Next Monday, Katie Flynn is performing in support of an extremely worthy cause: C-U’s Courage Connection. Courage Connection provides housing and supportive services to individuals and families who are the victims of domestic violence. Courage Connection previously received funding through the State of Illinois, pursuant to the terms of a grant, which provided, essentially, Courage Connection would offer domestic violence victim support services. In exchange, the State would reimburse them up to $350,000. When the budget impasse hit in 2016, domestic violence services were reimbursed under the stopgap budget. In 2017, however, domestic violence services reimbursement was dropped from the stopgap budget. Courage Connection was informed six months into their fiscal year that it is unclear when the funds may actually be paid.

In the meantime, Courage Connection has people to help. It has services to provide and employees to pay, while they are left in the dark as to if or when they will actually be provided funding. They are in a tight spot, and they need help.

As an undergrad, studying philosophy (take that, Dad!) I read a lot of Emerson. He was a brilliant philosopher and American Transcendentalist, with a penchant for dropping paradigm-altering knowledge. Courage Connection’s particular predicament reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of his, from his essay: “Self-Reliance.” He said, “The prayer of a farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar,  are true prayers heard throughout nature.” Emerson was a Unitarian minister, but I always took this passage to be almost blasphemously secular: the idea that transcendence has very little to do with Sunday services or rituals, and everything to do with giving the world whatever you’ve got to give, but with care, and focus, and intentionality.

Looking at Courage Connection, that’s what they do every day. They are bending their backs, laboring, and providing care and support to victims of domestic violence on a daily basis. That’s transcendent. Katie Flynn, doing what she does best--performing and singing--is transcendent. 

Meanwhile — The Courage Connection Board and the Junior League of C-U have teamed up, and Junior League is presently offering to match any contributions made to Courage Connection at this very moment. That means that you can purchase a ticket to Katie Flynn’s show at Riggs Brewing Company, and maybe buy a raffle ticket while you are there, and Junior League will match the final contribution. That’s amazing. I met with Katie Flynn and Courage Connection’s Development Director, Megan Wolf, to talk about Courage Connection’s situation and Katie’s upcoming benefit show.



Smile Politely: What is it that Courage Connection does?

Megan Wolf: We help victims and survivors of domestic violence rebuild their lives. So we have an emergency shelter for that; we have the transitional housing that’s on this campus; there are support programs in place; we have a 24/7 hotline, so anytime anyone needs help, it’s a phone call away. We have court advocacy services, so if someone needs an order of protection--going through that process, on your own, when you are in trauma, is nearly impossible. There is paperwork that you have to go through, that if you don’t fill it out right, the case gets tossed. So we are there, at the courthouse, waiting for them, and we will go into the courtroom with them. We have support groups, parenting groups. We help people identify signs of abuse, so they don’t repeat the cycle. Lots of support along the way. We help people apply for a job, learn how to interview.

SP: Tell me about the effects of the budget impasse on Courage Connection.

Megan: So, the best place for you to look is on our website. Isak [Griffiths] did a fantastic interview on NPR regarding the situation with the state budget. It’s a very passionate, wonderful talk that she did for an AARP thing here in town a couple of weeks ago. But the short of it is that we had a contract with the state for a grant of $350,000, and they have not paid us for that. We are obligated by that contract to provide services. So we are fulfilling our end of the contract; we are providing the services, and spending the money, yet they are not fulfilling their part. So that’s where we are at. We are at the end of our fiscal year, which begins in July, so normally we would have been receiving reimbursements since July of last year, and we still aren’t seeing any of this.

SP: So what is your current deficit? Have you spent the full $350,000?

Wolf: Close. We have just a few more pay periods left. But this campaign has saved us. It has saved Courage Connection. Things like what Katie is doing--I mean all over town, people are having garage sales, or like, “20% of our pizza sales go to [Courage Connection].” Every single dollar counts. We have seen the generosity of this community, and we felt it immediately. As soon as we put the word out that we were in real trouble, we raised $100,000 in the first two weeks.

