Oshkosh Kids Foundation home page.

Our Impact

With your help we can build a better, happier community!

Mother and daughter sitting on the floor.

The Essentials

Provided numerous families with food, gas cards, hygiene products, fees, clothes, lice kits and more

Tiny House Village

Began construction of 32 tiny homes for families struggling with homelessness

$4.75 Million

Secured $4.75 million to create the Tiny House Village development

484 Kids

Housed 484 kids since COVID-19 through motel stays, rent assistance or a security deposit

A Family’s Success Story

The Oshkosh Kids Foundation stills the storm for a resilient mom and her boys.

Most people associate New Year’s Eve with optimism, raised glasses and loud cheers. But for Carolyn Jefferson and her boys, December 31 brings a flashback to 2016 when they were fleeing a tragic home fire with despair, total losses and dashed dreams.

“We lost everything we had but the clothes on our back,” Carolyn said, telling the story of leaving Chicago. Though their transitional journey has been all uphill, somehow Carolyn doesn’t complain. She was taught how to bounce back from adversity, as one of 33 adopted children of a compassionate Chicago couple.

Mom and dad showed us how to handle things when mom had a terrible cancer. They still held it together for me. That’s the least I’m going to do for my boys,” she said of Cam’Ron, 15, and Roy, 14, who are in their most formative years.

The strong majority of African-American moms bring that kind of grit to the table, said Carolyn, and would do anything to provide for their children. But like so many who seek employment, housing and a better life in Oshkosh, Carolyn has found the stability hard to come by that would allow her kids to stay in school and succeed.

The available option for affordable housing or third shift work can often be an unhealthy solution for moms with children, one that creates new problems, such as drug-using neighbors or unsupervised youth.

In the family’s first Oshkosh apartment, Carolyn felt unsafe around one of her neighbors and had to move away, she explained. Her next landlord sold the property they occupied, taking her unused rent payment and security deposit with him. When she refused to make double payments, the new landlord locked her out of her apartment so she and the boys couldn’t get their things.

These are the hopeless situations that even the best and brightest among the poor have to bear, keeping them in an endless cycle of troubles. Two steps forward, then three steps back.

This is why Julie Dumke, co-founder of the Oshkosh Kids Foundation, prioritizes this kind of intervention and support, where it is needed most.

Our top goals are to help moms and children transition to stable housing, and make sure they have transportation to stay on track in work and school. This is where too many, including youth without parents, are falling through the cracks each year in Oshkosh.

Despite Carolyn’s best efforts, she and her boys were again homeless at the Super 8 Hotel in Oshkosh. “My sister Paula, who is a doctor in Chicago and my spiritual mentor, paid for us to have one week in a hotel until we found a place,” she explained.

Unfortunately, though Carolyn had a job at Swanson Wiper, it would be two weeks before she received the first check, and a security deposit was definitely out of reach. Things looked grim, and after five days at the hotel, she had only $30 to her name.

“I’ll go without food and use soap from a restaurant bathroom if necessary, but please let my boys have what they need,” she said.

“I felt really bad for mom and what she was going through, trying to find a place for us,” said Roy. Brother Cam added, “You go to school and want to talk to someone about it, but most of my friends have more than us, and definitely wouldn’t understand. I wanted to help mom, but how could I help chip in?” 

That’s when what Carolyn calls a “miracle” happened after a ride-share driver who knew nothing of their circumstances, prayed for her family, she noted, with tears. “When I look back, oh my God, that prayer turned an absolute mess into a blessing!”

Carolyn’s family was alone in a strange hotel, hardly knowing anyone in town, and yet she ran into an old acquaintance named Amanda, who she had worked with on a job in Neenah. It was then and there that the tables turned. 

“She told me about Julie and Oshkosh Kids, and brought us to a hotel room with food for Cam’Ron and Roy. The moment I walked through those doors had to be heaven sent,” said Carolyn, wiping more tears from her eyes, “because everything that’s happened since February 2020 has been a blessing, to this day.” 

Carolyn’s family is one of three who have been provided affordable housing on the edge of the University of Oshkosh campus through Oshkosh Kids’ partnership with Pine Investments. 

Carolyn felt honored and supported when she was asked about her desires for her boys, though she knew it was impossible financially. “They’re getting older. My dream was for each of them to have their own bedrooms.” She felt heard when Pine Investments made it happen, lowering the rent, based on her income.

Photo of Carolyn and her children.Other Oshkosh Kids partners pooled their assets, as well. Heroes of Oshkosh, which rescues clean and gently-used furnishings, provided beds, furniture, a couch and dressers, a microwave, towels and comforters. Cherith International provided needed clothes, and both household and bathroom supplies.

Juggling single motherhood and bread-winning is never easy, but the compassion has snowballed and the three mothers help each other with childcare, when possible, so all can be at work. “We’re a good babysitting team,” says Cam’Ron. “It shows the strengths of our differences. They like to draw with me, and play Fortnite with Roy.”

It’s been a relief, says Carolyn, to know that Oshkosh Kids has their back, having the same mission that moms do, seeing kids graduate from high school and get established in a post-secondary career. 

“We’re here to help with basic needs, from bikes so they get to school to haircuts so they don’t get bullied,” says Julie, who started fighting for homeless families during her years as a community resource coordinator at Oshkosh North.

“Many of us have no idea how many things we take for granted in life can lead to a student’s embarrassment, truancy, or giving up. Our donors came through with $16,000 in needed bus passes just last year, and partners like Continental Girbau and the Corcoran family donated washers and dryers in district buildings so kids like Cam’Ron and Roy and even their homeless peers can count on clean clothes.”

The toughest thing can be finding parents first-shift work that provides a living wage and corresponds with the hours kids are in school. But businesses like Stratagraph, where Carolyn now works up to 60 hours a week, have been great partners.

This critical mass of basic assets has had a wonderful payoff in the Jefferson family, as Cam’Ron has become a role model at Oshkosh North, testing in the top 10% academically. “I always feel stressed,” he admits, “but things are working out. I want to be in the medical field like my auntie.” Everyone sees it would have been a shame for such a bright young man to get lost in the shuffle.

For his part, Roy wants to be a professional quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles!

Julie, without judgment, gets behind his dream, a chance to prove himself. “Let us know when practice starts, Roy, and we’ll help you get cleats!”

While the boys have what they need to get through high school, Carolyn must provide economic stability in a world of entry level jobs even with the uncertainty of COVID-19. But she has her own career aspirations as a health care worker, and while Julie listens, the “can-help” foundation is at work, providing links to other support agencies. 

“The Forward Service Corporation will provide career counseling to get you there, Carolyn. We’ll make sure you get your scrubs, books, computer and Wi-Fi. Once you have your CNA and show that you mean business, they will take you at Fox Valley Tech,” said Julie, giving Carolyn permission to dream.

This is the kind of personal touch it’s hard to find, said Carolyn. “I’ve been told, ‘We’ll help you but not with your children,’ trying to separate us. Or I’ve been told about a job that I didn’t have a car to get to. But Julie and Oshkosh Kids partners are realistic, and they’re on your side. 

“We don’t have to be perfect. We just keep doing our best, and we’re treated with respect,” said Carolyn. “It makes me want to help the next family, and I’m raising my boys to be that way too.”

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