In the Ring Season 3, Episode 3: “Overcoming Legislative Pitfalls & Partisanship” with State Rep. Barb Dittrich

WATCH NOW: State Representative Barb Dittrich is “In the Ring” with Héctor!

State Representative Barbara Dittrich is a lifelong resident of Southeastern Wisconsin, currently residing in Oconomowoc with her husband Steve as she has for the past 30 years. She graduated from Hamilton High School – Sussex and attended the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

After working in the investment industry for 13 years, Barbara founded a charitable non-profit serving the parents of children with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Barbara served as the organization’s Executive Director for 16 years until the non-profit merged with another faith-based organization where she served as Director of Advancement for one year. She currently serves on the board of directors of that ministry.

Representative Dittrich sits on several committees, including those that directly relate to Social Services:

Committee on Children & Families

Committee on Education (Vice-Chair)

Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care

Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse (Vice-Chair)

She was the first legislator to sign the Education Freedom Pledge and was honored for this with the Inaugural Common Sense Award in 2021 and was named the National Foundation for Women Legislator’s Woman of Excellence in 2019.

LSS awarded $75,000 grant to help meet transportation needs of older adults

LSS awarded $75,000 grant to help meet transportation needs of older adults

WEST ALLIS, Wis., Mar. 13, 2024 – Lutheran Social Services of WI and Upper MI (LSS) is proud to announce it has been awarded the Elderly Endowment Grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Lutheran Services for the Elderly. $75,000 over a span of three years will go to expand and enhance LSS’ volunteer driver program “Make the Ride Happen” as well as its Cycling Without Age program in Waupaca, Outagamie, Winnebago, and Calumet counties.

These projects help to meet the mobility needs of the low-income, older adult population and adults with disabilities, the majority of whom live alone or lack reliable transportation. Each year, the LSS Make the Ride Happen call center receives nearly 3,900 calls from individuals requesting information and assistance with their transportation needs. Volunteer drivers accompany the elderly to medical appointments, grocery shopping, or other errands as needed.

“Transportation is one of the key Social Determinants of Health the older population struggles with,” said Héctor Colon, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services. “By collaborating with transportation stakeholders, human service providers, and private & public transportation providers, LSS is aligning its efforts to improve the health and well-being of the elderly by addressing this key need.”

Elderly populations are often at risk of social isolation, which can negatively affect physical and mental health and well-being. Through these programs LSS seeks to expand dependable and safe ride options. With this increase, LSS hopes these individuals will be able to live independently, engage with others, and remain connected to their communities.

“Our synod includes many rural communities, where lack of transportation can lead to isolation and other challenges, especially for people who are elderly and people with disabilities,” said the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright, Bishop of the East Central Synod of Wisconsin and LSS Board Member. “LSS provides a lifeline and an opportunity for connection to those most in need, and that connectedness is so important to us as people of faith.”

For more information on Make the Ride Happen call (920) 225-1719 or go to lsswis.org/service/disabilities/make-the-ride-happen

 

ABOUT LSS

Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is made up of nearly 800 Servant-Leaders including licensed therapists, professional social workers and counselors, and certified peer specialists located throughout our two-state reach. Every year, our colleagues strengthen families, inspire recovery, and empower independence & belonging for nearly 30,000 individuals and families at every stage of life. Driven by the belief in the infinite worth of every person, LSS provides affordable housing & homelessness services; public adoption & foster care; long-term care & disability services; refugee resettlement; residential treatment for substance use disorder & mental illness; and additional supportive community-based services.
###

In the Ring Season 3, Episode 2: “Flipping the Script” on Héctor

WATCH NOW: Héctor Colón gets “In the Ring” and answers YOUR questions!

You asked and we delivered. This time Héctor Colón is “In the Ring” as guest. LSS Director of Communications Sharon Hudy filled in as “guest host” and spoke with the champ about his experience so far, his goals for 2024, and much more. Here are some of your questions for Héctor:

“What does a workday in the life of Hector look like?  I would think people would be interested in knowing!  Also, perhaps future goals?  There are always the politics rumors…” – Patty 

My workday consists of a mix of strategy thought and development, meeting with direct reports and assisting with key decisions, coaching, setting company direction, relationship building and fundraising. 

