Local Woman Helps Military Personnel Afford Home Visits

Painting Business Fundraises for Home Visits

Men and women active in the military can’t always afford the plane ticket to fly home during a break, but one Neillsville area woman is hoping to change that.

Jodi Sorenson, artist and owner of Simply Creative (a business that does everything from hosting paint parties to decorating nurseries to creating custom pinterest-inspired artwork), recently started fundraising to help those in active service afford a plane ticket home to see their families.

Having worked in the medical field and as a stay-at-home mom before making painting her full-time job, Sorenson has always had a passion for helping others.

“I’ve always been in the service industry as far as helping people, in the ambulance as an EMT and in the medical field,” she said. “My brother’s an officer. My dad is a deacon and was an Air Force medic. Putting others first has always been a part of my family.”

After her son, Ben, joined the Army and her daughter, Emily, graduated from UW-Platteville and moved to Madison, Sorenson decided to make painting her full-time job, something which has now become another way to help others.

With Ben currently stationed in Alaska, helping military personnel is a cause close to Sorenson’s heart.

“His senior year of high school, he started training for the army,” she said, adding that his desire to join the army started at age five. “My brother had always been in the reserve for the army and when he would return home from his deployments [of which there were five] Ben would say ‘I want to be like Uncle Denis.’”

After graduating from Fort Benning in November 2016, Ben was home for just four days before leaving for Alaska. As someone who hadn’t been away from home for long periods of time before, it was a character-building time for him.

“Boot camp is hard on anybody,” said Sorenson. “He was ready physically, but it was the mental that I don’t think anybody is ever prepared for.”

An expensive state to live in, Ben was not able to afford to come home during breaks and his family wasn’t financially able to help him. It was then that Sorenson proposed an idea to some of her regular painting party clients.

Sorenson’s painting used for fundraiser painting party

“Every Tuesday night, I host painting parties out of my garage. I have regular clients and I brought up to them that I was thinking of doing a paint class as a fundraiser, and I asked what they thought of that,” she said. “I wanted to know how that sounded. I’m used to fundraising for others, but wasn’t for myself. They said, ‘Why don’t you make it bigger than what you’re talking about?’”

In July, Sorenson developed a fully-fledged fundraiser and hosted it at the American Legion in Neillsville. Along with forty-two painters, the fundraiser also included a raffle and door prize drawings, including a huge american flag canvas made out of wood that Sorenson designed.

“The more I thought about it, I thought ‘why not?’,” she recalled. “If people want to come and paint, they can. If they like the cause, they can support it. It got so much bigger than I thought. I was amazed.”

With donations coming from all over the state, including a significant one from a veteran in Tomah with a note that said “get them home,” Sorenson had soon raised more than enough funds to bring not only her son, but other soldiers home for a visit.

“I had one veteran that said he missed out on his first Christmas because he couldn’t afford to come home and though he’s my age now, he had tears telling me that he knows what it feels like,” she said. “These are things that I had never even really thought of, and there were other veterans that came to me with similar stories. I realized that this is more than just my son.”

After researching to find groups that might have similar goals, Sorenson didn’t discover any with goals quite like hers.

“The only things I could find were for death in the family or tragedy,” she said. “I didn’t see anything that was for soldiers that had earned time to come home and visit. These are young men and women that have not been home since graduation that well deserve to be home during a break.”

Sorenson is currently in the process of planning her next fundraiser, expected for November in Marshfield and/or Black River, and is seeking volunteers to help with acquiring nonprofit status and developing a website.

“People always ask how they can help and this is a great way to do that,” she said. “We hear so much about soldiers with stress disorders and many times they just need the love of home. Being a young soldier, they can’t always afford to and they won’t admit that. Money should be the last reason not to come home.”

For families of soldiers like Ben, these home visits can be just as important.

“Every time he comes home, it might be the last,” said Sorenson. “You just don’t know.”

Learn how you can help! Contact Jodi Sorenson at 715-937-1463 or email [email protected]

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