Meet Our Honorees!
Wanda Montgomery remembers when her family lived in the Hillside Projects and she has never forgotten her roots, or those people who helped her along the way.
“In 1967, my parents were finally able to move us from the projects. They had strived to do that for a while, but with a family of our size, finding a place with enough room for everyone was challenging,” said Montgomery.
Growing up with seven siblings, plus a ‘bonus’ sister (someone the family never legally adopted, but she became part of the family), it was difficult to find a house with enough rooms to accommodate this large family.
“Finally, my parents found a home on Martin Luther King Drive, next to what was then St. Gall’s Church that was owned by Dr. John Terry. His office was located in the front part of the house, but the back part had a large kitchen, dining room and enough bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate us. At the time, we had no idea that my mother would one day start a day care in that facility, in the offices once occupied by Dr. Terry,” said Montgomery.
In 1972, Montgomery and her oldest sister graduated from high school (Montgomery had attended summer school and advanced to her older sister’s grade level), her mother announced that she was pregnant. It was during that time that her mother, Mrs. Gray, also decided to start a daycare center in the home.
Montgomery enjoyed living in that home for three years before heading off to college. She graduated from Riverside High School, attended UW-Madison as a freshman, and then completed her Bachelor of Science at UW-Milwaukee. She later attended Marquette University and received a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy.
When Montgomery married, all three of her children attended Gray’s daycare until they were 12 years old. By that time, the Gray’s Childcare had 14 different locations. It was also during this time that MATC issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for onsite evening childcare for all four of its sites. On behalf of Gray’s Childcare, Montgomery responded to the RFP and the center was selected as the successful daycare provider.
“My mother said, since you wrote the proposal, you will need to come and oversee it. From that point on, I began overseeing every aspect of the program, including the training and looking at ways to improve the quality of Gray’s programs. I also helped my mother become accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and we also consolidated all our programs into one location, on Teutonia Avenue.
In 1998, Montgomery decided to look for other opportunities to advance her career. She left Gray’s to take a position with Neighborhood Housing Services, supporting first-time homebuyers. However, in 1999, Montgomery’s mother decided that she wanted to retire, so the Board of Directors at Gray’s invited Montgomery to return as executive director. Since Montgomery knew the business, she agreed to return and stayed there until 2003, when her mother decided she wanted to come out of retirement.
“I thought that was great for my mom, but I knew that both of us couldn’t lead the same organization, so I offered to find another position. I put some ‘feelers’ out and ended up at Maximus—a W-2 program, working as program manager on their new north side location,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery oversaw that region, with a staff of 300, supporting children and families. She also served on various community-based boards and committees.
“Some board members approached me about a position as the executive director at Children Family and Community Partnerships, which was supported by Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. I interviewed and received the position,” she said.
Montgomery held the position for the about three years when, once again, she was approached to help build a team around a special project to increase the number of foster care homes.
“I took on the challenge and within five months we quadrupled the number of foster care homes. Around that time, Children’s Hospital brought in a new Executive Vice President and he told me he wanted me on his team. I’ve been doing the work that I do at Children’s Hospital for seven years now,” said Montgomery.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has the overarching vision of helping the community have the healthiest children in the nation.
“We must ensure that all children, but specifically Black children, have the best education, housing, and support systems. It’s important for me to be in the room and at the table to support our children and, ultimately, support our families,” said Montgomery.
Passionate about her work, Montgomery is also one of the founding members of the Black Child Development Institute-Milwaukee Affiliate (BCDI), a national organization that celebrated its 20-year anniversary last year.
“The work of the BCDI-Milwaukee blends perfectly with the work that I’m doing with children’s hospital. Our goals and visions are the same,” she said.
In addition to her career and serving on numerous boards, somehow Montgomery recently found time to run a successful political campaign. This year, she was elected to the office of Trustee in the Village of Brown Deer.
“I’ve never run for public office, but I’ve helped others campaign, in various capacities. This is my way of continuing to serve my community. I live in Brown Deer, which is right across the street from Milwaukee. Brown Deer has a mentality of being a small village. I see clearly that we’re a community that occupies 4.5 square miles, but we have two major governmental bodies—the school board and the trustee board. We need to work together. Children’s Hospital is already doing programming in Brown Deer and, with my connections, I think I can bring a wealth of resources to our community. We don’t have the resources to save ourselves, but we can learn to play nice with others to bring in those resources and partnerships,” she said.
With such a grueling schedule, Montgomery has learned to make time for work-life balance as she passionately pursues opportunities to help others.
“First, I’m a believer, so before I do anything, I pray about it and talk with my family. I trust that God will give me the things I need so that I can accomplish all that I’m involved in—with excellence. God has connected so many different people to me already. For the past three months (during the campaign), I’ve been running non-stop, but I set aside a weekend each month for myself—to decompress. Secondly, my family keeps me grounded. My husband and I will celebrate our 45thanniversary this year. We do some fun things, but we all need to rest on a regular basis. I also take care of myself. I come home at night and I go to bed at a decent time,” she laughed.
In The Milwaukee Community Journal’s Year of the Child, Milwaukee is grateful for the care, compassion and commitment that Montgomery has for her community, but especially for the quality of life she is determined to provide for children and families. She can rest well at night, knowing that she has given her best to help others. She has, indeed, come a long way from Hillside Projects, and she strives to see others make it out as well.
After graduating from Brown Deer High School and enrolling into the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, it didn’t take Toshiba Adams long to realize that a career in accounting didn’t suit her. After one year, she switched her major and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Educational Policy and Community Studies.
“Accounting was just not for me. I’m glad I was able to change my major and take courses that would ultimately allow me to teach at the college level. This is where I’ll be for the rest of my life. This is who I am,” she said.
Born and raised in Brown Deer, Adams is the middle child born to Bazel and Jesse Stewart. She has a younger sister and an older brother and sister.
