business Management and Marketing students created the plans for the building.

It took them the entire semester to come up with the design.

“It’s been super exciting,” says Bailey Wheeler, Nicolet Technical College Student. “We started out being a little bit overwhelmed with it but it’s definitely as the time went on we got used to the whole project, and I think we were able to narrow it down a little bit and really see how we were able to help.”

Students were divided into three groups to come up with the new design. Each group handled a different section of the building. After the plans were submitted an architectural student rendered the design. Doing this project gave students real world experience.

“This is a powerful way of learning,” Dianne Lazear, Business management program instructor. “It allows students to concretely see what they’ve learned and use it in a way that matters.”

“These students are engaged and they are committed to the project. For an instructor having commitment and enthusiasm from your students about what they’re learning and doing is just the sweet spot of teaching,” says Lazear.

The Rhinelander Area Food Pantry will move into the new building in July.

From “Filing your taxes soon? You’ve got options” — It’s your ticket to a big check from Uncle Sam, or for some it’s payback time to the IRS. Your W-2 should be in the mail soon and in 2014, there are plenty of different ways for taxpayers to file their taxes.

“I just got my W-2 in the mail. I may have to do it in the next week or two, I might need to get started on that,” said student at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Nathan Hakes.

Hakes and millions of Americans will be able to file their taxes now, but due to last year’s government shutdown, the IRS delayed the tax filing season by ten days.

“You can still prepare you return and send it, it’ll just be held until January 31st timeframe,” said Casper Haas, a tax manager at InCity Tax Service in downtown Eau Claire.

That means the IRS won’t begin processing tax preparations sent in until the end of the month. The April 15th deadline is still in place

Haas knows all about filing taxes because he thinks about it 365 days a year as a tax manager.

“Tax preparation can be stressful and we’re in the business of preparing tax returns. This is what we do, this is what we live for, this is what we study for,” said Haas who said people have begun bringing in their taxes for him to help prepare.

He said a professional preparer is something to consider, especially if you’re dealing with more than just a W-2.

“(If they have) two income households, they own a home, they have dependents, so they more than likely would itemize deductions, so Schedule A.,” said Haas. “We work with small businesses as well as LLCs, sole proprietors; we can do those returns as well.”

If you feel comfortable doing your own taxes, technology can help you do just that. New this year are tax preparation apps that can be downloaded on a mobile device. H&R Block came out with a Tax Preparation 2013 app and so did TurboTax with its new app called SnapTax.

SnapTax is as simple as snapping a picture of your W-2 on your smartphone and it will put all the information into the app program, calculating your federal and state returns.

Some people turn to software, like TaxACT and Intuit TurboTax.

“I now use TurboTax online,” said Hakes. “It’s so much faster and I can answer everything myself.”

Hakes said his mother taught him how to file his own taxes.

“I tried going through H&R Block but I think through TurboTax, I was able to find the deductions I knew. Now online works for me, it’s simple,” he said.

The IRS lets you file your taxes for free if your income is below $58,000. A free tax prep software is offered online at the website. For income above $58,000, it offers free file fillable forms which will be available on January 31, 2014.

And if you’re low income and want something free, CVTC is offering VITA, the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program.

“We have students who are very, very eager to help out and it’s great experience for them as well because gives them that real life feel and real interaction,” said accounting instructor Jason Szymanski.

He said it’s a chance for people who can’t afford professional help to get their taxes prepared by a trained and certified volunteer. Volunteers can help with services that are not too complicated, like income tax credit, child care tax credits, unemployment compensation and Wisconsin homestead tax credit.

CVTC said the VITA service is offered Thursdays Feb. 6 through April 10 in room 240 of the Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire. The service is provided on a first-come-first-served basis, with sign-up beginning at noon and tax preparation from 1-4:30 p.m. each day.

From “Care Care Clinic preps vehicles for winter” — As winter weather fast approaches, experts are encouraging people to start thinking about getting cars ready for chilly temperatures.

