MCW Community Engagement Spotlight Series
This monthly virtual series features community partners and the important work they are doing for and with the community; highlight their goals, motivations, and accomplishments, and the ways they have partnered with people and programs at MCW; and a chance to hear stories of resilience and inspiration from those who work on the ground – often silently – to make a positive impact on the health and lives of people in our community.
Meet Corey Fells, Black Space | Feb 28 from 12-1 p.m.
Join us for the February Community Engagement Spotlight Series session during the noon hour. We will highlight Corey Fells with Black Space, a community organization that provides free group therapeutic experiences for Black and Brown communities.
Corey Fells, co-founder of Black Space, has a wealth of experience in brand development, team leadership, and cultural organizing. An eight-year military veteran with over a decade of experience in supporting Black and Brown communities through advocacy and cultural ideation, Corey is tapping into another area with the same intent – mental health. His passion for normalizing therapy for Black and Brown people has led him to co-found Black Space in an effort to create free therapy in communities that need it the most.
In an effort to destigmatize mental wellness, Black Space is a safe space for healing communities who have been burdened by economic suppression, racial disparities in and limited access to quality health care, and a lack of culturally competent mental health providers. The organization operates in an inclusive infrastructure with sessions being tailored specifically to individuals who fall in the categories of Black and Brown women, Black and Brown LGBTQ+ community, and Black and Brown men.
This monthly session will be facilitated by award-winning DEI champion, Toni Whitaker. Toni is a program manager in the MCW Department of Radiology who oversees and partners with colleagues on wellness initiatives, promotions, resident educational experiences, mentorship, and DEI initiatives within the department.
We hope you can join us on Wednesday, February 28 from 12 - 1 p.m.!
Tamara Johnson is the executive director of Malaika Early Learning Center. As the executive director, she has the pleasure of leading a state-of-the-art facility that focuses on children from birth through age 8 in its early childhood and elementary school programs. Malaika Early Learning Center works collaboratively with families to establish a strong academic, social, and emotional foundation in the lives of Milwaukee’s economically disadvantaged children, all of whom deserve opportunities for excellence in education regardless of their socioeconomic situations or family structure.
A robust roster of tenants and features will bring the ThriveOn King building to life when completed in early 2024. The historic former Gimbels-Schuster’s building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive will be home to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s headquarters, offices for MCW’s community engagement programs, mixed-income housing for families and seniors, and a first-floor community hub with an exemplary early childhood education center operated by Malaika Early Learning Center, a community hub for Versiti BloodCenter of Wisconsin, new headquarters for JobsWork MKE, community gathering spaces, healthy food options and public art.
The November session of the Community Engagement Spotlight Series highlighted the work of Cydney Key with the ThriveOn Collaboration.
A robust roster of tenants and features will bring ThriveOn King to life when completed in early 2024. The historic former Gimbels-Schuster’s building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive will be home to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s headquarters, offices for the Medical College of Wisconsin’s community engagement programs, mixed income housing for families and seniors, and a first floor Community HUB with an exemplar early childhood education center operated by Malaika Early Learning Center, a community hub for Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin, new headquarters for JobsWork MKE, community gathering spaces, healthy food options, public art.
Cydney is an experienced real-estate management professional and non-profit leader who specializes in supporting non-profits in building and executing operational plans and community partnership strategies. Cydney offers professional experience in community building, property management in commercial and residential settings, organizational capacity development, and community-based programming.
In her role as Senior Director for ThriveOn Guest Experience and Strategic Partnerships, Cydney focuses on the activation and operation of the first floor Community HUB at the future ThriveOn King building, allowing her to create partnerships and a welcoming and inclusive space among tenants, the community, and other stakeholders. Cydney is an experienced real-estate management professional and non-profit leader who specializes in community building, property management, organizational capacity development, and community-based programming.
The October session of the Community Engagement Spotlight Series highlighted the work of Sarah Bassing-Sutton with the Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection.
