From taking care of her siblings and playing with kids in her neighborhood, Karen Ordinans always knew that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. That passion for helping children took many turns, and little did Karen know that her passion would lead her to helping make Wisconsin children the healthiest in the nation.
Karen’s passion for kids and public service took shape in various forms, but it ultimately led her to the position of Executive Director for Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin. And after 18 years in this role, it’s time for retirement; or as Karen calls it: repurposing.
“It’s just always been in my blood,” Karen said of working in children’s health. “Even when I was working in public service, I was always focused on how issues affected children and families. I’ve always had a passion for improving the lives of children.”
“I have enjoyed my work at the Alliance immensely, but you know in your gut when it’s the right time to move on. It’s time to let the next generation of leaders take the Alliance to new places as it continues to grow.”
Before landing at the Alliance, Karen’s public service experience was shown through various positions. Karen got an associate’s degree in early childhood development and taught in a day care center while getting a four year degree at UW-Milwaukee. After she finished student teaching and earned her bachelor’s degree, Karen was recruited by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees which then introduced her to government services.
Karen’s experience working with local government led her to being an elected Milwaukee County Board Supervisor for 10 years, of which six of those years she served as Chairman of the Milwaukee County Board. After her career in politics came to an end, Karen knew that her passion for children’s health was where she needed to go next.
“When I saw the executive director opportunity at the Alliance, I knew it was the perfect fit for me,” she said. “This position combined my passion for children’s health and advocacy, and my policy experience.”
Along with being executive director of the Alliance, Karen has held positions on the following committees and boards: Governor’s Council on Nutrition and Physical Fitness, Wisconsin MCH Advisory Committee, Milwaukee Area Technical College Early Childhood Advisory Board, Public Policy Forum Board, Delta Dental of Wisconsin, Easterseals of Southeastern Wisconsin, the Office on Child Mental Health Executive Council, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health. Along with those positions, Karen was also awarded the Wisconsin Public Health Association’s Carol Graham Lifetime Achievement Award in May 2017.
Karen will always be the last to admit the size and reach of her impact and accomplishments on children’s health during her time at the Alliance. With Karen’s humble nature aside, she helped the Alliance add on new initiatives and staff members during her 18 years. Not only that, but she also paved the way for new statewide and national strategic partnerships with health departments, health systems, school districts and more.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to do at the Alliance,” Karen said. “I’m really proud of the relationships that we’ve established across the state
and the trust that others have instilled in us to advocate for kids. I’m proud of the role that we’ve played across our various initiatives and how we’ve been able to impact children’s health.”
In leaving the Alliance after 18 years, Karen admits that the part she will miss the most is the positivity and camaraderie of all of her colleagues and partnerships that she’s made along the way. From taking a chance on the job posting she saw in the newspaper to fulfilling a lifelong passion of public service and children’s health, Karen’s impact will be felt for generations to come. But in the long run, she acknowledges that it was time for a change and for her to embrace the repurposing that was calling her name.
From all of us at the Alliance: Thank you, Karen, for everything. From your kind heart, positive spirit, caring personality and knowledgeable insight: we will miss you. You’ve accomplished so much during your time at the Alliance and we are so proud of where you came from and where you are going. Thank you, Karen!
*Matt Crespin, Associate Director at the Alliance, will be the new Executive Director.*