LSSWis - Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan

Lutheran Social Services of
Wisconsin and Upper Michigan


Inspirations: July 2015

Jim: Breaking Free From the Prison of Addiction

“I don’t like the term alcoholic. No, I am a person in recovery from the disease of alcoholism. My thinking is no longer that of an alcoholic.”

Profound words. It took Jim nearly 50 years to say them, but this former resident of LSS’s Cephas House in Waukesha had a rough road to travel before he came to a place where he could overcome the scourge of his addiction.

His childhood was marked by sexual abuse and the suicide of his dad, with whom he was close. Yet, he will staunchly tell anyone who listens that these traumatic events did not cause him to drink.

“I did that. I knew alcoholism ran in my family, but I chose to take that first drink anyway.”

History of Alcoholism Leads to Jail Time... and a Choice

A good student and athlete, he quit the basketball team after his father’s death, started drinking, and never stopped, with intermittent periods of sobriety linked together by years and years of alcohol haze. After serving time in prison for 12 years for setting fire to an abandoned apartment accidentally while drunk and high; a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that threw him for a loop; and a six-month string of run-ins with the law in 2013 that included fleeing police and two DUIs; he was on his way back to prison. His parole officer, however, challenged him to give up his comfort zone of jail and get comfortable living in society instead.

Jim took her challenge and the bed offered to him at Cephas House, which offers treatment exclusively to former inmates who are on parole or probation.

“I had a psychic change. People in jail knew me. The smells were familiar. I just knew I had enough. This time was different.”

He worked hard from the minute he got to Cephas House, but says it was challenging because other residents were not there by choice and weren’t as motivated as he was. Jim proudly notes that he was named a house leader and was one of the only guys who never received a single infraction while in the 90-day program. “I was not there to make friends; I was there to straighten out my life.”

Program supervisor Connie Schrank was the first person that Jim met. Connie explains that the Cephas House uses evidence-based therapy models to help residents recognize and challenge errors in their thinking that led them to where they are.

“Many are impulse driven and seek immediate gratification. We teach them how their belief system relates to their thoughts, feelings and ultimately to behavior,” said Connie.

That, combined with daily group therapy, support groups, required chores and other accountability tools and involvement of family and/or recovery friends and AA sponsors, is the cornerstone of Cephas House.

Jim Shares His Story and Encourages Others

Today, Jim is about to celebrate two years of sobriety, holds a full-time job and has an active schedule that includes being a member of the advisory board of Genesis House, another LSS drug and alcohol treatment program in Waukesha, and Wisconsin Voices for Recovery, an organization trying to minimize the stigma of addiction. He is also a frequent speaker at community events where he shares his story with other addicts and their family members.

“I believe God allowed the things that happened in my life to make me a well-rounded person who can relate to people who have been through sexual abuse, suicide, mental illness, jail and addiction. You see their faces light up when they realize I really understand.”

He hopes to take his life experiences and his passion for recovery into a job as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor, and he has a special interest in helping those, like him, who have been incarcerated.

“I still have my name and number on the board at the Cephas House, and guys can call me for help and references. I’m so grateful to the Cephas House for giving me, and other ex-cons, a chance.” 


SCAN Program Helps Kids Recognize Child Abuse

A hand goes up, and a child quickly begins to talk about things happening at home, asking: “Is this child abuse?”  The innocence behind the question and the child’s willingness to ask it, seemingly unaware of what they are sharing with the whole classroom, underscores the importance of educating children at a young age about child abuse so they know when to ask for help.

SCAN (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect) was developed with this goal, and for more than 30 years, it’s visited classrooms in Racine County, teaching children what abuse is and what to do if they see it or experience it themselves. Last year, SCAN held sessions at 97 different public and private schools in Racine and Kenosha counties, and talked to nearly 11,000 kids.

“Every year, we have children who share something with us that results in a formal report being filed,” said Karen Fetherstone of SCAN. “Many times, they tell us something they won’t even tell their teacher.” 

Katy Adler, SCAN program director, explains by sharing a recent story:

“A seven-year old child told the SCAN presenter about long-term sexual abuse by two family members," recalls Katy. “The child had kept this from other close family members, school staff and other trusted adults. The information presented by SCAN, as well as the SCAN facilitator's compassionate demeanor, taught this child that what was happening was abusive and was not the child's fault, and it gave the child the courage to follow through and tell the secret.”

And that is the hope – that children recognize when something is wrong and tell a responsible adult about it so someone can step in. SCAN doesn’t always get to see the final result of their presentations, but just knowing that a child like this seven-year old would no longer be dealing with this alone is enough.

