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Christian Torres 

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2017, file photo, an agent from the border patrol, observes near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, N.M. An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in government custody early Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018, U.S. immigration authorities said. (AP Photo/Christian Torres, File)

Chippewa Valley nonprofit opens up store in new corporate facility in Colfax

COLFAX, Wis. — A Chippewa Valley nonprofit took another step in pursuit of its ultimate goal.

Our Communities Deliver held a soft opening Friday and Saturday of its retail store in its quickly developing corporate office in Colfax. The store received more than 1,400 donations in a week and a half from community members and will focus on offering affordable clothing, furniture and a vast variety of other items to people at affordable prices. The organization hopes to offer its own brands of clothing at the store by July of 2019.

OCD is a nonprofit organization aimed at helping anyone who is hungry, homeless or unemployed. Travis Allen, Our Communities Deliver founder and chairman of the board, said the inspiration to start OCD came after working in real estate development for over a decade and seeing how desperate some individuals situations were around the country.

“I traveled 47 states, and most of the major cities, and one thing I found is that there are a lot of people in these major metropolitan areas that are homeless, hungry and unemployed,” Allen said. “So, I went back and worked for corporate America for a short period of time until I realized I wanted to make a big impact with the homelessness rate, hunger and unemployment rate across the country.”

Allen said the store is just one small part of the developing corporate office building.

“We’re going to have support operations here to accept inbound calls for crisis management as well as to put people into jobs and provide food resources,” Allen said. “We’ll be providing that nationwide.”

The ultimate vision Allen has for the OCD corporate office is a large one. The office will consist of the store in the front of the building, a café and work space for approximately 200 employees once construction and development has completed. Their goal is to be able provide opportunities for individuals to receive food, find a career — and not just a job — and any other type of support they need to inject motivation and energy back into their lives.

The building will house a call center to be able to accept inbound and outbound calls to receive donations, mediate crisis management among other purposes. Of the income produced by the store, café and call center, Allen said one percent of the proceeds will go to the county and the city of Colfax to help strengthen the community. Also, OCD plans to provide a daily meal to the Colfax community in addition to providing housing to roughly 50 to 500 people at any given time.

Allen, a Menomonie high school graduate, said he is thankful to have the opportunity to bring such a valuable resource back to the area he grew up in and hopes it will help the area thrive.

“I have a long history of running very large teams, and I have the support here locally to run this corporate office which will employ around 200 people for the Dunn County area,” Allen said. “I just really want to ask for the support of the community. Instead of going to the first four communities that we’re building in (Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Madison), we chose to keep these jobs here locally. I wasn’t expecting a 40,000 square foot corporate office, and now that I have it I’m definitely going to make the highest and best use for it. I love hearing every day that the community members are just thrilled that we’ve come in here.”

Looking past the hundreds of employees, the new store, the developing café and the goal of opening a large amount of similar infrastructures around the county, Allen said it all boils down to wanting to help people grow and become satisfied with where they are in life. That doesn’t just mean providing resources, but also a helping hand and people to help them along their journey.

“When somebody has an issue in their life, they’re broken in a lot of senses,” Allen said. “It’s not just housing that they need, it’s not just food that they need, it’s not just a job that they need, they really need someone to coach them and guide them along the way.”

The Open House and ribbon cutting event at OCD is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 31. A ribbon cutting initiated by the Dunn County Chamber of Commerce will be held at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon at noon and a press conference at 1 p.m. All are welcome to attend and help celebrate the developing organization.

Parker Reed / PARKER REED, The Herald 

Our Communities Deliver held a soft opening Friday and Saturday of its retail store in its quickly developing corporate office in Colfax.

“When somebody has an issue in their life, they’re broken in a lot of senses. It’s not just housing that they need, it’s not just food that they need, it’s not just a job that they need, they really need someone to coach them and guide them along the way.” Travis Allen, Our Communities Deliver founder and chairman of the board

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Just before Christmas 2013, 6-month old Finley Carter, was diagnosed with a complete atrioventricular canal defect, requiring open heart surgery. Years later, his recovery continues to be the best Christmas gift the family has ever received. Here Finley, left, age 5, is photographed with his mother Sara and brother Trygve, 2, in their Sparta home.

