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Stories From the Flood

$2,370 of $28,000 goal

Raised by 42 people in 3 months
Created March 14, 2019

We knew the last days of August 2018 in the Driftless were going to be bad.

It had rained for days. The ground was saturated. Our rivers were at flood stage. Parts of Dane County had flooded the week before, the bridge at Black Earth was gone, and a man had lost his life.

And still it rained.

During the night of August 27, people living in lower ground evacuated or were rescued. Several dams failed or were breached. Coon Valley, Viola, Bloomingdale, Ontario suffered almost complete devastation.

37476838_1552545555887995_r.jpegPhoto By: (Erik Daily)

After the water receded, I visited the flood zone. Town after town was knee-deep in mud and muck. Personal belongings were strewn everywhere—a dining chair in a street, a picnic table in a tree. The ballfields were mud holes. Farms, homes, and streets were under water. Concrete heaved in parking lots. Bridges were washed away.
37476838_1552529095814059_r.jpeg
No one could see this type of ruin without feeling moved to help.

Everywhere I went, people were talking about the floods. We needed to talk, to tell our stories.

This is how the Stories from the Flood project came into existence. At the Driftless Writing Center we are dedicated to our communities and to helping people tell their stories. We see the resilience and the compassion with which neighbors help neighbors.

We want you to know these stories.

Please help us make them come alive.

Written by: Lisa Henner
Video by: Tim Hundt

 Learn more about Stories from the Flood and find out how to share your story online here.


Driftless Writing Center, Inc.  provides literary and educational opportunities, readings and discussions, writing classes and workshops, and an outlet for presentation of original writing by its members and the community.

Please visit our website at Driftless Writing Center, Inc. 
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How can stories heal?

Research shows that the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences—including how we talk about life-changing events like natural disasters—shape our identities and can become dominant and defining, often influencing paths to seeking help and healing. People who have lived through multiple flooding events have developed stories about themselves, their resources, and their community. These narratives can pinpoint areas of individual and community need. More broadly, the collected narratives of people living in flooded regions can help us identify regional environmental and public health concerns, such as well contamination or biohazard risks for recovery volunteers.

The graph included here, courtesy of Gil Hoel, a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with flood-affected residents of the Kickapoo River valley for over a decade, illustrates how people might deal with a disaster such as a flood over time.


Driftless Writing Center wants to help residents work toward healing and reconstruction. Through “Stories from the Flood,” flood-affected residents will be listened to and understood, and new opportunities for connection created.

The immediate and long-term health benefits of storytelling have been established in several key studies. James W. Pennebaker (1986) investigated the effects of writing on health by asking study participants to write for 15 minutes daily for four consecutive days about difficult events and the emotions and feelings they experienced. In the subsequent year, participants experienced fewer doctor visits. Subsequent studies indicated improved immune function as evidenced by t-helper cell growth in participants who wrote about their life experiences (Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1988).

Edward Murray and colleagues at University of Miami studied how writing about experiences can approximate comparable changes to talking to a psychotherapist (Donnelly & Murray, 1991; Murray, Lamnin, & Carver, 1989). In Wisconsin, the Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that only 19.42% of mental health care needs are met by mental health care professionals (HRSA, 2018). In light of this, communities must seek solutions for assisting people other ways.

Community storytelling opportunities are one way to meet ongoing mental health needs during flood recovery, while gathering valuable qualitative information about broader public health concerns.
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We have exciting news...

All contributions will be DOUBLED today through Sunday!

The 2018 flood capped a decade of major flooding in Southwestern Wisconsin. While the towns and families that were affected are still rebuilding and planning for the future, many people are ready to tell their stories of the flood—stories that will help the storytellers gain perspective on their experiences and guide our area leaders in their thinking about what comes next.

We know that storytelling changes lives and the fates of communities. Driftless Writing Center aims to help at least 200 flood-affected residents record and share what they have experienced. Next week we will start holding story workshops at local libraries and historical societies, bringing residents together to tell, write, and record their narratives. We’ve created a website and will share the collected stories through the website, a story booklet, a public presentation, and a digital archive.

We have an exciting opportunity to double our fundraising between now and Sunday, April 7, through a $5,000 matching grant. Every dollar donated to the GoFundMe campaign during that time will be matched by a group of generous donors.

If you have already donated, thank you! This is the ideal time to invite friends and family to join you in supporting this important project--one that will contribute to individual healing and community resilience--with a gift today. Remember, everyone's gifts will be DOUBLED from now through Sunday night!
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Last week, a New York Times article pointed out the connection between climate change and recent Midwest floods. “Manmade greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the oceans and making the air above them more humid, scientists said. When a storm picks up and eventually spits out that moisture, it can be devastating for people caught below.”

New York Times Article Link
( https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2019/03/21/us/21reuters-usa-weather-climatechange.html)


Residents of Vernon and Crawford Counties know well what our neighbors to the west and south are struggling with as they try to piece together their lives and figure out what’s next. We also understand that we need to prepare for the possibility of future floods in our own backyards. Conservation biologist, author, and historian Curt Meine ( http://curtmeine.com) has written about the potential influence of climate change on Driftless-area floods, and he has some questions and ideas about how we move forward together:

Over eleven days in late August 2018, four major storms raked across central and southern Wisconsin, each dumping multiple inches of rain. Flooding inundated communities across the state, from the Mississippi River in the west to the Madison lakes to Lake Michigan in the east. Historic records show clearly that such extreme precipitation events have occurred with increasing frequency over the last several decades throughout the upper Midwest.

Ever conservative in linking specific events to long-term climate patterns, scientists are cautious in assessing the statistical significance of even such increasingly compelling events as we saw last summer. They are deeply aware of scientific uncertainty, yet equally conscious of probabilities involving the future we face, based on the most sophisticated scientific methods and advanced climate models. There may never be a single, discrete “tipping point” that will indicate to all that we have entered a new era of climate disruption. We will reach many tipping points.

A better way to think about our changing reality, perhaps, is that we find ourselves at the outer edge of the intensifying global storm of climate change. Our understanding of long-term change draws closer, season by season, to the vortex of daily events and our personal experience. As we look back on last summer’s intense rains, the question is: what must we in Wisconsin do, now and in the coming years, to respond to the changes that are upon us? And to answer that question, we need to tell our stories, and listen to those of our neighbors.

(Photo by Tim Hundt)
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In this video, Jill Zohimsky of Bloomingdale describes what she experienced in the devastating 2018 flood. Her house near the West Fork of the Kickapoo River was filled with water. She wondered if she could even keep it. But as crews of volunteers showed up with food and offers to help clean up and rebuild, she began to feel hopeful. She told reporter Tim Hundt, "As bad as things are, people make the difference."

Jill's story is an example of the types of stories DWC will collect in its Stories from the Flood project. Please help us reach out to residents of the Kickapoo River and Coon Creek watersheds and record their experiences of this historic event.
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$2,370 of $28,000 goal

Raised by 42 people in 3 months
Created March 14, 2019
Funds raised will benefit:
Driftless Writing Center
Certified Charity
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Viroqua, WI
EIN: 272721537
How it Works
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* If, after reasonable efforts, PayPal Giving Fund cannot deliver donations to this charity, the funds may be donated to another charity per PayPal Giving Fund’s policies.
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