Puppets, Dolls, Videos and Songs Used to Share Message

SCAN was founded because of efforts by the Racine County Child Abuse Committee to stem maltreatment of children. It started with simple puppet shows in 1983 presented to kindergarteners in the Racine Unified School District. In 1991, LSS took over the program and has since expanded it to include private schools, preschools and daycare centers throughout Racine County as well as in second grade classes in the Kenosha Unified School District for the first time this year. SCAN’s curriculum includes sessions for five different age groups: preschool, kindergarteners and children in second, fourth and six grades.

As expected, the youngest children learn about child abuse in simple terms they can easily grasp, with puppets, dolls, songs and posters helping to explain this difficult topic. SCAN comes and talks to the littlest audiences over several shorter sessions due to their limited attention span.  As they get older, the curriculum tackles topics like respect, bullying and how to be safe when texting or using social media, and it’s taught in one or two longer sessions.

Effectiveness is measured by SCAN regularly. Students complete worksheets and multiple-choice questionnaires that test what they’ve learned when the sessions are over.

Expanding SCAN to Include More Schools, Sessions for Eighth-Graders

Going forward, Karen and Program Manager Katy Adler hope to expand the SCAN program in several ways. First, they would like to add to their presence in Kenosha, by talking to more ages of children in Kenosha’s Unified School District and by introducing their program to more schools throughout the county. In addition, they hope to add programming for eighth graders that tackles dating and relationship safety.

Karen and Katy always welcome volunteers who want to get involved with SCAN, and they are also willing to help others jumpstart similar programs.

“If they have program needs, we are here,” confirmed Karen.

SCAN is funded by the United Way of Racine County and the United Way of Kenosha County as well as through private donations from local churches, schools, individuals and businesses. 

Clubhouse Provides Meaningful Work to Those Disabled by Mental Illness

With a sweet smile, Marie walks slowly along the length of the table, carefully wiping it clean before moving on to the chairs. She moves between a steady stream of people who come and go from The Hope Center, a nonprofit organization that serves those in need in Waukesha County where she is employed through a transitional employment program of Spring City Corner Clubhouse.

Marie is a member of Spring City Corner Clubhouse, an LSS daytime drop-in center in Waukesha that offers a safe, no-pressure environment where those who are disabled because of a mental illness can participate and engage in meaningful work and also receive vocational and social support.  Marie and another Clubhouse member, Sally, work at The Hope Center as custodians as part of Clubhouse’s Transitional Employment (TE) program, which places members in short-term jobs in the community.

Both Sally and Marie have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Sally lost a job she loved in childcare because of her illness, and as she talks about it, she has to pause and take a deep breath to regain her composure. Marie was employed at a restaurant for many years, and lost her job when she got sick. They both came to the Clubhouse in search of support, structure and skills to do meaningful work again. Together with Matt, Jake, Cindy, Michele, and many other members, they run Clubhouse.

“Clubhouse has given me hope,” says Sally.

Work-Ordered Day Builds Skills and Authentic Relationships

Clubhouse is based on an international model that believes relationships built through shared work are more authentic, explains Program Manager Linda Cole. Members are empowered to build their vocational and social skills that lead to more satisfying, productive lives.

Using a work-ordered day that mimics the flow of a regular workday, members work side-by-side with LSS staff to operate the Clubhouse and all of its departments. A large sign-up board lists open jobs, and members choose the work that interests them. There are no expectations, only encouragement, and a sense of members feeling a need to get the work done; members decide how involved they want to be.

Some work in reception, answering calls and greeting members. Others give tours or conduct orientation sessions. Some work in the snack shop. Still others, like Matt who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had to leave a high-level management position due to stress, enjoy clerical work, including tracking Clubhouse statistics.

The heart of Clubhouse is the culinary department. Every weekday, members prepare a hearty lunch in the Spring City Cafe that sells for $1.50. Alongside Clubhouse rehabilitation specialist Sharon Dixon, the members coordinate everything from selecting the menu, grocery shopping, preparation, serving and clean up.

“The culinary department isn’t just about making lunch, per se,” says Sharon. “It’s about building relationships and trust. It’s about empowering members with skills they can use. In some cases, it’s also about overcoming fears. Our members have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives. They have to learn to trust us.”

She tells the story of one member who suffered abuse that involved a hot stove. It took months for her to even stand in the kitchen. Gradually, as she was comfortable, she moved closer.

One day, she was asked to place something inside the oven. Sharon remembers her fearful question, “You’re not going to push me inside, are you?" Sharon gently assured her that would never happen.