Sarah serves as the Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection serving Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago Counties for Project Zero: Every 1 Matters. Project Zero is a grant-funded program focused on adult mental health and suicide prevention through systems change. Sarah has been involved in Suicide Prevention efforts across the lifespan since 2012 and has led the implementation of numerous community wide initiatives and programs, including an adolescent suicide prevention program in multiple local school districts, a co-response model and community wide adult behavioral health improvement initiative.
The mission of The Connection is to lead a coalition of diverse stakeholders to champion mental health for everyone in the Fox Valley by addressing barriers, challenging systems, creating solutions, and prioritizing care and support.
The September session of the Community Engagement Spotlight Series highlighted The Wausau Free Clinic, a mission of the First Presbyterian Church with our featured guests: Jeffrey Oswald, MD, Clinic Manager, and Kimberly Shibilski, Clinic Coordinator.
The Wausau Free Clinic was established in 2018 by the founding organizers: Jeffrey Oswald, MD; Jeffrey Todd, MS, CMPE; Paula Vogt, RN; Jane Shibilski; and a small team of volunteers. The driving impetus was addressing the unmet primary care needs of low-income, uninsured people, many of whom are immigrants and people of color.
Initially, the plan was to remodel space in the church, but an invitation to join a proposed community social service "hub" took the team in a different direction. While waiting for the Community Partners Campus to be built, the medical mission team operated in several temporary facilities over the years, including a warming center and a church basement.
Their 2,500-square-foot state-of-the-art medical facility opened in December 2022. All services are provided free of charge by local volunteer doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, support staff, and Medical College of Wisconsin medical students.
Dr. Sebastian Ssempijja (aka Dr. Sebastian) serves in a variety of roles. He is a husband, father, grandfather, son, community leader and builder. These roles have prepared him to serve as a practicing licensed psychologist, a chief executive officer, and the director of Sebastian Family Psychology Practice, where he leads a team of almost 50 individuals in behavioral health care and integrated services.
Dr. Sebastian integrates his academic and professional interests as a collaborator and partner. He is a field placement instructor committed to preparing the next generation of behavioral health and interdisciplinary professionals. On behalf of Sebastian Family Psychology Practice and its local and global partners, he serves as a leading principal investigator to establish a global health collaborative focused on the intersection of mental health, recovery and healing, community well-being, education and consultations. He loves to read, write, spend time and joke with family and friends, and travel. The wind beneath his wings is inspired by the gifts of family, friends and professional team members, as well as the clients and stakeholders he serves.
Meet Jill Van Calster, President, and CEO of HEAR Wisconsin. At HEAR Wisconsin, Jill has a broad scope of responsibilities, including management and oversight of the state-wide nonprofit organization.
HEAR Wisconsin was founded in 1926 with the mission to help infants, children, and adults who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing by providing the support and services they need to live full, successful lives. Each year HEAR Wisconsin provides critical services to thousands of individuals through its Early Intervention Program, Adult Day Services, American sign language interpreting, Assistive Technology Center, and Audiology Clinic. The organization is excited to also bring audiology and hearing conservation services to the community after launching Wisconsin’s first Mobile Audiology Clinic (MAC) in July 2021.
Jill is a successful management professional with nearly three decades of experience serving high-profile nonprofit organizations. She is a success-driven leader with an entrepreneurial spirit and solid business sense for generating revenue by developing and creating innovative business opportunities. Jill attained a Master of Science degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, her undergraduate degree from Mount Mary University, and has held several board positions in the community.
- Learn more about HEAR Wisconsin services
- Volunteer or donate to support their mission
- View Mobile Audiology Clinic schedule
For the April edition of the Spotlight Series, we highlighted the Advocates in Medicine Pathway (AMP) program, an MCW-Central Wisconsin campus partnership creating and supporting a pathway for rural and Hmong students interested in medical school.
Meet Our Featured Guests:
Emma Ceaglske (left) is one of two Advocates in Medicine Pathway near-peer mentors. She is a graduate of the 2022 Cohort 2 AMP program. In December 2021, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in biology from UW-Eau Claire. Emma is applying to medical school and working as an emergency department tech in a rural emergency room in central Wisconsin.
