, the nonprofit organization formerly known as Bethesda Lutheran Communities, has named Keith Jones
as its next president and chief executive officer.
Jones succeeds Mike Thirtle, who left the Watertown-based organization last June
after seven years to lead actor Gary Sinise’s foundation in California.
Most recently, Jones was CEO of Blue Sprig Pediatrics, a company he founded in 2017 that provides applied behavior analysis to children with autism at 160 locations throughout the country.
Jones, who lives in Houston, will lead AbleLight’s team of more than 1,200 employees across 10 states. In addition to its Watertown headquarters, AbleLight has a corporate office in Brookfield.
The organization adopted the name AbleLight at the beginning of the year in a rebranding effort aimed at reflecting the organization’s evolution from a small, local group home to a multi-state organization that provides a variety of services to promote independence for people with disabilities.
"After an extensive and thorough national search, we couldn't have found a better person to lead AbleLight. We are an organization that is driven by purpose with a relentless focus on how to make the world better and brighter for people with disabilities. That is our top priority, and Keith's extensive experience and servant-leader approach are perfectly aligned to help our mission grow," said Cesar Villalpando, chairperson of AbleLight's board of directors.
The organization has shifted its model in recent years, including adopting a new housing strategy that includes developing integrated apartment buildings for residents with disabilities and those who don’t have disabilities.
The organization opened its first location using that housing model, called Cornerstone Village, in a Minneapolis suburb last year. It's now planning a 68-unit building at 3200 W. Highland Blvd. on Milwaukee’s near west side
and is partnering with Elm Grove-based Luther Group LLC
on a $31 million residential and commercial development at 7501 W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa that would include apartments for adults with disabilities.
Bethesda leaders say the housing approach fosters more inclusion in the community while promoting greater independence among adults with disabilities.
The organization is also expanding its Bethesda College program, a two-year postsecondary certificate program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities that’s currently offered at Concordia University Wisconsin, to Concordia’s Ann Arbor, Michigan campus.
And late last year it opened an innovation center
in the Germania Building at 135 W. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee, where it will develop assistive technology for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
"I was beyond impressed with AbleLight's 117-year history of innovating in the disabilities field and their commitment to putting the people they serve at the center of every decision made," said Jones. "There is a tremendous opportunity to do so much more for people with disabilities, and AbleLight is a true leader and is well positioned to grow their impact by offering new and innovative services that will help even more people.”