Community Leaders of the Year: Mike and Amy Lovell

2018 BizTimes Best in Business

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Michael and Amy Lovell are on a mission to help Milwaukee become the most trauma-informed city in the country.

Both are trailblazers in their own right – Mike as president of Marquette University and Amy as president of Shorewood nonprofit REDgen – but earlier this year, they embarked on a joint effort, called Scaling Wellness in Milwaukee, to address the adverse effects of trauma on the Milwaukee community.

Amy and Mike Lovell

SWIM is a coalition of local nonprofit leaders, public officials, academics, social workers, health care professionals and others who are working together to tackle the issue of generational trauma in an attempt to heal one of the nation’s most segregated and impoverished cities.

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Trauma, a high-stress psychological response to an adverse experience, affects urban, suburban and rural communities, and is believed to be a root cause of disparity in many cities, including Milwaukee, Mike Lovell said.

The Lovells’ decision to launch SWIM complements their ongoing involvement with related causes centered on building a healthier, more productive Milwaukee. In recognition of these efforts and their role in steering SWIM, Mike and Amy Lovell are the BizTimes Best in Business 2018 Community Leaders of the Year.

Since its January launch, SWIM has grown to more than 350 people representing 120 local organizations. It convenes every six weeks to discuss “tactical and concrete” strategies to deal with the issue, Mike said. 

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In September, SWIM partnered with Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization SaintA to host a daylong conference called “Healing Trauma, Healthy Communities” that filled Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee with 1,500 attendees and some of the nation’s leading trauma experts.

Mike said the gathering was a “good sign” of the public’s interest in the issue and in making “Milwaukee better.”

Through her work with REDgen, which provides mental health resources and advocacy for youth, Amy Lovell was already well-versed in the issue of trauma by the time SWIM was officially formed. She was inspired to take action a year earlier after seeing a documentary called “Resilience,” which presented trauma as a public health issue.

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“Watching that documentary, we realized trauma is the underpinning of many issues,” she said. “We felt very strongly this information needed to get out there more, that people needed to realize the correlation between adverse childhood experiences and mental and physical health.”

REDgen started to focus more on the issue and tried collaborating with other organizations, but it didn’t gain much traction, Amy said. But months later, both Amy and Mike attended Marquette’s forum on trauma, and Amy encouraged her husband to get involved.

SWIM has become a university-wide effort for Marquette, sparking involvement from researchers representing multiple colleges and disciplines, such as neuroscience, nursing and education. Mike said the initiative fits naturally into the university’s Jesuit mission to serve the surrounding community.   

“Even though it can be very overwhelming at times because it’s such a big problem, that’s the power of having an institution the size of Marquette working on this,” he said.

Addressing trauma issues on a citywide level will ultimately have an impact on Milwaukee’s workforce, Mike said, as untreated trauma can often lead to absenteeism, difficulty establishing professional relationships and other job-related challenges.

But the Milwaukee community must address the historic presence of “racism and pessimism” to ensure all community members benefit from the region’s economic development and “move the needle” on the issue, Amy said.

“As a business community, if businesses invest in the areas of the city that are so segregated and have disparities, and also look at policies that they could change, and help develop the workforce, I think that all will help, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

For Mike, as a higher education leader, workforce development is an issue constantly at the forefront of his work – and SWIM is just one piece of the puzzle.

He is also part of Higher Education Regional Alliance, a steering committee of higher education and workforce leaders working to raise college completion rates, promote program innovation and connect employers with the talent coming out of the region’s colleges in anticipation of Foxconn Technology Group’s massive manufacturing operation in Mount Pleasant.

Lovell also played a major role earlier this year in launching the Data Science Institute, a collaboration among Marquette, Northwestern Mutual and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee that works to address the region’s workforce and technology needs.

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