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Our Mission

Our mission is to provide safety to the young people of Milwaukee through free and confidential counseling and case management, temporary shelter for youth, and housing for young adults. We provide youth in crisis with an inclusive and stable space where they are empowered to create a safe and healthy life.

Our vision

We envision a Milwaukee free from youth and young adult homelessness and trafficking. We dream of a thriving community that has been designed for and created by our youth. Our role in that vision is to end the stigma around mental health needs and prioritize our youth through access to relevant services and resources regardless of their ability to pay. Our role is to help our young people thrive.

History

Outcome Reports

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At Time of Discharge

“I’ve learned how to live independently, and am confident I have the ability to get back on my feet.”

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Resident Teens

“The Center is a great program … and I am really grateful that it was here when I had nowhere to go.”

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Parent Participants

“I look at things differently, understand more, listen better.”

Meet the Leaders

Executive Director

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Audra O'Connell, M.S. - Executive Director

As Executive Director of Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center, Audra O’Connell (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.

Administrative Team

Tonya Lyons, MSCJ - Certified Youth Advocate, Director of Administration

Tonya Lyons (she/her) is the Director of Administration at Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center who oversees grant compliance, management, data, as well as finances for the agency.

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 and later as our Director of Housing & Crisis Services. Tonya has also served 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.

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 Erik Koepnick - Director of Fund Development

Erik J. Koepnick (they/them) is a seasoned nonprofit professional with a passion for securing resources for organizations serving the most vulnerable to ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Driven by compassion and innovation, Erik has 15 years of nonprofit development experience spanning fundraising, strategic planning, volunteer management, program development, and more. They hold a Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary.

 

As Director of Fund Development at Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center, Erik leads key initiatives in fund development including grant writing, donor development, and most importantly, building relationships to sustain and grow the mission of the organization. They also bring a commitment to antiracism and creating safer spaces that affirm the diversity of gender, sexuality, ability, economic status, and other identities that bring strength and beauty to our communities.

 

Outside of their professional endeavors, Erik enjoys world travel, collecting new skills and experiences, spending time with family, and trout fishing in Wisconsin’s driftless region.

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Shelter Leadership

Kyle Gerych - Director of Crisis Services

Kyle Gerych (he/him) is the Director of Crisis Services at Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center who oversees direct service operations for our Teen Crisis and Runaway Program. Kyle joined our organization in 2023 as a Youth & Family Specialist after serving as a high school student success coach within the Milwaukee Public Schools system. He graduated in 2022 with his Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Northern Michigan University, where he gained a nuanced understanding of cross-cultural values, and how social theories can be applied to drive community development and social change. In his role as Director of Crisis Services, Kyle is committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment where youth in Milwaukee can access the resources and support they need to navigate difficult circumstances. Outside of his professional responsibilities, he enjoys competing on a trivia team with his closest friends, traveling, journaling, reading, playing video games, and taking walks around the city.

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Scarlette Kinderman - Director of Volunteers & AmeriCorps Programs

Scarlette Kinderman (she/her) brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit outreach and volunteer management to her role as The Director of Volunteers and AmeriCorps Programs at Walker’s Point. With a background in building community relationships and managing crisis support services at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and BeLEAF Survivors respectively, Scarlette has honed her skills in outreach, volunteer recruitment, and crisis management.

She holds a certificate in nonprofit management from UW-Milwaukee and a bachelor's degree in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Direction and Management from UW-Parkside. Scarlette's dedication to service was exemplified during her term of service with AmeriCorps NCCC, where she earned The Bronze Congressional Award and The Silver President’s Volunteer Service Award.

 

Scarlette is passionate about leveraging her varied skill set to support volunteers and AmeriCorps members in making a meaningful impact at Walker’s Point. She is committed to fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment where volunteers can thrive and contribute to the organization's mission.

 

If you're interested in volunteering with Walker’s Point, Scarlette would love to connect with you and discuss opportunities for involvement.

