Empowering Older Americans to Age Their Way

May 2, 2022

Older adults play vital, positive roles in our communities—as family members, friends, mentors, volunteers, civic leaders, members of the workforce and more. Just as every person is unique, so too is how they age and how they choose to do it—and there is no “right” way. That’s why the theme for Older Americans Month 2022 is “Age My Way.”

Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the celebration of Older Americans Month. This year’s theme focuses on how older adults can age in their communities, living independently for as long as possible and participating in ways they choose.

While “Age My Way” will look different for each person, here are common things everyone can consider:

  • Planning: Think about what you will need and want in the future, from home- and community-based services to community activities that interest you.
  • Engagement: Remain involved and contribute to your community through work, volunteer and/or civic participation opportunities.
  • Access: Make home improvements and modifications, use assistive technologies and customize supports to help you better age in place.
  • Connection: Maintain social activities and relationships to combat social isolation and stay connected to your community.

This year, we are excited to celebrate Older Americans Month with our partners in the aging community. Follow along throughout the month to find resources on aging in place, addressing gaps in care in rural America and connecting people to vital services.

First up is our Strength & Service Series webinar on May 5, where you can learn how to leverage technology based on innovative and timely research from our partner iN2L to improve the quality of life for older adults.

Diverse communities are strong communities. Ensuring that older adults remain involved and included in our communities for as long as possible benefits everyone.

To learn what we’re doing to empower older adults, review our Senior Services webpage. You can also check out the official Older Americans Month website and join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #OlderAmericansMonth and #LutheranServices.

The Multiplying Power of Lutheran Social Ministry

May 27, 2020

Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS)’s School Centered Mental Health (SCMH) program is a magnificent example of the multiplying power of Lutheran social ministry to improve equitable outcomes for children and families. LSS-SCMH utilizes a clinical therapist and family coach team to addresses children’s mental health needs, both in school and at home. Working with two United Community Center (UCC) charter schools, serving children in elementary and middle school on the predominantly Hispanic south side of Milwaukee, the LSS therapist and family coach team began their pilot effort during the 2018/2019 school year.

During the SCMH pilot year, LSS engaged fourteen children and their families in services which corresponded with their selection to participate in Lutheran Services in America’s Results Innovation Lab which focused on their new program. (The value of participating in a Lutheran Services in America’s Results Innovation Lab cohort is over $30,000 for each participating organization.)

LSS’ focus during the Results Innovation Lab was improving equitable outcomes, including 3rd grade reading levels and ultimately high school graduation rates, for children in Milwaukee. LSS knew, based on the data, that 37% of students age 14 and older with a mental health condition drop out of school. They also knew that there were significant disparities in 3rd grade reading level proficiency scores for students in Milwaukee and Hispanic students compared to the overall population of students in Wisconsin. Utilizing a whole-family approach, integrating mental health services with the student’s family and home life, LSS supports families with a range of needs such as parenting skills, employment, homelessness, food access, domestic violence, mental health, addiction, and more. According to LSS, a whole family approach has shown to not only improve academic achievement, it reduces the likelihood of a child entering foster care, and decreases the frequency of truancy and school-based aggression.

Beyond their SCMH program, LSS knew that to truly make an impact on the wellbeing and academic success of students in Wisconsin there would need to be a broad-scale effort to expand access to school-centered mental health services for students across the state. This level of impact was beyond what any one organization could do alone, so LSS engaged a broad group of stakeholders through Partners of Change to advocate for statewide policy change and legislative action. Again, LSS leveraged their participation in the Results Innovation Lab to inform their strategic efforts and engage stakeholders.

Watch the video.

Following the pilot year, LSS was able to double the size of its SCMH program at UCC serving 31 students and expanded to the public school system serving 26 students and has further plans to grow. In support of their efforts, LSS was awarded a $100,000 grant in January 2020 from another Lutheran social ministry partner, We Raise Foundation. We Raise has a unique approach to nonprofit investing – coupling program funding with a variety of value-added services that empower grantees to grow their solutions to scale. As a result of these value-added services, every $1 that donors invest through We Raise multiplies into more than double the benefit to the organizations We Raise supports.

As 2020 unfolds, the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need for mental health services and called for increased service adaptability. LSS is leading the way by quickly adapting their SCMH program to a virtual telehealth delivery model to support both the mental health needs of children and provide much needed support and resources to parents during this challenging and stressful time.

