‘Harmony’ concert fundraiser will help Portage shelter remodel

May 9, 2019

From Tracy Cooper’s perspective, every person who takes a seat Saturday at Portage Center for the Arts is making a difference for the River Haven homeless shelter.

The Harmony for the Homeless benefit concert, featuring local talent, raised about $8,000 for River Haven last year and helped repair the roof at the family shelter, Cooper said.

This year, the funds will be used for renovations inside.

“We’re in desperate need of continuing repairs,” said Cooper, who chairs the board for River Haven.

One of two showers at River Haven’s family shelter is out of order, Cooper said, which means 15 people must share the one that still works.

“Our goal this year is to keep the place functioning,” Cooper said.

Operating expenses for River Haven continue to climb at an alarming rate, said Executive Director Raquel Schwanbeck and her assistant, Pete Bartaczewicz. The family shelter, located on East Pleasant Street, and the men’s shelter, located nearby, both are operating at full capacity with significant waiting lists, accounting for a 25% enrollment jump since March.

The family shelter in the past week has added two people to reach full capacity. Recent donations have made it possible to add at least three more beds to the men’s shelter, which currently serves 10 people.

River Haven’s annual operating costs might exceed $120,000 from that point forward, Schwanbeck estimated. Right now, the shelter averages $60,000 in donations received and another $40,000 in federal and state grants per year.

“The big need for us is the remodeling, but in general, with us being so full, we’re just trying to keep up with the food and supplies for everybody,” Schwanbeck said.

To account for the extra work, Bartaczewicz — a former Portage police officer — increased his hours from 15 per week to 30.

“We’ve have more residents now than we’ve ever had before, and we’ll need more money soon because we can’t sustain where we’re at right now,” he said.

Saturday’s musicians include recent Portage High School graduate and singer-songwriter Kaylin Kole; PHS senior and singer Anna Marie Davidson; Olivia and Jonathan Stefonek, who will sing and play the acoustic guitar, respectively; the Rev. David Hankins, pastor at Portage Presbyterian Church, on trumpet; the Celtic duo Shannon Green and Mike Wilkey; and standup comedian DW Surine.

“I’m just really thankful for the opportunity to perform in my community and to help this great cause,” said Kole, who this week is recording music at the Zodlounge studio in Nashville, Tennessee. “It not only helps the people we’re raising money for, but it lifts me up. It makes me feel good, and at end of day, that’s who I want to be as an artist. I want to do things that benefit others.”

Since graduating, Kole joined two bands: Spitfire Rodeo, out of Oshkosh, and It Don’t Matter, based in Jefferson. She performs in venues across the state and in Nashville. For a complete schedule of Kole’s upcoming performances, search “Kaylin Kole Music” on Facebook.

In addition to the performers, there will be food and a silent auction. Tickets are available at the door on the night of the show, as well as at the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce, The Mercantile and Festival Foods.