2014 Recipient

April 15, 2014—LA CROSSE, Wis—In celebration of Mental Health Month, the 2014 Shining Star award recipient will be introduced at a reception organized by the Mental Health Coalition of La Crosse (MHC) on Wednesday, May 7. The event includes a brief program beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Cargill Room, Riverside Center II South.

The 2014 recipient is Aaron Rasch, who is employed by Independent Living Resources as a state coordinator of Peer Run Organizations (PRO). Rasch travels Wisconsin supporting a number of groups organized at the local level to promote mentally healthy communities. “These Peer Run Organizations are comprised of staff and volunteers, offering their lived experience of mental health and/or addiction recovery to assist others in need. These organizations are small and minimally funded, yet they often help individuals with significant challenges.”

Located throughout the Wisconsin, Rasch indicated these groups build a sense of community wherever they are. “They are drop-in centers, support groups, or just places where people can stop in because they are open, free, and accepting.”

In announcing the 2014 recipient of the Shining Star award, Patti Jo Severson, president of the MHC commended Rasch for his commitment. “Aaron is a compassionate leader because he’s experienced some of the same challenges as the people he serves. His struggles have led to courage and hope rather than despair. We honor him for being a compassionate servant leader.”

In La Crosse, one group Rasch works with is RAVE (Recovery Avenue), which features a coffee shop-type atmosphere and provides a place where people can connect. RAVE is run by Certified Peer Specialists, who are trained to offer support to others and are certified through the state of Wisconsin.

“I’ve seen places like RAVE operate in different communities and it’s amazing what happens under the radar. I like to say that profound things happen when nobody is looking. Healing happens in relationships, and these places offer a place to build relationships.”

Rasch believes the key to a mentally healthy community involves efforts that aim to intentionally build social capital. Mental health problems are a part of life, a person’s resilience is often reflected in the sum of their relationships.

“La Crosse is a truly generous community, I have encountered countless people willing to offer material goods to those who need it. It takes a slightly different perspective to intentionally build places where supportive relationships grow naturally. Mental health services are essential for so many people, but what are we doing on weekends and evenings, when for many, life really begins? You don’t need to be a professional to help build a more accepting and tolerant community.”

“Those who need help are much more likely to make it if they have connections and relationships with people who genuinely care,” Rasch indicated.

“Peer support can be incredibly invaluable for individuals who don’t receive any services. People with personal experience of navigating systems and overcoming crucial obstacles, can offer a steady connection, often considering informal connections for

support. Peer support often has a direct purpose of holding someone’s hope, even if they don’t hold any for themself.

“Life becomes unruly if you feel scattered and invisible. If you don’t have a driver’s license, a steady place to stay, a consistent work history, or family support—all this combines to make applying for services, employment, or disability-related income a daunting task.”

The Shining Star event is in its eighth year according to Severson. The goal of the MHC is to reduce stigma in promoting a mentally healthy community, something Rasch is very effective in doing, she said.

Rasch has worked at Independent Living Resources for 11 years, working in a few different roles (related to employment, mental health, and homelessness outreach). He essentially considers his job as “working with people” and continues learning how to do it in a meaningfully way. He’s been supporting peer run organizations statewide for the past year and a half.

“When I first started to work with people, I mostly did it with a professional mindset. Eventually, I opened up my heart, and began to understand the connection between life and work is often blended,” he said. “I continue to see the circular nature of support, people learn from their experiences, not as victims, but as champions willing to provide hope for others.”

For Rasch, the Shining Star award is an opportunity to bring awareness to the role everyone has to support a mentally healthy community. “Obviously, it’s not about just one person, one service, or one magic therapeutic approach, it’s about everyone choosing to live life more compassionately and more connected.”

Over 100 friends, mental health service providers, and members of the coalition, are expected to attend the event.

Don and Roxanne Weber are serving as sponsors of the event.



Shining Star Event – Slide Show – May 7, 2014



Picture 1 of 90