 Future goals: Pay our staff at Market or better. I would like to become a leader in our industry for paying our colleagues better.  I would like to innovate new programs that address the true needs of the people we serve through new fundraising dollars. And I’d like to ensure the financial viability of our organization so that it is secured for the next century. 

Where do you see long term care going in the future and where does LSS fit in?” – Kevin

 I see our continued growth in our connections program serving individuals with long term care needs in their home as long as possible.  I envision this as a key program that is part of our growth strategy. 

“What strategies do you believe have been crucial to the success and growth of LSS, and how do you see them evolving in the future? ” – Tara

  1. The quality, diversity, and talent of our board. 
  2. The talent of our Leadership team
  3. The compassion and passion of our colleagues that make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.
  4. Our growth strategy
  5. Our divestment strategy

We need to continue to build on these strategies to ensure our future success.  We also need to stay on top of industry trends to ensure we capitalize on opportunities and are prepared for potential headwinds.

“How would Hector assess LSS progress of being a Workplace of Choice and what actions/items does he think have been the most impactful over the past few years?”  – Susan

 It’s been a wonderful journey to become a workplace of choice.  When I first started, I felt the organization and leadership team were mired in challenge that did not allow them to think past the deficits that existed.  It’s been wonderful to work with the board, leadership team and colleagues to make this a workplace of choice.  I think there are many key points that have been most impactful:

With the amount of homelessness in Wisconsin growing at an exponential rate, is LSS planning to expand our existing programs to areas in need this year? Our area in Wausau, WI Could benefit from current programs such as the Rapids Rehousing/TBRA, HUD, and help from our Support Brokers. This would greatly benefit our existing clients in the Forensic programs!” –  Rebecca 

It’s sad that we live in the richest country in the history of the world and yet we still have homelessness.  So yes, we want to play a role in addressing this through our programs.  Having said that, I’d like to focus more on upstream programs to prevent homelessness by focusing on the broader social determinants of health at birth. 

“LSS has such a large geographic footprint as well as a wide scope of essential services. How have you been able to keep leaders and colleagues aligned and motivated given this?” –  Keri

I believe it’s because our value of co-creation.  We are doing this together, it’s not a top-down approach.  We are also one of the best social service organizations in the country so doing more means we are having a greater impact on those that could benefit from our services. 

“What does Hector see as critical to focus on to continue to engage and retain our colleagues?” –  Susan

“Considering the rapid advancements in AI and technology, how do you see AI influencing or transforming key aspects of LSS operations and strategy in the coming years?” –  Tara

This is a must.  We must not be afraid of this technology.  We need to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible on how AI would help us become more efficient and effective. 

LSS receives $100,000 Vaping Prevention and Treatment grant from Wisconsin DHS

For Immediate Release

LSS receives $100,000 Vaping Prevention and Treatment grant from Wisconsin DHS

Funding will go to programs in four school districts throughout the state of Wisconsin

WEST ALLIS, Wis., Feb. 16, 2024 – Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) was awarded a $105,354 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to reduce and prevent vaping among adolescents, an activity that has seen a steep rise in recent years.

LSS will use the funds over two years to endow programs in three school districts in western Wisconsin and one in Milwaukee County. The project will include three primary programs: small group intervention, parent intervention, and student-led advocacy groups.

With small group intervention, schools will refer students that have struggled with vaping use. LSS staff will lead a discussion using evidence-based education in an environment that empowers change instead of punishing mistakes.

Additionally, LSS will empower parents by providing access to an online support platform. This will give parents resources and education for working with their child to either prevent or stop substance abuse.

Finally, students will have the opportunity to create their own student-led events and programs that promote healthy behavior.  LSS and school staff will support youth in taking leadership roles, and the grant will provide funding for student-led events.  Héctor Colón, LSS President & CEO, believes empowering youth is the key to lasting change:

“LSS strives to support the youth and families in our communities,” said Colón.  “This project allows us to reach youth and empower them to make choices that will set them up for success.”

Colón says the grant is a good start, but stresses more must be done to stem the tide of youth vaping:

“Addressing this issue is going to take effort from a variety of places, schools, parents, and community organizations. LSS tries to bring together as many as possible, but the issue of ease of access still needs addressing.”

Funding for the grant comes from a $14.7 million settlement between Wisconsin and JUUL Labs, a leading manufacturer of vaping devices. The settlement addresses harm caused by JUUL’s predatory marketing practices.