“My parents were great role models. I grew up in a traditional family. During high school I played basketball and ran track (her team actually qualified and participated in State competition twice), and worked at what was then M&I Data Services through my school’s co-op program,” said Adams.
After college, Adams married and when her first son was born, she and her mother collaborated to open a childcare center on Milwaukee’s northwest side.
“I didn’t want someone else caring for my son during the day. Starting the daycare allowed me the opportunity to raise my son and earn an income. I love helping young people grow and develop. Healthy child development has the capacity to impact a child’s entire life. What a child does and experiences in the first couple of years is so important,” she said.
Adams went on to study Early Childhood Education, earning a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also taught at UWM for three years and worked for several community-based organizations until she was offered a full-time position teaching at MATC. She is currently completing her doctoral studies in Urban Education and expects to graduate in December of 2018.
When Adams was hired by MATC as an instructor, her family sold and closed their childcare facility. From 2012 to 2017, in addition to being an Early Childhood Education Instructor, Adams also assumed the role of Curriculum Coordinator for MATC’s Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) department, helping to develop and coordinate professional development courses on teaching and the use of new technology in the classroom for MATC instructors. ER&D is a professional development initiative sponsored by MATC and the American Federation of Teachers Local 212.
In this role, much of the work that Adams did centered on anticipating the needs of the college in terms of instructional technology tools, innovative teaching methods and cultural relevance. Adams’ work in teaching technology in the classroom ranges from instruction on Blackboard, the college’s standard online teaching and organization tool to designing videos, using Skype, video streaming, voice thread, social media, and computer games— any cutting edge tool available to help keep students engage in learning.
Adams is noticing that more students—of all ages—are taking Early Childhood Education courses at MATC.
“Most prospects are applying to complete our associate’s degree program, which usually takes three to four years. Some are coming right out of high school, while others are career-switchers; we get them from 18 to 60 years of age. Lately, through MATC’s Promise Program, we have been enrolling younger students,” said Adams.
MATC’s Promise program provides free college tuition for area high school graduates who meet program eligibility requirements. The MATC Promise assists area high school students achieve their dream of attending college and prepares them for the workforce.
“What’s most rewarding for me is coming into the classroom the first couple of weeks and seeing the students nervous and apprehensive, but halfway through the semester the light bulbs begin going off. I can feel their excitement as they make the transition from novice to competent students. It’s also gratifying to witness students achieving their goals. I enjoy attending graduations twice a year. I realize that education is a vital part of their lives and for them to be able to acquire that education means that they are better able to take care of their families. I’m always happy to see them achieve their milestones,” said Adams.
Adams said that the national landscape changes in the daycare arena have also prompted some of the increase in the number of students pursuing early childhood education certifications and degrees.
“In addition to the changes that are occurring on a national level, there are several state requirements in Wisconsin related to early childhood education. The State of Wisconsin is requiring more education—particularly among daycare centers working on YoungStar requirements. Childcare facilities are requiring workers to be more qualified and, overall, they are better informed. Of course, the downfall is that these early childhood educators are not being compensated at the same level as the education requirements. I wish they could be better compensated for their work. As a previous daycare facility owner, I realize that working in the classroom is a lot of work. You have to be passionate about the work because you’re not compensated at the level that you should be,” she said.
These days Adams juggles her jobs as Instructor and Instructional Chair along with being a wife to Vincent, her husband of almost 22 years, and mother to her children, Isaiah 21, and Ariel 19, both of whom attend MATC. She also has two ‘bonus’ sons, 25 and 33, and four grandchildren.
“The days fly by,” she said. “It never feels like work to me because I’m doing what I enjoy. I don’t know how I’ll ever retire. I get a good feeling about what I do each day, so I rest easy at night,” she said.
In her spare time, Adams enjoys traveling with family, reading novels and scholarly articles related to education.
“I know it sounds peculiar that I read scholarly articles on education in my ‘down’ time, but I’m always looking for innovative ways to enhance education for families—especially families of color. I want to ensure that educational opportunities are equalized for everyone, so all communities can promote their social, economic and academic status. I try to determine ways to better support individuals who are striving to make a better life for themselves and those they love,” she said.
Tonya Johnson, All Saints Catholic
Tonya Johnson, of All Saints Parish is a Multi-parish Director of Administrative Services at several Catholic Churches, has always loved three things—family, faith and singing.
“I was born and raised in Milwaukee as one of four siblings. Our parents, George and Sandra Johnson, gave us a strong faith foundation and a sense that we need to live for others which continues to be part of our lives today. We sang in the choir and were engaged in other church youth programs, not because our parents forced us, but because we loved church. I find it odd that today children have a choice about attending church. We grew up with prayer and church as an integral part of our lives because that’s just the way things were. Church and family were important to us,” said Johnson.
She participated in Milwaukee’s Chapter 220 program, graduating from Alexander Hamilton High School in Milwaukee. Johnson went on to graduate from Mt. Mary University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then earned a Master of Science degree in Management from Cardinal Stritch University. She attended St. Francis de Sales Seminary’s four-year lay ministry program, receiving a certificate in parish ministry from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Johnson was a commercial loan supervisor when, in 1993, her husband died in a tragic automobile accident. After recovering from this tragedy, Tonya was promoted to personal banker and later, branch manager of a major bank. Longing to meld her business finance background with her spirituality, she began volunteering on church committees.
“I served on the Finance Council and people kept telling me that my skills could be useful within the church. I began volunteering in the office of a Catholic parish. This ultimately, in 1999, led to a new, more fulfilling career path and a full-time job in church management,” said Johnson.
In 2011, Johnson began working at All Saints Catholic Church as Director of Administrative Services. She currently is the Multi-parish Director of Administrative Services of four parishes—All Saint’s, St. Michael’s, St. Rose and St Martin de Porres Catholic churches in the heart of Milwaukee.
“I have to credit the Very Rev. Father Timothy L. Kitzke, Vicar for Urban Ministry and mentor for helping me to grow as a leader and encouraging me to take on this challenge. He promoted me to this multi-parish position,” she said.
