About Our Chapter
When a crisis strikes, many of us rely on relatives and friends for support. But for some families, poverty and social isolation mean that they have no support when they need it. Often, a straightforward problem such as post-partum depression or unemployment can be debilitating. Children in these situations often suffer neglect or abuse; some eventually are removed from their home and placed in state custody.
Safe Families for Children provides a chance for parents to get back on their feet before abuse and neglect occur. Parents experiencing a temporary crisis can arrange for their children to stay with families while they address the issues that led to their situation.
Churches can deepen their involvement in the Safe Family movement with Ministry Leads who build ways for all volunteers to work together to sustain each other, including support groups,“clothing closets,”
child care networks and other services.
Family coaches learn about families in crisis from a variety of referral sources, including schools, hospitals, social workers, churches and other community development organizations. Our staff works quickly to contact an available volunteer family to host vulnerable children in crisis. These volunteers agree to the hosting at their own discretion, and can put a time limit on their involvement. The average length of stay is about six weeks, but can range from two days to a year. Volunteers are screened and approved through background checks, home studies and fingerprint check. And they serve without compensation.
Parents in need maintain full custody of their child at all times. And they are encouraged to participate in decisions regarding their child’s care while they address whatever issues led to the crisis. For some, this could mean drug rehabilitation. For others, it might involve leaving an abusive relationship or finding steady employment.
Cassidy Ascherl-Family Coach Supervisor for Rock County: I have my Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from Upper Iowa University with my Social Work equivalency. My hobbies are anything to do with nature: hiking, biking, swimming and walking. Also plenty of family and friends time for self care. I have been with SFFC since April 1st. 1 Year! SFFC means loving selflessly and loving unconditionally on families. I look forward to showing families Christ’s love through nonjudgmental sincerity. I currently attend St. John Vianney Catholic in Janesville WI.
Natalie Ryer–Volunteer Coordinator: I have my Bachelors degree in Psychology, with studies in Social Work and Family Studies, from Cornerstone University. I have six years of experience working in camp ministry before transitioning to Safe Families in the summer of 2020. I most enjoy being outside, exploring new places, and spending time with my people. Safe Families is important to me because I am passionate about serving those in the way Christ calls us to — relationship and community. I am grateful to connect with volunteers that are excited to serve families and share our mission. I am connected to Lakeland Community Church, where I serve in both student ministry and on the production team.
Michelle Lussmyer–Assistant Director of Family Services: I am a mother of two amazing boys. I grew up in Paddock Lake, WI and am the oldest of eight children. My bachelor’s degree is in social work from UW-Whitewater and I have a master’s degree in management/human resources from Cardinal Stritch University. I have been a part of the Safe Families team since July 2020. Prior to working with Safe Families I have been employed at Bethany Apartments, Racine Vocational Ministries, FoodShare Employment and Training, Inspiration Ministries and St. Coletta’s of WI. I am a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Twin Lakes, WI. I am passionate about providing a support system to both families and volunteers through servant leadership and unconditional support. I am very excited to be a part of the Safe Families team!
Sara Harris-Family Coach Supervisor : My passion for helping my community started about 13 years ago and I’ve found the non-profit sector to be a passion that’s never fizzled out for me; especially in the concentration of trauma/crisis advocacy. I currently hold a BA in Gender Studies/Human Services and just started Graduate school for my Master’s in Social Work. I just became a Board Member for Safe Haven in Racine, WI, and volunteer for Safe Families for Wisconsin as well as provide professional Engagement Coordination. Connecting with other organizations and leaders for the better of our neighbors has always been important for me; I truly feel the bigger our villages become, the more we can accomplish. The two people that hold the biggest place in my heart are my children, and when I have down time, I enjoy reading, gardening, and taking walks with my pup, Buddy! I currently attend Faith Church in Burlington, WI. The reason Safe Families for Children holds such an important place in my heart is because I’ve seen the beautiful unfolding of how radical hospitality can change families for the better!
Kate Swanson- Engagement Coordinator for Rock County: I am a proud 2020 graduate of UW-Whitewater with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a Legal Studies Emphasis. I am from Janesville and attended Milton High School. I have been part of the Safe Families for Children team since March 2021! I currently serve as the secretary of the board of the Janesville Community Center and am a member of Forward Janesville’s JOIN Janesville young professionals group. I love to read, shop, spend time with my family and friends, and am a loving dog mom to the most precious 3-year-old rescue dog! I attend CrossPointe Community Church in Whitewater. SFFC mission is so near to my heart because I want to help others feel the love and support I have been so blessed to receive in my life.
Nicole Zorn – Director of Program Development She received a BA in Medical Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin Madison and a BSN from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Nicole worked for several years as a maternal child health nurse for the Walworth County Health Department. It was through this work with at-risk families and parenting teens that she began to recognize social poverty as one of the greatest risks facing the families she served. Her desire to see families drawn into the community and out of the fringes, brought her to Safe Families in 2014. She and her husband Aaron, along with their 7 children have served as a host family to several children and families in their community. They reside in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Amy Bahr –Engagement Coordinator for Walworth County Hi! My name is Amy Bahr, and I have been on the Safe Families for Children team for about 4 years. I have been the family coach supervisor for many areas, most recently focusing on Walworth County. However, I will be switching focus areas to Racine and Kenosha Counties. My career has always been rooted in social work, specifically child welfare. God has a calling on my life that is deeply embedded in caring for vulnerable children and families. I am married to a super supportive husband who partners with me in raising our three kids (6, 4,2, and a newborn)! Prior to Safe Families for Children, I worked for Walworth County Child Protective Services. I fully enjoyed my work but after having our second child, needed to be more available to our family meaning working part time. SFFC has been a huge blessing for our family, affording me the flexibility of working part time, from home at times, and with my kids participating in the work and ministry with me! I’ve also worked as a child victim advocate for a non-profit agency (The Association for the Prevention of Family Violence-APFV; which has since renamed to New Beginnings) that provides domestic violence/sexual assault services for survivors and their families.
Leslie Thorngate – Family Coach Supervisor for Racine and Kenosha: Hi, my name is Leslie Thorngate! I have lived in Wisconsin most of my life with a few years of childhood being just across the border in Illinois; however, even then I considered myself a Wisconsin girl. My parents were foster parents and I grew up with many siblings coming from a variety of backgrounds. I believe that is where I got my passion for children and families. I attended college at UW-Whitewater and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Social Work. I have a background in child welfare working for Walworth County for several years before working a year in Adult Protective Services. My husband and I are foster parents for Racine County and have volunteered for Safe Families for several years prior to me coming on staff. We have three biological children and guardianship of a fourth.