Season 2, Ep. 3: How You Can Get Closer to “Yes” on State Budget Considerations
Bill is a Partner with Michael Best Strategies. His combined decades of experience in the Wisconsin Governor’s office, as cabinet secretary, and as a successful lobbyist enable him to be an effective advisor and advocate for clients.
Before joining Strategies, Bill served as Managing Partner of Madison-based Capitol Consultants, Inc., a government relations and public affairs firm, for over 23 years. He worked with both public and private sector businesses, as well as nonprofits, to build strategic relationships, manage their public images, and implement grassroots advocacy programs.
Bill previously served as Chief of Staff to former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, and then as Gov. Thompson’s campaign manager during his successful third-term gubernatorial campaign in 1994. Gov. Thompson’s landslide 67% victory was the second-highest margin in state history and the largest margin since 1922. Following the election, Gov. Thompson appointed Bill to serve as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Over the next four years, Bill oversaw economic development programs throughout the state. Bill remains the youngest person ever to hold the position of gubernatorial chief of staff and cabinet secretary.
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!
Season 2, Ep. 2: Maximize ROI by Harnessing Your Organizational Superpower
Melanie R. Varin
Melanie is an author and insightful business leader and change-agent combining strategy, Lean Six Sigma, sales, marketing and international leadership experience to help global teams grow via positive and sustainable change.
Melanie’s book – Ignite Topline Growth: How RevOps and Go-To-Market Alignment Spark Success – was written based on her passion for sales and marketing alignment. She’s experienced the superpower that comes with a great alignment of revenue-generating teams and wants to share that wisdom with others.
Melanie has 25+ years of experience in executive leadership, strategic planning, global marketing, national sales management, channel development, and operations. She has led three significant business turnarounds in Europe and the USA in Fortune 500 companies.
In her current role as Owner and Chief Operating Officer, TopLine Results Corporation, she applies her leadership and process skills to optimize current business operations as well as helping clients do the same. Her passions are developing high-performing teams, sales and marketing alignment, and business productivity. TopLine Results uses technology to bring together the right tools to help clients build positive and valuable relationships. These tools include customer relationship management (CRM) databases and integrated digital marketing platforms. Using the insights gained from these systems, clients can become better versions of themselves and offer improved services to their customers.
Melanie has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and a Master of International Business Studies from the University of South Carolina.
She has been married for almost 35 years to her life and business partner, Fred Varin, and has three grown children: Patrick (married to Rose), Clark, and Stephanie. When she is not working or writing, she loves to travel, enjoy long walks, read, and eat (and cook) fine food, preferably with family and friends.
Third Year in a Row! LSS Named Best and Brightest Company to Work For
For Immediate Release
Lutheran Social Services Named Winner of Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® in Milwaukee for Third Year in a Row
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (April 19, 2023) – For the third consecutive year, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) has been officially recognized as one of the “Best and Brightest Companies to Work For®” by the National Association for Business Resources (NABR). LSS is one of only 15 Wisconsin companies to earn the 2023 award, which goes to organizations that provide “exceptional human resource practices and an impressive commitment to their employees,” according to the NABR.
The Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® identifies LSS as a Milwaukee-area organization that displays “a commitment to excellence and employee enrichment,” areas the NABR identifies and honors as part of the program. Organizations are assessed on several categories, including diversity, work-life balance, communication and many more. Through determination, exceptional leadership, and daily ingenuity, the Best and Brightest like LSS are seen as ideal organizations that “epitomize Better Business. Richer Lives. Strong Communities.”
“I am so appreciative of everything our LSS colleagues do each and every day throughout our two-state reach to serve people who have incredible odds stacked against them,” said LSS President and CEO Héctor Colón. “Because of them, we are able to do this great work now and in the future. They care so much about one another and the nearly 30,000 people we help each year. The leadership team and our board are focused on ensuring LSS is a Workplace of Choice today, tomorrow and for many years to come.”
In 2022, LSS commemorated its 140th year of Servant-Leadership. Across three centuries since its inception in 1882, LSS has empowered people to live their best lives offering a path to recovery, safe and affordable homes, forever families, and independence.
Nominations for the “Best and Brightest Companies to Work For” are accepted across the United States and broken down by various regions. Employees then complete a survey to calculate an organization’s score to compare with its peers in a particular geographic location. Historically about 10% of all nominations received make the winners list.
ABOUT LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES
LSS is called to serve with compassion and courage. Every year, tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan come to LSS with incredible odds stacked against them. With 140 years of proven results as a social service provider, more than 90% of the people served say LSS improves the quality of their lives. For more information, visit LSSwis.org.
Tim Muma, PR Specialist
LSS Hires Mara Dučkens, Strategic Thought Leader Philanthropic Advocate, as Chief Advancement Officer
Milwaukee, WI – Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is pleased to welcome Mara Dučkens as the organization’s first Chief Advancement Officer (CAO) beginning March 23. Dučkens’ proven track record of leading successful multi-million-dollar campaigns within philanthropic circles established her as a recognized leader, mentor, and innovator in the industry.
