"Building a Family — Leaving a Legacy."
It was the theme of this year's Family Service of Waukesha Family of the Year banquet June 27 at The Legend at Merrill Hills in the Town of Waukesha.
And it's also been the theme of the Schimel family (Brad, Waukesha County district attorney, Sandi and daughters Mackenzie and Hailey), who were honored as the Family of the Year, the third year the nonprofit has honored families who have greatly contributed to its organization.
"You bring home the passion (and) the commitment to keep children safe in a world that can be very unsafe and we in Waukesha County are very honored to have you as our district attorney," said Terri Terrill, executive director of Family Service of Waukesha. "You're an incredible advocate."
Brad Schimel, who lives with his family in the Town of Genesee, is known for his job as DA, one he has held since 2006. But during this time, he and his family have created a lasting legacy of assisting Family Service of Waukesha.
Most specifically, for helping open the Big Yellow House, which houses Waukesha County's Child Advocacy Center in April 2006 at 726 N. East Ave. in Waukesha.
The C.A.R.E. Center (Child Advocacy Resources and Empowerment) provides services to children and adolescents who are suspected victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or neglect. It's the only program in Waukesha County which provides these services.
The center provides a complete assessment of suspected victims of child abuse while maintaining family dignity. Schimel was a founding member of the Waukesha County Child Advocacy Center Task Force and continues to co-chair the center's steering committee.
This fits into his line of work as the largest part of his career as a prosecutor has focused on prosecution of sexual assault and child abuse. He also served on the Waukesha County Sexual Assault Response Team and participated in the formation of Waukesha County's first SANE Nurse Program. He also co-chairs the Waukesha County Child Fatality Review Team.
He said opening of the Big Yellow House started when he and a group went to Minneapolis for a conference on this issue.
Schimel said previously if a child in the area reported sexual or physical abuse the law enforcement agencies would interview them at the police station and send them to the Child Protection Center in Milwaukee.
"Part of the problem was the center was serving everybody in southeastern Wisconsin," he said adding that often times the families wouldn't be seen for 15 days after first reporting an incident. "Can you imagine as a child who has disclosed something so horrible to an adult and how you're told just hang on.
"We knew that was not acceptable."
After the conference, Schimel said "we knew we had to do this."
It started with raising money.
"You can't ask a family whose experienced that trauma to now get out their checkbook and pay for the interview, to pay for the parents to get connected with counseling services," Schimel said. "It's not fair for them. None of this is fair. So this was going to be about raising money for the community to take care of the people who are most vulnerable and Family Service decided to do this with us."
It opened two years later and while Schimel said he initially thought the center would serve 150 kids a year, it now serves more than twice that.
"We made it happen and were the very first child advocacy center in the state of Wisconsin that had everything a child needed and that the family needed," Schimel said.
Since the opening, Schimel continues to be an advocate of Family Service and his entire family has volunteered with him on projects for the center.
Schimel credited his wife for laying the foundation for his two daughters, who are adopted, so he can be successful in his career.
"I can't do the things I do in the community without Sandi," Schimel said of his wife. "I wouldn't be DA and wouldn't be a successful DA if it weren't for her. She's the one that keeps me on a straight narrow path and keeps me focused."
Christine Howard Turowski, who works with Schimel on the board of the Safe Babies Healthy Families organization, gave him and his family high praise for their efforts.
"In a lifetime rarely do we come across a family like the Schimels: their commitment, care, empathy, generosity and concern for the well-being of this community," Turowski said. "Brad's impact on this community is huge. He serves on numerous nonprofits.
"I used the word serve because he doesn't just sit on the nonprofits. He works diligently to protect the most vulnerable citizens and Sandi is the rock attending to all the details that allows the Schimel family to make a significant impact on the lives of others."
To continue making this impact, more than $6,000 was raised at the banquet that will go directly to programs with Family Service.
"These kids are better off," Schimel said. "We know that kids who are victims of abuse grow up to perpetuate that cycle and Family Service of Waukesha is an integral part of stepping in the way of that cycle continuing."