The strength and support of our communities relies heavily on the strength and presence of Lutheran social ministry organizations, like LSS. The multiplying power of efforts to support programs such as School Centered Mental Health to meet the growing needs of children, families and communities shines brightly during what are currently dark times – it also shines a light on the path we need to move forward together.

Today’s Front Line Hero: The Village On The Isle

June 30, 2020

Today’s Front Line Hero is The Village On The Isle, which showed gratitude to the high school seniors employed there by throwing them a prom.

The Village On The Isle (VOTI) is a large retirement community in Venice, Florida, with 450 residents and 300 employees. Many of those employees are high school students, and for the past few months, they have been delivering meals to the 450 residents with smiles under their face masks.

Like other high school seniors across the US, the students working at VOTI have been denied rites of passage like prom and graduation since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close. One of the students was overheard saying that they should wear their prom dresses to work, since they would not otherwise get a chance to wear them.

The student’s idea about wearing their prom dresses to work made its way up the chain, all the way to CEO Joel Anderson. Anderson decided to go even further, and held a prom for the 24 high school students who work at VOTI.

The prom occurred on May 15 and began with a parade around VOTI’s campus, during which the high schoolers rode in golf carts, wearing their prom attire, and residents stood on their balconies to cheer and wave as they went past. Then, the students sat down to a plated dinner, served by the senior management staff at VOTI, which was followed by music and dancing.

Anderson wanted to show gratitude to the high school students who have worked faithfully throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are vested in their lives and proud of their accomplishments and we know that everyone in The Village on the Isle appreciates their care and service to our mission and our residents,” he said.

Thank you to The Village On The Isle for the kindness and gratitude you show to your employees, and for ensuring that the high schoolers working at VOTI got to enjoy a prom experience!

Today’s Front Line Hero: Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois

June 9, 2020

Today’s Front Line Hero is Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, which is speaking out against structural racism, and is dedicated to dismantling inequitable systems in society.

LCFS of Illinois improves the wellbeing of people across Illinois through their children, youth, and families services. They offer programs such as foster care, adoption, and counseling, and their mission is to nurture children and strengthen families in need.

As part of the LCFS Illinois mission and vision, the organization voices a commitment to be color cognizant, “believing in the importance of racial and ethnic differences because of their profound impact on individuals, groups, communities and society, as well as acknowledging the accompanying widespread racism and discrimination in our broader society.” LCFS of Illinois has made a public profession to be a place where explicit, productive conversations about race are welcomed, and advocates for racial justice.

After the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the protests that followed, LCFS of Illinois released a statement about social justice and racial inequity that aligns with their long-standing commitment to being an Anti-Racism organization. LCFS Illinois recognizes the justifiable anger and grief that followed the most recent acts of violence against African Americans in the United States, though this pattern of violence has been present for centuries. In their statement, LCFS of Illinois reaffirmed their vow to work toward dismantling systemic racism in the United States, and professed their intention to affect change within the organization, in the state of Illinois, and around the country.

Thank you to LCFS of Illinois for your leadership and long-standing dedication to racial justice.

New Law Affords Greater Flexibility for Paycheck Protection Program Loan Recipients

June 10, 2020

President Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (H.R. 7010) into law last week Friday. The act provides additional flexibility for recipients of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans by:

  • Extending the original eight-week period where entities needed to use the money to qualify for loan forgiveness to 24 weeks.
    Changing the original 75/25 rule to now require funding recipients to use 60 percent of the money for payroll costs and no more than 40 percent on other costs.
  • Easing the rehiring requirement based on inability to rehire former or similarly qualified employees, or possible inability to return to operations levels, and extending the rehiring deadline to the end of the year.
    Increasing the maturity timeline for new loans to five years.
  • Deferring payments of principal, interest, and fees until the date the lender receives payment for the forgiven amount of the loan, or 10 months after the end of the covered period.
  • Making PPP participants eligible for employee payroll tax deferral.

The remaining PPP funds, which are estimated at up to $120 billion, are expected to be allocated quickly. Those eligible are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. More information about the rollout is expected at today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing, which you can watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET here.

Today’s Front Line Hero: Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan

June 10, 2020

Today’s Front Line Hero is Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan, which recently released a powerful statement about the death of George Floyd and the ongoing struggle for racial equity.

LSS of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan provides a wide array of holistic services, including programming for children and families, people suffering from addiction, refugees, people with disabilities, and seniors. For generations, LSS has been addressing the states’ most complex challenges with the core values to act compassionately, serve humbly, and lead courageously.

