Since 1976, we have been a safe place for young people and their families to resolve conflicts and overcome challenges by providing free and confidential counseling, emergency shelter, and housing.
Experts estimate that 1 in 30 children and 1 in 10 young adults experience homelessness over the course of a year. Each young person comes to us for unique reasons. We work with them to identify and resolve problems, decide on safe next steps, and ensure housing stability.
At Time of Discharge
“I’ve learned how to live independently, and am confident I have the ability to get back on my feet.”
“The Center is a great program … and I am really grateful that it was here when I had nowhere to go.”
“I look at things differently, understand more, listen better.”
Meet the Leaders
Audra O'Connell, M.S. - Executive Director
As Executive Director of Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center, Audra O’Connell (pronouns: she/her) empowers her team to help youth and families in crisis overcome challenges they face and when done right, prevents them from ever happening. With her holistic perspective of homelessness, and her innovation-mindedness, O’Connell is a recognized expert in systematic ways to end homelessness, with national speaking credits to her name. She has been outspoken about the need for quality, consumer based service; as well as cross-systems collaboration.
Her career has focused on ending homelessness in Milwaukee with a unique perspective given her direct-service, system creation, and now Executive Director view, helping to ensure each lens is looked at when examining the broader issue. As Coordinated Entry Program Director at IMPACT, Inc., she created and implemented a system in which to enter Milwaukee’s emergency shelter which did away with decades-old “first come, first serve” mentality and based entrance on serving the most vulnerable first. She launched her career at The Guest House of Milwaukee as a housing case manager, eventually becoming a manager of that department.
O’Connell was named one of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Alumni Association’s Graduates of the Last Decade, 2016; Nonprofit Center of Greater Milwaukee & Young Nonprofit Professionals of Milwaukee’s Emerging Leader, 2016; and a 2017 Milwaukee Business Journal 40 under 40 recipient. She serves on numerous boards that look at addressing needs of the homeless in our community. She is currently a member of the Milwaukee Continuum of Care, the Shelter and Transitional Housing Task Force and the Wisconsin Association of Runaway and Homeless Youth. She was formerly in the State of Wisconsin Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness; State of Wisconsin Homeless Management Information Services Advisory Board; Milwaukee Emergency Food & Shelter Program Board; and COPE Workgroup of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division Mental Health Redesign. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee with a B.A. in Comparative Religion and an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Community Engagement and Education. Audra is also a mother to five feisty girls and in her spare time operates an organic farm with her husband.
Mary Pickering- Executive Assistant
Mary Pickering (pronouns she/her) has been with the agency for 43 dedicated years and oversees the financial operations of the agency. Mary is meticulous and prides herself in attention to detail.
She is a Milwaukee native and has been married for 40 years to her husband Duane; and together they have raised two accomplished sons in their careers. Mary enjoys camping and hiking and has done so in many parks throughout the United States and Canada. International travel is important to her and finds it challenging for her physical, mental, and emotional health. Mary has visited these countries: Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, New Zealand, Croatia, Germany, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and the UK.
Tonya Lyons, MSCJ - Certified Youth Advocate, Director of Housing & Crisis Services
Tonya Lyons is the Director of Housing and Crisis Services at Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center who oversees direct service operations for Insights, our transitional housing program and our Teen Crisis and Runaway Program.
Tonya joined our organization in 2017 as a community volunteer, continued her involvement as a graduate intern, and served as the Director of AmeriCorps and Volunteer Programs at our teen shelter. In addition to managing housing and crisis programs at Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center, she also serves as a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services. Tonya holds a master’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Graduate Certificate in Child Advocacy Studies from the University of Wisconsin Platteville. In her spare time she enjoys Esports and knitting.
Rija Rehan - Director of Volunteers & AmeriCorp Programs
Rija Rehan (they/she) is Director of Volunteers and Americorps Programs. They originally joined the organization in 2021 as an Americorps Youth and Family Specialist after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor's in Political Science. She is passionate about community organizing, civil rights, and youth advocacy.
Dr. Lauren Mascari PhD, NCC, LPC-IT - Therapist
Dr. Lauren Hsiao-ling Mascari (pronouns: she or they) graduated with her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in 2021, where she was an Advanced Opportunity Program Scholar. In 2016, she completed her Master of Science Degree in Educational Counseling, with a focus upon Community Counseling.
She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree at the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2008, majoring in Art. Dr. Mascari was selected to nationally serve as a BIPOC Employee Resource Group Leader at Rogers Behavioral Health due to her commitment to social justice and efforts toward eradicating oppressive practices within healthcare systems. Dr. Mascari has received several awards, including: National Register Associate Credentialing Scholarship, 2021; Asher Pacht Scholarship, Wisconsin Psychological Association, 2019; RL & JL Carr Social Justice Scholar, Organization of Chinese Americans – Wisconsin Chapter, 2017. Dr. Mascari specializes with youth and families. They garnered over 15 years of experience working with children and families as a bilingual (Spanish-speaking) case manager, Autism specialist, respite care provider, and behavioral health therapist. She has experience providing individual, group, milieu, and family therapy in Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Programs, In-Patient Psychiatric Hospitals, and a community-based shelter serving youth in the Greater Milwaukee area. Their training is trauma-informed, with an emphasis upon addressing suicidal ideation, non-suicidal self-injury, anxiety, depression, externalizing behaviors, ADHD, ADD, ODD, substance use, and other mood disorders. Primary treatment modalities include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and developmentally appropriate play-based interventions.