Sparta boy thriving after devastating heart condition diagnosis just before Christmas 2013

LA CROSSE — Finley Carter wants a Hatchimal and Trix Trux for Christmas. Five years ago, his mother had only one Christmas wish: that her son would make it see the presents under the tree.

Finley was born the picture of health on June 10, 2013, the firstborn of parents Sara and Shawn Carter of Sparta. The first few months of his life followed the normal routine — bottles, diapers, naps — but at 4 months, it was clear something was wrong. The infant had dropped in weight to the first percentile, and despite a high calorie formula diet, Finley was down to the 0.66 percentile for weight just two months later.

“It was concerning, and perplexing,” said Catherine Ziegler, a nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic in Sparta.

The tiny child’s cardiac silhouette revealed a larger-than-normal heart, and on Dec. 20, 2013, an echocardiogram confirmed the devastating reason for Finley’s failure to thrive: complete atrioventricular canal defect. A severe congenital heart disease, CAVC creates a large hole between the chambers of the heart, sending extra blood to the lungs and enlarging the overworked heart muscle. Under one percent of children are born with the condition, which can fatal if not treated.

A nurse practitioner of under three years at the time, Ziegler had never seen an infant with an enlarged heart before. Going over the echocardiogram with Sara and Shawn, “They were scared, very scared,” Ziegler recalled. “When you’re a parent and you’ve got a sick child and a big diagnosis, everything can seem overwhelming.”

Sent to Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Dec. 23, Finley was seen by pediatric cardiologist Dr. Frank Cetta Jr., who informed Sara and Shawn their six month old would need open heart surgery.

“It’s devastating,” Cetta Jr. said. “The first time we tell people, there’s a lot of emotions, a lot of tears. They probably hear one percent of what we said ... Nobody chooses this deck of cards, but we try to make it better.”

“Everything happened so fast,” Sara recalled. “We were kind of in robot mode.”

With surgery scheduled for Jan. 7, 2014, Finley and his parents returned to Sparta to spend Christmas with the family. For the Carters, it is tradition for Santa Claus to make a home visit on Christmas Eve, but rather than merriment, Sara felt overcome with worry.

“It was so awful — when (Santa) asks what you want and all you want is your baby to live,” Sara said.

Christmas Eve only became worse as Finley began projectile vomiting and become feverish. Two days after Christmas, the fragile boy was diagnosed with pneumonia, jeopardizing his surgery and possibly his life, his lungs and heart too weak to withstand more trauma. For the next three days, Finley remained in Mayo Clinic in La Crosse as he underwent a course of antibiotics. Despite his family’s fears, he pulled through in time for his pre-op appointment on Jan. 3 and checking in for surgery Jan. 7 as planned.

The anxiety didn’t subside for long, Sara calling it “traumatic” to watch her little boy wheeled into the operating room. The risk of heart attack or stroke during surgery is under two percent, according to Cetta Jr., and Mayo Clinic is one of the pioneering enterprises to perform the operation for CAVC patients. But Sara couldn’t help but think, “Will I bring him home or not?”

After what seemed like days, Finley was brought out of surgery and into the ICU, where his parents waited anxiously. The surgeon had successfully patched Finley’s heart, but the six-month-old would still have mitral valve regurgitation, which allows blood to flow backward in the heart.

“The surgeon told us sewing a heart valve on a baby is like sewing a wet Kleenex,” Sara recalled.

Still groggy when he opened his eyes, Finley “just stared at us not knowing who we were,” Shawn says, but the small but mighty baby quickly perked up. Within days he was “a changed little boy who was smiling again,” Sara says. Released from the hospital less than a week later, the family returned home to find gifts from friends and neighbors piled by the front door. Shawn sat on the living room floor, propping his still weak son on his lap, as he helped him open each package.

For several weeks, his parents had to handle Finley as if he were glass, the bones in this chest cavity delicately wired together and his weak immune system leaving him susceptible to any and every cold, flu and virus.

“He got sick all the time,” Sara said. “He got everything.”

