Jefferson Award Winner, December 2017: Bill Harris

BARABOO (WKOW) — The holiday season is wrapping up as we head into the new year.

But the giving in Baraboo will never stop, thanks this month’s Jefferson Award winner.

Reverend Bill Harris has a story to tell. 

He rose from the dark days in his life and has now become a shining light in Baraboo.

"It’s ok to be broken, but it’s not ok to stay."

Reverend Bill knows what it means to be broken.

"I turned to drugs and one thing led to another and it just got to the point where I was way out there," says Bill. "I ended up acting out violently."

That landed him in jail.

"It took me to be down and out to the very bottom to be able to now start over."

It’s that experience that led Bill to God and it’s his faith that called him to serve others.

19 years ago, he founded an organization called People Helping People in Kenosha.

It started with donating food to local pantries, but it’s grown tremendously since he moved the organization to Baraboo 13 years ago and rallied the community’s support.

"You get alongside him and you catch what he has and you can’t help it. He inspires you to help and  to get involved," says local business owner Andy Kamla.

People Helping People now has five programs that provide services in four counties.

Through Adopt a Family, they give clothing and school supplies to low-income children and free meals to more than 140 families in need every year on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"We want to make sure they have the same quality and quantity of items that we have," says Bill.

As an Air Force veteran, Bill’s Adopt a Soldier program is especially close to his heart.

"They give us a wish list of how many families need whatever. So, we do the fundraisers."

Last year, Bill launched a Work Ready program, helping people overcome their pasts and integrate back into society through mentoring and job training.

"We let them know that we want you to try to prepare yourself to go back and fix that mess you walked away from."

Robert Dunn spent 7 years in prison, but found a new beginning through PHP.

"I was actually homeless and living out of my vehicle," he says. "I stopped down just looking for work and Bill said, ‘I need you more than you need me.’ So I came in, just started working with him and just enjoyed it."

Robert was eventually able to secure a full-time job and an apartment.

But Bill’s work won’t stop there.

He plans to open a shelter next year.

"It’s gonna be a 24 hour open door facility where men, women and children can come into this facility. We will have an intake, we will find out what their needs are and we will help them address their needs."

Throughout nearly two decades, Bill’s organization has helped thousands of people and united a community.

Richard Schulze has been a part of PHP for 12 years and serves on the board.

He says, "I don’t remember anyone ever making an impact on the community like PHP has." 

"One thing’s for sure. We’re doing something about it and not just sitting around talking about it. We’re gonna be about it," says Bill.

People Helping People holds more than two dozen fundraisers, bringing in more than $60,000 each year.

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