WIN Pacesetters: Advancing Intergenerational Well-Being in Algoma, Wisconsin

WIN pacesetters are communities leading the way when it comes to creating legacies of intergenerational well-being for all. Local changemakers, as stewards, work together in these communities to steer systems and shift mindsets. By meeting shared needs today, stewards are transforming communities for generations to come.

Live Algoma is a nationally and internationally recognized coalition advancing intergenerational well-being in Algoma, Wisconsin. Launched by the Algoma School District, students and residents work together to make it easier for people and places to be vibrant and healthy.

Creating opportunities for all residents to feel connected and engaged means the coalition implements a range of activities. For example, local changemakers, as stewards, from Live Algoma: 

  • expanded use of the Algoma Wellness Community Center to include students and community;

  • activated partnerships with employers to make sure graduating students have what they need to succeed in the local business environment; 

  • and designed three distinct rooms within the library to serve as positive mental health spaces where students and staff can get Revived, Recharged, Resourced. 

If all these things are part of Live Algoma, how do we define Live Algoma?   

“Live Algoma isn’t any one thing. It’s a mindset. It’s relationships and social connection,” Teal VanLanen, Director of Improvement and Community Engagement with the Algoma School District and Live Algoma member states.

“We know that when people feel isolated and disconnected, they aren’t living to their full potential. Our work isn’t about the things that we achieve. It’s about the way we work and how we approach challenges. No matter what we do, it’s from a place of strength, celebrating our assets and looking for ways to lead and learn together.”

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And, the stewards of the Live Algoma mindset aren’t all typical organizational leaders, like a city mayor or a local executive. Students are an integral part of the Live Algoma coalition, designing and implementing innovative strategies.

“Live Algoma has transformed in the last five years. Students weren’t initially at the table and now students lead 90% of our work. Students are sustaining the impact,” states Nick Cochart, Algoma School District Superintendent and Live Algoma member.

“When we think about well-being, we know it means a holistic approach to health. It means taking into consideration our mental health, emotional health, physical health, and financial health. It also means making sure people are well enough to take advantage of opportunities that come their way—to even see opportunities as opportunities. And, our students are going beyond that to create opportunities to increase their own well-being and the well-being of others.”

Abigail Robinson is one of the Live Algoma student stewards. A strong student in both academics and athletics, Abigail had a clear path: go to college and become a neurobiologist. But Abigail was missing a sense of purpose, a sense of connection to something bigger than her academic schedule or the next big game.

As part of a project for English class, Abigail conducted a survey to understand the needs of elementary school students. The survey led to the launch of a mentoring program, Wolf and Pups, and an afterschool program, Wolf Den.

“The program was designed to improve the social and emotional well-being of the elementary school students, but I think I knew, but didn’t want to admit that it was also going to help me and the other high schoolers. Because it helped the younger kids and us as high schoolers, it was huge in improving the overall social and emotional well-being of the entire student body,” Abigail said. 

“I originally signed up for the mentor program because Abigail came to one of my classes and spoke about it. I was kind of excited about it. I wasn’t in a good place, but I still signed up. After a while, my situation got worse and I stopped participating in the program for about a year.

“During the next summer I met one of my good friends who was doing the afterschool program and she invited me and said she’d be really interested in my joining the program. I had an interview, which didn’t go well at all, but someone took a chance on me and I’m forever thankful for that chance. 

“As I worked with my Pup and got to learn a lot about him, I saw in him a lot of the same problems I faced. As I mentored him through some of his problems, it helped me get through mine,” explains David Garrels, Algoma School District and Live Algoma member.

What started as a modest mentoring program, increased the capacity of student leaders and the school district to meet the needs of kids and their families. Communities from across Wisconsin now know about the program—and the work launched by Abigail is being sustained by the next generation of Wolves.  

The Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Network describes this purpose and connection as belonging and civic muscle. Community members need to feel connected in order to create legacies of dignity and inclusion and to expand the vital conditions we all need all the time to reach our full potential.

Community members also need to build civic muscle, the knowledge and resources required to create change. Belonging leads to connection and community. But civic muscle is how residents shape their community system.

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Live Algoma coalition members, youth and adults, are not only increasing their connection to Algoma, they are living the Algoma mindset in a way that strengthens their civic muscle to create change in the present—and to create legacies they are proud to pass along to the next generation.

“Part of what’s so powerful about the mentoring program and Wolf Den—and the coalition—is that we have people with lived experience leading the work. We are sharing power and making space for innovation. It’s not a top-down approach. We are willing to take action together, to fail together, and to try again together,” Nick shares.

“There was a situation in which I needed to call on a Wolf to help me connect with the parent of a Pup. I knew the Pup and his family trusted the Wolf more than me, a traditional authority figure, and I knew the parent needed support I couldn’t give. It was an honor to lean on a youth leader like that and to know we are closer to finding a way to make sure everyone feels connected,” Nick explains. 

The power of the mentoring relationships, like all of the Live Algoma initiatives, is in the ripple effects of the connections, creating positive changes far beyond what was imagined.

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