One Student’s Community Impact

Zainah Ott – High school student whose community drive strengthened an entire safety net for families, children, and babies living at or below the federal poverty line.

The Formula Crisis of 2022 had families across the country and the state of Wisconsin scrambling to find formula to feed their babies. Here in Fond du Lac County, it was no different. The Family Resource Center of Fond du Lac County (FRC) focused its resources to ensure families across the city, county, and beyond were able to feed their babies. This shift in resources had left the FRC’s Distribution Center susceptible to shortages in other areas serving women, children, and infants. Annually, the Distribution Center delivers about 30,000 essential infant and child items to the most vulnerable in the Fond du Lac communities. This community safety net was left unstable until Zainah Ott came along.

Zainah’s first exposure to the FRC came when she was very young. Born at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac, Zainah’s mother came to the FRC for services and received formula during a similar crisis when Zainah was just an infant. But it was years later, shopping with her mother for baby supplies for her new brother that she had the idea to give back. Zainah couldn’t believe how much it cost to provide the basics and wondered how families in tough financial situations could afford to meet their child’s needs. Coming full circle, Zainah was directed to the FRC by her mother.

Zainah approached the FRC months prior to the 2022 Formula Crisis and received approval to organize a community drive for the Distribution Center. Zainah put together a business plan and wrote proposals to businesses and schools across Fond du Lac to host donation drive boxes. Boxes were placed around the community from St. Mary Spring’s Academy to local groceries stores and maintained by Zainah. In May 2022, Zainah came to the FRC with two pick-up truck beds packed with essential infant and child’s aid. Zainah made a donation of over 2,000 infant and child items including diapers, wipes, sippy cups, etc.

Zainah Ott

“Without a doubt, Zainah’s charitable project and donation made this community safety net stronger at the time of the crisis, especially when our funds were focused on addressing the Formula Crisis. I remember the donation; it was not your typical everyday donation. It filled an entire conference room and took staff several days to inventory. Absolutely amazing stuff.”

Jessica Schowalter, Officer Manager

Zainah’s contribution is impressive, but even more so when considering the challenges that she has had to overcome. Zainah has had numerous medical challenges that have drastically affected her education. From sixth to eighth grade, Zainah was missing up to 80 days of school each year due to medical issues and surgeries, which caused her to fall behind in her education and social life. Zainah transitioned from public school to E-Achieve Academy out of Waukesha, WI. There she was still able to receive a quality education while prioritizing her health. Zainah is a co-president of the National Honors Society at the academy and is graduating early this spring. Passionate about children and mental health, Zainah will be pursuing Psychology at Michigan Tech this upcoming fall.  

Zainah Ott


SSM Health Greater FDL Supporting FRC

Katherine Vergos (center), SSM Health St. Agnes Hospital president, presents a $5,000 donation to Family Resource Center of Fond du Lac County representatives (left to right), including Jessica Schowalter, Sarah Mauthe, Genesis Sieckman, Natia Higgs, Sara Szatkowski, and Kaniala Aragon.

SSM Health Greater Fond du Lac is giving $5,000 to the Family Resource Center of Fond du Lac County to support their services for families and children.

             The Family Resource Center of Fond du Lac County Inc. is dedicated to the healthy development of children and families through a variety of services and parenting programs. Our services include a Connection Center (services for the Department of Social Services and Family Courts of Fond du Lac County), a Distribution Center (providing families aid, free of charge, to meet basic needs), and a Family Resource Center (access to free parenting classes and mental health services).

            The Family Resource Center’s parent education services and Distribution Center have served more than 800 families and just about 2,000 children in the past five years. Among these populations served, over 90% of families are living at or below the federal poverty line, while 88% of the children served are living in a household with a net income between zero and $10,000. In 2022, these services served 158 families corresponding to 367 children among this demographic.

The Family Resource Center has a direct role in addressing multiple community health needs, most notably social determinants of health, through economic stability, education, and social and community contexts. Our team’s role in enhancing public health in Fond du Lac communities cannot be understated and is accomplished through parent education, SOAR (Support Observe Achieve Read) and the distribution of aid.”

Kaniala Aragon, Interim Director
Family Resource Center of Fond du Lac County

The Family Resource Center’s mission to support area families during difficult times closely matches many SSM Health Greater Fond du Lac efforts to provide the community with vital resources that enhance overall health and well-being.

“The services that the Family Resource Center offers allow provide parents the opportunity to focus on their child’s well-being instead of economic hardship,” says Katherine Vergos, SSM Health St. Agnes Hospital president. “It’s critical that we do anything possible to help our children get a great start. This is an important time for there to be support.”

In 2022, SSM Health Greater Fond du Lac’s community benefit ministry totaled more than $400,000 across the communities it serves. This investment helps ensure access to health care for patients who are uninsured or underinsured, train the next generation of health professionals to care for those in need, and fund programs to address the most pressing health needs of our communities.

“The services that the Family Resource Center offers allow provide parents the opportunity to focus on their child’s well-being instead of economic hardship. It’s critical that we do anything possible to help our children get a great start. This is an important time for there to be support.”

