Rev Ellwanger

MILWAUKEE (Oct. 17, 2016)—Interfaith Older Adult Programs is honored to announce that Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, 83, is the winner of the 2016 Social Innovation Prize and will receive $10,000 to continue his work to end mass incarceration, and strengthen families and communities in Wisconsin.

Ellwanger (right) is the driving force behind WISDOM’s statewide Reform Our Communities (ROC) campaign to rebuild Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. WISDOM is a grassroots network of faith communities that works to promote the common good by building diverse communities and encouraging broad participation in the democratic process, according to the ROC Wisconsin website.

“Joe’s belief in the dignity of every human person, and his passion to create a society where everyone is treated with justice, drives his work every day, largely in prison reform, but also in his active support of issues related to immigration, race relations, hunger and poverty, peace, and more,” said WISDOM’s Administrative Director, Barbara Pfarr, in her nomination for Ellwanger.

Ellwanger began his ministry as a pastor of a mixed race community in Birmingham, Ala. After one of his young Sunday school students was killed in the bombing of a black church, he was driven to his career as a pastor in Alabama. There, he worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was intimately involved in the Civil Rights Movement. After nine years, Ellwanger became the pastor at Cross Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, where he worked for 34 years.

Ellwanger said many people are incarcerated for offenses that stem from substance abuse and mental illness; therefore, they continue cycling through the judicial system. He has also stated that Wisconsin incarcerates more people, especially African-American men, than does any other state. Instead of incarceration, his vision is to treat people with substance abuse and mental health issues, enabling them to stay in their homes, communities, jobs and families.

To reform Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, Ellwanger systematically grew the WISDOM network from three affiliate organizations to 10 in order to wield legislative influence statewide, resulting in the establishment of Wisconsin’s Treatment Alternative and Diversion Program (TAD) in 2006. By 2016 he had more than quadrupled the budget for the TAD program. Every $1 invested in TAD yields benefits of $1.93 to the criminal justice system through averted incarceration.

From 2002-2013, Ellwanger traveled the state to establish congregation-based and justice-organizing affiliates of WISDOM. As a result, there are now 12 WISDOM affiliates in major Wisconsin cities all engaged in the ROC campaign. Ellwanger worked with the WISDOM affiliates to push for a state-funded pool of money from which cities, counties, and municipalities could draw to develop programs in their local communities to treat the mental health and substance abuse problems of those who are arrested. These programs include: day report centers; universal screening; drug, mental health and veterans’ treatment courts; pre- and post- intervention; job programs; jail diversion programs; restorative justice programs; crisis intervention; and more.

At age 72, he spearheaded the WISDOM campaign to enact Wisconsin Act 25, which authorizes “grants to counties to enable them to … provide alternatives to prosecution and incarceration for criminal offenders who abuse alcohol or other drugs.”

“Families will be stronger, and communities will be safer when offenders are treated for the underlying causes of their crimes, and when qualified non-violent offenders are released from prison,” Pfarr said. “Pastor Joe has said he isn’t going to quit working on prison reform until at least one major prison in Wisconsin closes due to lack of prisoners.”

Today, Ellwanger is actively engaged in guiding the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) ROC Task Force. He is also involved in WISDOM’s statewide ROC campaign, mobilizing around prison reform issues. He has also written a book, “Strength for the Struggle,” a powerful memoir of insights from his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and urban ministry.

For more information on WISDOM and ROC Wisconsin, visit

2016 Prize Fellow: Sr. Edna Lonergan, OSF, 74
President and Founder of St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care

St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care (Milwaukee) is the only shared-site intergenerational day care of its kind in the nation. Because of an overwhelming need for Sr. Edna Lonergan’s services — she is a nurse, massage/occupational therapist and gerontologist — she worked diligently to open St. Ann Center’s Stein Campus in 1999, an intergenerational facility on Milwaukee’s south side that offered both childcare and adult day care in one home-like setting.

Today, St. Ann Center’s mission is to provide community-based educational and health services to children, the frail elderly, and adults of all ages and abilities, regardless of their ability to pay. At St. Ann Center, both young and old benefit from daily intergenerational activities. More than 50 services are available to clients and the general public, ranging from outpatient rehabilitation to an aquatics program, to art, music and massage therapy.

“One result of this wraparound care has been fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits—and lower health costs,” Lonergan says. “It’s a simple solution to premature institutionalization of older adults. And it’s what people want.”

Most recently, a new $21 million facility, the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care Bucyrus campus, opened in September 2015. Under Lonergan, the Bucyrus Campus in Milwaukee’s central city serves more than 200 adults and children. The site is home to a head start and early head program for preschoolers, and medical and dental clinics. Future plans for the campus include an indoor swimming pool, an Alzheimer’s care program, overnight respite care and a 350-seat band shell, built to promote intercultural arts and provide the neighborhood with a safe, beautiful venue where all ages can come together. St. Ann Center also aims to create 200 full- and part-time jobs.

