Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Day On” Helped County Employees Serve Our Community EVEN BETTER!

Written by Lance Leonhard & Chad Dally 


“We may have come here on different ship but we are all in the same boat now.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Our first annual county-wide Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Day On” was an overwhelming success!

Hundreds of employees from each Marathon County governmental department gathered together on Monday, January 15, 2018, to recognize the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and engage in several hands-on workshops, programs, and presentations centered on such social justice areas as equality, empathy, poverty, education, underemployment, and more — all of which are meant to help us better serve our community.

Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger opened the event with a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech he gave at the University of Wisconsin–Marathon County (UWMC) on May 12, 1967 to a group of UWMC students, faculty, and local dignitaries. In that speech given at East Gate Hall in Marathon Park, King echoed many of his most well-known principles.

MLK_Day_On-Brad_Karger
Brad Karger introducing the Toward One Wausau panel (L to R): Christine Munson, Mort McBain, LaTanya Campbell, Christopher Norfleet, Maysee Yang Herr, Daryl Mayfield.

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy Administrator“I was struck by the timelessness of Dr. King’s message. His words were just as applicable today as they were five decades ago when he came to Marathon County. He challenged us to continue to learn, to continue to do better, and to continue to grow as a community through mutual respect and understanding.”  — Lance Leonhard, Deputy County Administrator

King’s inspirational words from five decades ago keenly set the stage for rest of the day’s programs.

* * *

So, how does a governmental staff “in-service” day help those whom we serve — the residents of Marathon County?

The answer is simple:

Learning more about… OURSELVES

Learning more about… OTHERS IN OUR COMMUNITY (and the specific concerns they have)

Learning more about… NEW AND INNOVATIVE COMMUNITY AND GOVERNMENTAL SERVICES

allows us to better connect those whom we serve to the resources they need.

At its core, this county-wide educational event was an important tool in helping us work toward our 2016 Comprehensive Plan’s overarching goal of becoming the Healthiest, Safest, and Most Prosperous county in Wisconsin.

But, you don’t have to take our word for it —

Read firsthand what some of the day’s attendees had to say about a few of our featured presentations…

Learning About… OURSELVES

Implicit bias may be simply defined as:

“Our individual system of stereotypes and subconscious beliefs that can influence our thoughts and actions.”

But this concept is far from simple… And navigating the topic can be downright daunting.

Stan_Davis
Speaker Stan Davis giving MLK “Day On” keynote speech.

Keynote speaker Stan Davis, a former prosecutor at the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Chief Legal Counsel to former Governor Jim Doyle, explained the role that implicit bias plays in ALL of our lives.

Davis’ message was that bias — whether it revolves around race, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors — builds up in a person’s subconscious over time. News reports, our social media feeds, and even our home environment can wire our brains to think a certain way about a certain group of people, or even something like a certain area of the city deemed crime-ridden despite facts and stats to the contrary.

Some bias is good, Davis said, such as caring for family members at the expense of friends or strangers. But what matters most is how the conscious mind reacts and processes that subconscious bias. In other words, for whatever reason, your subconscious bias may spark feelings of fear when you see a person of a different color, for example. That may or may not be your fault, depending on what images and information have settled in the brain over the years. But it’s important to recognize that bias exists and work through those feelings either on your own or even use social media in a constructive way to discuss issues surrounding bias with other people.

Mr. Davis helped employees better understand how personal biases can sometimes influence our reactions. He offered:

“It’s almost impossible to change unless we admit that implicit bias exists and that everyone has it…. But if we stop talking to each other, this all gets a whole lot worse.”

But admitting that we have biases doesn’t mean we get a free pass to hold onto them. Rather, it’s an important step to rewiring our subconscious mind. And that, in turn, is an important thing for public employees to keep in mind.

