In the early 1970s three friends in the La Crosse area had an idea. They worked for different organizations that provided services to support independent living for adults with disabilities. One worked at an employment facility; one worked at what is now called an Adult Family Home, and the third worked for an organization that provided social and leisure opportunities.
And though those three organizations were going strong, the friends recognized that even more people needed services, and there just weren’t enough opportunities. They decided it was time to do something about it.
So the friends met on nights and weekends to develop a plan for a place that could meet those three parts of a person’s life all together: employment, independent living, and social and leisure.
“We had the belief that this was the right thing to do,” said Gary Schettle, one of the original founders. “We were three individuals with a passion and compassion for the people being served.”
Ultimately, the planning paid off when their proposal was accepted by the La Crosse County Board. In 1977, the new organization opened in a warehouse building at the end of Market Street in La Crosse, near the banks of the Mississippi River. The location inspired the organization’s name: Riverfront Activity Center, Inc. Another founder, Tom Avery, was hired as the first executive director of Riverfront.
Within five years, Riverfront had outgrown the first space, and moved into a building on Green Bay Street.
As Riverfront entered the new millennium, the organization was again looking at the need for more space to meet the growing demand for services. A former monastery in La Crosse was purchased to house administrative offices, and in 2001, participants held sparklers at a groundbreaking ceremony to “Light the Way to the Future.”
In 2002, Riverfront’s new Work and Community Center opened its doors, providing both supported employment and day services in a comfortable, spacious environment.
Founder Gary Schettle commented. “It’s really great to see Riverfront now, to see how it’s grown and to see the number of people that can be served.”