LSS President and CEO Héctor Colón demonstrated that courageous leadership with a recent statement he shared with LSS employees, the board of directors, community members, and the media. In the statement, Colón shares his thoughts on George Floyd’s tragic death, and he begins by reading Floyd’s last words as he died at the hands of the police in Minneapolis. Colón says that his heart pains seeing the video and reports of Floyd’s death, as well as the larger story of racial and ethnic disparities that continue to exist in our justice system, healthcare system, and other systems in society.

Colón recognizes that his experience as a person of color differ from the experiences of George Floyd and others in the African American community, but he can identify with some of the racial and ethnic injustices. He relives some of his own experiences with racial injustice, including being needlessly stopped and aggressively searched by the police, having obscenities and racial slurs yelled and him, and being prohibited entry from establishments due to his race.

Colón is hopeful that the country can unite to address complex challenges in our society, and that some good can come from this tragic event. He calls on the viewer to look to systems and policies that foster the conditions in which senseless violence against people of color are allowed to occur, and to act courageously to change those systems. Colón quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He encourages us to peacefully seek justice, and to act compassionately in the fight for racial equality.

Thank you to Héctor Colón and all the staff at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan who continue to act compassionately, serve humbly, lead courageously, and stand in support of the infinite worth of black lives.

The ADA at 30: Reflections on a Landmark Law

December 8, 2023

July 26 will mark the 30th anniversary of President George H. W. Bush signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a hallmark piece of legislation that calls for equal treatment for people with disabilities in America. The 1990 act safeguards the ability of people with disabilities to live independently and with dignity by expanding access to opportunities in the workplace, in transportation, through government programs and services, and in other important aspects of daily life.

This groundbreaking law was a long-overdue extension of civil rights to one in four Americans. Using the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a model, the ADA has been described as the most comprehensive disability rights legislation in U.S. history. The ADA affirmed that the skills Americans with disabilities bring to their jobs are no less valuable. According to the Department of Labor, the ADA explicitly prohibits discrimination in job application procedures, hiring, advancement, termination, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. More importantly, the act was the first of many key decisions over the last three decades to advance the rights of people with disabilities by asserting the value of every human being within society, from the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. ruling in 1999 to IDEA just two years ago.

The ADA was, fittingly, drafted in the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C., where the offices of our national network are currently located. The 21 member organizations of the Lutheran Services in America Disability Network seek to continue the protection and advancement of disability rights each day by working together to advocate for person-centered support and improvements to long-term services and supports for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our national network actively works with individuals with disabilities — from rehabilitation services and work programs to respite care and independent living — in dozens of states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They passionately strive to promote the recognition and respect of the many people they serve.

Thirty years on, the ADA continues to act as a cornerstone for working toward equity for Americans with disabilities, today and in the days to come. Its provisions become all the more important in times of upheaval, such as what we collectively find ourselves immersed in during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, we must go even further than the ADA in the days ahead. We call for the U.S. Senate to take several actions in its next relief package that focus on the needs and priorities of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including:

A 10 percent increase in funding for home- and community-based services
Classification of direct support professionals as essential workers, thereby making them eligible for increased wages through the “Heroes Fund”
Additional funding for the Public Health & Social Services Emergency Fund to ensure appropriate relief for community disability providers.
Such much-needed improvements will help ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout America can thrive and reach their full potential.

Héctor Colón’s Five Essential Virtues to Life and Leadership

September 10, 2020

In his new book “My Journey from Boxing Ring to Boardroom: 5 Essential Virtues to Life and Leadership,” Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan president and CEO Héctor Colón outlines the guiding principles for achieving greatness — while serving the needs of others. Achieving greatness takes courage, Colón stated recently, and as a former boxing champion, he knows all about courage. “There is no greater courage than entering the ring.”

Colón would take the bravery he needed to stare down fear in the ring and bring it with him to make a difference in the nonprofit sector. After all, it takes courage as a leader, he said, to do the right thing in making tough decisions that will ultimately serve people with better outcomes and ensure greater viability for the organization. His advice for his fellow CEOs in the nonprofit sector: strive for greatness with humility and magnanimity, do something honorable and serve others, and be willing to fail along the way. “Failure is okay, as long as we learn from it.”

Colón’s book is available to purchase on his website HectorColonMKE.com and on Amazon (paperback or Kindle ebook).

