A helping hand to get through the stress of life

‘People are doing their best. We all need help sometimes.’

By MITCH MAERSCH

Ozaukee Press staff

It was in fifth or sixth grade when Lisa Holtebeck started learning about how the brain works, and that’s when something clicked in her own head that inspired her career in helping people in need.

Decades later, Holtebeck’s realm of service and her passion have expanded. The executive director of Ozaukee Family Services said mental health is her organization’s fastest-growing area of need.

The increase, she said, started before the pandemic and has continued to grow. Last year was the first time Ozaukee Family Services had a waiting list for mental health services.

The organization serves children and young families from birth through senior citizens with a variety of programs, and Holtebeck said mental health can be an element in all of them.

When schools closed, more pressure was put on parents to help their children with school. If children struggled with online learning, that put stress on the parents and their children. Parents who lost their jobs or had to work from home were already under increasing pressure.

Ozaukee Family Services offers a Parents as Teachers program in which a trained parent teacher does home visits to check children’s development and do screenings.

“Parenting is a stressful thing for any of us,” Holtebeck, a mother of three young adults in the health care field, said.

Deaths increased during the pandemic as well, creating a larger need for grief counseling. Ozaukee Family Services’ Rainbows program offers 12 weeks of counseling for children who have been affected by divorce or death.

The nonprofit organization works with the Port Washington and Grafton school districts on stress management, coping and suicide prevention. Just changing the perception of mental health so students feel comfortable seeking help is one priority, Holtebeck said.

“I think we’re reducing that stigma,” Holtebeck said. “There’s more work to be done. It’s not just us. There are not enough providers in general.”

She can see some of the progress.

“It’s helping. That’s something I had as a goal almost from the beginning. It has opened these doors,” she said. “People have reached out for help.”

Another priority is to expand services as resources allow.

“Our goal would be to be in every school district in Ozaukee County,” Holtebeck said.

Ozaukee Family Services also offers programs on internet safety, cyberbullying and eating disorders.

The agency has a small program that offers rides to appointments for senior citizens. When those largely stopped due to the pandemic, just doing check-ins was a boost to mental health, Holtebeck said.

Holtebeck, who lives in Saukville with her husband, a physical therapist, was exposed to public service while growing up in Rockford, Ill. Her mother and grandmother worked with people with developmental disabilities, and her mother and her aunt started a crisis hotline.

Holtebeck earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and biology from Augustana College, then a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She worked at Rogers Memorial Hospital for four and a half years before joining Ozaukee Family Services.

“I was interested in helping people without the constraints of insurance and payment,” Holtebeck said.

“What I love about this is there are no barriers. All of our programs are free or on a sliding scale.”

Not everyone, she said, has recovered from the economic crash in 2008. Ozaukee Family Services sees clients who don’t have insurance or can’t afford their copays.

The range of help people receive is not limited to programs the agency currently offers.

“If we have the resource, we can develop a program to address that need,” Holtebeck said. “That is the most exciting part of my job.”

Programs typically run from six to 12 months. Some can last up to 18 months, but people are welcome to call the agency to check-in anytime.

Holtebeck has been with the agency for 12 years and executive director for the last seven. She started the Coordinated Service Team in Ozaukee County, one of the last counties in the state to have one. The program promotes collaboration among service providers to help create a team approach.

Holtebeck also leads a monthly meeting of human service directors from across the county. “We can get more done together,” she said.

Ozaukee Family Services has a staff of 18 that last year helped 6,000 people in the county, mostly on referrals from other agencies or schools.

Holtebeck said her employees serve as support networks for each other since it’s difficult to constantly serve people in serious need. Even if her staff members wouldn’t be counselors, she said, they have the types of personalities whose friends feel comfortable talking with about their problems.

Seeing progress helps.

“It’s very rewarding to work with families,” Holtebeck said. “People are doing the best they can to be the best versions of themselves. We all need some help sometimes.”

Clients who have gone through the agency’s programs sometimes turn around and become volunteers to help others navigate what they experienced.

“That is one of the best things in the world,” Holtebeck said.

The agency last year became better equipped to serve when it moved from a small building it shared in Grafton to a larger one it has by itself. Counselors don’t share offices anymore.

The agency also held its first fundraising gala last year. The second one is April 22 at the Ozaukee Country Club.

Since some people seeking to give don’t know how, the agency connects donors with families in need as well.

Donations have ranged from a set of tires to bedding and from pots and pans to gas and grocery cards.

“The outpouring of generosity is amazing,” Holtebeck said.

Sometimes, senior citizens are overwhelmed with gratitude just from receiving slippers or a blanket.

Holtebeck said she’s heard some say, “I haven’t had a present to open in years.”

Outside of work, Holtebeck enjoys a variety of activities, including golfing, traveling, running and reading. At work, she enjoys addressing constantly changing diverse necessities.

“It’s whatever the community needs from us,” Holtebeck said. “Schools come and say, ‘This is what we’re seeing.’ We can’t be everything to everybody but we’re something for 6,000 people a year in Ozaukee County.”

For more information, visit ozaukeefamilyservices.org.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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