Empowering others to share their gifts and talents with the church and helping the community are among the things Johnson most enjoys about her position.
“We have outreach programs that include food pantries, a hot meal program and other ministries that serve hundreds of poor and hungry daily in our church neighborhoods. I work best in the background. As an administrator, I can empower and free others to carry out their ministry in other areas. Seeing our programs succeed, expand and provide people with much needed assistance is fulfilling,” said Johnson.
She is particularly proud of developing All Saints Parish as a host site for employment programs —the Department for Vocational Rehabilitation program that assists people with disabilities become employable and the SER-National Senior Community Service Employment Program that works with senior citizens—helping them enhance their skill sets to re-enter the job market.
“We’ve partnered with agencies such as Milwaukee Works, training people so they can return into the workforce and helping them become employable so that they are able to contribute to society. They can get their self-esteem and confidence back. It really feels good to see them move on, better prepared to meet their life goals. Knowing that I had a part in that and empowering others makes me proud. Being invited into a person’s life and teaching life skills that can be passed on to their children is just pretty awesome,” said Johnson.
She has also been able to make a difference in the lives of youth.
“When I worked at Mary, Queen of Martyrs Church I had the opportunity to teach children to become cantors, leading the congregation in song. The church leaders asked for my help because many of the youth were African American and unfamiliar with traditional Catholic Mass music. I introduced gospel music to the Mass and just being a role model to them helped. I watched them become full participants during Mass and not just youth sitting there bored. They were leading their classmates and the parish community, soon it became cool to clap and singing along.
“Children don’t often get opportunities to see positive Black Catholic role models and interact with them so closely, but these children walked past my office window before and after school. We sang together at school masses. At the end of the day, they saw me walking home because we were neighbors. I’ve been able to model for them successful leadership as a follower of Christ. Children need to see that in people they know,” said Johnson.
While she has no children of her own, Johnson is very close to and proud of her nieces and nephews. She enjoys spending quality time with her family every weekend.
“I have a niece that I’m very close to. She’s earned her master’s degree and works in administration at Milwaukee Public Schools. She has a son—my great-nephew—Noah. I have two other nephews—one that I raised and the other that has blessed me with my great-niece, Nala, for whom I am grateful and proud of as well.” said Johnson.
While she may not have children by birth, Johnson has given birth to creativity, inspiration, faith and much more, to so many in our community. Indeed, she embodies the character and faith that Milwaukee’s youth need as we celebrate this Year of the Child.
Mrs. Tonya C. Evans
First Lady of Greater Mount Eagle Baptist Church, Racine)
Tonya C. Evans grew up in Flint, MI, the only child born to Kenneth and Harriet Scott. She lived in a middle class household where her mother worked as an educator for more than 33 years and her father was the Director of a program called Model Cities. When funding for the program was cut, her father decided to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. Witnessing her father’s response to adversity helped shape her life forever.
“I was in elementary school when he lost his job. My father had always aspired to become an attorney. He used this opportunity to return to school and get his law degree. This allowed me to see someone who had goals and aspirations and took advantage of opportunities as they came. It doesn’t matter how or when these opportunities arise, you must be prepared to seize them. Seeing him graduate from Texas Southern Thurgood Marshall School of Law was a proud moment,” said Evans.
Evans graduated from the Flint Public Schools and attended Grambling State University where she earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English. After that, she went to law school for a year, but decided that was not ‘her cup of tea,’ so she returned home to Flint. She began attending her home church, Foss Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, and eventually married her husband, Keith, who was an Associate Minister at the church.
“I was acquainted with my husband because his mother was my volleyball coach in high school, but we never dated before then. When I returned to Flint after college, we became reacquainted and started dating,” said Evans.
Evans’ first job out of college was working with the Girl Scouts, recruiting girls from urban areas to join the organization. For about nine years she worked with girls, encouraging them to join the organization because it was not a traditional choice, especially for girls of color. She developed special programs to gain their interest and keep them involved with the organization so they would be able to take advantage of some of the educational opportunities available to advance their college experience.
Following her employment with the Girl Scouts, Evans worked for Mott Children’s Health Center, which provided medical, dental and mental health services to uninsured and under insured children in Genesee County, MI. She managed in-school health clinics, providing physical and mental health services to children and their families. Evans remained there until 2002, when her husband assumed the pastorship of Greater Mt. Eagle Baptist Church in Racine.
After moving to Racine, Evans accepted employment as program director with the Cooperative Extension of Wisconsin’s Nutrition and Education Program. She left that position to eventually become the director of HeadStart for the Racine-Kenosha Community Action Agency. After three years, she moved into her current position of Director of Milwaukee Enrollment Services for the State of Wisconsin. In this position, Evans and her team are responsible for determining individual eligibility for FoodShare, Medicaid and childcare for the residents of Milwaukee County.
“The work I do is fulfilling. I believe it’s the work that God intended for me to do—supporting families so they can be successful. I’ve been working with at-risk or disadvantaged families since completing college, and working with agencies to help them determine a vision and strategy to reach underserved communities in a more efficient and effective manner. Generally, when I first come into those agencies, they’ve been undergoing some change or difficulty and I help guide them through the change or difficulty, while implementing strategies to help them better implement the good work they are doing,” said Evans.
She acknowledges that sometimes there is a fine line between the work she does with government agencies and being the First Lady at Great Mount Eagle Baptist Church.
“Working in a governmental agency where your religion and values can come up against the policies you implement can be challenging. Sometimes people’s expectations of who they think you are because of your title as First Lady, creates issues. For some reason, people think that because you are a First Lady, you are obligated to allow them to do pretty much what they want.