By Héctor Colón, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan

On a summer day in 1982, when I was nine years old, I came home crying and with a bloody nose.

The blood still drying on my chin, my father demanded to know what had happened. With tears in my eyes, I repeated what a neighborhood boy, Adam, had told me: “We don’t want you here. Spic, n―. Leave our neighborhood now!”

The challenges I faced as a young Puerto Rican boy in Milwaukee — racism, bullying, gang violence — could have easily pushed me in the wrong direction. My family’s struggles — my father leaving to Puerto Rico when I was twelve and my sister’s addiction to drugs — changed me in ways that I will never fully understand. As a result of these and other factors, my Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score is six. According to research, this would indicate that I have a 1,200 percent likelihood of having depression and a 200 percent likelihood of committing suicide.

The person I am today was shaped by these trials but also by the first tentative steps I took into the boxing ring and the decade of hard work that followed. I recall being pushed in front of a mirror and shown some basic boxing combinations by my coach, Shorty. He turned to my father and said, “Héctor is a natural. He will become a Champion.”

He was right. I ended up becoming a seven-time National Champion, traveling all over the world with the US National Boxing team. I was favored to go to the 1992 Olympics until my dream was shattered when losing in the Olympic Trails to Jessie Briceno. I was devastated. What hurt most, and continues to hurt even to this day, is that I wasn’t focused for the most important opportunity of my life.

Nor did I hear from the big-time promoters. I was painfully searching for purpose. On December 27, 1992, I bought my first Bible and gave my life to Christ. Six months later, I fought Jessie Brecino; this time, I was focused mind, body, and spirit and I knocked him out in the first round for the U.S. Welterweight Championship.

At the same time, my faith was deepening. I was beginning to feel conflicted. I found myself torn by a verse from First Corinthians: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God, and that you do not own yourself . . . Therefore glorify God with your own body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20). I pictured myself in the ring hurting someone who was a temple of the Holy Spirit. I also imagined hurting myself and I decided to leave boxing.

My journey continued with challenges, low expectations by others, set-backs, opportunities, and successes. Undeterred, I applied the same dedication, determination and discipline that it took to become a champion boxer to my new life striving for excellence in everything I do, whether it be as a husband, father, or CEO.

My Journey from Boxing Ring to Boardroom: 5 Essential Virtues to Life and Leadership” depicts my challenging childhood, international boxing success, to my rise to the President and CEO of one of the largest non-profit organizations in the Midwest by living out the following virtues:

  • Magnanimity — striving for greatness
  • Humility — putting other first
  • Courage — willing to face your fears
  • Perseverance — never giving up
  • Temperance — practicing restraint

This book is packed with actionable and powerful approaches to living and leading. I hope to inspire young people, as well as entrepreneurs, leaders and those looking for hope and direction in an ever changing and challenging word.

This book will bring out the champion in you!

Results Innovation Lab Informs—and Challenges—Beacon Award Winner Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen to Improve Results

July 22, 2021

Statistics tied to children and youth in foster care indicate a reality that is painfully clear: the child welfare system is producing disparate outcomes. Barely half of youth in foster care graduate from high school by age 19. Just 3 percent go on to earn a college degree. Many youth who age out of foster care find themselves instantly homeless, and the data consistently indicate worse outcomes for youth of color.

Lutheran Services in America is working to reverse these trends by seeking out new approaches that better fit the reality of the circumstances. Using new strategies grounded in data, our network is seeing tangible results through our Results Innovation Lab that address the deep inequities found in America’s child welfare system that have a disproportional—and significant—effect on people of color and their communities.

The Widening Gap

Analysis of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system paints a stark contrast of outcomes for youth of color. Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen leads a team at Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota that is hard at work to improve end results for the BIPOC community. “If you are a Native American youth, you are 10 and a half times more likely to be arrested as a juvenile than you are if you’re white,” said Rebecca in an interview with Lutheran Services in America. “For African American youth, they are three and a half times more likely than white youth to be arrested. So, you can see that those disparities really jump out.”

Rebecca knew before joining the Results Innovation Lab that reducing racial disparities within the child welfare system would remain a key focus. “In South Dakota, 23 percent of our juvenile population are non-white, but when you look at actual juvenile arrests, you see that over 53 percent of juvenile arrests are happening for youth of color,” she said. “Our work was designed to help us look internally, but then also look closely within the juvenile justice systems where we operate to see how we can we improve outcomes and reduce existing sizable disparities.”