Ryan Miller M.S., LPC, NCC -Therapist
Ryan Miller (pronouns: he/him/his) is a licensed therapist at Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center within our Runaway and Teen Crisis Program. He is one of our two therapists on staff and has been with our agency and shelter location since 2013.
Ryan is both a Licensed Professional Counselor and a National Certified Counselor. He earned his master’s degree in Community Counseling at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Ryan is an active proponent for Trauma-Informed Care and has a breadth of experience working with teens and their families through Walker’s Point and his time with a local behavioral health hospital. Ryan has held the position of Therapist and Director of Housing and Crisis Services during his time at Walker’s Point and had also worked within our Family Support and Empowerment program for five years. Ryan has post-master’s degree experience in the Walker’s Point Basic Center Program and has been fully licensed for several years. Along with Dr. Mascari, he currently supervises our graduate level interns. Ryan also likes to play Ultimate Frisbee in his free time.
LaSheena Street - Insights Housing Case Manager
LaSheena Street (most commonly referred to as Sheena) is a bachelor’s level professional that has over 6 years experience working as an Insight’s Housing Case Manger for Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center. Sheena is a proud alumni of Cardinal Stritch University where she completed her Bachelor’s of Science degree and later returned for a Project Management Certification. Sheena is a Milwaukee native, MPS graduate and huge supporter in improving the city of Milwaukee. She has also volunteered and participated with various national and grass-root organizations who focuses on diversity, inclusion and advancement of minority groups. “Impact matters more then intent” is the personal and professional philosophy in which Sheena uses to guides her interactions.
Niema Perkins B.S., CSW, MA - Insights Housing Case Manager
Passionate about empowering and supporting youth, Niema strives to bring stability to the homeless young adults entering our doors. She enjoys going into the community to meet the clients where they’re at, providing direct services, and providing tangible resources that meet clients’ immediate needs. Furthermore, she appreciates the opportunity to build strong connections with the youth we serve and to personally empower and motivate them. With over twenty years of experience working in the social services field, she has held various case management positions at many social service organizations throughout Milwaukee such as The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, Professional Services Group, New Concept Self Development Center, The Parenting Network, Servant Manor, and the Guest House of Milwaukee. She started employment with Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center in October 2009, and is one of three dedicated Housing Case Managers working in the Insights Supportive Housing Program to end homelessness.
Niema has attained an Associate’s Degree in Human Services from
Milwaukee Area Technical College, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Services from Upper Iowa University, a Social Work Certification-Wisconsin, and a Master of the Arts Degree in Professional and Creative Writing from Mount Mary University. The other passion dear and near to Niema’s heart is her love for writing which includes (unpublished works) three screenplays, a novel, and a book of poetry. She wrote and produced a short film in 2018 titled, Twenty-One Flowers, and is currently working on an inspirational journal that she plans to self-publish within the next year.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Niema enjoys getting away, traveling to different states and countries, but also enjoys frequenting different restaurants, social events, and entertainment venues throughout the city. In addition to helping the youth and working on her writing, she enjoys spends quality time with her daughter and hanging with family. Striving to fulfill her life’s purposes, she’ll continue on a journey of helping to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Melinda Castro, MS - Insights Housing Case Manager
Melinda (she/her) was born and raised in MKE and has a strong passion and dedication to giving back to my community. She's very proud of her Latino heritage and can provide Spanish language support. She's worked with families and the homeless population for 14 plus years. Most of her experience has been in Insights program as a Housing Case Manager, a title that includes many hats at one time, connecting and supporting program participants towards self-sufficiency, authenticity, and self-love. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology with an emphasis in sociology and Spanish received from University of Wisconsin La Crosse. Master’s degree in science of management received from Cardinal Stritch University. Avid nature and animal lover. Always ready for the next adventure.
Megan O'Halloran - Director of Communications & Fund Development
Megan (she/her) is all in on helping to build a thriving Milwaukee. She has twenty years of leadership experience in financial compliance, nonprofit, and education spaces. In her current role with Walker’s Point, Megan is working to increase visibility of the organization in the community, strengthen fundraising strategies, and advocate for the youth we serve with elected and community leaders. Megan serves on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors and volunteers on the Street Angels Board of Directors. Megan is the product of a proud union family that valued community service. She first heard Pope Paul VI's maxim "if you want peace, work for justice" at St. Ben’s Community Meal Program when she was growing up. That guiding principle continues to inform her work today. Megan is a proud UWM Panther, part-time soccer mom, and full-time mother of geeks.
Meg Pasternak - President
Amy Boerst - Treasurer
Resource Manager - RSM
Todd Witt - Secretary
Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator - Zablocki VA Medical Center
Directors at Large
Senior VP of Healthcare Client Services - Cielo
Justin Bielinski -
Director of Business Automation - MGIC
Manager of Advocacy Services - Aurora Healing & Advocacy Services
Executive Director -
US Brand Manager-
Riverside Natural Foods
Director of Community Outreach -
Ryan Anderson - Northwestern Mutual
John Barnes – Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
Alan Blaskowski – OneAmerica
Craig Counsell – Milwaukee Brewers
Gail Hanson – Aurora Health Care
Benjamin Levin – Foley & Lardner, LLP
Mary Lux – U.S. Bank
Carole Meekins – Today’s TMJ4
Brett Meili – U.S. Bancorp Fund Services
Gene Mueller – 620 WTMJ Radio
Jim Neubauer – OneAmerica Retirement Services
David Ryan – Foley & Lardner, LLP