His faith extends beyond parish

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | September 7, 2016

Outreach to incarcerated, prison reform are among Blasczyk’s faith-inspired interests

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]APPLETON — As Lou Blasczyk thought about the overall driving force in his faith life, he said, “I came here (to the Fox Cities) and got married. Everything I have is because of the Fox Cities.” Now, the retired banker said, “It’s time to give something back to the community.”

In addition to being involved in his Appleton parish, he is involved in social justice issues throughout the valley and the state. At St. Bernard Parish, he serves on the finance council, sings in three choirs and is a trustee. He also is serving on the parish’s renovation committee as the parish prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Lou Blasczk (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)
Your Catholic Neighbor: Lou Blasczk (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

“My faith calls me to not just be involved with the church, but to go out into the community and to make it a better place for the people who live here,” Blasczyk said.

Blasczyk and his wife, Corine, live in Appleton, but his social justice activities are focused far beyond. His interests range from prison reform in the state to climate change in the world.

He is a member of ESTHER, a social justice group in Appleton that works with WISDOM, the statewide group. “Our big campaign right now is ROC Wisconsin,” he said. “That stands for Restore Our Communities. The emphasis on prison reform is where I am involved.”

In this capacity, he talks with state and local lawmakers and leaders to effect change. “We need reform of the Wisconsin prison system, both structurally and as a social justice issue in terms of how we treat people. In this state, we spend more on incarceration than on our education system.”

He said he knows progress comes slowly, “but we are starting to see some. It needs reform to save money for the state and to treat people more humanely.” This year, money in the state budget has been increased from $2 million to $6 million for drug treatment and diversion.

“Our thought process is that drug and alcohol treatment is a better way to treat them than locking them up. There is no treatment in prison,” he said.

When the next budget process begins in January, Blasczyk said he will be listening closely and talking to legislators. “If people are incarcerated, there needs to be more funds going to the Department of Corrections so we can train individuals while they are incarcerated, so they will have job skills before they get out.”

Blasczyk spends two hours every Thursday at the prison in Oshkosh, tutoring inmates who don’t have a GED. “They are preparing so they can take the GED test before they get out.”

He was part of an employment panel at the prison. Inmates were invited to a half-day seminar where employers talked about resumes, interviewing and job skills. “It was well-received. The people who participated thought it was beneficial and I hope we do more of these.”

On Thursday evenings, he participates in the Fox Valley’s Circle of Support, a support group for people recently released from prison. It is funded by the Department of Corrections and coordinated by Goodwill Industries. He is one of the coaches who help them with life skills.

“We’re plugged into a lot of resources in the community,” he said. “We can help them get where they need to go. We can help them get health insurance, a bicycle or other needed services so they don’t end up back in prison. For people who use the Circles of Support, recidivism is low and this makes for a safer community. If you’re out and successful, you lead a productive life.”

The economy here “is pretty robust. We have employers who are willing to employ ex-offenders. We’re seeing a trend where more and more people are saying you make a mistake once, it doesn’t have to color the rest of your life.”

“I feel like we’re shining a light on the dark areas so we can make life better for everyone,” he added.

Another group benefitting from Blasczyk’s volunteer hours is the Citizens Climate Lobby, whose focus is to make federal lawmakers aware of the climate issue and make them do something. This is in line with Pope Francis and his encyclical on the environment, he said.

In this capacity, he dialogues with local media, U.S. senators and congressmen. “Did you know that the United States, India and China are the three biggest polluters? We need to do something.”

He and his wife also find time to volunteer one morning a week at St. Joseph Food Program in Menasha. He has been involved for a long time, having served nine years on the board of directors. Now, he helps sort and distribute the food. “It’s a good program with good leadership. We need to feed those in need.”

Looking ahead, he said, “Basically, I’m going to keep doing what I do as long as I can.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]

Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Lou Blasczk
Parish: St. Bernard, Appleton
Age: 70
Favorite saints: Joseph, Matthew
Words to live by: “As Christians we need to reflect on Jesus’ message and we need to get out in our community. You don’t have to do everything, but get involved. Serving is the name of the game.”
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