Local nonprofit works to create a vibrant community
By Kana Coonce
ALGOMA – Despite its myriad of contributions to the Algoma community, nonprofit organization Community Improvement of Algoma (CI of A) remains a group of unsung heroes working to create a vibrant community.
“My life is Algoma,” said CI of A member/treasurer Jan Dart.
After working at the Navy office in Sturgeon Bay for 25 years, Dart retired to Algoma and applied as an administrative assistant at City Hall, where she worked for 10 years.
Then, after retiring again, she became an alderman — and that doesn’t include the myriad of other organizations around the city of which she counts herself a member.
“Keep in mind I don’t keep on retiring because I enjoy the parties,” she joked. “If you start adding this all up, you’ll notice that I’m very old.”
Dart has been with CI of A since it was initially conceived in the 1980s, but the organization did not exist in its current form until 2016.
“We were the Community Improvement of Algoma, and in 2000, we applied to the state’s Main Street Program,” Dart said, who at the time was working as an alderman.
It was Dart who was involved in the program’s application process.
When Algoma — one of three applicants — was selected, CI of A changed their name to the Algoma Main Street Program (AMSP) to match.
In 2016, after an end to the Main Street Program’s support meant that maintaining the AMSP — which at the time had a paid full-time president and a building — was no longer financially tenable, the AMSP disbanded, on paper.
In reality, the group stuck together, forming the CI of A as it exists today.
“CI still works under a lot of the same auspices [as the Main Street Program],” said Dart. “Renewal, restoration, and keeping buildings intact downtown. You want to protect your downtown and keep it viable. You want people living there and shopping, but you don’t want to lose your downtown history. [Downtown] is where your big buildings, your historical buildings are.”
For Dart, giving back to the community is about making Algoma a place its residents can be proud of.
“I’m very involved in Algoma. It’s been my hometown for many years,” said Dart.
In addition to having two children and four grandchildren who grew up in Algoma, Dart said that she’ll soon have great-grandchildren who will do the same.
“So that’s coming along,” she remarked.
“It feels good; it does. I’m happy our community looks good. We’ve got the Viking cruises coming in now, and the people on that boat, I was talking to one, and she said, ‘Oh my god, we were treated like royalty!’”
Since its (re)founding in 2016, CI of A has made countless contributions to organizations around the city — everything from money to headphones for grade schoolers to memorial plaques to a fire blanket for Algoma Fire & Rescue.
On average, Dart said, CI of A receives around eight requests a year “from different organizations that need money,” but the board of directors keeps its eyes and ears out for anything the city might need.
“[The fire blanket] was not cheap,” Dart laughed, but she emphasized its importance to the fire department and to the city.
The blanket is designed to put out electrical fires — the sort that cannot be put out with water.
“If we see something that the community could use, we are very aware of what people need in the community,” Dart said. “We are very good at finding people who need help.”
“Our annual fundraiser allows us to do quite a bit of donating, which is our function there,” Dart said. “To keep our community improved.”
The fundraiser in question, of course, is Algoma’s Wet Whistle Wine Fest, which CI of A has put on annually since it was still the AMSP.
Since its humble beginnings in 2000, the wine festival has expanded exponentially.
“Who would have known that that wine fest that was held in a gravel parking lot would grow from 200 people to 2000 people?” Dart laughed. “I’m looking around, thinking, ‘I don’t think we can fit any more people on those grounds.’ I don’t know where we go from there.”
Held at von Stiehl Winery in the fall — this year, it will be held on Sept. 15-16 — Wet Whistle Wine Fest boasts celebrity guests from the Green Bay area, grape stomps,
And those grape stomps are competitive. Backed by music picked out by a DJ, stompers compete to stomp the most juice out of their own respective buckets of grapes than any other stomper.
“Those people are up there going like crazy,” said Dart. “Those guys come out of there sometimes panting.”
In addition to being CI of A’s flagship fundraising event, Wet Whistle Wine Fest has been excellent for Algoma’s small businesses.
“The town is full. The motels, hotels full,” said Dart, noting that the people who don’t eat at the festival tend to find themselves dining at local establishments.
“For Shanty Days [another annual event that Dart runs respective of CI of A] and Wine Fest, there’s never any room in the inn.”
CI of A also runs Algoma’s annual car show, which is held every June.
When it began under the Main Street Program’s banner in 2000, the car show was held on Armed Forces Day, held the third Saturday of May, a date the board chose “because no one else had it,” according to Dart.
Unfortunately for AMSP, “every other community” with a car show had the same idea.
“We’d have made more money selling sweatshirts,” said Dart of AMSP’s initial go at running the event.
In subsequent years, the AMSP has moved the event to the third Saturday in June, a date they “grabbed” from Luxemburg and which has served both the organization and the city well.
Other contributions CI of A has made to the city include a series of murals across the city, most recently a paint-by-numbers mural set up by local artist Don Krumpos covering most of the outside of the Book Corner.
CI of A helped fund the mural, which over 100 community members — a majority of them school-age children — showed up to bring to life.
Dart also pointed to what she referred to as “pocket parks” — unkempt, unused corners around the city whose owners CI of A collaborated with in an effort to beautify the area and make it usable for its residents.
The first pocket park, located across from von Stiehl Winery, Dart said was “filled with weeds and dead trees” before “CI of A got it paved” and brought in a cement picnic table and bench.
On the other end of the street, across from the Pizza Bowl, CI of A cleaned up a similar space and painted a mural reflecting three of Algoma’s points of pride: birds, trees and flowers.
“And that is probably one of the coolest murals in town,” she said.
Of course, Dart knows that creating a vibrant community takes a community’s worth of people.
“I thank the board of directors [of CI of A] so much for being as involved and as caring as they are, because everyone sitting around that table has something to offer and looks at what is happening in our community — even simple things like signage [and what it looks like] so our meetings are pretty cool meetings. We all learn a lot.” Then, she added a cheeky, “Trust me.”
“Our motto is ‘friendly Algoma,’ Dart said. “It’s just heartwarming when people come in and they’re impressed with how the city looks, how they’re treated when they come here, and that’s something that everyone who lives here should take pride in.”
For more information on Community Improvement of Algoma and its projects or to apply for community project funding, visit www.algomaciofa.org or visit their Facebook page.
Wet Whistle Wine Festival will take place on Fri., Sept. 15 from 5-9 p.m. and Sat., Sept. 16 from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at von Stiehl Winery in Algoma. Admission on Friday is free, but donations of nonperishable items for the food pantry are requested. Saturday carries an admission fee.