ABOUT LSS

Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is made up of nearly 800 Servant-Leaders including licensed therapists, professional social workers and counselors, and certified peer specialists located throughout our two-state reach. Every year, our colleagues strengthen families, inspire recovery, and empower independence & belonging for nearly 30,000 individuals and families at every stage of life. Driven by the belief in the infinite worth of every person, LSS provides affordable housing & homelessness services; public adoption & foster care; long-term care & disability services; refugee resettlement; residential treatment for substance use disorder & mental illness; and additional supportive community-based services.
###

MEDIA CONTACT

George Kmetty, Public Relations Specialist
George.Kmetty@lsswis.org
262-693-6825

In the Ring Season 3, Episode 1: Changing the “Terrible Truth” with Alesia Frerichs

Héctor Colón kicks off the third season of “In the Ring” with Lutheran Services in America President & CEO Alesia Frerichs

Alesia Frerichs
President & CEO, Lutheran Services in America

Alesia Frerichs is the President & CEO of Lutheran Services in America. Alesia previously served as the chief strategist for the network’s collaboration and innovation efforts. During her tenure, Alesia launched several groundbreaking initiatives, including the Results Innovation Lab, Rural Aging Action Network, Reimagining Diversity Collaborative and other programs that connect national partners with social sector leaders and empower older adults, children, families and others experiencing need.

Prior to joining Lutheran Services in America, Alesia was an entrepreneur who launched and led an independent consulting practice for 10 years, providing strategic management support to nonprofit executives. She also held senior leadership positions at MCI WorldCom and Sapere Consulting. She currently serves on the board of Thrivent Charitable Impact & Investing and the Lutheran Financial Managers Association and is a member of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC.

Alesia earned an M.S. in statistics from The George Washington University and a B.S. in economics from St. Olaf College.

LSS awarded $400,000 Community Impact Grant by the Wisconsin Partnership Program

For Immediate Release

LSS awarded $400,000 Community Impact Grant by the Wisconsin Partnership Program

The non-profit will share part of the grant with its academic partner UWM.

WEST ALLIS, Wis., Jan. 10, 2024 – Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is excited to announce it has been awarded a Community Impact Grant by the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The $482,228 grant is for the initiative “Improving Social Determinants of Health Factors Through Utilization of a Family Coach.”

Social Determinants of Health, as defined by U.S department of Health and Human Services, are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. They are things like income, educations, job security, transportation, childhood development, food security, health services, and housing.

Through this project, LSS, and its academic partner the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, will seek to improve the mental health crisis facing youth in historically impoverished communities in Milwaukee County. LSS will implement family coaching services and community engagement to address these social stressors and structural barriers that contribute to poor health and wellness outcomes.

LSS introduced the family coach in 2018 as part of its School Centered Mental Health program. Family coaches offer direct service to families, including mental health education, skill development, and assistance in navigating social systems to access resources like employment, housing, and food. However, LSS President & CEO Héctor Colón says they do so much more:

“Family coaches are walking, riding the bus, and going grocery shopping with families — to better understand and address their issues like homelessness, job loss, and food insecurity. Family coaches even help with things like enrollment paperwork and phone calls. With these burdens eased, families can focus on other aspects related to wellness, and mental health.”

LSS colleagues know the impact communities have on improving mental health. “This community impact grant allows LSS to bring together members of the community to address the struggles in meeting everyday needs,” said Amanda Krzykowski, LSS Director of Performance and Quality Improvement, “We see the community as the experts, the problem solvers. We want to establish meaningful partnerships that will guide us to help advance health equity in Milwaukee.” Kathy Markeland, Executive Director at the Wisconsin Association of Family and Children’s Agencies (WAFCA) acknowledged LSS’s commitment to innovation and advocacy in the social services sector.

“As a founding member of our association, LSS has long been a force for innovation and a strong voice for the human services sector and the people we serve,” said Markeland “the Family Coach model holds promise for broadening the pathways to meaningful careers in community health – valuable work that is not currently funded through our traditional school, health care and public health systems.”

Over the past three years, LSS has served 240 families in Milwaukee, with 200 of them receiving direct support from one or more of the organization’s programs. Colón expressed the organization’s commitment to addressing the challenges faced by families dealing with mental health issues.