Stan Davis’s presentation was excellent! Implicit bias is sometimes a difficult topic to understand, and even talk about. He provided a clear, useful explanation of what it is and how it can impact our work. And, he discussed strategies we can use to improve our self-awareness and help others better understand this topic.  — Kate Kipp, Victim/Witness Coordinator, Marathon County District Attorney’s Office 

Cher_Ker_Chang
Cher Ker Chang played the “qeej” (pronounced “kang”) while county employees enjoyed a lunch served by volunteers of the Red Cross as part of a mass-feeding exercise.

Learning About… OTHERS IN OUR COMMUNITY

Two of the day’s presentations sought to give participants a glimpse of what it’s like to live in poverty by simulating the daily struggles and tough choices that confront our friends and neighbors living in poverty.

The Health Equity Workshop — led by Amanda Ostrowski, a Public Health Educator at the Marathon County Health Department — used a computer simulation program to compel a small group of approximately 25 employees in the course of an hour to rapidly make some very difficult choices that many living in poverty are forced to make.

The Poverty Simulation — presented by Jackie Carattini, an Educator with the University of Wisconsin–Extension, and numerous volunteers — tackled the same issues through a collaborative role-playing exercise with more than 75 participants over a span of more than 2 hours.

Each group was given a packet with information about our characters, including employment, whether we receive any public assistance or need to apply, and other factors that influenced our daily lives. The 1-hour simulation was broken into four 15-minute “weeks” so we had to make choices and live a low-income life for a whole month.

Poverty_Simulation
Jackie Carattini, family living agent for UW–Extension Wood County (standing) provides instruction during a poverty simulation. Participants were briefly placed into roles of people struggling to get by on lower incomes and forced to make choices that people living in poverty must deal with on a near daily basis.

We were told in no uncertain terms by Carattini that we were to approach the simulation seriously. Poverty, she said, is not a joke and the simulation was not intended to be fun. The intent was give participants a very brief glimpse into the lives of millions of people who live in poverty — currently defined as income of about $24,000 for a family of four or $12,000 for individuals — and who frequently face heart-wrenching real-world decisions.

During the simulation, I [Chad Dally] was forced to prioritize where my limited income was spent. My family needed food. We needed utilities like heat and water. We also needed a home, but I just wasn’t able to cover everything. We were evicted and spent a week in a homeless shelter, grateful not only for beds but for transportation vouchers, food, and other help. At times, it seemed I was just putting out fires. Other times, I could not continue to tread water and felt myself and my family sinking…

Although it was a simulation, the stress I felt, the panic — “I know my son and granddaughter are sitting in protective services right now, but if I don’t pay the rent they won’t have a home to return to” — the critical choices we faced every week… all of that was meant to be as real as possible.

As a library employee, I interact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds every day — they could be rich or poor; white, black, or brown; people with doctorates or high school dropouts. It is our job, and frankly our desire, to meet the needs of everyone who walks in our doors. Occasionally, we help people start the process to apply for food stamps or a free cellphone through the Wisconsin Lifeline program, or other assistance for low-income individuals and families. We can’t do everything for our patrons, but we want them to know we’ll try to help however we can.

The experience gave a boost to my own empathy and compassion for those who need help. We may (or may not) be able to assist patrons who, for whatever reason(s), find themselves stuck, swirling around in chaos and constantly stressed about food, money, and/or shelter. But it’s our job as library employees to provide a safe, welcoming, and helpful experience for every person who comes in our doors. Their world might be crashing outside, but I see now more than ever that once people step inside our library, it is vital that we help however we can, or at the very least provide a safe, quiet, welcoming space that hopefully offers patrons a brief respite from troubles outside our doors.

The Health Equity Workshop and the Poverty Simulation were eye-opening experiences, exposing us to some of the struggles that people we serve face on a daily basis. Reminding ourselves of the difficult circumstances that many in our community find themselves in helps us keep things in perspective and serve the public with empathy.  — Alicia Richmond, Senior Accounting Professional, Marathon County Finance Department

Learning About… NEW & INNOVATIVE COMMUNITY & GOVERNMENTAL SERVICES

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), often referred to as “Compassion Fatigue,” can be defined as:

“The emotional duress, stress response, or anxiety that results when an individual is indirectly exposed to trauma experienced directly by another person.” 

