In 2001, WCS established the Friend of the Friendless Award to recognize individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a long-term commitment to meeting the needs of those considered ostracized from the mainstream of the community. The term “Friend of the Friendless” refers to those special individuals who support, assist, encourage, empower, and advocate for those who are seeming outcasts in our communities. In 1912, a small group of ministers founded the Wisconsin Chapter of the Society for the Friendless, which was the original name of Wisconsin Community Services, Inc. This was part of a national movement by the Congregational Church to minister to individuals in prison and their families. The original purpose of the agency was to “minister to an outcast class in a way to make them feel that somebody was interested in them for the purpose of helping them to a new life…” The mission of the 1912 Society for the Friendless was to “help people who are incarcerated and to assist the families left behind.”  The 2024 Friend of the Friendless Awardee is Jen Wittwer.

Jen Wittwer began working as Director of the Community Access to Recovery Services (CARS) division within Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services in 2009 and has been a key leader supporting community-based mental health and substance use services for adults in Milwaukee County. She is an innovative leader who is deeply committed to serving and meeting the needs of people, and truly cares about the community.  Jen is thoughtful in her approach to reaching people experiencing significant mental health, substance use, and life needs.

“Jen’s creative approach has led to an investment in new services and support,” said Chad Meinholdt, Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at WCS. “She has championed peer specialist services and embraced the power of utilizing lived experience to engage people in care and services.  Jen is passionate about serving people, supporting agencies, and empowering communities. Her commitment and leadership are evident throughout the adult behavioral health system in Milwaukee County.”

WCS is pleased to recognize Jen with this well-deserved award.