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.” 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 2023 Friend of the Friendless Awardee is James (Jim) Gramling.
Jim Gramling served on the WCS Board of Directors from May 2014 to May 2023, including service as Board President from 2018 to 2019. As important as this service was, it is only a fragment of the larger body of social justice and human rights work James has completed. Jim graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1971 and worked at the Legal Aid and Defender Society of Greater Kansas City until 1977, when he returned to the Badger State to work for Legal Action of Wisconsin. After nearly a decade working for Legal Action of Wisconsin, Jim sought other ways to service the community, and was elected City of Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge in 1986. He served several terms as a municipal court judge before retiring in 2007. That same year, Jim became a founding member of what is now known as the WCS Center for Driver’s License Recovery and Employability (CDLRE). The CDLRE has helped thousands of low-income people in Milwaukee County restore revoked and suspended driving privileges, and helped to pass legislation that helps low-income drivers across the state. Jim has served on numerous boards including the Parklawn YMCA, Milwaukee; Northwest Side Community Development Corporation; Sherman Park Community Association; Neighborhood Housing Services; Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative; American Constitution Society, Milwaukee Lawyers Chapter; American Civil Liberties Union Wisconsin, Youth and Civil Liberties Council; Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission; and Wisconsin Justice Initiative. He has also served as a volunteer attorney at CDLRE and the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic.
Jim’s energy and passion for helping others are boundless. He serves with humility, grace, and generosity, giving time freely and doing whatever he can to create communities that are equitable, fair, compassionate, and empowering. Never one to seek the limelight or draw attention to himself, Jim proves a single caring and committed person can make a positive difference for thousands in our community.