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Elizabeth Kurt , M.S. , LPC - Youth and Family Therapist

Elizabeth Kurt (she/her) is a licensed professional counselor in training and is a therapist for the Teen Crisis & Runaway program. Elizabeth has a passion for serving youth and families in the Milwaukee area. She graduated in 2019 with her Bachelor's Degree in psychology from Iowa State University and graduated with her Master's Degree in clinical mental health counseling from Marquette University in 2022. Elizabeth has been serving in residential non-profit roles for over 5 years and is so excited to be serving the youth and families within the Walkers Point community. In her free time Elizabeth enjoys traveling, concerts, reading, and spending time with her friends, family, and cat, Leo. 

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Joanna Geisler, MSW, CAPSW - Youth and Family Therapist

 Joanna (she/her) is a certified advanced practice social worker and is a therapist for the Teen Crisis & Runaway Program. Joanna has served youth and families as a licensed school social worker for the last 4 years. She graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities in 2016 with a Bachelor's degree in sociology, and earned her Master's in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 2019. Joanna has enjoyed working with adolescents in a variety of settings since 2016 including violence prevention, sexual health education, and day and overnight camps. She is passionate about social justice and increasing youth voice and agency within systems that serve youth. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and pets, as well as reading, seeing live music and being out in nature.

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Lindsey Retzer, MSW, APSW - Community Therapist

Lindsey (she/her) works as a Community Therapist. She began working as an Americorps Youth and Family Specialist with us after graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee with a Bachelor's in Psychology with a Childhood and Adolesence Studies Certificate. She then moved away to get her Master's in Clinical Mental Health Social Work along with a graduate minor in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices. After graduating, she moved back to Milwaukee and reconnected with Walker's Point Youth and Family Center. She is excited to be a part of the team again in her new role working within the community.

Lindsey enjoys camping, traveling, rock climbing, and early 2000s movies in her free time. She comes from a big and blended family. She is passionate about social justice, mental health care accessibility, and holistic views on wellness. Her biggest beliefs that show up in her work are: to meet people where they are at and that relationships are the key to change and healing.

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INSIGHTS Housing Program Leadership

Niema Perkins B.S., CSW, MA - Insights Housing Case Manager

(She/her) 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.

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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.

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Shanesha Weddle - Insights Housing Case Manager

Shanesha Weddle (she/her) is dedicated to helping people better their living skills. Giving insight on resources in the community to establish a smoother journey is a passion of hers. Being transparent people and helping navigate through barriers allows them to know there is a brighter light at the end of the tunnel. With hard work and dedication dreams do come true. Everyone needs support along the way and the future you want is in your hands.
 

While working at Northcott Neighborhood House as the Employment Specialist for 10 years she has hands on experience of working with the community at all ages
and on all levels. While working at Job Corps for 1 year as the Admissions Counselor she learned how helping one person may not change the world, but it could change the world for one person.

 

Shanesha has worked diligently in earning her Bachelor’s in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Business Management. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, thrifting, and traveling a few times a year. Staying humble and giving back is the key to living your best life. Being born in Milwaukee, WI has made her the woman she is today.

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Executive Committee

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Meg Pasternak - President 

 Artisan Partners

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David Moldavsky

Vice President

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Amy Boerst - Treasurer
Resource Manager - RSM

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Todd Witt - Secretary
Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator - Zablocki VA Medical Center

Directors at Large

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Liz Bickley

Senior VP of Healthcare Client Services - Cielo

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Lauren Frank
Field Recruitment Leader Officer -Help at Home

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Maria Bozmoski
Atlantic Council

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Gabi Hart

Confronting Mass Incarceration Fellow - 
Milwaukee Turners

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Chrissy Ficks

Director, Product Management - Cisive

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Shyrida Lane

Career Services Manager - 
Social Development Commission

Will Ward

Adjudicator- 

State of Wisconsin, DWD

Advisory Council

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
Chris Nashban
Jim Neubauer – OneAmerica Retirement Services
David Ryan – Foley & Lardner, LLP

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