“Some women have aspirations and dreams of being a First Lady; that was never my goal. In fact, I didn’t join church until I was 16 years old and didn’t really develop a true relationship with Christ until I was about 25. Growing up, my parents were not regular churchgoers, though they are now. I’m often amazed and I’m in awe of what God can do if you submit your life to Him. He can change your direction in a heartbeat. I never saw myself where I am now and it’s sometimes a struggle,” she said.
In addition to her demanding career and duties as a First Lady, Evans and her husband have a 15 year old daughter, Michaiah, and an adult ‘bonus’ daughter, Jasmine, who lives in Utah and has a doctorate degree in physical therapy.
“It’s a struggle. She’s a teenager, and she is 100 percent teenager, so we get everything that comes along with that. We try to help her develop a healthy relationship with Christ, get along with her peers and stand on the values that God expects of her—that’s a full time job alone. It sometimes becomes tiring, but you keep going and when you need a rest the Lord will provide,” she said.
Evans is also a much sought-after motivational speaker and facilitator.
“My husband was acquainted with Pastor McVicker at Christ the King Baptist Church, so when we first moved to Racine, Pastor McVicker asked me to speak at a Women’s Conference. He was familiar with the strategic planning work I had done and wanted me to do the same for Christ the King. I had also met Karen Waddles, from Illinois, at a different Women’s Conference, and we developed a relationship. She had a scheduling conflict for a speaking engagement and asked if I would speak in her stead. Through word-of-mouth, those two connections have exposed me to several audiences in Wisconsin and Illinois, and things just picked up from there. It’s God exposing me to people and opening doors for me,” she said.
Even though juggling her schedule can sometimes be challenging, Evans finds her life rewarding.
“Like most First Ladies, the interaction we are able to have with the congregation and the community, along with the opportunities to witness up close and see those ‘aha-ha’ moments as a result of a message or teaching is awesome! When people share their relationship they have with Christ with you and you see how they have grown, it’s amazing. It’s like being on the Mount of Transfiguration; I regularly get to see people transformed and become their best selves. I count it a blessing and a joy to be able to witness that first hand,” she said.
First Lady Tonnie Boston, Lamb of God MBC AND BLOOD CENTER
Tonnie Boston grew up in Milwaukee. She was born to a teen mom and raised by her grandparents, who stressed the importance of education. While she was active in extracurricular activities such as the drill team, dance team and captain of the pom-pom squad, after graduating from Rufus King High School, it wasn’t until college that she got a taste of the ‘real world.’
“I attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during my first two years of college. Apart from trips to Tennessee with my grandparents, I had never traveled anywhere. To say that I was in a state of shock, is an understatement. I literally felt that I was experiencing another culture; like I wasn’t even in the United States anymore, but I loved every minute of it—the classics, football games and Mardi Gras,” said Boston, with a laugh.
Boston returned to Milwaukee to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, earning a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. While finishing her degree, she worked full time at M&I Bank, starting out as an entry-level teller, but rapidly climbed the ladder to become a personal banker. During her last year in college, she was required to do an internship, so M&I placed her in their corporate marketing department, where she was employed full-time as an intern.
During this time, while attending school full-time and working full-time, Boston who grew up attending church with her grandmother, became increasingly uncomfortable with herself.
“I was always an achiever. I was disappointed that it had taken as long as it did for me to get my degree, and while I had advanced in work, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I started attending church regularly and began experiencing Christ for myself for the first time. This was new for me. I felt more vibrant. I got involved with the Young Adult Ministry and reconnected with a young man that I had grown up in church with, but he was two years younger than me. When they’re younger, you kind of dismiss them, but now he’s my husband,” she laughed.
Boston believes that God had her husband, Christopher, right there in her midst all along.
“It wasn’t right for me at the time. I had always said I didn’t want to live in Milwaukee, but God brought me right back here and my life really started to come together,” said Boston.
After graduating, Boston remained at M&I in the corporate marketing department. During this time she also began falling in love with her now husband, who shared with her his call to become a preacher.
“I had to come to terms with that—I hadn’t signed up to be a preacher’s wife, but by this time I was in love with him. I was feeling pigeonholed in my job. I was facing a lot of barriers, so I began looking for other career opportunities. I wanted to expand my horizons, learn more about public relations and experience broader ranges of writing,” said Boston.
She ended up at North Milwaukee State Bank as a branch manager, and from there she worked short stints for G Communications and Zizzo Group. Each position helped her hone her marketing, writing and communication skills. For a time, she even started her own small company, helping clients develop marketing campaigns.
“I did that for a couple of years, but it just wasn’t sustainable for me. I knew we wanted to start a family at some point, so I began looking for full time work,” she said.
Boston said that she searched for the right career path for about two years. During this time, she also experienced some life challenges.
“I had a couple of miscarriages while I also searched for more fulfilling career opportunities. It was a time where I had to depend on my faith. I went to several interviews, always advancing to the final interview stage, but I never got the job. Then, Ways to Work offered me a marketing position. I had only been there a short time, when I learned I was pregnant with twins. I went into early labor at 29 weeks, and Ways to Work extended me time that they didn’t have to. It was just the Lord. They valued me and the work that I brought to the table, and I’m so very grateful. I ended up staying with them for four years,” said Boston.
During this time, Boston’s husband had advanced in different roles in his career, as director of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Churches Allied for Hope) and then LISC-Sustainable Communities. Eventually, he accepted a position as pastor at Lamb of God.
“One day, he received an invitation from the Blood Center to attend a faith-based information meeting at the Blood Center. He had a scheduling conflict, so he sent me. I attended and learned about organ and tissue donation. Prior to this meeting I had never considered organ donation and I certainly didn’t understand all that it involved. This meeting opened my eyes to a lot of things. After the meeting, I ended up spending time talking with the event organizer. I left that meeting thinking ‘I want to do something like what she does’. I took the information back to church and we decided to participate in their faith-based program.
“After about a year, the Blood Center sent a notice about an employment position for a community outreach person with their organization. It was the same role as the person I spoke with during that faith-based event. I applied for the position and got it,” she said.
