GearUp Inc. Levels Playing Field for First-Generation Students

August 29, 2023

By La Crosse Community Foundation

First generation college student Unity Vang, center, gears up for school with help from GearUp Inc. board members Jill Weisbrod (left) and Trista Treglowne (right).

GearUp Inc. fills void in education funding

When Unity Vang starts classes at the University of Wisconsin–Stout next week, she’ll represent the first generation in her family to attend college. It’s an entirely new experience for all of them — so many preparations and so many unknowns. But with help from GearUp Inc., she’ll be as ready and equipped as any other freshman.

While many programs focus on the higher costs of college, like tuition, GearUp zeroes in on an often overlooked yet vital area — providing first-generation and low-income scholars with essential dorm, class, and living supplies. This move seeks to level the playing field, allowing students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to begin their college journey confident they belong there and with the right tools in hand.

Community Foundation Grant Funds 12 Students This Year

The La Crosse Community Foundation this year funded a grant of $10,000 to GearUp, helping ensure the nonprofit could help 12 local high school graduates.

As any parent of a college student knows, the proper gear can add up quickly! From bedding to books and desk lamps to detergent, pre-college shopping trips can easily add up to $800 to $1,000. Students pick a shopping day, and board members accompany them, ensuring they don’t forget anything and covering the costs. Between their own children and past recipients, board members like Trista Treglowne and Jill Weisbrod have shopped dozens of times. Each trip, however, is unique. They aren’t just about obtaining the physical items they need; it’s a symbolic journey for the student, marking their transition into a new phase of life.

GearUp Inc. a “game changer” for students

The students have a great time gearing up, and it heightens their excitement for the next step. “It’s not just about buying stuff; it’s about creating a space where I’ll make memories, study, and grow. It’s like I’m shopping for the experience I’m about to have. And I’m so ready for it!” said Vang.

Another student pursuing a degree in graphic design at Western Technical College called the support a game-changer.

“I worked with GearUp to get a laptop needed for school. I was able to tell them what I needed for my program, and they listened to everything and bought me a MacBook,” he said. “Having this tool for my graphic design program is a game-changer as I would not have been able to purchase it on my own.”

Shaping the future

The real magic of GearUp, Inc., goes beyond individual benefits. The organization is actively shaping a future for La Crosse. By empowering these students, it’s contributing to a well-educated, skilled workforce. Some of these students might take their talents elsewhere, but many will return to La Crosse, enriching the community with their knowledge, skills, and experiences.