Sheng Khang (middle) joined North Central Area Health Education Center as the education & outreach coordinator in the summer of 2020 to coordinate the pre-med pipeline, Advocates in Medicine Pathway. She has a Bachelor of Science in healthcare administration from UW-Stevens Point. Sheng has lived in central Wisconsin since 1993, has over seven years of experience in education and has over years years of experience in a healthcare setting.
Paul Whitaker (right) is a professor of biology at UW-Stevens Point, based on the Wausau campus. He teaches a course called Wicked Problems in Medicine, a component of the AMP program. The course is also open to interested UW-Stevens Point students.
The Advocates in Medicine Pathway (AMP) program supports the professional development of individuals from Wisconsin interested in attending medical school at MCW-Central Wisconsin to promote a diverse future healthcare workforce built around resilience, relationships and system-based knowledge.
The April Community Engagement Spotlight was facilitated by Amy Prunuske, PhD, associate professor, director of curriculum innovation, Physicians in the Community Pathway, and the Advocates in Medicine Pathway at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Central Wisconsin.
Meet Gaulien “Gee” Smith, founder and owner of Gee’s Clippers, a Milwaukee barbershop making strides with its commitment to the community.
Gee’s MKE Wellness Clinic is a health clinic in the barbershop that provides health care and awareness to individuals in the community. Gee has worked collaboratively with Froedtert Health to support skin cancer screenings and will be supporting colorectal cancer education.
Gee opened the doors of Gee’s Clippers on June 1, 1995, with just 4 barbers and himself and has grown it to a 30-chair barbershop. The barbershop has created community partnerships with the Milwaukee Bucks and numerous other large companies in the Milwaukee area and he and his staff have been the barbers or stylists to hundreds of professional athletes, politicians, and celebrities over the past 27 years.
Gee and Gee’s Clippers are known and respected because of their relentless commitment to the community. Whether giving time, money, or resources to toy drives, coat drives, feeding families in need, or creating safe spaces and platforms, including for men to talk about challenges such as their mental health, Gee is always connecting with the community. Gee’s was the first barbershop in the country to charter a Boy Scout Troop, creating a significant avenue for mentoring. Gee’s Clippers has received numerous awards and recognition for its important work in the city of Milwaukee and across the globe.
To bring awareness to National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the March Community Engagement Spotlight was planned in collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Cancer Center and will be facilitated by Charles Rogers, PhD, MPH, MS, MCHES®, Research Scholar Endowed Chair and the inaugural Associate Director of Community Outreach & Engagement for the MCW Cancer Center.
For the February edition of the Spotlight Series, we highlighted Project ADAM, which has the goal to provide access to comprehensive and sustained Heart Safe School programming to schools across the entire country.
Project ADAM began in 1999 in Wisconsin after the death of Adam Lemel, who was just 17 years old when he collapsed and died while playing basketball after suffering sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), in which ventricular fibrillation occurred, a condition in which the ventricles cannot pump blood into the body. Defibrillation, or an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), could have saved his life.
Adam’s parents, Patty and Joe, teamed up with Children’s Wisconsin to create Project ADAM. The goal in Wisconsin is to help establish emergency preparedness programs in schools, communities, and youth sports programs that help to provide a timely and lifesaving response in Adam’s memory. Children’s Wisconsin serves as the National Office for Project ADAM, which has now expanded to twenty-nine states and thirty-nine affiliate programs.
Explore these resources and take action:
- Learn how to recognize sudden cardiac arrest, perform compression-only CPR and use an AED.
- Explore Project ADAM and Heart Safe Schools by browsing the national website for templates, videos and resources.
- View Heart Safe School map to see if a school in your community is part of the program. If not, contact the WI team to get the process started or learn more.