For our social workers, therapists, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, court staff, and others who help investigate, prosecute, and provide services to children and adults who have been victimized or suffered trauma, STS is a natural response — yet an issue of significant concern.

Julie Jensen, a Supervisor with the Department of Social Services with extensive training in STS, helped staff learn more about this topic and provided tools and strategies to mitigate the effects of STS.

Attendees also learned that Marathon County is working on developing an organization-wide program aimed at increasing awareness around STS and providing governmental employees with the support they need to continue to tackle the difficult work they perform for our community members in need every day.

I’ve worked for the county for over 15 years, in three different departments [Clerk of Courts, District Attorney’s Office, and Corporation Counsel’s Office]. Employees in those departments — and many others within the county — deal with a lot of high-stress situations, trying to help people cope with significant personal trauma. Sometimes it can get pretty tough. 

It was great to learn about Secondary Traumatic Stress and how it impacts us. It was also great to learn more about the services available to staff and to hear some of the new initiatives the county is implementing to address Secondary Traumatic Stress. It means a lot to work somewhere that not only appreciates the work you do, but also wants to make sure we all take care [of] ourselves, as people.  — Jaime Alberti, Paralegal, Marathon County Corporation Counsel’s Office

Earlier this month, the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office, Wausau Police Department, and North Central Health Care launched the Crisis Assessment Response Team, commonly referred to as “CART.”

CART members (Marathon County Sheriff’s Deputy Megan Sowinski, Wausau Police Officer David Bertam, and North Central Health Care Crisis Workers Chuck Kerstell and Stacey Rozelle) provided this session’s attendees with a bit of background on this exciting new program.

CART pairs law enforcement officers (one from the Wausau Police Department and one from the Sheriff’s Office) with crisis workers from North Central Health Care. The teams then work directly with individuals in our community who have mental health issues, as well as assisting their families.l

The premise of the program is simple —

If we work more proactively with people before they go into a mental health crisis, and we follow up more closely with those who have recently had a crisis event, we are going to reduce the number of serious crisis events.

This evidence-based model has been shown to result in better outcomes for those in need while also saving taxpayer dollars!

I had heard of the CART program before, but I really didn’t know much about it and attended the presentation to learn more. As a Health Officer, I am well aware of the importance of mental health services and their contribution to the overall health of our families and communities. The reality is during your lifetime you, or someone you care about, will be struggling with mental health issues. 

It was great to learn more about the CART program. It is a great example of how the county, with its partners from the City of Wausau and North Central Health Care, together are making an investment to proactively meet people where they can best be served — in the community — rather than waiting until the issue becomes a crisis.  — Joan Theurer, Health Officer, Marathon County Health Department

Aspirus_Booth_MLK_Day-On
Staff from Aspirus Wausau Hospital talk with Marathon County employees about a new employee health clinic that will be located at North Central Health Care.

* * *

As we look back at the event, it’s impossible to view it as anything other than a success.

We learned more about ourselves, our community, and what innovative community and governmental services can help us better serve the public.

In a survey regarding this first MLK “Day On” event given to the over 200 county employees in attendance, 97% of participants indicated that the event was of value to them in their professional capacity. One participant commented:

“I thought the poverty simulation was by far the most valuable part of the day. If I were a supervisor, I would work to require my workers to attend such a session in the future.”

And while we’re only beginning to review all of the positive feedback and comments collected from attendees, there’s no doubt that this in-service day benefited us all in our work, by giving us time to:

  • Reflect on ourselves and our changing communities and the people we serve who need us most
  • Learn how to better protect our personal safety
  • Become better informed about new initiatives in our community
  • More fully embrace the County’s core value of diversity

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy AdministratorLance Leonhard
Marathon County Deputy Administrator 

Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends.  Email Lance Leonhard.


Chad Dally - MCPL - Library SpecialistChad Dally

Library Specialist  |  Marathon County Public Library

Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. He’s heard chickens are smart, but the small brood he keeps at home provides evidence to the contrary.  Email Chad Dally


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