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CHIPPEWA FALLS — Hundreds of headlights lit the dark night as one vehicle after another followed in orderly lines before finding parking places in the Halmstad Elementary School parking lot on Chippewa Falls’ south side.

Before boarding a plane to Honduras several years ago, Teresa Ritzinger told her husband, Steve, “This is going to change you.”

As he stood in the spacious, high-ceilinged entryway to Plymouth United Church of Christ Thursday afternoon, David Huber couldn’t help but reflect on a very different view he had of that site two years ago. 

What started as a simple phone call in 2003 seeking help working on a statewide effort to implement treatment instead of incarceration policy has become a broad-based movement to address a wide array of poverty-related issues in the Eau Claire area. 

During Matthew Desmond’s time living in a trailer park and a rooming house in Milwaukee, he learned firsthand about the difficult, often dire situations faced by people desperately clinging to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. 

Standing amid tables packed with chatting customers and waitresses hurriedly rushing to serve them, Mark Smith talked amicably with one patron of his restaurant. Then, a moment later, he walked to a nearby table to talk with another familiar face.

The Chippewa Valley Trail System is unquestionably one of the gems that has improved the region’s quality of life over the past two decades.