Meet the featured guests, the Project ADAM team, from Children’s Wisconsin and MCW:
Angel Carter, BSN, RN
Project ADAM Coordinator
Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt
Anoop K. Singh, MD, BCh
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, MCW
Director, Cardiac Electrophysiology &
Program Director, Pediatric Cardiology Fellowship, Children's Wisconsin
Wisconsin & Co-National Medical Director, Project ADAM
Alli Thompson, MBA
Project ADAM WI/National Administrator
Herma Heart Institute
Kathy Verstegen, RN
Project ADAM Advocate
Former District Nurse
Kimberly Area School District
Jodi Wenzel, RN, CPN
Project ADAM Program Coordinator
Herma Heart Institute
Meet Brian Bautista, executive vice president, and chief operating officer for blood operations at Versiti, Inc. At Versiti, Bautista brings a diverse set of leadership and problem-solving experiences to the blood industry.
Versiti is a national leader in innovative blood health solutions with the mission to improve patient outcomes, advance the field of personalized medicine, and strengthen the health of communities everywhere.
Bautista has depth in leading teams and strategic thinking and approaches his 20-year career in health care with a focus on serving patients, providers, and the individuals he leads. He currently serves as the chief operating officer for Blood Operations. During his time at Versiti, Brian has focused on building new capabilities for the operation with a focus on service, excellence, learning & development, and change management. Throughout his career, Bautista has demonstrated a track record of high achievement and delivering results by building high-performing teams and inspiring leaders.
Friedens Food Pantries is a network of food pantries building communities through nourishment. Friedens’ programs strive to leverage food to build relationships and address the holistic needs of community members. Without healthy food access, it is difficult to manage other life needs. Friedens echoes the need to address multiple SDOH (Social Determinants of Health) factors: education, employment and housing barriers, and the threat of violence which embraces their use of the community food center model, leveraging food to build equity and create community. Volunteers and community members arrive at Friedens to give and receive through an equity-building approach, which invites all guests to use their gifts and talents in service of others, regardless of food insecurity status.
Friedens Food Pantries envisions a more equitable world where systems provide all persons, regardless of age or disability, with resources to thrive.
We welcomed Sophia Torrijos, Executive Director; Valerie MacMillan, Program Manager; and Cheryl Ousley, Site Manager from Friedens Food Pantries.
Meet LaNelle D. Ramey, the Executive Director for MENTOR Greater Milwaukee (MGM). Through MGM LaNelle works to increase mentoring relationships by building the capacity of existing mentoring organizations and matching caring adults with children in need through safe, effective mentoring programs throughout Greater Milwaukee.
MGM provides professional development, mentor recruitment, and technical assistance to Mentoring Organizations throughout the Greater Milwaukee community and surrounding areas.
Before joining MENTOR Greater Milwaukee, LaNelle joined Milwaukee Public Schools in August 2017 as one of the Founding Directors of the Department of Black and Latino Male Achievement for Milwaukee Public Schools. LaNelle worked within the district to ensure black and Latino male students are intentionally a part of the district's educational equity strategies for academic improvement and overall life outcomes.
LaNelle has been in the Youth Development profession for over 25 years working with various non-profit and community-based organizations that serve youth. LaNelle has worked with organizations such as the New Concept Self Development Center and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
Mrs. Lea S. Denny is the founder, CEO, and Clinical Director of Healing Intergenerational Roots (HIR) Wellness, a wife, a mother of two, and a community member. She is of Hawaiian & Filipino descent, Hungarian-Jewish, and English ancestry, and her husband and children are Oneida and Ojibwe.
Lea designs, develops, and implements free mental health programming and services for Indigenous and underserved victims of violence. Through HIR Wellness, Lea has developed a shared leadership and decolonized approach to operations that empowers women and cultivates a team of healers in synergy. With this approach, her team can offer direct services, field training and development, internship mentoring, and community-based participatory research to measure and evaluate the trauma-informed, practice-based work that will sustain our communities' healing for the next seven generations.
Lea is dedicated to shifting the paradigm around what is mental health justice, and is steering global health justice on every level and redesigning what mental health service delivery means for all people.
Meet Tou Fong Lee (he/them), the owner of Outkast Alterations, Wisconsin's first Hmong LGBTQIA+ business. He also serves as the community programs coordinator for Diverse and Resilient, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee dedicated to serving LGBTQIA+ communities of color.