These days Boson is in her element. She has developed and coordinates initiatives to educate people—particularly the African American community—about the merits and necessity of organ and tissue donations. Typically, African Americans are among the lowest ethnicities to become organ and tissue donors. One of the first things Boston did was set out to find out why. She hired a consultant to conduct focus group—asking more than 50 questions at each of three focus groups.
“The people were so engaged in the discussion that the facilitator could barely respond to all their questions. We learned it’s not that necessarily that African Americans are against organ and tissue donation, they want to learn more about it in their own environment,” said Boston.
Based on information obtained during the focus groups, Boston developed a program called CODE R (Churches for Organ Donation Education and Registration).
“We sit down with people, in THEIR environment, and have experts, doctors, and other people at the table, to talk about organ and tissue donation and respond to their questions. Previously the Blood Center registered 30-40 donors a year. Last year, we registered almost 100,” she said.
Their program also has ‘give back’ components. Youth that show an interest in becoming donors may be eligible for scholarships, churches that sign onto CODE R receive free tickets to annual gospel concerts, and participating churches receive $1,000 for their outreach ministry.
Through the Blood Center, Boston has found a unique way to mesh her vocation with her faith. She also finds time to remain involved in her sorority—Alpha Kappa Alpha—working with the debutante ball each year to help young ladies with etiquette skills, teaching them community responsibilities and business skills, and then introducing them to the community.
With all that’s on her plate, Boston still manages to devote her love, time and energy to some of the most important people in her life—husband, Christopher, and their six year old twin boys, Terak Christopher and Caius Torrie.
Dr. Tondelenia (“Toni”) Shaw, St. Matthew CME
Dr. Tondelenia (“Toni”) Shaw was born in rural Alabama. She is the oldest of three children, who grew up in an environment where both parents worked and believed in structure and discipline.
“My parents only had a high school education, but they both believed in pushing us to go as far as we could go academically. Church was not an option—we had to go. I attribute my academic success to their upbringing. I have always excelled in school and today I’m an educator,” said Dr. Toni Shaw.
After graduating from high school in Alabama, Dr. Shaw first attended Stillman College. While she was there, she met her husband and got married. After having her first child, she returned to school, attending the University of West Alabama (formerly Livingston University), and received her bachelor’s degree in Special Education.
“My husband is a pastor in the Methodist Church, and we are assigned to churches one year at a time. In 2006, he was promoted, we moved to Illinois. We ended up staying in that area for four years, so while we were there, I earned my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Olivet Nazarene University,” she said.
Once again, the Shaws were assigned to another church; this time St. Matthew Christian Methodist Church in Milwaukee. They have resided here since 2010. Since moving to Milwaukee, Shaw decided to return to Olivet Nazarene University and has earned her doctorate degree in Ethical Leadership. She currently teaches writing to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Pilgrim Lutheran, a Milwaukee charter school.
“I enjoy being able to invest and pour into the lives of students. I try to make sure that I am the resource and support they need to be successful. Even though I see them face challenges on a daily basis—some that I can help with and others that are out of my control—just being a ‘safety net’ for some of these scholars-is more than rewarding,” said Dr. Shaw.
While she enjoys being in the classroom and working with children on a daily basis, at some point, Dr. Shaw would like to work on the administration side of education.
“I know that I don’t want to always be in the classroom. I look forward to being able to apply the knowledge that I’ve gained while earning my master’s and doctorate in a broader capacity. I enjoy developing curriculum and one day I would love to do that—particularly on the Special Education level. I also want to be in a leadership role to affect policy and changes to help our students become more successful and maximize their academic experience,” she said.
As First Lady of St. Matthew Christian Methodist Church, Dr. Shaw said that she tries to balance her spiritual and academic roles as carefully as possible.
“My spiritual life is just as important as my academic life. For me, Sundays are not negotiable—not just because my husband is Pastor, but I’m a believer. That’s my day to be restored and renewed, so like anything else, I have to be intentional about my spiritual life. I participate in services and give, so that I can receive as well. I need to feed that Spirit part of me,” she said.
Dr. Shaw’s youngest sister, who is also an educator, attends St. Matthew as well.
“I helped my sister with our Back To School Rally, but most of the time, there are people who take on those roles within the church, so that I don’t necessarily have to take charge of those responsibilities. I’m at liberty to pop in to see how things are going and I do that, but others take on those ministry roles and do the heavy lifting,” she said.
Dr. Shaw is grateful that, teaching in a parochial school, she is able to bring her faith into the classroom.
“This is my first teaching job where I’ve been able to freely express and embrace my faith in the classroom. In the public school system I could quietly (internally) and silently pray for children, without them knowing, but as a believer and a Christian we see situations where we can’t pray, and that’s always my first thought. Here, I can do so openly and through intercession.
“I have taught in the public sector and prior to taking this position, I had interviewed with the public school system. The school where I’m currently teaching is a smaller sector, but teaching at Pilgrim Lutheran has been a nice change,” she said.
Dr. Shaw and Pastor Shaw have two sons, Richard and Trentyn. The youngest attends Alabama State University, and the oldest has taken a semester off from attending the same college. He is 23 years old and the father of the Shaw’s first grandchild, ‘Miss Ava,’ as Dr. Shaw affectionately calls her.
Dr. Shaw said that she is pleased to receive the award during the Milwaukee Community Journal’s “Year of the Child”.
“We work really hard to be good stewards over what God has given us and for someone else to recognize that is a blessing. I am grateful to God and humbled. This award makes me want to work even harder. I stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me. I want to do well, so that my children and grandchildren can see the rewards of our labor,” said Dr. Shaw.
While he was already busy in his role of Chief Clinical Officer at SaintA, since his interview with Oprah Winfrey on “60 Minutes,” Tim Grove has been inundated with requests for information and presentations. You might say Tim and the SaintA team are in high demand because of Oprah’s ‘golden’ touch.
