Tag Archives: Elena’s House

Fundraiser brings together the latest in apparel and home fashions for suburban HIV/AIDS charity

The eighth annual “Refashion for Life” charity fashion show on Wed., Aug. 26, benefits CommonGround Ministry/Elena’s House.

The popular and unique event features a fashion show combining the newest looks in apparel with fashionable products for the home, including countertops, tile, cabinetry, windows, flooring, and hardware.

Located in Wauwatosa, the event’s beneficiary provides physical, spiritual and emotional support for people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, according to a press release.

The event takes place from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Callen’s Muskego Showroom and company grounds, S63 W13131 Janesville Rd. in Muskego.

In addition to the runway show, the evening features a raffle and auctions. Saz’s Catering provides small plate appetizers and desserts. The Mr. Lucky Light Syndicate supplies the music.

Fred Astaire Dance Studios professionals present a dance showcase.

Libby Huwiler, fashion product developer with Kohl’s, is the fashion show coordinator and servea as one of the show’s emcees, along with Stephanie Sutton of WISN-TV Channel 12.  Fashion show participants include Barcelona Artful Living, Free Bird Clothing and Home Trends, Kohl’s, Lela, and Urban Laundry.

Tickets are $40 and are on sale at www.refashionforlife.com. Parking and free shuttle service is at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, S66 W14325 Janesville Rd., (just west of Callen’s Muskego showroom).

There is no parking on the premises.

Couture meets countertop at AIDS fundraiser

A charity fashion show that combines high-end couture and high-end plumbing fixtures is bound to attract attention. When the beneficiary supports people living with HIV/AIDS, then it’s attention worth drawing.

Refashion for Life, which takes place on Aug. 20, supports CommonGround Ministry/Elena’s House, a nonprofit that provides housing and social services for people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Refshion is set up much like a normal show, with models walking the runway in stunning outfits — but they’re paired with fabulous interior decor provided by sponsor Callen Construction.

The mashup was born more than seven years ago, when a designer working for Tom Callen suggested it during a brainstorming session. Years prior, Callen had spoken with Mary Ellen Huwiler, the executive director of Elena’s House and a personal friend, about potential fundraising ideas. The concept of combining décor with fashion excited him so much that Callen called Huwiler immediately to pass along the idea. She loved it.

“It’s a very clever way of putting a fashion show together,” Huwiler says. “It really is a magical night.”

The two organizers say that Refashion for Life hasn’t changed all that much since it began. This year’s installment will be structured much the same as the first, with local fashion expert Bjorn Nasett returning as the emcee after several years off.

The reason the event hasn’t changed, Callen says, is because the original was so incredibly successful. Organizers had hoped to raise $10,000, but actually received about $22,000 in donations.

Over the past six years, Refashion for Life has raised more than $125,000 — 100 percent of which has gone directly to supporting Elena’s House.

Elena’s House is close to Huwiler’s heart. Formerly a fashion designer for 23 years, Huwiler changed her career path dramatically when her HIV-positive brother-in-law was infected in the Cryptosporidium outbreak in 1992 and became too sick to live alone. After he died in 1994, Huwiler began working for a number of HIV/AIDS resource groups, including the faith-based Raphael House. When that center closed in 2001, she opened Elena’s House.

The majority of proceeds from the Refashion for Life event come from the silent and voice auctions, as well as from ticket sales. But also contributing are the sales of jewelry made by current residents and friends.

“It’s their way of giving back,” Huwiler says.

On the runway

Refashion for Life, a fundraiser for CommonGround Ministry/Elena’s House, is from 5:30 to 10 p.m. on Wed., Aug. 20, at Callen Construction’s Muskego showroom, S63 W13131 Janesville Rd. The event features an original fashion show, high-end décor, catering by Saz, a performance by Fred Astaire Dance Studio and two auctions. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased at refashionforlife.com.

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


Elena’s House provides care, community for people living with HIV/AIDS

For the past 12 years, an unassuming ranch house in Wauwatosa has provided physical healing, spiritual comfort and a community of support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Elena’s House  began in March 2001 after Raphael House, located next door, closed. The latter was run by the Roman Catholic order of St. Camillus, which shuttered the house, leaving the area bereft of a faith-based living facility for people dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Mary Ellen Huwiler, who was a volunteer at Raphael House, had witnessed its healing power and was determined to continue its mission. 