New Friends, Meaningful Activities

Without exception, when asked, members say they are drawn to Clubhouse because of the friendliness of colleagues and the chance to do something constructive during their day.  They attend weekly house meetings and standards meetings and are actively involved in all decisions made for Clubhouse.

Some come with the goal of getting back into a job, but for others, coming to Clubhouse and successfully completing their assignment while among friends is all the satisfaction they need.

The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), of which Clubhouse is a vendor for job placement services, is available for all Clubhouse members, explains Lorie Pukenis, Clubhouse’s program supervisor. Some come to be part of the TE program, but others come for education that includes computer training and employment workshops. Clubhouse staff also helps members with other needs, such as obtaining resources for government benefits, health insurance, energy assistance and housing just to name a few.  

Clubhouse is funded through Waukesha County, the United Way of Waukesha County and through revenue generated by the Café and by placing members successfully into permanent work positions. In fact, it was through job placement revenue that Clubhouse was able add two additional part-time staff members and increase employment training opportunities.

Lorie points to Gordon, a Clubhouse member who had been homeless, as a success story of the TE program. He successfully participated in the program, and it eventually led to permanent employment in the field of environmental control.

“We believe you have to meet members’ basic needs first before they can begin to work on recovery. We are very proud to offer that support system,” said Lorie.


Meet John Howman

John Howman has a passion for cultivating leadership and maximizing success. He is an entrepreneur and CEO of several companies, and he provides consulting services to other C-level executives from multi-million dollar corporations to help them enhance their company’s performance. John is also the chairman and facilitator of The Executive Committee (TEC), a group of local CEOs that make up a powerful networking alliance. In fact, it’s because of TEC that John became acquainted with LSS and is now the chairman of the LSS Board of Directors.

“In 2008, LSS President David Larson joined TEC, and we gained a lot of insight having him in our group. In 2010, I was asked to join the LSS board, and I was really happy to do so. I’m adopted, and both of my children are adopted, so I was already warmed up to the mission.”

What John didn’t realize until he was a formal member of the board was that adoption was just one of many vital LSS programs that are making a difference in the community everyday.

“Like others who are vaguely familiar with LSS, I thought of it strictly in the context of foster care and adoption,” John said.  “Learning about the hundreds of programs that LSS offers and the depth of those programs was really incredible.”

With such a wide range of services spread throughout Wisconsin and Michigan, John says the board’s responsibility is to achieve a balance between the mission of LSS and the organization’s viability. That requires having both a mission and a business-oriented mindset in equal measure. With that responsibility in mind, the board made two key decisions.

First, it created a governance committee that identifies prospective board members who can bring unique and complementary skills to the board. It also created a committee that has been evaluating how to attract and maintain top-flight talent to LSS.

“One of the things most impressive about LSS is the leadership team,” confirms John, who took over as chairman last February. “They do a tremendous job, and many of our managers and directors have been with LSS better than 10 years. We want to continue to ensure that this is a place where they can grow in their careers.

All of this is essential because the community needs that propel LSS’s mission are only growing.

“Unfortunately, it appears there is going to be a never-ending demand for our services,” noted John. ”The challenge is whether we can we staff the organization to meet the demands that the world is throwing at us.”

He points to a recent example when he, Dave Larson and other members of TEC drove their motorcycles to Wittenberg to attend the graduation ceremonies at Homme Youth and Family Services, a treatment program for children and adolescents dealing with sexual perpetration, delinquency, victimization, alcohol or drug abuse, cognitive-behavioral issues or dual diagnosis.

“It was hard not to cry during the ceremony because you realize the impact LSS has,” said John. “It’s my understanding that if we doubled the size of Homme and doubled the staff, we could double the census. And, if we truly believe we are best provider for these critical types of services, it’s imperative that we develop a strategy to meet the challenge.”

When asked what’s been most rewarding for him personally in his time on the LSS board, John says: “It’s hard to describe how proud I am to be associated with LSS knowing the impact it has on our community. When you are involved in business, you think or hope you are making a difference, but you’re never sure. With LSS, there is immediate feedback about the difference the organization is making. The board can’t take credit for much of that, but it’s great to be part of it. When you walk in the front door on Virginia Street, it’s just a positive place to be.”

John has been married for 35 years to his wife, Laura, and has two children. He is an avid motorcycle enthusiast who’s been known to conduct conference calls while traveling on his bike. He and Laura are going to Italy on a motorcycle tour, and although his wife has encouraged him to learn some Italian, he admits the only thing he can say is “buongiorno.”



647 W. Virginia Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204

Affiliated with

Member Of

An agency of

Accredited by

© 2016 Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan