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New friends for Cahoots

The next project for Friends of Cahoots is to build an outdoor pavilion at the Waupaca location to give the clients and staff a chance to get outside more often. Submitted Image

Group aims for park shelter

By James Card

Cahoots is an adult day care service that has some new friends.

Mitch and Janet Bergen and Mary Jo Barden formed a nonprofit group called Friends of Cahoots in 2023 to help the organization in a way that benefits the clients, staff and the organization.

Cahoots is a for-profit group that makes enough money to stay afloat and accomplish their mission and not much else. They receive money from state-subsidized community care funds for each client. This creates a revenue structure that offers some long-term stability but not enough to get ahead on other things.

Friends of Cahoots seeks to remedy that.

All three have deep experience in this area. Bergen’s daughter Danielle is a client at Cahoots and Janet worked 30 years as a kindergarten teacher with special education children in her classes. Barden retired after working 30 years with special education students at Waupaca High School.

“When you have a special needs child, when they are first born, from zero to 3, the county helps you. They will give you any therapies you need. They help you get started. From 3 to 21, the schools take over. But at 21, where does your child go? Years ago the county would provide a service, WCI [Waupaca County Industries]. They closed in 2017 and there was no place for these people to go,” said Janet Bergen, explaining how Cahoots filled an important need in the community when they formed in 2014.

Without Cahoots, the only other option would be a private residential home but that would lack the socialization Cahoots offers.

Cahoots has three locations and cares for 30 clients in Waupaca, 26 in Clintonville and 15 in Amherst. Not all the clients have had special needs since birth. Some are there because of trauma, memory loss, or cancer. Ages range from 20 to 70.

Their first priority was to get safe and sanitary seating. This is furniture made of heavy-duty plastic that holds up well and can be cleaned easily. Some of the clients have rocking or repetitive moments and the old chairs were not safe.

Janet Bergen of Friends of Cahoots hands of the keys to a new van they provided to the adult day care service. Submitted Photo

Their first fundraiser garnered enough money to get new furniture for all three locations. Next was getting a van for outings. The old one had seen better days.

The Waupaca Cahoots is located at 506 Wisconsin St., home to the former taekwondo dojang. Next to the building is a treeless and empty grass yard.

“If this was a day care center, there would be a playground. There is no shade. You can’t get a wheelchair or walker over that ground,” said Janet Bergen as she laid out a landscape architect’s illustration of a park shelter pavilion lined with a ramp, paved foot paths and picnic tables.

“Besides getting fresh air, for the people that work at Cahoots, it gets them outside also, rather than being inside the same building 12 months a year. There’s something about fresh air that everybody loves and the longer people are outside – you sleep, you feel better and you’re getting some sunshine,” said Mitch Bergen.

He pointed out that although the local public parks are nice; it’s tough on the staff to get everyone there.

Also next to the future pavilion would be a storage shed for housing outdoor game gear and equipment for the Special Olympics. Mitch Bergen said they have friends lined up will to swing hammers, aid with technical details and ready to roll up their sleeves. The project is estimated to cost $50,000. They already have enough saved up for the concrete work.

Friends of Cahoots could use some more friends. They are looking for volunteers for Strawberry Fest, the Iola Car Show and Fall-O-Rama. The volunteer worked performed at those events is compensated by a payment to Cahoots as a fundraiser. Contact them at [email protected] and visit their website at www.friendsofcahoots.com.

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