“After the closing of the Raphael House, Milwaukee no longer had a faith-based home for people living with HIV/AIDS,” she says. “Recognizing the need in the community, in August 2000, I along with a team of individuals, including a caregiver, social worker and minister who were associated with the St. Camillus AIDS Ministry, started CommonGround Ministry.”

Elena House is a project of that ministry. Funded through private individuals, foundations and residents, who pay 30 percent of their income – if they have one – the agency also has been a recipient of Milwaukee’s annual AIDS Walk since 2004. This year’s walk takes place Oct. 5 along the lakefront at the Summerfest Grounds.

Elena’s House’s primary fundraiser is “Refashion for Life,” presented by Callen Construction. The sixth annual event will be held Sept. 11, presenting the latest fashions in home remodeling as well as women’s clothing. Last year’s Refashion for Life drew about 250 supporters and raised $20,000. 

Bill Keeton, vice president of government and public relations for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which organizes AIDS Walk, says Elena’s House demonstrates the vital role that fighting isolation plays in achieving successful health outcomes.

“Isolation is a barrier to successful health care outcomes and strips away the dignity of people living with HIV,” Keeton says. “Elena’s House focuses on housing a small group of HIV-positive individuals to become an extended family to them and provide them with a supportive community.”

Each year, Elena’s House serves as many as eight full-time residents. An average of 25 additional individuals participate in programs at the house, such as weekly support groups, joining residents for a meal, or staying at the house on a short-term basis as a respite from their current living situation. 

Since opening, Elena’s House has been home to 66 individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Most of have moved back to independent living in the community, and 12 have died.

“I left Elena’s House renewed in mind, body and spirit,” says a former resident who asked to be identified as “Tim.” 

“Elena’s House is tension-free and is set in front of a wooded area,” he continues. “We plant many flowers. It has been my good fortune to have stayed in a most lovely place. I left refreshed and rejuvenated.  It is a place with a charm of its own description.

“The level of warmth, caring, dignity and respect is second only to the air of peace, love and joy, Wellness happens at Elena’s House.”

Huwiler was a children’s wear designer at Eagle Knitting Mills when HIV/AIDS entered her personal world: Her brother-in-law Stephen Huwiler discovered he had HIV in the mid-1980s, when a diagnosis was a virtual death sentence.

In 1993, Milwaukee experienced the largest waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. history when Cryptosporidium contaminated a portion of the city’s drinking water, sickening 403,000 residents. At least 104 people died, mostly the elderly and people whose immune systems were compromised. One of them was Stephen Huwiler.

“He became too sick to live alone,” Huwiler remembers. “He moved in with our family. Stephen was very scared when he was dying, and he kept saying, ‘Don’t put me in a nursing home.’ A lot of his friends that were HIV-positive had the same feeling. Back in those days, they were treated like lepers – they were not treated with compassion and respect.”

Huwiler left her career in fashion design after 23 years and cared for Stephen until he died in the summer of 1994.

“After Stephen’s death, I no longer had a desire to work in the fashion industry. I wanted to work and care for people living with HIV/AIDS,” she says.

Huwiler became a volunteer with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and the St. Camillus AIDS Ministry, where she eventually took a job coordinating volunteers and special events and working with the Raphael House residents.

Elena’s House was named for a resident of Raphael House.

“Elena Kuenzi was a beloved member of the Milwaukee community,” Keeton says. “Incredibly, all in one day, she was diagnosed both with lymphoma and AIDS. Her care and concern for others left a lasting impression on her friends who made her the namesake of this home.”

A Potawatomi Native American, Kuenzi drew on her spirituality for strength, which is one of the underpinnings of Elena’s House’s approach to care. 

“She was diagnosed with AIDS and a brain lymphoma on the same day and given six months to live,” Huwiler says. “But she lived two and a half additional years.”

On the calendar

The sixth annual “Refashion for Life,” the major fundraiser for Elena’s House, takes place on Sept. 11 at Callen Construction, S63 W13131 Janesville Road, Muskego. The event presents the latest in home remodeling ideas, as well as a preview of the fall fashion season from area boutiques, including Lela, Goldies’ Boutique Larrieux, ModE and Urban Laundry. The event includes live music, food from Saz’s Catering, a fashion show and an auction. Register online athttp://www.refashionforlife.com/tickets.html.institutions.