News: Loyal - ‘Tractors for Autism’ (2016)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Collins, Rose, Laschen, Bollinger, Nikolai, Brandt, Syring, Swanson, Rueth

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 1/04/2017

‘Tractors for Autism’ Assists People (With Disabilities - 2016)

Mike Collins (right) and his son Brenden pose Wednesday in their Loyal home with several toy tractors donated to their new non-profit organization ‘Tractors for Autism’, set up to assist those with Autism and other disabilities. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/The Clark County Press)

By Todd Schmidt

A group of special education teachers in the Loyal School District, led by Mike Collins, 45, and his son, Brenden, 22, have formed a non-profit organization with the purpose of supporting people with autism and other disabilities.

Collins has been a K-12 teacher’s assistant at Loyal for the past seven years, and has been a volunteer with Special Olympics for the past 25 years. He said the concept of assisting disabled people on a larger scale has been on his bucket list for many years.

“My son and I want to donate our time and support people with autism and other disabilities,” Collins said. “With all the hate and terrible acts towards people with autism and other disabilities, we said ‘that’s enough.’ We want to make a difference in Clark County and the central Wisconsin area, and hopefully someday around the world.”

Collins said the reality is there is no place for many people with disabilities to go, outside structured programs such as school or Adult Development Services of Greenwood.

“They are either stuck at home or put someplace they don’t want to be,” Collins said. “Our main vision is creating a place in central Wisconsin similar to centers in St. Paul and Milwaukee, where people with autism and disabilities can go to and not have to worry about work. Parents could also send a child or adult person there for respite care.”

Collins hopes to find an existing location to be used as a center. It could be rented, purchased or even donated by the property owner. People with disabilities could help with remodeling.

Programming would be offered during the summer, after school and at various times for children and adults by as many volunteers as possible. A number of referrals could come from school districts throughout Clark County.

“Ways will be found to mend and mold people together, making people with disabilities one step closer to being more independent,” Collins said. “The center will feature guidelines and boundaries, so we are not competing with other entities.”

Tractors for Autism Disabilities was officially granted 501©(3) non-profit foundation status Dec. 8, 2016, by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The organization can now move forward with soliciting donations for its cause, with contributions being tax-deductible for those who itemize their deductions on their tax return.

Collins said it took about four months to process the IRS paperwork. Harlan Rose of Data Flow in Marshfield prepared and filed the application, which cost $300 for a filing fee.

Officers of the foundation include Collins as president, co-vice presidents Becky Collins (Mike’s wife) and Brenden Collins, co-treasurers Mary Laschen and Angie Bollinger, and directors Justina Nikolai and Peggy Brandt. Most are Loyal School District special education staff members.

The group is sensitive to doing activities off school property and away from school time. Collins said the foundation would benefit school programming, helping to “pay it forward.”

Collins hoped down the road, ‘Tractors for Autism’ can assist disabled people with getting a needed brace or a walker. Camping fees for those with disabilities could be paid for families unable to afford it. Many times there is no other funding source available for these costs.

Brenden has a cousin, age 20, who is autistic. She provides the family with the impetus to help out many other people with a similar condition.

The backbone of fundraising efforts is acquiring tractors donated by individuals or companies that can be restored and sold.

“We are all volunteers, and no one is getting any compensation from our foundation,” Collins said. “One hundred percent of all money raised goes back into the foundation with no administration costs.”

Their first major project is restoring a 1940 Farmall B tractor and painting it Autism Blue. The tractor was donated by Frank Klimek of Colby.

“It was very touching to see his kindness,” Collins said. “The only way to repay his kindness is to push forward with our foundation.”

Collins said the group would be driving the tractor to parades, tractor shows and tractor rides to raise money for the cause. They are also seeking contributions of money and donations of toy, pedal, garden, and big tractors.

The Farmall B is the Tractors for Autism “mascot unit.” It features a puzzle piece logo on the hood.

“Autism is a puzzle,” Collins said. “All shape the world and make it go around. We all fit.”

Since July 30, 2016, two other tractors and a garden tractor have been donated to the cause. Randy Syring of Edgar donated a 1961 Minneapolis Moline 4-Star, and Alex Swanson of Chili donated a 1950s vintage Farmall M.

Collins’ uncle Billy Rueth and his son Bucky Rueth of Loyal have restored a number of tractors as a hobby and are lending their expertise to the restoration projects.

“We all have what is called ‘Classic Tractor Fever,’” Collins said.

Tractors for Autism has made contact with several Clark County School Districts about accepting a tractor and restoring it through a class project with the finished product sold or auctioned off to support the foundation.

“Students would learn how to give back to the community,” Collins said. “Some people with disabilities could also help with the restoration projects.”

Collins understand the fact that some tractors would not be ideal for restoration. He said some parts could be saved and sold, or the unit could be scrapped out for cash.

“There are hundreds of tractors sitting in fields around Clark County,” Collins said. “Those tractors could be donated to the cause, helping to clean up the environment.”

The Farmall M was not restorable due to a seized up engine. That unit was sold outright. The Minneapolis Moline is slated to be restored by a Loyal High School class in either 2017 or 2018. Collins said there were only 2,400 of that model made.

The garden tractor restoration is in the works. Collins said once it is completed, someone with a disability could use it to mow lawns as a source of income.

Collins said the foundation is still finalizing its by-laws, which will outline a formal process for organizations and individuals to seek funding for those with disabilities.

“We will purchase an item they need and not give cash directly,” Collins said. “There will be some form of interview process. The theme will be “I am somebody, and I can do this.’”

Collins has contacted the Aktion Club of Clark County and the Clark County Community Foundation about some collaborative projects. In the future, fundraisers could include craft sales, brat sales, and bake sales.

Collins recalled a situation when he was an eighth-grade student in the Marshfield Middle School. He and his buddies that were in athletics were gathered in an area, when one of them pushed over a girl with disabilities, scattering her books all over. Collins stood up for the girl, telling his buddies the bullying would never happen again.

A similar thing happened with Brenden when he was a student at Lakeland High School in Minocqua.

“I stopped a bullying situation, and I lost some friends over it because I took a different path,” Brenden said. “I was pretty sociable and found myself in the middle. Looking back, I don‘t regret any of it.”

Brenden, who is an outstanding baseball player, graduated from Loyal High School in 2016. He is now a student at Ridgewater College in the two-year dairy management program.

“We see the joy of giving,” Collins said. “It is a phenomenal feeling. I wish more people could see and feel it. The world would be a much better place.”

Collins said he would love to make presentations to service clubs throughout the county and meet with people and organizations interested in holding fundraisers to support the Tractors for Autism Disabilities cause.

The Granton Antique Tractor Club recently made a cash donation. Club members have also been a good contact source for owners of tractors to restore.

Collins is seeking a wagon to compliment the numerous tractors riding through area parades. He said Benz Sawmill of Loyal has offered to donate all the lumber for the wagon. Funds are being sought to purchase the moving parts for the wagon, which those with autism or disabilities could ride on.

For more information on Tractors for Autism Disabilities, check out the Facebook page, email or call Collins at 715-937-4899.

Mike Collins (right) and his cousin Todd Rueth (left) lead the Tractors for Autism and the Granton Antique Tractor Club units through the Loyal Corn Fest Parade in August 2016. (Todd Schmidt/ Clark County Press)



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