Volunteer Highlight: Meet Joyce Anderson!

I’ve been a member of JONAH for about 15 years, and I think one of the most powerful impacts JONAH has had in the Chippewa Valley is the understanding that when we work together, we have the power to change things for the better.  

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed hearing stories, especially stories like the recent Leader-Telegram “Saw Dust City” story, where Patti See noted the formation of the Yellowstone Trail.  There was a need for passable roads, people got together, “cut the issue” and little by little from small place to small place, then state to state and finally across our nation the Yellowstone trail was created. They placed huge yellow stones as guideposts, to show that bicyclists, and later cars, were on the right track. They formed a dues-paying organization and mapped the trail out for everyone to use. The whole story is in the book A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound, written by a Chippewa Valley Couple, John and Alice Ridge, who explored the trail.  They wanted to preserve this piece of their parents’ story and our collective history.

I love that title A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.  A good road to where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going. 

When I look back at JONAH’s story, I wish we had something like those big yellow boulders in the Chippewa Valley as signposts where there was change for the good. Maybe we should start planting colorful JONAH whales where JONAH, in working with other stakeholders, has made something better. Anyone want to start a task force with me? 

 I’d start at the county courthouse with a giant JONAH whale, with barnacle notes of all the restorative justice that has happened. We could title it A Good Road from Incarceration to Restoration. 

I’d put blue whales in front of all who have funded the Advancing Hope Fund that was born from JONAH’s and WISDOM’s work of trying to cap Pay Day Lending’s exorbitant interest rates. After the state of Wisconsin failed to cap interest rates on loan companies at 37%, a group of JONAH members explored local alternatives, found there were none, and set about creating a Chippewa Valley model of making interest-free loans of about $1000 to residents. Thanks to local credit unions, banks, congregational members, and residents, the Advancing Hope Fund was set up and continues. As of last year, they have added and recirculated donations and have loaned more than $100,000 to individuals in the Chippewa Valley. Some of the loans helped pay off a high-interest pay day loan so our neighbors could be set free from accumulative debt. We could title this story A Good Road from Debt Burden to Relief.

I’m pretty sure we could dot the Chippewa Valley with whales if each task force marked the path of people and places restored and systems improved.

In 2012 I heard a singular story that has in some ways reshaped my life.  I heard Mario’s immigration story at weeklong training.  It was from Mario that I learned how a law can create immense fear and pain.  When his parents went to renew their drivers’ licenses, they were refused. Wisconsin had changed their laws to exclude immigrants who live and work here and who don’t have documents to be a legal resident. Without public transportation in rural areas, they were forced to drive.  They felt like they were now on the police radar.  He talked about the second time his mom was pulled over for driving without a license and his fear of her deportation.

JONAH members wondered if the same kind of pain and fear was being experienced in the Chippewa Valley. It is. We learned that the number one need for our neighbors is to restore driver’s licenses so our neighbors can drive to work, to school events, and to medical appointments without fear of arrest and separation from their families. A single law has created so much anguish and fear for our neighbors. Restoring driver’s licenses remains a statewide issue, with WISDOM affiliates continuing to work together. With new districting maps, I hope we will be able to put up a big blue whale at the Department of Motor Vehicles that says A Good SAFE Road for All, from Here to Anywhere in Wisconsin.

Maybe we should think about putting a big blue whale up at Phoenix Park this August 25, at the 2024 Multicultural Festival as we invite diverse cultures from all over the Chippewa Valley and beyond to share some of their culture with all of us. To hear music. To learn from one another. To celebrate together. We could title it, A Good Road from Strangers to Neighbors.

It isn’t always easy and can be overwhelming. But we have signposts to look for and stories to call upon as we move forward in working together to have a more just and healthy community. We can name our story A Good Road from _______ to _______. Let’s fill in the blanks together.