“It is the hope of St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care to create a whole new social model of community-based care,” Lonergan said. “A new social order for the entire nation: one that provides a non-institutional lifestyle of service, choice, compassion and dignity to multi-aged individuals. One in which children grow up and adults grow older in the best way possible—together.”

The movement Lonergan inspired throughout the community led to the City of Milwaukee winning the title of “America’s Best Intergenerational Community” in 2016. The award recognizes Milwaukee for its leadership and innovation in creating a desirable place to live for all ages. The center also won the State Farm Building Blocks Award at the 2016 Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovations (MANDIs), recognizing it as a real estate project that enhances the community. Lonergan also spoke on the importance of intergenerational care at the United Nations World Assembly on Aging in Madrid in 2002.

Lonergan and her staff are currently laying the groundwork for the 2017 Intergenerational Global Conference & Replication Summit, set for June 13-16, in Milwaukee. The conference will bring together leaders, researchers, educators, elders, youth and everyone who is active in intergenerational programs and education. The replication summit will present a guide on how to create an all-ages day care, following St. Ann Center’s model.

2016 Prize Fellows: Gary Thompson, 63, & Daniel Chotzen, 67
Farm/Food Coordinator & Operations Coordinator, Community Hunger Solutions

Gary Thompson and Daniel Chotzen are social justice innovators who are working to increase community access to healthy food by recovering surplus food from local farms, and delivering it to food pantries and other meal programs. Community Hunger Solutions addresses the social problems of food waste and hunger in America.

In early 2013, a local environmental advocacy group, Valley Stewardship Network (VSN), was searching for an organization to take its program which organized volunteers to harvest excess produce at local farms and provide it to local food pantries. Thompson and Chotzen agreed to take on the challenge.

The duo made use of Thompson’s experience at VSN and Chotzen’s experience operating a business which found jobs for individuals with varying abilities. They incorporated these workers into the project, borrowed a van and continued the weekly harvesting process. Their work generated 8000 lbs. of produce, more than doubling the previous year’s harvest total. And there was more opportunity to grow. Approximately 20-50 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables (roughly six billion pounds) will go unharvested or unsold annually, according to a 2016 article in “National Geographic Magazine.” This shocking amount of waste costs as much as $4 billion dollars each year, at a time when one in seven people in the U.S. suffers from food insecurity at least once per year.

In 2013, Community Hunger Solutions (CHS) became a tenant at the Food Enterprise Center, owned and managed by Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) in Viroqua, WI. The facility offers loading docks, storage and refrigeration space as well as commercial kitchens, all of which farmers can utilize to prepare their produce to go to market. CHS also developed a connection with Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin, which was already picking up food three days a week at the Walmart in Viroqua. Second Harvest agreed to pay CHS $0.08 per pound for fresh produce and purchased a total of 30,000 pounds in the final three months of 2013. CHS paid this money to the five farmers who participated that year, providing income for produce that would otherwise have gone unused. The 30,000 pounds represented almost a fourfold increase in the amount of produce the harvesting program was able to generate.

With this food recovery model in place, Thompson and Chotzen have continued to build community partnerships, expanding the reach and effectiveness of CHS for the last two and a half years.  

Today, CHS’s primary partners are the more than 60 small family farms that provide the (mostly organic) fresh produce, and the 15+ local food pantries and two regional food banks who distribute to those in need. Connecting these valuable parts of the local community is the core of CHS’s mission of “increasing access to healthy food.” This year, CHS is on target to deliver 300,000 pounds of food to more than 300 meal sites in 18 counties. This is the equivalent of delivering 250,000 meals to the food-insecure population of this region, which numbers approximately 200,000 people, including 50,000 children and 30,000 seniors. This project has also supported local agriculture by paying farmers over $50,000 to date for their surplus produce.

The future of CHS involves extending its reach and creating  partnerships with more farmers to recover excess produce from their fields. Thompson and Chotzen will continue to make CHS a sustainable, creative tool for social change by recruiting and mentoring other community members who share their passion. Their leadership continues to inspire others to think differently about the second half of life by getting involved in service that impacts positive change in our communities.


About Interfaith Older Adult Programs
Since 1975, Interfaith responds to the current physical and social challenges of aging by providing innovative programs, successful solutions, and the often much needed extra helping hand. Learn more at

About the Social Innovation Prize
The Social Innovation Prize in Wisconsin honors adults 60 and older who are defying expectations by channeling their creativity and talent to address critical social problems at the local, regional, or national level. This award was initiated by honoring the creative vision and committed service of the late Fred Lindner and those that follow in his footsteps. Lindner’s extensive work on behalf of the elderly, his lifelong commitment to justice and fairness, and his innumerable contributions to the aging network — both locally and statewide — is the inspiration that has motivated the Helen Bader Foundation, The Social Innovation Prize Planning Committee, and the Fred Lindner family to offer this prize.