Winners Announced For 2023 Nonprofit Excellence Awards

The 2023 Nonprofit Excellence Awards finalists and winners.

Southeastern Wisconsin’s top philanthropists, corporate citizens, volunteers, nonprofit organizations and leaders were honored on Thursday at BizTimes Media’s annual Nonprofit Excellence Awards program.

Finalists for each of the award categories were announced previously.

The winners in each category, named Thursday, include:

Corporate Citizen of the Year
MLG Capital

Corporate Volunteer of the Year
Heather Deaton of Ellenbecker Investment Group

Next Generation Leadership
Patrick Lubar of Ixonia Bank

In-Kind Supporter

Nonprofit Executive of the Year
Kenneth Ginlack of Serenity Inns

Nonprofit Collaboration of the Year
Milwaukee County Historical Society (for its work with the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Social Enterprise of the Year
Sherman Phoenix Foundation

Small Nonprofit Organization of the Year
Project RETURN

Large Nonprofit Organization of the Year
United Community Center (UCC)

Joe and Ellen Checota were named the winners of the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award for large gifts they have made in recent years to cultural institutions including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Bradley Symphony Center, as well as a scholarship fund for Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Accepting their awards on Thursday, nonprofit leaders and corporate citizens made it clear they were passionate about their work to support and enrich the lives of their fellow community members.

Nonprofit recognition

Accepting the award for Nonprofit Executive of The Year, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated vision, innovation and leadership in advancing the mission of their nonprofit organization, Ginlack, chief executive officer of Serenity Inns, thanked those who have supported Serenity Inns’ mission. Under Ginlack’s leadership Milwaukee-based Serenity Inns, which provides residential recovery housing and a holistic treatment program for men struggling with substance abuse disorder, has worked to expand its reach with the construction of a $2.4 million, 14-bed facility.

“Our mission is support as many men as we can as they struggle with substance abuse disorder, and as we continue to move forward and expand our reach to help more men in the community, I am just grateful,” Ginlack said.

Talking about Milwaukee County Historical Society’s (WCHS) work with the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS), Ben Barbera, president and executive director of the MCHS, described how the two organizations work to better educate youth about local history is fundamental to democracy.

The MCHS was awarded the Nonprofit Collaboration of The Year award for teaming with up WCS to increase local history program offerings for Milwaukee students. They created the Hands-on-History program, offering free in-school local history education programming. The reach of the two organizations went from serving 500 Milwaukee students a year to more than 5,000 in the current school year.

“Without accurate information democracy doesn’t function properly. Now, I hope that that information is fair, accurate and balanced, and that is what we believe in at the Milwaukee County Historical Society,” said Barbera, accepting the award.

Accepting her organization’s award for Social Enterprise of the Year Award, which recognizes nonprofits that demonstrates creative and effective application of the principles of social enterprise, Dr. Stacia Thompson, executive director of the Sherman Phoenix Foundation, took time to recognize the work of Milwaukee developers JoAnne Sabir and Juli Kaufmann for their vision to create the Sherman Phoenix seven years ago and creating a community of care.

Founded in 2018 in a once fire-damaged bank in Sherman Park, Sherman Phoenix is an entrepreneurial hub providing a home for more than two dozen Black-owned businesses to serve the neighborhood and the community. Today, the Sherman Phoenix remains a vibrant home for small businesses but also serves as an ecosystem that helps build communities of dynamic groups and individuals in Milwaukee.

“We do this for the cause, not for the applause, but it is music to our ears, to hear these claps for the work that we have been doing,” Thompson said, noting that the foundation has incubated 46 businesses at the Sherman Phoenix in the last five years, 89 of which are still in business.

Project RETURN, founded in 1980, was named the Small Nonprofit Organization of the Year for its work to provide ex-incarcerated individuals with assistance for employment, housing, and counseling. The award recognized small nonprofits with an operating budget of $3 million and below.

Wendell Hruska, the organization’s executive director accepted the award.

“It is absolutely amazing, how much the community has changed to understand the needs of people returning from incarceration, and how much support we have gotten,” he said.

UCC was named the Large Non-Profit Organization of the Year. Founded in 1970, UCC works to transform the lives of Hispanic families and individuals of all ages by providing comprehensive services in education, human services, health, community development and cultural arts. The organization serves more than 15,000 people each year, and operates the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, Bruce-Guadalupe Middle School and UCC Acosta Middle School.

Accepting the award, chief executive officer Laura Gutierrez, spoke about the transformative work that the UCC does in the community.

“We serve clients from six weeks of age to 106,” Gutierrez said. “We believe education is the pathway out of poverty, and the best inheritance we can leave our children.”

Corporate recognition

Recognizing the region’s corporate citizens that regularly and consistently give back to southeastern Wisconsin, Brookfield-based real estate investment company MLG Capital received the Corporate Citizen of The Year Award.

Through its corporate philanthropy committee, MLG Cares, the company provides the opportunity to invest in its real estate funds and redistribute a portion of investment returns to a charitable organization and in turn MLG will donate its entire profit share portion of the investment to the selected organization. Through the initiative, MLG projects nearly $550,000 in donations to the charitable organization will be generated for every $1 million invested.

MLG Capital assistant vice president of investor operations Jade Hendricks accepted the award.

“Our motto is making a difference while making a living,” Hendricks said of the MLG Cares program.

Recognized for her work with the Fondy Food Center, Heather Deaton, a wealth advisor and financial planner with Ellenbecker Investment Group, received the Corporate Volunteer of The Year Award.

“I very blessed and fortunate to be able to be a part of bringing local healthy food access to the greater Milwaukee community,” Deaton said, accepting the award.

To applaud business professionals in our community who represent the next generation of leadership working to support philanthropic efforts in the region, BizTimes Media recognized professionals under 40 years of age, demonstrating significant contributions to the nonprofit community.

Patrick Lubar, vice president of commercial lending for Ixonia Bank, was awarded of the Next Generation Leadership Award for his contributions as board member for The Opportunity Center, an organization working to build an athletic and fitness complex for low-to-moderate income underserved youth and elderly of all abilities, and his work with 88Nine RadioMilwaukee, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.

Accepting the award, Lubar expressed his gratitude towards his parents and grandparents who instilled in him the importance of community and philanthropy.

“It has been a guiding principle throughout my life,” Lubar said.

Recognized for its work providing free adversity and marketing services to Milwaukee-area nonprofits though offshoot Serve Marketing, advertising firm BVK received the In-Kind Supporter Award.

Gary Mueller, a longtime employee of BVK and the founder of Serve Marketing, accepted the award.

“I’m so lucky to get to work at a place that allows you to donate so much of your time and your employees time to give back to nonprofits,” Mueller said. “We work on such important causes.”

2023 Nonprofit Excellence Awards

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