With his body using all its strength to recover, Finley was delayed in learning to crawl and walk, taking his first steps at 16 months old, and regularly returned to Rochester for evaluations. He slowly began to flourish, learning to swim, playing outside and gaining weight. Though Sara was concerned about becoming pregnant again, she and Shawn welcomed a second son, Trygvy, in 2016. Her younger son, who does not have the condition, is Finley’s protector, Sara says, and proudly wears his “Finely Heart Warrior” T-shirt, which the family designed to raise money for books for pediatric patients in the cardiac ICU in Rochester.

Though once reticent to talk about Finley’s battle — he still struggles with weakened lungs, and has around a 15 percent chance of needing a second heart valve surgery — Sara has become a vocal, and visual, advocate for pediatric heart health, a tattoo of Finley’s heartbeat across her clavicle.

Every Jan. 7, a smiling Finley poses with a photo of himself taken post-operation, making heart shaped cookies with his mom. During “Top Banana Day” in his kindergarten class at Southside Elementary, Finley talked about his “zipper heart,” named for the shape of his scar. Finley occasionally asks questions about his surgery, with Sara tearfully recalling, “He said, ‘I must have been really scared.’ I think I’m thankful he was too young to remember.”

The energetic, vibrant little boy who aspires to be a police officer, firefighter and veterinarian, loves Christmas “more than anything,” and his parents feel the same. What was, five years ago, a holiday of sadness and fear, is now a joyous celebration of their beloved son.

“We really just try to embrace everything now,” Sara says of the holiday. While Finley and Trygvy no doubt were ripping into their toys Christmas morning, Sara and Shawn have no need for presents.

Nothing can top the gift of their thriving, smiling little boys.

Contributed photo 

Shawn Carter with son Finley after his 2014 open heart surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Trump: 'I can't tell you when' government will reopen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that parts of the federal government will stay closed until Democrats agree to put up more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter criminal elements. He said he’s open to calling the wall something else as long as he ends up with an actual wall.

In a Christmas Day appearance in the Oval Office, Trump issued a lengthy defense of his desire for a wall, saying it’s the only way to stop drugs and human traffickers from entering the country. In a nod to the political stakes he’s facing, Trump said he wants the wall by “election time” in 2020.

The promise of a border wall was a central component of Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they’d like to call it,” Trump said, referring to Democrats who staunchly oppose walling off the border.

“I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing,” he told reporters after participating in a holiday video conference with representatives from all five branches of the military stationed in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar.

Trump argued that drug flows and human trafficking can only be stopped by a wall.

“We can’t do it without a barrier. We can’t do it without a wall,” he said. “The only way you’re going to do it is to have a physical barrier, meaning a wall. And if you don’t have that then we’re just not opening” the government.

Democrats oppose spending money on a wall, preferring instead to pump the dollars into fencing, technology and other means of controlling access to the border. Trump argued that Democrats oppose a wall only because he is for one.

The stalemate over how much to spend and how to spend it caused the partial government shutdown that began Saturday following a lapse in funding for departments and agencies that make up about 25 percent of the government.

About 800,000 government workers are affected. Many are on the job but must wait until after the shutdown to be paid again.

Trump claimed that many of these workers “have said to me and communicated, ‘stay out until you get the funding for the wall.’ These federal workers want the wall. The only one that doesn’t want the wall are the Democrats.”

Trump didn’t say how he’s hearing from federal workers, excluding those he appointed to their jobs or who work with him in the White House. But many rank-and-file workers have gone to social media with stories of the financial hardship they expect to face because of the shutdown, now in its fourth day.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of Congress, said Trump “wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out it.” Trump had said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government in a fight over the wall.

He also had said Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico has refused.

Trump followed up on a Monday tweet in which he said he “just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.” Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to follow-up questions, despite repeated requests.

The reference to 115 miles was unclear. Trump may have been referring to 33 miles of construction in the Rio Grande Valley that is set to begin in February, part of a total of 84 miles that Congress funded in March, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Asked who received the contract, Trump replied: “Different people, different people.”

He did say he envisions a wall so tall, “like a three-story building,” that only an Olympic champion would be able to scale it. He also compared Democrats’ treatment of him over the wall to their defense of James Comey after Trump fired him as FBI director.

“It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country but, other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas,” he said.