Madison College held their 11th annual Free Car Care Clinic on Saturday. Students and instructors offered their expertise to check belts, hoses and other winter problem areas for those who stopped by.

“The things that come in– oil leaks, coolant leaks, ya know bad coolant, just applying what I’ve learned in the classroom to real life experiences, it’s really an eye opener,” says student Isaac Nowak.

Those who attended the event were asked to donate non-perishable food items. Last year, more than 200 pounds of food were sent to local pantries after the clinic.


From “Making a Difference one yard at a time” — A group of Northcentral Technical College, NTC, international students cleared the leaves off a large lot at the intersection of North 32nd Avenue and Madonna Drive Saturday morning.

The students, hailing from several Central American and Caribbean nations, joked and laughed with each other as they raked and bagged the leaves from the yard of 56-year-old Margaret Duranceau. Health problems would have made the job near impossible for Duranceau, and she appreciated their efforts.

“They are one fantastic crew,” Duranceau said. “They should keep them here.”

The students were among the estimated 400-plus volunteers who turned up to rake the leaves of about 250 area residents for the Make a Difference Day efforts coordinated by the United Way of Marathon County.

“We had fabulous volunteer turnout,” said Shelly Kaiser, the director of the agency’s Volunteer Connection. “The weather cooperated. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. We had outstanding turnout.”

Kaiser said she didn’t know why so many people signed up to help their neighbors this year, but “our target is 300 volunteers,” she said.

One of the motivating factors for the NTC students is that they are required to volunteer in the community as part of the program that brought them to study in the United States, Scholarships for Education and Economic Development, or SEED. The program is designed to help low-income students from high-need countries to learn business, design projects and to go back to their countries to make a difference there.

Make a Difference Day offers a great opportunity for SEED students to work those required volunteer hours, but participation means more than that, said student Mariela Valdez, 19, of the Dominican Republic.

This was her second year of participating in the day, and she found last year that helping people, instead of working for programs, is gratifying.

“Doing it for people who need it, it’s like, wow, that’s awesome,” Valdez said. “We enjoy doing it. … We have fun.”

From “New homes for Madison’s downtown birds” — On a hot and humid weekend in July, Madison College student, Amanda Vang, ventured out from the air-conditioning, and led a group of volunteers in constructing 20 songbird houses.

Amanda is taking a summer course at Madison College which includes a service learning project with a local organization. She noticed the increasing construction of suburbs and cities, and wanted to help attract and create safe habitat for birds in the Madison downtown area. In her proposal she says,

“Madison Audubon is all about bringing people together to benefit nature, and this is what my project does… A simple bird house is going to encourage people to pay closer attention to the environment, and learn about the changes going on around it”.

One of Amanda’s volunteers found some shade!

So, the Madison Audubon office teamed up with Amanda to sponsor her project. She hoped to build 20 songbird houses, and donate them to downtown residents in Madison. Amanda worked hard raising funds for the materials, consulting with our bird expert, Karen Etter Hale, on appropriate birdhouse designs, picking out the wood, and finally assembling the 20 birdhouses!

This songbird house design (which can be found on the Cornell website) provides safe habitat for many species, including the House Wren, Black-Capped Chickadee, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Prothonotary Warbler, Deer Mouse, Whitefooted Mouse, and more.

Though building birdhouses isn’t hard, it does require the
right materials, and a bit of patience. Way to go, Amanda!
Amanda has already found homes for 15 of the birdhouses (including 10 to the Madison Property Management, who are excited to put them up at their downtown locations!). There are five birdhouses available for downtown-area residents at the Madison Audubon office.

From “MATC to expand entrepreneurship center with grant from Helen Bader Foundation” — The Milwaukee Area Technical College Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from the Helen Bader Foundation to expand the college’s entrepreneurship center.

The entrepreneurship center opened in April 2012 when MATC launched an entrepreneurship technical diploma. More than 100 students, many of whom are already self-employed, have received mentoring and support from the center, said Armen Hadjinian, the MATC faculty member who is adviser to the center.

The grant will allow the school to expand the center and support scholarships for students who complete a service learning project.

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