Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Schmitt returns home, leads Milwaukee nonprofit

Bill Schmitt Bill Schmitt

After 13 years’ experience in international humanitarian aid, Bill Schmitt (MIPA ’05) joined United Methodist Children’s Services of Wisconsin (UMCS) in Milwaukee as its executive director. He previously worked for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), leading relief efforts for some of the world’s most challenging crises, including the Darfur Genocide, the War in Afghanistan, the West Sumatran Earthquake, and the Syrian civil war.

“CRS is a great organization, and I had the opportunity to work with some incredibly bright, committed, and talented co-workers all over the world,” said Schmitt, who spent his childhood in Milwaukee. “I got to see many parts of the world that others would never have the opportunity to visit. I’m grateful for the relationships I was able to make with colleagues and friends around the world.”

Schmitt returned to his hometown last year and served as interim executive director of UMCS from July 2019 to January 2020, before being hired for the permanent position in February. A nonprofit organization, UMCS provides housing, childcare, resources, and other services to people who live in Milwaukee’s Washington Park Neighborhood.

“Milwaukee is a beautiful place with a lot going for it,” said Schmitt. “But we also have some pretty glaring and embarrassing realities in the city, especially when it comes to segregation, poverty, and incarceration rates, particularly in the African-American community.

“I’m enjoying being at the neighborhood level, getting to know a lot of the challenges that families face on a daily basis,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but I’m encouraged to see so many organizations working on these problems, although they’re deep-rooted and systemic.”

Schmitt highlighted UMCS’ work to provide housing to Washington Park residents as a particular success. “Our low-income housing program provides 72 units of affordable housing for families,” he said. “We’ve recently taken on the direct property management of those units so we can ensure quality control and support for families that are consistent with our mission.”

After 13 years abroad, Schmitt wanted to help address the many challenges in the United States.

“You get the opportunity to live and get to know people in places like Afghanistan, Darfur, and Syria, and it’s easier to understand that situations are complex,” he said. “The explanations you get in the news may be rooted in truth but it’s only part of the story.

“What I’m probably most grateful for is being able to experience those things for myself,” he added. “We need to approach situations with a large degree of humility of what we think we know and recognize that people’s realities are complicated. When we look at how fractured and angry our politics are, I think it would be good if more people had the opportunity to live in others’ shoes.”

Since receiving his master’s degree in international public affairs, Schmitt has sought opportunities to connect with La Follette School students. Most recently, Schmitt served as a special guest lecturer for Professor Valerie Kozel’s course on Contemporary Challenges in International Development and Humanitarian Policy.

“I’ve met with students on a number of occasions,” he said. “I love Wisconsin, I love Madison, and I love the La Follette School program; I had an awesome time there. I know that for students, the biggest thing is getting your first foot in the door.”

Before attending the La Follette School, Schmitt received bachelor’s degrees in international relations, political science, and Spanish from Marquette University in 2001.