By Jenna Campbell
Local couple offers hope for Eau Claire homeless
For close to two years now, Eau Claire residents Matt and Suzie Kendziera have provided shelter, food and a sense of community to all who need it through an organization they call the B-Side Community.
Located on North Farwell Street in Downtown Eau Claire, the B-Side Community works through the B-Side garage in what many residents believe to be one Eau Claire’s poorest housing areas.
The Kendzieras are founders of the B-Side community and are the faces, along with a small staff, behind the garage doors. They said their aim with the garage is to, above anything else, be a source of comfort for Eau Claire community members in need of support.
“We just really felt like it’s our turn to get behind people,” Suzie Kendziera said. “To walk alongside of them … and encourage them in their dreams.”
The garage serves a variety of functions and provides most of its services through volunteers who feel passionate about helping to improve the lives of struggling community members. Some neighbors of the B-Side garage have described it as part warming shelter, part food bank and part house church.
The people of Eau Claire bring home a diverse range of incomes, yet the city has its fair share of poverty stricken residents. According to city-data.com, when B-Side began in 2009, 16.2 percent of Eau Claire County were living in poverty and 10.9 percent of its residents were receiving income below the poverty level.
Matt and Suzie Kendziera said the idea to create the community that eventually became B-Side began to take shape when they were living in the Twin Cities, doing music for a large church in Edina. They said they felt that they weren’t in the right place and with much prayer, moved back to their house in Eau Claire and to the support of their friends and family in the town where they grew up.
In Eau Claire, what Matt and Suzie Kendziera called “house church” began. Every week, Matt and Suzie would welcome 15 to 20 friends to their house for fellowship. It was during these weekly meetings that conversations about B-Side first started.
“We had a heart for the poor, the oppressed, the broken,” Matt Kendziera said. “Our thoughts were, what can we do to make an influence in Eau Claire? How can we make it a better place?”
What became known as B-Side began in April of 2009 when an organization called Touch Twice United hosted a free clinic in downtown Eau Claire at the MidWest Labor building and garage to honor the life of a young boy who died from cancer at age 11.
A follow-up service took place after the clinic. It was the beginning of B-Side.
Suzie Kendziera said her and her husband knew the MidWest Labor building was their ideal location for B-Side.
The Kendziera’s said the a large garage door facing the street was a plus as well, as it seemed welcoming and open.
The Kendziera’s said they wanted a place to hold their weekly church services that was connected to a business and had a garage door facing the street that would remind them of one of their favorite places in the Twin Cities, an ice cream cafe called Sebastian Joes.
“One of the problems in predominantly poor neighborhoods is there is simply a lack of joy and a lack of fun and a lack of community,” Matt Kendziera said. “The idea of a garage door is that we’re open to everybody, and we want to create an atmosphere of joy and community.”
The Kendziera’s have spent much of their past 10 years of marriage leading worship for churches, playing at concerts, camps, conferences, and retreats and said music is still a big part of their lives. There’s no surprise, then, that the name for B-Side came from their passion for music.
The Kendziera’s say the name relates to the time when music was bought and sold on record albums. They say the A-Side of a record was usually the side you purchased the record for and the B-Side was the hope of the artists career.
“B-Side represents the hope we have in Christ and our understanding that God purposes our lives and allows us to work together no matter who we are or where we come from for His Kingdom,” B-Side’s website reads.
B-Side now meets for a service every Sunday, usually from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the small, yet open garage. For the weekly service, round tables are placed all around the room and a small stage is set up in back near the bright, long windows.
Matt Kendziera said an estimated 80 to 90 people attend B-Side services each week, and even more take advantage of the other things the B-Side community has to offer like the food pantry, which is open every other Sunday, and the Warming Center, which is open every evening from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Steve Neevel, who lives on the South side of Eau Claire and attends the B-Side Sunday services regularly, said B-Side has given him the opportunity to meet people he would have never met otherwise.
“Most people that walk in here have just been beaten up … there’s a lot of people that need help … and those paths would have never crossed,” Neevel said. “It’s always someone new every week … we’re all down here for our own reasons.”
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student Teia Larson said she’s been attending B-Side meetings and events since the their beginning and likes attending the Sunday services because of the opportunity it provides to socialize with members of the community.
“It has been a really awesome opportunity, just to meet all these people I wouldn’t get the chance to get to know,” Larson said. “It has been cool being able to get to know them, hear their stories, and build relationships.”
A B-Side service was held on Sunday, Feb. 6th, the afternoon before the big Super Bowl game between Wisconsin’s Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburg Steelers. Matt Kendziera said the atmosphere in the garage was a bit different than a typical Sunday’s afternoon service; A smaller crowd than usual attended this service, which Matt Kendziera said may have been due to the switch in its meeting time from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. instead of the typical 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to account for the big game.
The service started with a meal provided by a local charity. Lori White, who said she’s been attending B-Side off and on since its beginning in 2009, sat at a table near the stage with a few community members and college students. White said the B-Side community has made a huge impact on her life and that Matt and Suzie Kendziera have a lot to do with how she is living her life today.
“It’s close to my heart … they love me … they care about you,” Lori White said. “When I came here, it gave me a whole different outlook on life.”
The worship segment of the service began shortly after attendees finished up their meals. Matt Kendziera gave a small sermon after worship, and the service wrapped up from there.
Suzie Kendziera said in the beginning things regarding B-Side were a bit chaotic, and they felt they had “so many needs and not enough manpower.”
“What we knew we wanted to be, more than anything, is a support to people,” Suzie Kendziera said. “We just really felt that it was our turn to get behind people … walk along side of them and we just encourage them in their dreams.”
With the help of other Eau Claire organizations and the involvement of Eau Claire community members, the Kendziera’s say they now know their resources and know how to navigate better.
Matt and Suzie Kendziera said a major re-model of the garage has also impacted B-Side. The re-model nearly doubled the garage’s size, adding a shower, laundry machines, and updating the bathroom and other spaces within the building. The Kendzieras said they knew from people living in the streets that having a shower and laundry facilities would make a big impact.
“Raising self-worth does so much to a person,“ Matt Kendziera said. “If you’re not used to being clean all the time, to having clean clothes … to have that offered is a real confidence booster.”
Matt and Suzie Kendziera said with every success story comes relapses, but doing what they’re doing is worth it when they see people get back on their feet.
“When we see progress, we get a lot of swing back too,” Suzie Kendziera said. “A lot of times for us if we don’t see B-Siders, we celebrate it … because they’ve gotten a job, and moved out of the neighborhood.”
As much as the Kendziera’s have changed other people’s lives, Matt and Suzie Kendziera said their lives have also been changed by the B-Side community.
“Our culture is so ‘me’ focused … so ‘get to the top’ focused,” Matt Kendziera said. ”The thing that we miss often is that real life-giving activity is when we are giving to others and giving for others … It really changes your focus on life and opens your eyes to the joy that comes along with that.”
Matt and Suzie Kendziera said they hope that as the B-Side community continues to grow, lives will change enough for B-Side’s message to spread out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Kendziera’s said they hope to continue working with B-Side until they no longer seem to be the best candidates for the job.
“When you start realizing that people care about you…addictive behaviors in your life start to dissipate,” Matt Kendziera said. “The power of community transforms people.”