The “60 Minutes” segment was inspired by a groundbreaking, five-part 2017 Journal Sentinelseries by John Schmid, “A Time to Heal,” which mapped the impact of trauma in the urban center of Milwaukee, one of the nation’s most impoverished cities. Marquette’s Law School sponsored the Journal Sentinel’sseries through a research fellowship from the Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.
Grove is responsible for the implementation of SaintA’s trauma informed care philosophy and practice. That includes overseeing the implementation of Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model of TherapeuticsÔ(NMT) across all agency programs and creating the Seven Essential Ingredients (7ei) trauma informed care training curriculum.
With more than 20 years of professional experience in a variety of direct care and administrative positions, Grove is a mentor with the Child Trauma Academy, a master trainer in ACE interface, and a former CPI and Mandt instructor. He and the SaintA team provide training and consulting to a broad range of disciplines in trauma informed practices, including in-home services, foster care, treatment foster care, residential treatment, child welfare, community-based services, quality improvement and staff development. Simply stated, SaintA is in high demand for its breadth of knowledge and expertise in working with children and families that have suffered traumatic experiences.
According to the report by the Journal Sentinel, “In Milwaukee, the nation’s third most impoverished big city, trauma researchers contend the seeds of distress were planted years ago when the current generation of adults were children. They say that new seeds are being planted right now. That revelation is beginning to shift how Milwaukee and other cities respond to social and economic decline. It also is prompting researchers to explore why some who are exposed to childhood trauma emerge undefeated — and whether their resilience can be coaxed out of others and even scaled to entire neighborhoods.”
Grove credits one of his high school teachers—Mrs. Bucknam—for instilling in him the notion of becoming a psychologist. While he was inspired by his teacher, he jokes that he ended up on the social work path because ‘six years of school was more appealing than eight.’ Regardless, many children and families in Milwaukee are grateful for the seed planted by his teacher.
Originally from Iowa, Grove earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, prior to attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a master’s degree in social work. Upon graduating, he moved to Racine for about 3-1/2 years before moving to Milwaukee.
These days, even though Grove spends the majority of his time training others, he continues to work directly with kids and families.
“I try to stay grounded to the edge of the work by working with clients. At SaintA, we do a lot of work with the trauma informed care program, with the goal of trying to help children and their families find a path to healing.
“The work we do is incredibly real, and we are probably dealing with people who are the salt of the earth. The clients that we serve generally don’t have a lot of pretense. They are clearly struggling and they are in tremendous pain. On the other hand, there are tremendous possibilities in this work as well,” said Grove.
“It (the work) makes a difference. For example, there was a young boy living with his grandmother. She sought our services trying to understand his difficulties, so that she could help solve his challenges. Our approach led to a unique, different and powerful outcome.
“The grandmother said that no one had ever packaged the problem in such a way that she could see and understand his issues. To be able to see and experience what happens when that grandmother processes this information and, through enough repetition, begins to see that her grandson is getting healthier, makes the work we do all worthwhile. That’s just one of many stories that we are connected with every day and one of the encouraging pieces of what we do,” said Grove.
The work that Grove and SaintA does to help children and families is daunting, sometimes heartbreaking, and the suffering can take its toll on those working with the families. Thankfully, Grove has found ways to decompress and remain whole.
“Golfing is near the top of my list of ways to decompress. Some people find that remarkably ironic because golfing can be just as frustrating. I also lean quite heavily on my wife, family and colleagues, and, for me, there’s a strong religious outlet. I’m very active in my church community. It keeps me grounded,” he said.
Grove is also buoyed by the camaraderie that he’s seeing among various Milwaukee entities. He calls it ‘an unprecedented coming together for the good of the cause’.
“It’s worth noting that there’s an untold story happening here. The Milwaukee community is rallying around the topic of trauma informed care in a way that’s pretty unique. It’s really nice to see the efforts that are occurring to pull this together. People are wholeheartedly engaged.
“For example, Mike Lovell, from Marquette University; Reggie Moore, from the Mayor’s Office; Michelle Bria, from Journey House; and the folks from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, just to name a few. There’s a coming together that’s pretty unusual in America. Most of the stories we hear—particularly in the nonprofit community—are about competition, but there’s a real potential for collaboration that will be vital to Milwaukee’s transformation. Something is about to ‘pop’ in a good way and it’s fulfilling to be a part of that,” said Grove.
He is convinced that the strides that are being made in trauma informed care are long-term and will make a difference in the lives of children and families.
“I would argue that the upward trajectory of positive change in Milwaukee has started; it’s beginning to occur. You never really know (for sure) until you look back with a little objectivity. I’m not being dismissive of the myriad of challenges Milwaukee faces, but it’s difficult to recognize the beginnings of an upswing, when you’re in it. The question is ‘can this momentum be maintained and can we stretch it out and prolong it’. My hope and prediction is that in five to ten years people will look back and say, ‘Wow…This is really great!’ I believe we’re in the early stages of this evolution,” he said.
Grove insists that he’s not alone embracing that perspective. He said that after more than 20 years of working with some of the most challenged and disenfranchised families in Milwaukee, his perspective is practical and grounded. He said everyone loves a ‘comeback’ story and what’s happening in Milwaukee is a compelling narrative when you consider the rise from such a dark place.
“In large part, one of the reasons I feel that we are making a comeback is that the financial resources are there to help make a difference. Milwaukee has always invested in the community, but there are challenges around how those resources are distributed. The community has a lot more to do in terms of equity for all our citizens, but Milwaukee is one of the more charitable cities. There are opportunities for us to continue to identify collective ways to make an impact, and we are working with groups that can create a collaborate synergy around these efforts,” he said.
Grove hopes that five years from now, SaintA is more connected to partnerships under the banner of resiliency and trauma informed care.
“We are actively seeking community partners to join in this effort, toward the goal of a more vibrant and healthy Milwaukee. It’s a unique niche. We need teachers, foster parents, police officers, staff at organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, mentors; all these people can play important roles to help promote a different and more positive trajectory. There are some really neat partnership opportunities in the community.