Katie Flynn: Wow.

Wolf: It was unbelievable. So now it’s the tail end. We really need to push through these last few months, so we are really hoping that [Junior League’s] match will provide an incentive for anyone who has already given but wants to give again, or someone who has been thinking, “Ahhh, I really should do that. I want to do that,” well, do it NOW, because your donation will be doubled. Junior League is going to match it.

SP: Are Courage Connection employees paid, or volunteers?

Wolf: Primarily paid. We are starting to build our volunteer base. In the last year or so, we have really been trying to get that up and running [If you would like to volunteer, you can contact the Volunteer Coordinator, Osajuli Cravens, at ocravens@courageconnection.org]. We actually just had our first volunteer orientation last night. It’s like building another business. It takes a lot. And then we have our local business connections--resale store, which helps the [Illinois Department of Corrections] clients. They can work over there and build job skills. All of the proceeds from that come back here.

SP: Any other thoughts or comments?

Wolf: Just to bring it back around to what Katie is doing, our community has been so incredibly generous, and we are so very thankful. We would have been gone. Other domestic violence agencies around the state are closing because of the same issue, or drastically reducing their services. There is nowhere else to go. Where would you go, if you didn’t have transportation? If you were out on the street?



SP: Katie, how did you decide to get involved with Courage Connection?

Flynn: Seeing the news, and on Facebook, I was seeing that Courage Connection was about to close. I had helped with a benefit for Courage Connection at the Virginia Theater, Mary Wallace was here…

Wolf: Was it the Grease singalong?

Flynn: The Grease singalong! Yes. I was one of the volunteers that helped raise money for that.  So, I was seeing in the news that Courage Connection might close, and I was thinking: well, I could donate money, or I could donate money and get other people to donate money. I could put on a show. So I contacted Courage Connection and said, “I want to do a show!” So we met with Kelly White, from 40 North, and we were brainstorming where we could have the show, and we thought of Riggs Beer Company because we knew that they have had some fundraisers out there. So we are going to use their space. It’s going to be myself, with a full band. It’s a six-piece band, with a rhythm section and a little horn section, and we are just going to put on a Cabaret show. It’s going to be very...it will be clean.

SP: Family friendly?

Flynn: Family friendly! A lot of what I do is bawdy, but we will save that for another time.

SP: So speaking of cabaret generally, what can someone expect?

Flynn: There is definitely a vibe to it. It’s very showy, kind of flamboyant, something that I feel has been lost over the last few decades. So I am just doing what I can to bring it back and reintroduce it. It is very entertaining. You know, it is. I don’t use just any old musicians. All the musicians that I use are all U of I grad students or postdoc students getting their Masters or postdoc in Jazz Studies, in Music. So they are quality, trained musicians. I also have someone who arranges my music. It’s great. It is so much fun. So when I saw this in the news, I thought, “I could help out with a show!”

We are having a raffle. There are certain businesses that donated to the raffle: Bacaro restaurant, Hyatt Place, Kane and Co. is donating a color and cut service; Joanna Strauss Photography is donating a photo shoot; Texture Home is donating a gift basket; Central Illinois Bakehouse is donating some cookie and fruit tart trays; then Dish Passionate is donating some appetizers.

SP: Where can people get tickets?

Flynn: So, you can get tickets at the Eventbrite website, and you can also get them at the door. Once there, you can buy a raffle ticket if you would like.

SP: Is there food?

Flynn: Yeah! We will have a nice spread.

Wolf: Fancy!

Flynn: Beer and drinks you are on your own. But you will get a great show. It’s a great show. I mean...not to toot my own horn.

Wolf: And! All of the money that Katie raises at the show will be doubled by the match from Junior League and the Board. So every dollar that you spend on the raffle or the ticket will be doubled.