Volunteers fix up home for women

Group from First Free Church take on projects at Ophelia's House

A comfortable living environment can make a big difference in people’s lives, and that’s why volunteers from First Free Church in Onalaska are working to fix up La Crosse’s Ophelia’s House

Ophelia’s House in downtown La Crosse helps female offenders stay out of jail. Up to ten women stay at the house at a time as an alternative to jail, and many of them are transitioning into a sober lifestyle.

The early-1900s-era house in downtown La Crosse has potential.

“It kind of has a lot of character, but it needed a lot of work,” said Ophelia’s house resident Tracy Cadogan.

Much like the house, Cadogan had a lot to fix up as well.

“I didn’t want to be here,” she said. “I was in a bad spot in my life.”

Her probation officer sent her to Ophelia’s House three months ago, and since then a lot has changed, both in the house and Cadogan herself.

“It was kind of a dreary room, but it’s pretty bright and happy now,” Cadogan said.

Since June, about a dozen volunteers from the First Free Church in Onalaska have been doing what they can to brighten up the women’s lives.

“This is our free gift to you,” Pastor Dave Konkol, at First Reach Church, said. “Because we care about what you’re doing and think what you’re doing is wonderful.”

What Pastor Konkol once described as a summer project is still going strong in the fall.

“We painted out here on the front porch, brought furniture, purchased bedding to bring color coordination, fixed up doors and painted and sanded cupboards,” he said.

The house’s program supervisor Melanie Hamel said the church’s help does double duty.

“Not only do they see these groups of people coming in caring for their environment, interacting with them in a positive way, but they’re left with the beautiful results, which makes them feel uplifted and safe and comfortable,” she said.

Though it’s still a work in progress, the house, and its program has already brightened the lives of its residents.

“It’s totally different now,” Cadogan said. “It’s a new outlook on life.”

Pastor Konkol said the whole project will likely take another month, and after that, the church will remain in contact with Ophelia’s House.

Hamel said that women who stay at the house are under strict supervision and typically stay in the house for around 90 days before transitioning somewhere else in the community.