“My vision for the future is that our work is connected with Milwaukee’s transformation. We’ll see,” said Grove.
Indeed, we will see and thanks to the commitment, insight, expertise and dedication of Grove, perhaps Milwaukee has a reason to be optimistic as well.
Synovia Moss is one of the fortunate ones; she only needed to look to her parents and close knit family to find role models. The third of four children born to Ira and Peggy Hardy, she grew up in a home where there was a legacy of education and excellence, values both stressed and demonstrated. She and her siblings didn’t disappoint. Her drive, ambition and hard work landed her a volleyball scholarship to the University of Southern California. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science from the University of California at Riverside, a master’s degree from California State University-Dominquez Hill in public administration with honors, and has completed her doctoral work in educational leadership at Cardinal Stritch University.
Synovia began her professional career in marketing with IBM and community relations with Anheuser-Busch. She joined the leadership of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), where she had the privilege of working directly with the late civil rights icon, Dr. Dorothy I. Height as National Director of the Black Family Reunion Celebrations, held in seven major U.S. cities (Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Memphis and Los Angeles) with 2.5 million attendees. “Working with Dr. Height at NCNW changed the trajectory of my life and honed my commitment to strategic thinking, civic engagement and community service,” said Moss.
Synovia stayed in California for 20 years and continued to integrate her passion for education, family and community as the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for the School of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University – Fullerton where she designed the award-winning Employee Excellence Training Institute for the college and was the recipient of the Innovative Program Award by the National Association of School Personnel Administrators.
“Eventually I made my way back to Milwaukee for work, and more importantly, to raise my children with a strong work ethic and Midwest values. I also needed the family support system which I had been privileged to receive. It was time to give back to a city that had invested in me and given the opportunity to make a difference, I knew I had a responsibility to do so,” said Moss.
Synovia returned to serve as the Director of Marketing and Special Events at Milwaukee Area Technical College where she led branding and marketing initiatives. She successfully syndicated the gold award winning Redefine Smart advertising campaign and provided oversight of advertising, creative services, media buying, direct mail, website, joint marketing and promotions for the college. She was the first CEO of the Fresh Coast Basketball Classic sponsored by Harley-Davidson to promote historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) via the NCAA sanctioned tournament.
These days Moss is the Director of Community Engagement & Outreach at Betty Brinn Museum responsible for coordinating a national initiative called Vroom.
“Vroom, a national public awareness campaign of the Bezos Family Foundation, is a free parenting app for children 0-5 that prompts simple, everyday moments of parent-child interactions through fun brain-building activities. New science tells us that our children’s first five years are when they develop the foundation for all future learning. During this time a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change, reaching 92% of its adult brain size. Vroom helps to translate the science behind the brain’s executive functions into easy, actionable tips that encourage back and forth interaction between parents and young children to support the healthy development of children. The Bezos Family Foundation is forging relationships with communities, national organizations and systems to adopt Vroom messages and integrate the tools into their work with families.”
The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum became the anchor organization for the Vroom initiative in Milwaukee with the support of the Herzfeld Foundation. Vroom awareness efforts continue to expand nationally and locally encouraging the partnership of states, cities and regions across the country to engage trusted messengers to bring the tools to parents and caregivers. The goal is to layer Vroom where children stay, play, pay and pray.
“Vroom teaches parents and caregivers how every day moments are brain building moments with children and it is an amazing community engagement initiative that has tremendous impact. When parents are empowered to understand that they already have what it takes to be brain builders, and understand the power of their interactions with children, it builds a strong foundation for success for children,” said Moss.
Essentially, parents are taught to follow five brain-building steps: 1) Look at what catches your child’s eyes to see what they’re interested in; 2) follow by responding to your child’s words, sounds, actions and ideas; 3) chat with your child, even if their sounds and gestures aren’t words yet; 4) take turns talking, playing and exploring with your child; and 5) Stretch—extend your child’s thinking and learning by asking follow-up questions. According to this initiative, those are the skills needed for kindergarten readiness that help build a strong foundation in children’s lives.
“We train and prepare community groups and organizers on the science behind Vroom, and show them how to implement the work that they do. We currently have more than 60 community groups/ organizations, 100 child care centers, 150 plus churches and other organizations partnering with us to spread the Vroom, brain-building message. I am to have a larger role with the Vroom expansion throughout the state of Wisconsin. My new job and joy comes from integrating Vroom into systems (health care, schools, child care, regional centers, etc.) so that Vroom is sustainable in Milwaukee and beyond. When parents are empowered to understand that they already have what it takes to be a brain builder, they understand the power to build their child’s brain architecture and capabilities to learn which helps all of our children,” said Moss.
Moss shares that the success she has enjoyed throughout her careers comes, in part, because of the support and ‘village’ she was blessed to have growing up.
“For me, I always acknowledge faith in God, strong support of family/community, unbelievable life experiences and the concept of the village that helped me on my journey. It’s important to remember that when given so much, we must give back. It’s important to talk about how we have to collectively work together, and cross bridges and chasms to work in new ways, in order to get to new outcomes,” she said.
Moss is giving back—to the community and her family—and in doing so, she is proud of the successes that she is witnessing within her own family. Married to husband, Duane, she has two daughters—Camille, who attends Harvard Law School and Kendall, a senior at Clark Atlanta University and recently named Beacon Fellow where she will study abroad in Spain this summer.
“I’m grateful that my children are embracing the legacy of education and excellence that was given to me, and passed down to them. Kendall won a Division I national championship in women’s field hockey at the University of Connecticut, but wanted to transfer to Clark Atlanta because she wanted to broaden her horizons with an historically Black college or university (HBCU) experience,” said Moss who knows that she is blessed.
