Three LSS Adoption Families Honored with 2023 Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award
Three Exceptional Families from Lutheran Social Services Among Those Honored with 2023 Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award
Madison, Wis., November 29, 2023 – In a heartwarming ceremony held in the Wisconsin State Assembly Chamber at the State Capitol Building, six remarkable families were presented with the prestigious 2023 Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award. Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is proud to announce that three of the winners are families associated with their Public Adoption program. The event celebrated the unwavering commitment and compassion demonstrated by Dave Koltermann, Matthew & Adrienne Randall, and JoAnn and Fred Reissman in providing loving homes for children in need.
Emilie Amundson, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), highlighted the impact of adoptive families, stating, “Last year 766 children gained the warmth and fellowship of a permanent family through public adoption thanks to generous families who stepped up.” She also emphasized, “There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that no child ages out of the foster care system without a safe and loving family to call their own.”
DCF Deputy Secretary Jeff Pertl spoke about the significance of the day, stating, “Today we’re going to celebrate found and forever families,” and acknowledging the varied experiences that come with the journey of adoption.
Dave Koltermann, an unexpected hero in the world of fostering, was nominated by Wendy Davey of the Monroe County Department of Human Services. Despite the stereotypical image of a truck driver, Dave’s life took an unexpected turn when he took in four children, maintaining a stable and loving home even as a single parent.
Wendy Davey shared, “Dave’s life was turned upside down, but he wouldn’t change a thing. Dave has said, ‘I didn’t choose this life, it chose me. THEY chose me,’ and indeed they did.” Dave’s dedication to maintaining family connections and providing a stable home for the children, including adapting to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, is a testament to his extraordinary commitment.
Fred and JoAnn Reissman, nominated by Dawn Lonsdorf of LSS, exemplify dedication and compassion in fostering. Over four years, they fostered two girls, maintaining a positive relationship with the girls’ mother. In 2023, the Reissmans adopted four siblings, three of whom have been diagnosed with autism. Their commitment to providing a loving and supportive home, connecting with birth families, and supporting a large sibling group with significant challenges showcases their exceptional parenting.
Lonsdorf expressed, “Fred and JoAnn are patient, kind, and committed parents that have gone above and beyond to support reunification, to maintain family connections, and to support a large sibling group with significant behavioral and medical challenges.”
Adrienne and Matthew Randall’s journey to adoption started with the placement of a relative child in October 2021. Nominated by Megan Engevold of LSS, the Randalls embraced the challenges of parenthood, navigating the transition seamlessly. Their trauma-informed parenting approach and efforts to maintain sibling relationships left a lasting impression.
Engevold highlighted their exceptional dedication, stating, “Adrienne and Matt are an outstanding representation of the importance of not only foster care but the Family First Initiative!”
These three families, celebrated for their selflessness, compassion, and commitment to building strong families, embody the spirit of the Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award. Their stories inspire others to consider the profound impact they can make in the lives of children in need of a loving home.
LSS Refugee Client, Arif Faizi, Featured in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Hundreds of Afghan refugees have come to the United States and have been given support by Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) over the past couple of years. Each individual and family has a unique story full of challenges, successes, dreams, and realities. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently shared the heartwarming story of Arif Faizi and how LSS went the extra mile to give him a new life in Wisconsin.
Arif Faizi was paralyzed in a car crash in Afghanistan several years ago, making it difficult for him to get around without help from family and friends. Upon arriving in Wisconsin through the LSS Refugee Resettlement program, Faizi’s struggles were shared among the organization. How could LSS help get Faizi and his family the support they needed to succeed in their new home?
One day, LSS President and CEO Héctor Colón spoke with Kyle Weatherly as the two spent time together on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Weatherly wanted to donate to LSS to help with Afghan refugee resettlement. However, he didn’t want to give a general donation; he wanted to help one family.
Colón then connected with Mary Flynn, program manager for LSS Refugee Resettlement. She thought of Fiazi, who needed a specialized wheelchair to get around and improve his health and way of life. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read the story by clicking the link below!