Kathrine Vergos, President
SSM Health St. Agnes

Altrusa FDL Promoting Literacy

Altrusa International of Fond du Lac, WI has been committed to the healthy development of families and children throughout the Fond du Lac county communities. Altrusa’s contributions have furthered our educational mission and helped us bridge disparities in children’s books available. The Family Resource Center (FRC) has been to supply our SOAR program with motor and cognitive activities that help children build on the skills that underlie and support literacy, while also working on reading, writing, and speech. These activities are integral to children’s strong educational foundation when they start school. Additionally, the FRC was able to purchase high quality books as well as Spanish children books for our families.

This March the Interim Executive Director, Kaniala Aragon, was the speaker at Altrusa’s March 2023 meeting. Kaniala shared his journey from Manoa Valley, Hawaii to his time at Marian University, and the evolution of the Family Resource Center. After speaking, Kaniala was presented with Altrusa’s contribution of $750 from the Fond du Lac Altrusa’s President Barb Zink.

Fond du Lac Community Christmas Success Story

The Family Resource Center opened a Christmas distribution as a safety net for the county of Fond du Lac. And a safety net it was. The distribution was opened between December 5th – 23rd and multiple families were referred to us by various organizations. Most of the referrals were similar, a parent had missed the deadline for Toys for Tots and did not have the funds to get gifts. Many of the families served by the distribution live pay check to pay check and do not have the financial flexibility to get gifts given the ecomomic climate. The distribution was designed to have flexible pick up times that specifically cater to families schedules. Toys were donated throughout the year by charitable individuals and organizations. The toys themselves were wrapped by the Campus Ministry Club from Marian University.

  • A total of 655 gifts were given (303 large toys & 352 small toys / stocking stuffers)
  • A total of 40 families were served by the Christmas distribution.
  • A total of 107 children with Christmas presents

Enabling Success – One of Our Own Graduates

Kaniala Aragon, a four year employee, just graduated this December from Marian University with his Bachelors of Science. Kaniala also known as Kani, had first volunteered with the Family Resource Center (FRC) in 2018 as freshman helping with respite care. Kaniala joined the staff in 2019 as a visitation supervisor, supervising visitation between children and their families. His role would evolve over the years as he would continue to take on more responsibilites for the organization. Kaniala would help out in the distribution center, oversee respite care, and fill in as receptionist when needed. In the summer of 2021, he took a more direct role, expanding the infrastructure and capabilites of the FRC. He developed the FRC’s data and analytics, enabling our organization to track demographics, the amount of aid distributed through the distribution center, and additional data gathered from a varitey of our services. That summer he also began writing grants for organization and helped the FRC to bring in more than $25,000 in grant money bolstering our parent education and distribution programs. Kaniala has also served to provide opportunities for others to volunteer at the FRC by organizing and providing volunteer opportunities through his connections at Marian University and as a club organization leader.

Kaniala was able to forward the mission of the FRC, while accomplishing an incredible amount of things outside of the organization. While working part-time at the FRC, he also works at a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) during the summers and for the Green Bay Packers in game operations during the season. As a full-time student at Marian University, he led the Campus Ministry Club as President for two years, organized and led a mission trip to a Navajo reservation, and accumlated over 650 hours of community service through his college career. In the same semester he organized a mission trip across the country, Kaniala set out to address a need within the Fond du Lac community for a volunteer resource. He recognized the difficulty he had upon coming to Marian to identify and compare volunteer opportunities and organizations. Kaniala reached out to and sat down with over 20 organizations from hospitals to non-profits and learned about the volunteer opportunities available. He then organized the volunteer opportunities into a document called the Stand Out Sabre page, which also contained information about the organizations, volunteer requirements, and how to apply. The Stand Out Sabre page would then be translated into a web page on the Marian University’s website, which Kaniala held the responsibility of updating the page and adding one-time volunteer opportunities. Later that semester, he was awarded the Program of the Year by Marian University for founding the page. With much experience under his belt, he was selected by the university to be the Class Commencement Speaker at the 2022 Winter Commencement Ceremony. He delivered a speech to his peers about self-reflection and finding the time to learn from your experiences. Kaniala graduates with 4.0 GPA and plans to apply to medical school where he will pursue his aspirations of becoming a physician.

“Honestly, working here at the FRC has profoundly changed my views and some of the assumptions I had. As a freshman in college, I was niave in my own thinking and this place has certainly helped me mature. I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the struggles of parents and play a role in helping them and their children. When I help families, I think of my own. Back when we lived in Hawaii, we lived in poverty. Coming to Wisconsin, were intially homeless and then I watched my parents work their way out of poverty to provide for me and my brother. The assistance they got, set them up for success, enabling my own success. But to see and look into eyes of a child who has been through so much trauma or to listen to a crying single mother about the struggles of raising children in poverty is sobering. Working here has given me so much perspective that has been invaulable to me. A perspective on poverty and social issues that I will take with me as a physician.”

– Kaniala Aragon, Visitation Supervisor