Sis. Edna Lonergan
Sis. Edna Lonergan, founder and president of St. Ann Center, is one of those icons that don’t need to use a last name. Everybody—especially in Milwaukee—knows or has heard of Sis. Edna—and for good reason. Sis. Edna is a true visionary. She’s one of those people who sees a problem and sets out to find or create a solution. That’s exactly how St. Ann Center came to be—Sis. Edna saw a need and created St. Ann to fill the void.
Through her vision and guidance, St. Ann Center became the first dementia-specific day care in Milwaukee and one of the first fully integrated intergenerational day cares in the United States—serving children, the frail elderly and adults with disabilities, and their caregivers in one home-like setting. Since opening St. Ann Center’s Stein Campus on Milwaukee’s south side in 1999, she has replicated the center at the Bucyrus Campus, which opened in 2015 on the city’s near north side—in one of the poorest and most underserved neighborhoods.
Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, Sis. Edna moved to Milwaukee in 1960 to become a member of the Sisters of St. Francis. A trained occupational therapist, licensed practical nurse, and massage therapist, Sis. Edna has a master’s degree in aging from Northern Texas State University. While she was caring for the older sisters in the convent’s infirmary, she realized that the care the sisters were receiving could benefit others.
“The sisters weren’t relocated to places that were unfamiliar to them. They received beautiful and loving care in their own familiar surroundings. As a result, they lived happier. I wanted to offer that same care to the general public. One day I noticed some old physical therapy equipment in the convent’s basement and even though it was dark and gloomy down there, I spruced the room up, and started inviting others in for physical therapy and massages.
“I also sought funding to care for other elderly individuals through a block grant approved by the Milwaukee County Supervisors and ended up receiving a $23,000 grant. It enabled me to bring four elderly people in for care. Three sisters who were in their 80s that had just retired, offered to help. We gave them baths and occupational therapy, and engaged them in exercise and socialization activities,” said Sis. Edna.
Word got out about the therapy, and more and more people wanted to come to the Center. So Sr. Edna needed to hire more staff, several of whom were mothers of young children. However, when their children were on vacation or off from school, she lost most of her staff.
“Some of these young mothers had children and no one to watch them, so I said just bring your children with you. When they did, I watched the children interacting with the older people and I saw how their faces lit up. They had ‘tea parties’ with the children, read books to them and played with them. Suddenly, the lives of these elderly people had meaning and purpose,” said Sis. Edna.
What really clinched the idea of intergenerational care was the actions of a little girl named Kathy. One of our residents was about to have a Grand Mal seizure, and usually we had someone stand near him to protect him when they occurred. This little girl named Kathy was so unafraid of him, that she jumped on his lap and gave him a big hug, and his seizure stopped. That’s when I knew that I was onto something.
“We had no money, no concept of how to design this type of center and no experience with childcare. I traveled around the country trying to determine if there were other intergenerational facilities in the early 90s that we could replicate. Finally, I said, ‘we are going to have to design this thing and build it, based on what we’ve experienced’,” she said.
For four years, Sis. Edna and a small team worked with an Irish architect, who had studied Frank Lloyd Wright in Ireland. By this time, Sis. Edna had developed a board of directors and they gave her permission to move forward with a capital campaign to build the facility.
“I had never raised any considerable amount of money prior to this, but a board member gave me enough money to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to determine if we could raise $10 million. We gave them a few names and the first person the consultant contacted said he would give one million dollars to the project. Then Marty Stein got involved, helped us find more friends and we built St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care. Since then, we’ve added onto the building three times,” said Sis. Edna.
Money was just one of many barriers Sis. Edna faced and overcame, but she was never deterred.
“When we got ready to apply for state licenses to open the facility, we were told that we could not have children and adults in the same space during the day. That’s how we came up with the concept of having adults on one side of the building and children on the other, with an open, park like setting in the middle,” she said. So when the children left this locked area, it was called an outing, which was required.
It would be an understatement to call St. Ann and Sis. Edna’s intergenerational concept a success. Currently, there is a two year waiting list for children to enter the daycare center and moms ‘who thinkthey may be pregnant,’ come in to get on the waiting list.
“At St. Ann’s we embrace diversity and inclusivity. Diversity is a good thing. We demonstrate that through different cultures, ages, people with disabilities—our children grow up accustomed to this. They are comfortable interacting with older adults. For example, there was an elderly couple at McDonald’s who wondered why a child that attended St. Ann’s was so comfortable approaching the husband who had severe tremors. The child walked over to the elderly gentleman and shook his hand, prompting his wife to inquire about why the little girl was unafraid to approach him. Our children are not afraid because they are exposed to so many differences. A child will sit on the lap of an elderly woman who has no legs. A little girl lost her grandmother and when she came to the Center, she crawled up into the lap of this elderly lady, seeking a surrogate for her grandmother. We have so many stories like this,” said Sis. Edna.
Sis. Edna said that she knew they had to build another center to demonstrate that St. Ann’s was replicable, so that’s what they did—right in the heart of one of Milwaukee’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods.
“We built the Bucyrus-Erie Campus in the poorest area of the city. It’s a beautiful neighborhood but very poor and they don’t have what other neighborhoods have.
This area has the highest need for employment as well, so we made a commitment to hire people from the neighborhood. Today, 95 percent of the people who work there, live in that neighborhood—we made certain of that. We held a huge job fair; about 1,000 people came looking for jobs, and when we opened, we had a neighborhood picnic. It’s a warm and friendly neighborhood. I would love to build another center near Northridge,” she said.
Sis. Edna’s notion of an intergenerational center is so innovative and successful that she’s been asked to give presentations about it all over the world—from Singapore, to Beijing. This November she’ll be traveling to Taiwan to give a presentation.
These are just some of the reasons why Sis. Edna’s name is so familiar. Not only is she a visionary, but she gets things done. She cares, and she never stops giving or serving the community she calls home. Milwaukee residents and its children and, certainly those blessed to have received the benefits of the St. Ann’s community, are all the better for it.