Our topic will be LGBTQIA+ youth health disparities and cultural competency. Tou works specifically with LGBTQIA+ allied youth in development, accessibility and creating safe spaces for youth to talk about healthy relationships and anti-violence. During the height of the pandemic, Tou partnered with MCW and the City of Milwaukee Health Department for the Creative Health Collective, providing accessibility and education to the Hmong community on COVID isolation and quarantine protocols. Tou is also currently an active shaman of six years for his Hmong community, practicing ancient healing and herbal medicine.
Al has over 45 years of experience in various human services programs, including child protective services, juvenile services, adult services, teen parenting services and non-profit community services. He currently serves in leadership roles in the Milwaukee Latino Health Coalition and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Minority Health Advisory Committee. Al frequently assists MCW researchers in connecting to the community through planning, developing and implementing community/academic participatory research projects. In addition, Al often helps to mentor young MCW researchers in community-engaged work in the Latino community.
Keeshia Jones is a 3-year breast cancer survivor who believes in advocating for women’s health issues and is committed to providing education, advocacy and support to empower women going through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. She is the current President of Sisters Network® Inc. Southeast Wisconsin Affiliate Chapter which is a breast cancer support group for African American women in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties. The group is part of a national organization committed to increasing local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African American community. She also volunteers as a mentor with After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD) and is an advocate with the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network.
Professionally, Mrs. Jones works at Gateway Technical College where she assists students with applying for financial aid and finding resources to pay for college. Mrs. Jones has dedicated over 25 years helping students navigate the financial aid process and she has a passion for assisting first generation students achieve their dream of attending college. She believes every student deserves the opportunity to pursue their higher educational goals without the stress of financial barriers. Previously, she worked in Financial Aid at Trinity International University and Marquette University before joining the Gateway family.
Mrs. Jones earned a BA in Business Administration and is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies with an emphasis in Human Resource Compliance. She has been devoted to community service and mentoring students; she currently serves on the Kenosha Public Library Foundation Board.
Meet Brett Fuller, Curriculum Specialist for Health and Physical Education for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), and learn how he strives to orient students to a lifetime of physical activity.
Brett Fuller has been the Curriculum Specialist for Health and Physical Education within Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) since 2007. MPS is Wisconsin’s largest district with 166 health and physical education specialists in 158 schools. He believes in improvement of health and physical education programs at the district, state and national levels. He has presented and been published locally, at the state level and nationally on topics ranging from bullying in physical education, sex education, equity, inclusion and diversity. Brett is a former President of Wisconsin Health and Physical Education, and the acting Past President of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America).
Jenny Ovide, or “Nurse Jenny,” has spent 21 years of her career at All Saints Family Health Center as the Community Medical Clinical Coordinator on Milwaukee's north-side, combining creativity, health education, and community engagement. The clinic hosts a garden, greenhouse, workout track, and a collaborative farm with Mount Calvary Community Development Corporation (MCCDC) which is a nonprofit led by Reverend Dr. Daniel P. Czaplewski.
“Pastor Dan” is the pastor at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Milwaukee and works with Nurse Jenny in partnership with Ascension St. Joseph’s Hospital and Ascension All Saints Family Health Center to direct their signature program: Farm to Hospital and Community. In this program, interns are employed to operate an urban farm that provides fresh, naturally grown vegetables to at-risk communities while developing the workforce. Family Medicine Residents and medical students work alongside in the garden, delivering food, assessing patients for food insecurity, and holding healthy cooking/tasting classes in the teaching kitchen.
Nurse Jenny and Pastor Dan find it a humble challenge to listen to the community’s needs and help find ways to tackle the complicated and important issue of food insecurity and its effects on health.
Azure’De Williams joined the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) as the Executive Director in June 2017. She has the responsibility for recruiting and mobilizing a diverse pipeline of healthcare professionals; identifying, cultivating, and securing prospective sponsors and strategic alliances; partnering with advocacy groups to increase engagement within local health care clinics and systems; serve as liaison to governmental agencies focused on diversity and health disparities and managing the execution of MAHEC training programs.
