The Community Challenge Summit

Category: Press Releases

Tackling complex and systemic issues throughout the Seven Rivers Region

Riverfront, Inc., in partnership with Forward Community Investments, is hosting the Community Challenge Summit this fall to examine how to tackle complex and systemic community concerns. Issues such as poverty, mental health, adults with disabilities, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, sustainability, and health and wellness are often inter-related, and this summit will challenge attendees to identify new opportunities for innovation and collaboration to address complex, persistent issues.

Register here.

Riverfront, whose mission is to provide a spectrum of innovative support services to people with disabilities, has teamed with Forward Community Investments to bring national experts on systems thinking, social innovation, collaboration, and collective impact to the Seven Rivers Region to educate and train summit attendees. Forward Community Investments calls this process “Tackling Wicked Problems” and has provided similar events in Marshfield and Oshkosh. By definition, wicked problems are large and complex systems with no easy solutions.

With financial support from the La Crosse Community Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, and the Robert and Eleanor Franke Foundation, Riverfront aims to bring together problem solvers from all sectors – nonprofit, government, education, health care, business, faith, and philanthropy. Each sector is unique and has its own way of approaching problems, and the summit creates the opportunity to begin creating a common language and framework for solutions within the community, “This community is full of generous, smart people. Donors increasingly scrutinize whether their philanthropy duplicates, or competes with, other similar efforts. Our board and donors want to support focused projects with demonstrable outcomes,” said Sheila Garrity, Executive Director for the La Crosse Community Foundation.

“Our region has many complex challenges, one of which is meeting the needs of children and adults with disabilities. They’re a diverse group, and may have multiple health, physical, behavior, financial or transportation challenges. Rural issues are different from our more urban areas. As government funding shrinks, communities are challenged with how to support people with disabilities as contributing citizens” said Mary Kessens, President and Chief Executive Officer of Riverfront. “Riverfront is proud to lead this summit. It’ll require us to think differently and use new strategies. There’s a strong collaborative spirit in this region and together we can accomplish more. The collaborative learning experience can be applied to many community challenges.”

“Coming up with long-term solutions to complex social problems requires collaboration and innovation, and we at the Robert and Eleanor Franke Foundation are thrilled to be part of the effort,” said Mel Hoffman, Executive Director of the Robert and Eleanor Franke Foundation. “Problems don’t happen overnight and they aren’t fixed in short order, either. Together, we have a much better chance of finding the right answers.”

The five-day summit will be held over a period of eight weeks, and will examine a wide range of community challenges and strategies that are proving effective in helping to solve issues through presentations, exercises and case studies.  According to Kessens, the follow up activities are as important as the educational opportunities of this process. “Nothing happens unless people take action after the summit. We’ve built action steps into the process.” After the summit is complete, Riverfront’s follow up sessions will target new options for providing services to people with disabilities.

Dates: Sept. 23, Oct.7, 21, Nov. 4 and 20
Time: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Registration and Networking: 8:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m., Presentation kickoff: 8:30 a.m.)
Where: La Crosse Center: 300 Harborview Plaza, La Crosse, WI 54601
Cost: $125* per participant, which includes refreshments, lunch and all materials for all five days.

*Individuals representing nonprofit organizations who attend all five sessions will receive a full refund of $125.00.
Registration: Required by Sept. 17. Find additional information here or register now.


Michael Goodman, an internationally recognized speaker, author and practitioner in the fields of systems thinking and organizational learning and change. Michael excels in helping leaders understand why their well-intentioned efforts to solve social problems often fail, and where to find leverage in a complex system.

Jeff Snell, is the founder of Midwest Social Innovation LLC and co-founder of Midwest Consortium for Social Innovation, a regional platform to promote cross-sector, enterprise-based solutions to social problems — a departure from conventional charity approaches.

Michael Soika, director of Milwaukee Succeeds, has spent over 30 years addressing many issues including education, homelessness, affordable housing, economic development and welfare reform. Milwaukee Succeeds is a collaborative effort launched in summer 2011 as a way to unite the community around a common goal: bringing about lasting change to the way education works for children in Milwaukee.

Dennis Johnson and Ben Williams, advisors with Forward Community Investments, help nonprofits across Wisconsin make sound and strategic decisions for their near-term success and long-term sustainability. When setting the course for an organization to maximize its mission-related impact, Dennis and Ben often turn to “what if” scenarios and/or the exploration of strategic and sustainable collaboratives.

About Riverfront

Riverfront, Inc. began its mission in 1977 as a private, nonprofit organization to provide employment, independent living, and leisure opportunities to adults with disabilities in La Crosse County. Since then, the organization has grown to support just under 1,400 individuals annually. Riverfront operates from eight locations in 40 different counties throughout western and southern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.

About Forward Community Investments

Forward Community Investments, a Wisconsin-based community loan fund, is an investor, connector and advisor for organizations and initiatives that reduce social, racial, and economic disparities in Wisconsin communities. As the most established financial management advisor of its kind in Wisconsin, Forward Community Investments provides its clients with guidance, resources, skills and capacity building as a means of building an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action.

About the La Crosse Community Foundation

La Crosse Community Foundation is a public charity created, over 80 years ago, by and for the people of La Crosse. The foundation holds unrestricted, donor advised, designated and field of interest funds along with supporting organizations, from which qualified charities receive grants to meet community needs and build on community assets. The La Crosse Community Foundation meets all standards set by the Council on Foundations for community foundations. The Foundation’s activities are under the direction of an eleven member board of directors representing the greater La Crosse area.

About the Otto Bremer Foundation

Created in 1944, the Otto Bremer Foundation assists people in achieving full economic, civic and social participation in and for the betterment of their communities. This mission is based on the intent of founder Otto Bremer. His vision and longstanding commitment to communities during and after the Great Depression are carried forward today through the Foundation’s work in the places that are homes and neighbors to Bremer banks. The Foundation strives to help build healthy, vibrant communities—communities where basic needs are met, mutual regard is prized and opportunities for economic, civic and social participation are within everyone’s reach. The Otto Bremer Foundation owns 92 percent of Bremer Bank, and receives an equivalent share of the bank profits that are paid out as dividends. This means that a large portion of bank profit is invested back in local communities through grants and program-related investments. In 2013 the Foundation provided approximately $38 million in grants and program-related investments.

About the Robert and Eleanor Franke Foundation

The Foundation is a non-profit Wisconsin corporation located in La Crosse, whose purpose is to support the La Crosse Community Foundation, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare and the Diocese of La Crosse through a residuary gift of $20 million from the Estate of Robert Franke. One-third of the earnings of the Foundation are undesignated and are available for distribution to IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations throughout the Greater La Crosse area.