Examining Data through a New Lens

The practical benefits of the Results Innovation Lab became apparent during the drafting of LSS’s annual outcomes measurement report that covers outcomes from the organization’s services across South Dakota. “We’[d] never disaggregated data by race for all of our programs,” Rebecca said. That changed for the 2021 report where the team disaggregated at least one outcome measure in each service line. “This is an example of how we’re now able to take everything we’ve learned in the Lab and through our work with Lutheran Services in America, and transform how we do our work.”

The group’s participation within the Results Innovation Lab paved the way for evidence-based techniques to reduce re-arrests for black and Native American youths. Last fiscal year, there were “1,100 youth who avoided re-arrest as a result of participating in our programming,” said Rebecca. The Lab, she said, helped ensure LSS staff were on the same page when working toward outcomes for children and families. “We also appreciated how we could look at valuable data and indicators through the Lab that we knew would help us understand more fully any successes we’re having for different populations within our programs and then expand those successes.”

Building Partnerships

The Results Innovation Lab’s collaborative nature extends beyond its cohort meetings. Rebecca believes that the Lab’s greatest value stems from bringing together members of LSS’s staff who focus on juvenile justice to craft solutions together as a team. What’s more, the team is collaborating with other key stakeholders outside of the organization to make a difference.

“We’re taking a high action and high alignment approach internally, and one that’s also working in alignment with our external system partners, such as our State Attorney’s office, the juvenile defender and school resource officers, who are ‘all in,’” she said. “Working in concert with our other external stakeholders and partners to try to help make change happen is critical.”

Eye on the Prize

Ultimately, all parties are laser-focused on achieving one overarching goal: equity. The demonstrations across the country last year led LSS to double its resolve. “The events [in 2020] helped catalyze this work for us,” Rebecca said. “The Results Innovation Lab gave us a set of tools that we can consistently rely on and use.”

Rebecca and her team have measurable goals—goals she believes they can meet. “We’d really like to get to 90 percent of the youth we serve avoiding re-arrest,” she said. That would be an increase from the mid to high 80s.

LSS’s success is a success for the entire Lutheran Services in America network, each member organization working to support and help advance collective knowledge and experience through collaboration. Rebecca’s expertise and exceptional leadership opened the opportunity for her to facilitate learning and coach her peers within the Lab, for which she won a Lutheran Services in America Beacon Award alongside her colleagues Beverly Jones of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois and Amanda Krzykowski of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Rebecca is well respected among her peers and the facilitators in the Lab for her experience working to transform the juvenile justice system in South Dakota, her deep understanding of results work, and her unwavering commitment to youth and families. For Rebecca, the relationships she has made in the process has been a huge highlight of her experience.

“I’ve been able to form really meaningful and deep relationships with other executives and leaders within Lutheran Services in America member organizations. And these relationships are only growing,” she said. “We share a common language, a common approach and a common passion for making a difference for youth and families . . . I applaud Lutheran Services in America for pushing in this direction and sustaining these efforts!”

Learn more about the Results Innovation Lab and the exceptional leaders moving it forward.

By the Lutheran Services in America team

When Will It End?

August 12, 2021

Only two months ago, it seemed that life was starting to become more normal. People were getting vaccinated, families were gathering, in-person board meetings were planned, indoor dining was expanding, and there was a sense that while the pandemic was still with us, there was a growing light at the end of the tunnel.

Now we’re seeing a surge of COVID in pockets around the country, restrictions are back in place in many areas, and in-person meetings are being replaced once again by Zoom. Lutheran social ministry organizations are continuing to face tough challenges such as breakthrough infections among vaccinated staff and residents, whether or not to mandate the vaccine, and how to cope with the acute staff shortages that we face across the country.

Sometimes it can seem endless.

It must have also seemed endless to Job. His wealth and livelihood were wiped out in one day, he lost all of his children, and he was physically afflicted.  Even worse, his friends and community insisted that it was all his fault. It’s painful to read about the blame and guilt they placed on Job. And yet while broken, Job persisted in his faith declaring “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15), and in his process of discernment, he gained a greater understanding of God declaring “For I know that my Redeemer lives and at last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25).  In the end, Job’s suffering was alleviated and his fortune was restored in abundance.

We don’t know when the pandemic will end. But as a community of faith, we walk by faith knowing that our hope is in Him and that we will not be disappointed.

By Charlotte Haberaecker, President & CEO