Jefferson Award Winner Mary Grimm - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Jefferson Award Winner Mary Grimm

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MUSCODA (WKOW) -- 84-year-old Mary Grimm is a Wisconsin girl, born and raised.

It's where she met her husband of nearly 60 years and raised her five children.

It's also where she fell in love with a community of kids in Grant and Iowa counties.

"My concerns were for the kids growing up into the world they were growing up in. It was time to step up."

So she started a program in 1998 called Youth Leadership, under the direction of Mike McGowen.

Every summer, about 150 kids from all over the state would get together for a few days of activities and workshops, to listen to motivational speakers and to learn how to work together.

It lasted more than a decade, but...

"There was a need for something more and that's what we worked toward," says Mary.
Some of the kids had problems at home, living in poverty or with parents who were substance abusers.

In 2008, Mary teamed up with Peggy Schmitt, to start a new program.

"That's when we started working with the schools, we would set up counselors and we'd try to find the funding," says Mary.

The non-profit Riverway Communities of Hope was created.

It allows those kids to get free counseling they might not find out in rural areas, for mental health issues or drug and alcohol abuse.

It also provides the transportation to get their appointments.

In the summer, Riverway offers free swimming passes and lessons to dozens of families.

Over the years, the non-profit has helped more than 150 kids in 16 different schools.

But it's a big cost at $1,000 a year per student, so the program relies on donations, grants, and Mary's persistence.

"Mary's humble yet persuasive. The things that she is concerned about are things that I think many people know in the back of their minds or deep in their heart are important," says Peggy Schmitt.

Mary also works closely with Riverdale School District Administrator Bryce Bird.

He says, "Don't let Mary's appearance fool you. She's pretty tough and persist ant and relentless and she's always been an advocate for kids."

Those kids have found a small way to repay her.

They've sent her countless Thank You notes over the years, and refer to her as Grandma Mary.

"Don't overlook our kids. They want us involved in their lives. A lot of people say 'Oh I can't do anything.' Well you sure can," says Mary.

But she can't do it alone.

She says none of it would be possible without the help of volunteers, and the support of her family.

"Can't save the whole world, my family tells me, but you can do your best."

Doing her best, for the kids' sake, is what makes Mary our Jefferson Award Winner for March.

For more information on Riverway Communities of Hope, click here.
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