“LSS has been an organization that has drawn my interest because of its compassionate approach to positively impacting children, adults, and families in need,” Dučkens said. “In fact, it’s the multifaceted programming…that most appeals to me. As the chief fundraising strategist for the organization, helping donors understand the power of the programs within LSS – and their combined impact – will be my top priority.”
Mara’s experience in fundraising has shaped her into a strategic relationship-builder and advocate perfectly suited for the LSS leadership team. It is another step forward as LSS continues its strategic plan around new growth and innovation.
Héctor Colón, LSS President and CEO, and key driver of a multi-year, $30 million turnaround for the organization, explains, “I am excited about working with Mara and LSS leadership to enact a robust philanthropic plan that will yield strong donor partnerships around helping people live their best lives and thrive. Her demonstrated strategic approach to fundraising will certainly grow our capacity to better serve the nearly 30,000 individuals and families that seek support from LSS each year.”
José Olivieri, LSS Operating Board Chair, and Pat Wesner, LSS Foundation Board Chair, agree with Colón, “Mara brings the passion and empathy for others we value and admire in all our colleagues. We are confident in her ability to increase giving for LSS and grow the endowment to support the organization’s important mission work in perpetuity. We are grateful that Mara has chosen to continue her esteemed career with LSS and to support our vision of healthy communities filled with people using their God-given gifts to serve.”
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.”
Héctor Colón Honored to Accept Titan 100 CEO Award
Milwaukee (January 11, 2023) – Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is pleased to announce Héctor Colón, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS), as a 2023 Wisconsin Titan 100. Titan CEO and headline sponsor Wipfli LLP recognizes Wisconsin’s Top 100 CEOs & C-level executives as the area’s most accomplished business leaders in their industry using criteria demonstrating exceptional leadership, vision, and passion. Colón will be honored at the annual Titan 100 awards celebration on January 12th, 2023, at Fiserv Forum and published in a limited-edition Titan 100 book and profiled exclusively online. Honorees also will have the opportunity to interact and connect multiple times throughout the year.
As President and CEO, Héctor Colón has utilized his visionary, Servant-Leadership approach to position LSS for greatness by adapting new models and business strategies to increase impact and viability for
staff, clients and the organization. Before the start of Colón’s tenure in 2017, the organization had not met its budget for four consecutive years. During Colón’s first three years, LSS grew from over $4 million in losses to $8 million in gains resulting in a $12.4 million financial turnaround. Previously, as Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, Colón led several countywide initiatives, including efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, end chronic homelessness, transform mental health care, and end a 30-year waitlist for disabilities services.
“The Titan 100 are shaping the future of the Wisconsin business community by building a distinguished reputation that is unrivaled and preeminent in their field. The group recognizes the Titan 100 for their successes and contributions. The 2023 Wisconsin Titan 100 and their companies employ more than 100,000 individuals and generate $36 billion in annual revenues. “We know that they [WI Honorees] will have a profound impact that makes an extraordinary difference for their customers and clients across the nation,” says Jaime Zawmon, President of Titan CEO.
“What a remarkable honor to be named a Titan 100. Although the recognition falls on one person, I only succeed in serving others thanks to the wonderful people at LSS, who demonstrate compassion and courage through their God-given gifts,” Colón said. “I feel such heartfelt gratitude and respect to be chosen for this distinction by an esteemed organization. It is my pleasure to use this as further motivation to lead LSS to empower the lives of everyone we touch throughout Wisconsin.”
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.
Related LSS Podcast Episode:
Demystifying Social Services: Pathways Beyond Healthcare That Lead to Sustainable Well-Being for All
LSS on WTMJ: Watching, Preparing for Ukraine Refugees
West Allis, WI – As Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan (LSS) resettled around 200 Afghan evacuees in the past six months, many now wonder about Ukraine refugees coming to the United States. With Russia invading its neighboring country, Ukrainians have fled and could seek assistance in America. The LSS Refugee Resettlement team is always collecting supplies, speaking with volunteers and preparing for the next wave of refugees – whenever that may happen.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that refugee resettlement isn’t an immediate response to crisis,” Mary Flynn told AM620 WTMJ radio in this recent interview. “Obviously for the Ukrainians, the first choice would be for people to return home.”
You can hear the whole interview below with Flynn, Program Manager for the LSS Refugee Resettlement program:
Journal Sentinel Offers Insight Into LSS’ Emotional Support of Afghan Refugees
West Allis, WI – For the refugee resettlement team at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan (LSS), the mission goes beyond supplying housing, supplies and resources. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shared recently, Afghan refugees seek relief from trauma, stress and uncertainty. Mary Flynn, Manager for the LSS Refugee Resettlement Program, described an emotional exchange with one refugee.
“She took me by the hand and she pulled me close, and she gave me just the deepest, strongest, most emotional hug.”
To help supply Afghan evacuees with essential needs and basic support, LSS enlists local groups as co-sponsors. These groups, often connected with churches of various denominations, assist in finding and furnishing housing, driving refugees to appointments, and helping cover a variety of costs during their transition and resettlement period.
“It absolutely is a tremendous help,” Flynn said. “We could not have done the work that we’ve done in the past few months without these co-sponsor groups,” Flynn said.
To read the full story in the Journal Sentinel, click on the image below: