Historic Appleton Course to Become Gardens & Job-Training Site

Founded in 1898, the nine-hole Riverview Country Club in Appleton, Wis., will soon be transformed from a place with golfers into a much different landscape with organic gardens and nature trails.

The 72-acre property was acquired in July for $2.6 million by the Appleton-based Community Outreach Temporary Services. The nonprofit agency has received approval to proceed with a self-sustaining operation to be called Riverview Gardens.

In spring 2012, the fairways will be reconfigured to include greenhouses that can grow vegetables year-round. In addition to offering job-skills training programs, the public space will feature nature trails and provide connections to existing bike trails.

While COTS is the property owner, area shelters and organizations will be able to use the gardens. Once up and running, the facility could employ between 50 and 100 people, while providing training for 60 people annually.

"What's unique about the project is it's really addressing the root causes we have by providing job, job training, and by providing living skills and opportunities that (people) can learn on the property," said COTS Board President John Schmidt.

The acquisition was funded by $1.6 million generated through private donations, with the rest coming from a $1 million loan from the Community First Credit Union, said Schmidt, who hopes the loan will be repaid through community contributions.

"I think this is a great social-innovation project," added Schmidt. "The idea we've come up with here fits with our mission to enhance and provide financial stability, not just to COTS, but the entire continuum of care."

Trainees would be managed by a full-time professional staff member and work within a recently launched program by COTS called ServiceWorks Inc., which focuses on organic food production and property management.

The job-training element appealed to Cindy Sahotsky, COTS executive director, and other service-group leaders. "It really would benefit those people who need work history and need to learn how to be productive," she told Post-Crescent editor Larry Avila (http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20111222/APC0101/112220473/Appleton-nonprofit-COTS-buy-Riverview-Country-Club).

Sahotsky believes additional job training could lead to better jobs for those utilizing community services. "One of the things that tends to happen is a lot of our clients end up with temporary employment and they get into situations where they end up being put back at risk," she added.

"This addresses what it would take to get them out of that situation."