Join us on Tuesday, September 18, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. (program begins at 6:00) at Union South. Celebrate with us as we recognize our Backyard Heroes and this year’s Award Winners:
- Matt Dannenberg—Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters
- Kim Hogan—Disability Rights Wisconsin
- Dennis Bergren—OutReach
Please RSVP by Friday, 9/7. To RSVP you can make an online payment, or simply call us at 608-256-1066. Suggested donation is $40, but higher contributions are welcome to help pay for those who would otherwise be unable to attend.
This year we’re at a new venue: Union South, 1308 West Dayton Street, Madison. Parking available at: (a) Union South parking garage, enter on Dayton; (b) Lot 17, enter on Engineering Drive; (c) some spots at Lot 16, enter on Monroe Street. View a campus map here.
“I have been impressed with Matt’s ability to . . . provide tribal leadership with [information about] the mining bill. Matt represents the new genera-tion of tribal leaders who will continue to protect our environment.”
— Judge Richard L. Ackley, Bad River Chippewa
“Matt was masterful in bringing together groups of people who otherwise may not have been natural allies.”
— Kerry Schumann, Executive Director, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters
When Matt Dannenberg began organizing citizens around the state to oppose the open-pit mining bill in 2011-12, he was deeply committed to environmental advocacy. What he didn’t know at the time was that he was also on a journey to foster social justice, empower citizens, and reconnect with his Native American roots.
“Matt was masterful . . . he united conservation and environmental groups, citizens from small towns and members from various Native American tribes.” said Kerry. With all of these citizens as a unified group, he planned and helped lead their conservation efforts at the capitol.
The youngest person on the WLCV staff, Matt threw himself into his work, according to Kerry. “He talked about how drinking water, wetlands, wildlife, lakes, and streams would be impacted by arsenic, mercury, and lead pollution from the five-mile open-pit mine. He explained how this new law would affect not only the pristine areas of northeastern Wisconsin but how it would give any mining company the right to pollute in our state, and take away the people’s rights to speak out against it.”
“This was definitely an all-consuming project,” said Matt, recalling the long hours spent in central and northern Wisconsin, on the road, and at the Capitol. “A lot of people I talked to supported mining,” he said. “But given the wording of this bill even they had major concerns about environmental impact.”
Matt said the first public hearing took place in West Allis, 300 miles from the people most affected by the mine. “So we organized a bus for people from northern Wisconsin and on reservation. They had to have their voices heard. And they felt passionate about this issue.”
He noted it was especially gratifying when tribal members shared their world view—and moving as well, since their lives would be directly affected given the impact the proposed mine would have on wild rice beds, wildlife, and water quality. “Every time you take something from the earth, you make an offering and give something back. It was powerful to have that message conveyed to our legislators.
“I give so much credit to the thousands of people who contacted their senators to oppose this bill,” Matt noted. “Giving people the facts, and encouraging them to make their voices heard, is our mission at Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.”
“For many people involved, this was their first meeting with legislators, or their first visit to the capitol. It’s so important to help build bridges between citizens and their legislators.”
“The defeat of the mining bill was a huge victory. But as Mike Wiggins of the Bad River Chippewa told me, ‘This is not about victory. It’s about the long-term empowerment of our community.”
“We say that Kim’s job is the hardest in our organization. The volume of her work is staggering. And as intake person, she has the difficult task to say no to many people if we can’t represent them. Moreover the grace she exhibits on the job—dealing with issues ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous—is remarkable.”
— Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, Managing Attorney, DRW
Compassion, empathy, and resilience: these are the terms that Kim Hogan’s colleagues use to describe her talents as Intake Specialist with Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW).
When Kim takes a call, the callers—or their children—have often been denied benefits, therapies, or services. Many of them have been bounced from one organization to another. By the time they reach Kim they can be frustrated, desperate, or angry. No wonder that her work can sometimes be thankless.
But then there are the days when Kim connects with callers who are grateful. Even if DRW lawyers cannot take the case due to their workload, Kim goes the extra mile to seek out other services that may offer help. “Some people end the call in tears because I may be the first person who listened without judgment and who treated them with respect,” said Kim.
“I especially like working with those who have people with mental health issues or concerns,” she noted. “They can be so vulnerable; they’re often blamed for the fix they’re in. So they’re a little shocked when people start validating them or advocating for them.”
“I recall seeing a large car part, a differential, in her office one day,” said her colleague Jeff Spitzer-Resnick. “One of the callers wanted to thank her, and this is what he had to offer. When he brought it in she of course thanked him graciously. To me that illustrates both the unusual nature of her job as well as the grace she exhibits on the job.”
In addition to her work with DRW, Kim has volunteered her time as a provider of Dane County crisis home care, opening her home and giving support to people with mental illness. “I’ve hosted about 18 people over the years,” she said.
Kim and her husband, Rod Campbell, offer a safe place for recovery. “Some people stay a few nights, others stay a few weeks.
“I think women in particular have lots of trauma issues,” she continued. “They may not getting a lot of validation, and that’s like being injured a second time.
“What an honor to be able to offer a safe place to relieve that trauma. I just offer them what I would want if I would ever be in their shoes.”
And what does Kim get in return for all of her work at DRW? “This job has allowed me to bloom. It means the world to me.”
“Dennis is a former teacher, and educating people is the thread that runs through all his work. I see him as one of the OutReach family. He was a client; now he’s a mentor, a donor, and part of the fabric of OutReach.”
—Steve Starkey, Executive Director, OutReach
“Dennis has made some huge sacrifices to make sure that others have an opportunity to educate themselves. He’s an inspiration in showing us what a single person can accomplish.”
—Josh Bartz, Board President, OutReach
Dennis Bergren doesn’t think he deserves recognition for how he spends his retirement. “I just do what needs to be done,” he said. But instead of golfing, traveling, and relaxing, Dennis spends 7 days a week sending books to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) prisoners throughout the country.
A former high-school language teacher, Dennis is passionate about learning. After being involved with the Wisconsin Books to Prisoners Project, Dennis, who is gay, decided to establish the LGBT Books to Prisoners Project. It grew from a Wisconsin-only project to a nationwide effort, and Dennis now fills requests from about 40-50 prisoners each week.
However, books on LGBT topics are not the only focus. “The most requested books are dictionaries and thesauruses,” said Dennis. “Other popular topics are history, religion, language education, and escapism like suspense novels—though most people do want LGBT novels and non-fiction.”
Sometimes requests are even more specific. “One man wanted to enter nursing school when he was released. So I sent him old textbooks from MATC to help him get a start on his education,” Dennis explained.
Dennis receives some funding from New Harvest Foundation, and he gets individual donations. He also works with local used bookstores to take any books they can offer. But most of the project’s expenses—for books and mailing—come from his own pocket.
Some may wonder why Dennis reaches out in particular to this segment of prisoners.
It’s because he knows the isolation these prisoners face. “I had been divorced for 15 years before I finally came out in 1985. At the time I was scared to death.
“For many people today, some of whom are told they’re going to hell if they’re gay, it’s still frightening,” he said. “Many of them have been cut off by their families. And the prison environment makes it even more isolating.
“I treasure books, I value education, and so what I do is send books to people who ask for them.”
He gestured to the floor-to-ceiling shelves in his living room and added, “I love to read too. But I’m so busy—I haven’t read a book in ages!”