Helping Out


On the Homefront

Ray Oswald is committed to "Building Hope" for homeless veterans.

Jeanne Nagle | Helping Out | November 2022

After nearly 24 years on the UWSP Alumni Board—many of those in leadership roles, including president—Ray Oswald ’97 is taking the long view as his final term of service comes to a close in December.

“It would have been selfishly easy for me to stay on another 24 years,” he says of his role on the Board. “At the same time, I realized that it was time to share that seat with another Pointer, who would bring fresh energy, fresh eyes and perspectives.”

Newness and freshness are also concepts Oswald references when describing his work with Edgerton Community Outreach (ECO), the nonprofit social services organization he has been associated with for four years; he currently serves as board treasurer.  

“The work done at Outreach is about helping people get access to new information and skills that are often needed to help themselves move forward,” he says.

The group uses donations and proceeds from running a thrift store in Edgerton to support operational programming focused on financial literacy, job skills training, supplemental nutrition/food pantry services and transitional housing. 

In 2021, ECO purchased the oldest building in the city, which had fallen into disrepair, for $1, with the proviso that the space be renovated and the building added to the organization’s portfolio of living facilities. Dubbed “Building Hope,” the rehab project is aimed at helping homeless/low income military veterans and their families secure affordable housing. 

A recent survey estimated that up to seven percent of Rock County’s homeless population consists of veterans with at least one child. Housing vouchers are available to these individuals and families, but the number of available units in the area is very low. Supply cannot keep up with the demand for housing. Building Hope is designed to help bridge that gap.

Unlike the transitional housing units ECO operates, wherein residents from Edgerton’s homeless population are offered short-term leases while they work on life skills with a coach in order to become self-sufficient, the six one- and two-bedroom Building Hope units will feature longer-term, renewable leases. Rents will be adjusted based upon occupant income.

“We have been successful in operating six transitional housing units in the past decade,” Oswald says of ECO, “and that experience has helped us see that we can apply our experiences and programming to other groups that have housing needs. The housing units we are building at 210 West Fulton Street will provide affordable and accessible housing to people that deserve better—our vets.” 

Even veterans who don’t take up residency in one of the new units will benefit from the project. Local VFW Post 2708 in Edgerton has been without a dedicated hall for years, holding their meetings in a room of the library. Plans call for part of the Fulton Street space to be set aside as a home base for the post, featuring meeting and storage rooms as well as a kitchen. 

“That same space will be used for senior citizen events and programming, and will be available to be rented out to nonprofits and community members,” Oswald notes.

A goal of $2.1 million has been set to fund the project. The VFW kicked in a chunk of “seed money” to get the Building Hope off the ground, and a number of grants have added a sizable amount to the kitty. Organization treasurer Oswald indicates that a matching campaign, supported in part by board members and set to launch in 2023, should help ECO attain the final funds necessary to complete the project.

“As a nonprofit, it’s our goal to fund the project debt free,” Oswald says, “and we’re very close to making that happen.”

A kickoff fundraiser this past June, Heroes Hike for Hope, garnered an additional $75K. More important, the event raised awareness not only for the project, but for the plight of area vets.

“People were literally crying in the streets as our local vets hiked 24.6 miles—in the rain, I might add—across the county to raise awareness for veteran housing,” says Oswald. 

“These men and women have served, and are still serving, in a multitude of ways,” he adds. “[They] simply should not fall through the cracks.”

Oswald has high hopes that Building Hope will not only be a success for the vets and citizens of Edgerton, but a blueprint for other communities as well.

“This project is a textbook example of what can happen when property owners, city officials, service organizations and community at large come together,” he proclaims.

Back to Profiles