Family Works: Making Families “Work” for over 31 Years

As Family Works wraps up our 31st year of supporting families throughout Wisconsin, we pay tribute to our founding passions that still hold true today. We began as a small agency focused on supporting foster youth. In 31 years, we have grown to be a bigger agency but remain grounded in our values of empowering families and building a tight-knit community. 

Family Works was established in 1990 by Joel Ungrodt. Joel had a unique vision for supporting foster youth throughout Wisconsin. His passion for connection and heart for the work was evident from the beginning. Early foster families and staff recount how Joel was known for partnering with foster parents in a uniquely authentic, genuine way. Taking the time to sit with parents over a cup of coffee and support them through the highs and lows of being foster parents.

In the first year of Family Works, we had one social worker who supported 7 families. Over the last 31 years, Family Works has expanded to include 14 social workers, 42 licensed families and 6 board members.

When Joel passed away in 2005, his wife, Lyn, led the agency with compassion and a steadfast dedication of supporting the healing environments of our extraordinary foster family. Upon retirement in 2014, Rick and Sue Gulbrand, friends of Lyn and employees of the agency, took over ownership of Family Works. The transition was a natural one because all of these leaders shared a passion for maintaining a statewide agency with a small, family feel.

Joel established the principles that guide the agency’s work today:

  1. The inspiration for our name: Every child deserves a family and families “work” as the best place for children to grow and mature.
  2. We are all teachers and learners. Even the children we serve are in the role of the teacher, helping us grow in patience and perseverance.
  3. Everyone is capable of positive change.

As a foster parent, you’ll see how these values show up in…

  • the way our foster parents work hard to make sure children belong in their homes and stay connected to their biological families
  • the way our social workers are always thinking of creative ways to help kids grow and thrive
  • the opportunities teams create to listen to children and help them meet their goals
  • the successes children have with the community of Family Works wrapped around them

As we look towards the future of Family Works, Rick Gulbrand plans to carry on the legacy of Family Works. He puts it this way…

“Our hope for the future of Family Works focuses on our ability to continue to provide the best possible support for foster children and foster families. Joel’s legacy will continue on as we long ago adopted his vision and mission for our agency. “Every child needs a home.”

With every day come trials and tribulations. Good stories, sad stories and challenges for our employees, the children we care for and the families we support. There is no single thing or event we are most proud of. When a foster child is adopted, reunited with their family, graduates high school, college or simply moves on as a successful, healthy young person we are proud and extremely happy. We plan to continue this agency’s mission with the hope that we can have a positive impact on all the children that are placed with us.

After 31 plus years, the mission and vision of the agency remain strong, providing the highest quality of care and services to promote success in the lives of Wisconsin’s children and families.

Family Works would like to extend a warm and wide thank you to all of our foster parents and staff who have helped us carry out the vision over the past 31 years. We hope to make a positive impact on the lives of families for years to come.

If you’d like to join us in making a difference, contact our licensing specialists to begin your journey today!


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