UNISON, the Milwaukee nonprofit formed in 2018 out of the the merger of Interfaith Older Adult Programs and SET Ministry, announced Thursday it will cease operations by the end of March.
The organization’s closure was prompted by the loss of significant contracts with Milwaukee County following the arrest late last year of former chief executive officer Laurene Gramling Lambach who was suspected of misappropriating funds. Lambach has not been formally charged.
“Over the past several months, the organization has worked tirelessly to operate its remaining programs with no interruptions in service despite receiving very limited funding support,” a statement from UNISON said. “However, it has become evident to UNISON’s leadership and board of directors that it is not financially feasible to continue.”
The organization said the “remaining group of UNISON employees” will be laid off. Prior to its loss of county contracts, UNISON had about 265 staff members.
UNISON previously held about $2.1 million in contracts with the county.
UNISON said it is working with community partners to transition its remaining programs over the next three to four weeks. Those programs include: Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach, Peace at Home, Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency, Community Gardening, RSVP Tutor Program, RSVP Telephone Reassurance, RSVP Senior Ambassadors, Supportive Home Care and Title V Senior Employment.
Two programs, Peace in Schools and Project Restore, will be dissolved, the organization said.
“It has been our great privilege to serve seniors, children and families throughout the greater Milwaukee area,” said Cathy Young, UNISON executive director. “Our staff and volunteers have been deeply committed to serving this community, and we are deeply saddened to have to make this difficult decision.”
In 2018, Interfaith Older Adults and SET Ministry merged into UNISON, an organization focused on outreach to older adults and supporting young families in Milwaukee County.
As a merged organization, UNISON operated five Milwaukee County owned and funded senior centers, 18 senior dining meal sites and a community garden. Last year, the organization served 5,000 seniors.
The organization also provided services and outreach to students in 59 Milwaukee Public Schools and 13 public housing developments.
Interfaith’s history traced back to 1973, when a few congregations on Milwaukee’s East Side launched neighborhood outreach services to help isolated elderly residents. The organization, which officially incorporated in 1975, has provided programs for older adults throughout the county.
SET Ministry began in the early 1980s when the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph Hospital developed a collaborative model to address the needs of the poor in Milwaukee. In 1985, SET launched the model with three subsidized public housing facilities for the elderly in Milwaukee.
Lambach was the former president and chief executive officer of SET Ministry before becoming CEO of UNISON.
Young, former vice president of program services for UNISON, and Jessica Horning, interim chief financial officer, took over as acting co-executive directors following Lambach’s suspension from the organization in November.