With the Community Impact grant, Lutheran Social Services says it is one step closer to its vision of creating healthy communities filled with people using their God-given gifts to serve. LSS extends its gratitude to the WPP and looks to utilize the grant to make a lasting positive impact on the lives and communities it serves.

ABOUT LSS

Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is made up of nearly 800 Servant-Leaders including licensed therapists, professional social workers and counselors, and certified peer specialists located throughout our two-state reach. Every year, our colleagues strengthen families, inspire recovery, and empower independence & belonging for nearly 30,000 individuals and families at every stage of life. Driven by the belief in the infinite worth of every person, LSS provides affordable housing & homelessness services; public adoption & foster care; long-term care & disability services; refugee resettlement; residential treatment for substance use disorder & mental illness; and additional supportive community-based services.
###

MEDIA CONTACT
George Kmetty, Public Relations Specialist
George.Kmetty@lsswis.org
262-693-6825

In the Ring Season 2 Episode 9: Moving from I/Me/Mine to We/Us/Ours with Mike Victorson

Héctor Colón concludes season two with M3 Insurance CEO Mike Victorson 

Mike Victorson
CEO, M3 Insurance

Mike Victorson is the chief executive officer (CEO) of M3 Insurance, responsible for the strategic direction and vision of the agency, identifying opportunities for growth and innovation, cultivating organizational culture, and serving the community. Victorson serves on the M3 Insurance Board of Directors and is a member of M3’s Executive Operating Committee.

Mike earned degree in political science and speech communication from Augustana College. He joined M3 in 1992 and learned business through a variety of roles in customer service, sales, and sales management. Mike served as vice president of M3’s employee benefits division from 1999-2003 when he advanced to president of M3. Mike was named CEO of M3 in 2005.

 

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.

In the Ring Season 2 Episode 8: Fresh Perspectives on Mental Healthcare with Meg Kissinger

Héctor Colón speaks with journalist and author Meg Kissinger in episode eight of our second season

 

Meg Kissinger
Journalist, Author of “While You Were Out”

Meg Kissinger spent more than two decades traveling across the country writing about America’s mental health system for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her work on the abysmal housing conditions of people with chronic mental illness led to the creation of more than 600 new housing units in Milwaukee. She has been honored with two George Polk awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel.

In 2009, Kissinger and Susanne Rust were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for their work uncovering the government’s failure to protect the public from dangerous chemicals in everyday products. Those stories won the Oakes Award and the National Journalism Award for Public Service.

Before coming to Milwaukee, Kissinger covered criminal and civil courts for The Cincinnati Post and was a general assignment reporter at the Watertown (NY) Daily Times. She was named Wisconsin Watchdog of the Year in 2015. Meg has consulted on projects for Frontline, ProPublica, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Seattle Times and the Solutions Journalism Network, among others.

Kissinger teaches investigative reporting at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and was a visiting professor at DePauw University, her alma mater.

In the Ring Season 2, Episode 7: The Power of Peer Support with Brittany Nessel and Sara Kieffer

Héctor Colón speaks with both Brittany Nessel and Sara Kieffer of LSS in episode seven of our second season

Brittany Nessel
Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Substances Abuse Counselor, Independent Clinical Supervisor

Brittany Nessel has been with LSS for 11 years and has been working in social services since 2006 from Menomonie WI to Minneapolis/St.Paul MN, and even Oceanside CA, before heading back to Eau Claire, WI.

Brittany primarily works in adult treatment for trauma, mental health, and substance abuse. Birttany received her both Bachelors of Science Human Development and Family Studies (2007) and Master of Science Clinical Mental Health Counseling (2010) from University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

 

 

 

Sara Kieffer
Certified Peer Specialist

Sara Kieffer has been employed with LSS since January of 2022 as a Human Services Professional and Certified Peer Specialist in Gaining Ground and a Certified Peer Specialist in Renewed Strength.

Sara got her start by working at Eau Claire Sober Living, a woman’s sober home as the house manager/mentor in September 2020 and was there for two years.

Prior to social services, Sara was in the hospitality and tourism industry for more than a decade which is what she has a BS in from UW Stout. Sara received my Certified Peer Specialist training from WIPSEI (Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative) and certification in April of 2021.