Azure’De Williams received a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Science & Law, Psychology, and a Criminal Justice Certificate from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1997. Next year, she celebrates 25 years working in the non-profit sector identifying two areas she felt most impacted quality of life - Health and Education. She uses her skills in program development, civic engagement, and program evaluation to support efforts in addressing health disparities and achievement gaps. Under her leadership at the American Heart Association, she received several awards including the Cass Wheeler Integration Team Award for her leadership initiatives and improving hospital care and outcomes for minority and underserved populations. Recently, Mrs. Williams received the 2021 MCW (Medical College of Wisconsin) President's Award for her exemplary community-engaged work with MCW and partners.
She is ardent about Community Service while allocating time to be an active member of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church's Sunday School. Azure’De has four children - ages 19, 15, 12 and 8 who are often seen accompanying her on volunteer-related and community service projects. In her spare time, Azure’De enjoys filling up the pages of her passport.
For the last 20 years, Kathy Gale has served as Executive Director for Eras Senior Network, a senior advocacy organization that serves both Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. Kathy is responsible for day-to-day management of the agency including 30 employees and six programs leveraging more than 2,000 community volunteers. Among her many duties, she works to develop partnerships to address system-level changes for older adults and family caregivers.
Kathy’s partnership with MCW includes work through an Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment grant supporting research to implement a scalable system to improve coordination among organizations that interface with caregiving units.
Kathy is an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University of Wisconsin and a third-year doctoral student in the College of Education, Literacy, and Leadership at Cardinal Stritch University researching the lived experience of volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cecilia García is of Mexican nationality and has lived in the city of Milwaukee for 17 years. She is a community health worker and has worked for the Latino community for more than 8 years, seeking basic resources and direct connection with organizations that can provide services to low-income families. Serving her community has always been her passion. When the pandemic started, Cecilia and her family overcame difficult challenges and uncertainty to provide help for many families within her community. The masks, food and diapers that Cecilia collected and distributed became essential for the safety and needs of these families. Cecilia also worked to distribute culturally tailored informational flyers about COVID-19 and facilitated access to healthcare.
“It is hard to describe the level of activity and velocity of the Community Health Workers in responding to the pandemic, working through phone lists, dropping supplies at individual homes, and offering hope and assurance to those in desperate need.” – Zeno Franco, PhD, Associate Professor, Family and Community Medicine, MCW-Milwaukee
Otis Winstead, Jr. is the Executive Director of Great Lakes Dryhootch, a Veteran nonprofit organization based in Milwaukee. Otis is a Vietnam-era Veteran who has dedicated his life to serving the community. His heart can be found walking alongside other Veterans and providing peer support. Over the past several years, Otis has served in multiple leadership roles in the community, including serving as an essential partner with the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"Otis epitomizes the ideal of Community Engagement, continuously advocating for Veterans, for the African American community, and serving as an important thought partner for a number of our faculty." – Zeno Franco, PhD, Associate Professor, Family and Community Medicine, MCW-Milwaukee
With Menominee Indian Reservation roots, Wade Fernandez (Walks With The Black Wolf) is a “deeply authentic” multi-award-winning international touring artist from the Menominee Nation. Both his music and his message are firmly grounded in his Menominee Reservation roots and love for the land, animals, and people. His passion to educate, share music and culture, and honor Grandmother Earth is reflected in his international presentations and work in schools and workshops, with the elderly, the mentally disabled, elders, and youth. Wade is committed to social justice, environmental justice, community health, and promoting the benefits of music and education.
During the recent pandemic Wade was instrumental in delivering COVID-19 messaging and care to underserved communities through film, music, and livestreaming while also delivering basic needs on the ground with the Creative Health Collective. This group of community health workers was supported through the AHW-funded STOP COVID-19 project which focused on community-generated, equitable response strategies to COVID-19, and was facilitated by Dr. Zeno Franco, MCW, and the City and County of Milwaukee.