LSS Adoption Family Earns 2022 Governor’s Award
Carl and Marcella BlomWillis were 2022 recipients of the Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award in Wisconsin, one of six families honored by the state. In working with Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan (LSS), Carl and Marcella’s 20-year devotion to foster care and adoption parallels the dedication LSS shares in strengthening families.
Tanya Meyervandeurzen, a social worker for LSS, nominated the BlomWillis family for the award through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF). Speaking of Carl and Marcella, Tanya said it is a privilege to work with them, and “their home is open, warm, and friendly. It is filled with an overwhelming sense of love and commitment to all of their children.” Tanya’s role through LSS continues to be a substantial factor in the BlomWillis story.
“Our family is eternally grateful for Tanya and the role she played in our family’s journey,” Marcella said. “She was always incredibly responsive and warm. Our entire family came to adore her for the time we worked together.”
Tanya and her many colleagues across Wisconsin live for the opportunity to help the more than 300 children LSS serves in public adoption. These children are between pre-adoptive foster homes and county foster homes. Families like Carl and Marcella’s are vital, with so many children needing foster homes and “forever” homes through adoptions.
The BlomWillis family is full of love – and kids – with two biological children and seven adopted members. In a unique twist to their two-decade welcoming spirit, they recently adopted two children of one of their former foster daughters. They understand and value the connection between birth parents and their children as a cornerstone for long-term success through foster care and adoption.
None of the families welcome children into their homes to earn praise or win awards; however, it’s essential to recognize their efforts when possible.
“All adoptive families deserve to be celebrated,” DCF Secretary Emilie Anderson said. “We appreciate the dedication and commitment of adoptive parents, as well as those who work with families in the adoption process.”
That includes organizations like LSS, which has proudly served the community and assisted with adoptions for over 100 years as they continue strengthening families through Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. The award and overall success require a total team effort between families and LSS.
“We are very humbled by this recognition,” Marcella BlomWillis added. “We’re very grateful for LSS and the role they’ve played twice in growing our family.”
Lutheran Social Services Engages in Statewide Collaborative Pilot for High-Needs Youth
Written by Heather Yaeger, LSS Regional Director
Wisconsin Residential Care Center (RCC) capacity has decreased by 32% since 2014, forcing more than 250 youth from 46 counties to receive services out of state. Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is fortunate to be a member of the Wisconsin Association of Family & Children’s Agencies (WAFCA), where we have opportunities to advocate and collaborate with the county, state and provider agencies to increase our impact.
We know children are served best when family connections are maintained and those that know them the best are nearby. We also have experienced that no provider or agency in Wisconsin successfully assists families by themselves.
“Children suffering from trauma or struggling with a mental health condition or disability need compassionate care as close to home as possible,” said Emily Coddington, Associate Director for WAFCA. “We understand that this is an incredibly difficult time for all involved – placing agencies, children and families, and service providers alike – and also believe the children we are trying to serve through this pilot deserve nothing less than our collective best efforts. We can each make a difference in the life of a child if we all commit to being part of the solution.”
LSS joined WAFCA’s newly formed pilot strategy, Resource Connection Sessions, in response to rising client numbers and needs. WAFCA initiated the pilot in April, which seeks to engage system consultant expertise and representation from the entire continuum of care in Wisconsin, helping locate in-state treatment and services for children and families.
I believe the providers on the calls, such as LSS, hear firsthand the pressures our county partners are under and the limited resources and services they have. It has given us a chance to think out of the box and be creative in service provision. We take what we learn through these sessions and then strategically plan how we want to meet this need in the future.
This collective agency think tank is innovative and one example of how LSS and Wisconsin are adapting to meet families in the community. I sincerely thank the counties we have heard from thus far for openly sharing the needs regarding specific cases. LSS recognizes that change takes time, but we aren’t going to shy away from it just because it is difficult.
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