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The impact of Centers for Independence on Milwaukee's communities is still as significant as ever

The CFI in Milwaukee strives to impact the community
The CFI in Milwaukee strives to impact the community

Whether its school meals, mental health services, transportation or other social services, you’ve likely come in contact with Centers for Independence, possibly without even knowing it. Founded in Milwaukee 1938, the Centers for Independence’s (CFI) mission is to support people with special needs to live dignified and independent lives. For new CEO Leif Elsmo, the mission and role that the organization plays in the city is a vital and necessary one.

"First and foremost, the Centers for independence... Our vision is for healthy and hopeful communities," explains Elsmo. "Our mission is partnering with people of all abilities to advance their total health. So, we are part of the health ecosystem and delivery system here in the City of Milwaukee."

CFI achieves this through their three core values: understanding people, leading success and working together.

Heidi Chada, vice president of employment and commercial services for CFI says, "What we've done over the last 85 years has truly been focusing on paying attention to what are the current and future needs in our community and adjusting, adapting our services to make sure we're meeting that need. We serve over 24,000 people a year [and] we have over 30 innovative programs."

As of last month, the CFI has delivered 3.9 million meals and snacks in the Greater Milwaukee area this year.

A notable resource the CFI offers is the Crisis Resource Center. "It's a program that we've operated for 14 years here in Milwaukee. We started out with one location on the south side and we've grown to have three now, one in each geographical area," explains John Chianelli Vice President, Behavioral Health at CFI. He continues, "We're very proud of the people we serve as they've learned how to put the crisis Research Center as part of their their safety plan."

For Elsmo, this opportunity to lead the CFI is thrilling. "I'm very excited to join the Centers for Independence as the CEO. It's an incredible organization with a long history of serving communities here in Milwaukee and throughout the state of Wisconsin," he says. "Employment, behavioral health, nutrition around access to care. These are the kinds of things that Centers for Independence delivers."


Sam is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
Robert is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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