Meet the AFS Board: Felicia Miller, PhD

On January 3, 1882, Aurora Family Service was founded as the Associated Charities of Milwaukee.  This year, we are celebrating our 130th year of building stronger, healthier families and communities.  Meet some of the inspiring leaders who are forging the future of Aurora Family Service.

Since 2006, Felicia Miller has been an assistant professor of marketing at Marquette University.  She became involved with Aurora Family Service as a marketing advisor in 2010 and joined the Board of Directors in 2011.

Dr. Felicia Miller moved to Milwaukee and joined Marquette University in August 2006.

Felicia grew up in Atlanta, where most of her family still lives within a 100 mile radius.  “I’m a proud daughter of the South,” Felicia said. “But I wanted to see different parts of the country.”

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Felicia attended the University of Cincinnati, where she worked at Proctor & Gamble for 10 years in brand management.  “I always joke that Marquette is only the second job I’ve had,” said Felicia. “And I was very hesitant to move here, because of the weather.  I’m a Georgia girl, and Cincinnati was as far north as I could imagine living.”

“When my husband, a native Chicagoan, started a business in Green Bay, I had to draw the line.  I actually told him, “Darling, I love you, but I’m not moving to Green Bay. I’m a football fan, and I’ve seen the frozen tundra. That just didn’t look fun to me.”

What surprises you most about Milwaukee?

“This city has exceeded my expectations exponentially.  Milwaukee has fabulous in-town neighborhoods, and I was thrilled to find mine. Brady Street is vibrant and diverse, and so close to campus.”

“You just don’t realize how living on a Great Lake stirs up your outdoor spirit.  People are outside all year round.  There are so many opportunities to enjoy family activities. Winter weather really limited people’s lifestyles in Cincinnati.  But not here, not in Milwaukee.  The lake really changes the energy of the whole city.”

“At the same time, I’m surprised by the amount of segregation in the Milwaukee area. The city itself has a very diverse core, but once you exit the city limits, things change immediately.  I believe segregation has a real impact on families when a multi-generational mentality begins to form.  Without being faced with new ideas, without the cross-pollination that different family cultures can create, people become very set in their ways, thoughts and values.  Sometimes this is a positive — but when a family needs help, this mindset can be challenging to overcome and change.”

What inspired your work with Aurora Family Service?

“I have always been involved in community service. As a court-appointed special advocate, I was assigned to families who received a lot of social services, but lacked the skills needed to really navigate the system.  It became my personal mission to bring children forward in life, even when the adults in their life didn’t always make the best decisions for them.”

“That being said, Milwaukee’s infant mortality statistics are shocking.  We are actually seeing Third World problems in a major metropolitan area even though all the best resources are readily available.”

“Our infrastructure can make it difficult for people to make the best decisions for their family.  For example, I’ve met single mothers who don’t marry their child’s father because they would lose benefits. I’ve met a father who actively maintained a separate address from his children to prevent services from being cut. Those boys needed their father, and yet he was discouraged from living with them and their mother as a family.  We need to be creating incentives to be a strong and stable family, rather than penalties.”

What is the number one challenge facing families today?

“Our #1 challenge is education.  The current model of education is broken. Our  infrastructure is not equipped to cope with the challenges children are facing today.  They arrive at school with issues far beyond academics — whether it’s family conflict, access to nutritious food, emotional problems — and our teachers are not equipped to educate the whole child.  I honestly believe our public schools could learn from the Marquette model, ‘Cura Personalis,’ which aims to create not just good scholars, but focuses on the whole person. Education is the start.”

How is Aurora Family Service evolving to meet the needs of the community?

“Aurora Family Service is truly recreating itself. We are moving to a deeply integrated model of care.  Personally, I find this very exciting.”

“Agencies  like Aurora Family Service need to take a more customized approach to their clients, and that’s not easy to do. It takes a very special agency to make that work. At the same time, Aurora Health Care already delivers coordinated care that is very focused on the individual patient and their unique needs.  We want to take that model outside the hospital and apply it in the community.”

“Aurora Family Service is taking a holistic approach that addressses physical, mental and financial health within the family unit.  This is a unique combination of services that nobody else can really provide in the area. During the agency’s 15-year relationship with Aurora, we haven’t fully leveraged the physical health piece, but we are doing it now.  ”

“It’s a total mind shift for social services. Caregivers have gone from being a “therapist” or a “financial counselor” to a universal project manager for the families they service.  This is a perfect model for sustaining wellness outside the hospital:  not only stabilizing a family, but keeping them well long after our intervention.  It will be so exciting to see this vision come alive over the next 3-5 years.    I’ve volunteered at many agencies, but I’ve never seen such a high level of strategic thinking and planning before. ”

What can people do to support our mission?

“The mission of Aurora Family Service is so vital to the future success of families and Milwaukee. The more we can match people with resources, the better lives in Milwaukee can be.  As citizens, we need to move beyond the red tape bureaucracy and petty, partison bickering, find agencies like Aurora Family Service that are helping people live well, and support their work in every way possible.”

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

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