Independence and safety through Aurora Family Service

AFS older adult

Aurora Family Service provides families with the tools to address their physical, emotional, and
financial concerns. Since 1882, AFS has assisted families face crisis, find solutions, and attain self-sufficiency.

Clara* is a divorced woman in her 90s, living independently in Milwaukee.  Her family is small, far-flung and self-sufficient. Her only son lives in Florida. Her daughter, sadly, passed away at only 40. And her older sister, also living on her own, is across the country in Seattle.  The independence her family shows is something to celebrate.

But that independence was sorely tested for Clara when her ex-husband died, and she lost the $2,000 pension to which she was a beneficiary. This left her with only $1,400 in monthly income to pay rent, buy food, manage credit card debt and afford medications.

That’s when she found Aurora Family Service’s Elder Service Money Management program. In this program, skilled financial counselors work in-home with low-income people age 55 or older to develop plans and strategies that will ensure a sense of safety and well-being.

Success with Elder Service Money Management

The program has been remarkably successful, with 100 percent of surveyed clients feeling safer and more secure, and 98 percent of clients feeling their financial concerns had been addressed.

The program accomplishes this with one-on-one, individualized services. For Clara, her case manager, Jean, would stop by every month to assist Clara with paying her bills. This dedication became a key for Clara’s independence as she began to experience some memory challenges. If Clara couldn’t find a bill, Jean requested copies from creditors.

Jean also made sure that Clara remained eligible for the public benefits to which she was entitled, such as homestead and energy assistance, and Medicaid. This increased her income and helped keep her in her apartment.

Help with a 21st-century crime

Older adults have always been targets for financial exploitation. Now, in the internet age, identity theft makes it easier than ever – and especially perilous for low-income people.

During a regular visit, Jean called Clara’s bank to verify her balance. She found that several charges had been made to the account – but not by Clara.

Thankfully, Jean and Clara caught the charges early. The bank was cooperative. They even caught the thief with the help of the Milwaukee Police Department and her AFS Family Care case manager.

The biggest help of all

For many years now, Jean has worked with Clara to help her feel financially secure and enjoy her independence.

But while Jean has helped Clara remain independent, she’s also ensured she doesn’t become isolated. With Jean’s help, Clara keeps her mind sharp with social activities, dressing up for each with just the right earrings.

And that’s what friends – and caring counselors like Jean – are for.

We’re so pleased to share Clara’s success story with you! To find out more about the Elder Service Money Management Program at Aurora Family Service, contact

*Names have been changed for privacy.


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Aurora Family Service: Building the foundations of family, neighborhood, community


AFS strengthens communities by bringing people together from all walks of life 

Aurora Family Service (AFS) has a rich, 135-year history in providing services that prepare people to have healthy relationships and create strong family bonds.  AFS uses innovative programs to accomplish this, including in-home visits for new moms; family counseling services; and elder service financial counseling, among other services.

But there’s another benefit to these programs.

When families are stronger, neighborhoods are healthier. And when neighborhoods are healthier, communities are built.

“At AFS, we know that helping families create quality time and good memories helps build resilience in those families – and in our communities,” says Director Jane Pirsig.

What you’ll learn in 2018


AFS uses quality, innovative ways to engage everyone in the family!

With the new year around the corner, we’d like to share more about four programs that help Aurora Family Service achieve its mission. You’ll learn more about each program’s aim, as well as how the programs impact AFS clients on a personal level.

  • Family Enrichment Program
    This home-visitation program helps to strengthen families right after the birth of a baby. Usually mom and baby are at risk from multiple stressors – emotional, financial, environmental, health and more.
  • Family Counseling Clinic
    This onsite clinic recognizes that relationships are often the source of personal challenges. It targets vulnerable populations already facing numerous challenges.
  • Milwaukee Mental Health Consultants
    Aurora Family Service helps schools, daycare centers and more identify potential issues, then teaches the stakeholders how to address them in the future. The idea is to solve the issue at hand, while empowering the site’s staff.
  • Elder Service Money Management
    With this program, older adults can access services to help them achieve financial balance, particularly after a period of financial mismanagement and exploitation.

We’re excited to share more about how AFS truly strengthens communities. For more information on how you can help support AFS programs,  please contact Cindy Hosale at

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Twenty-five years of celebrating life and love at Tree of Angels


Tree of Angels truly brings peace – and joy! – to those who attend.

On Dec. 6, 2017, 750 people raised more than $32,000 to support the exceptional patient care, family support programming and other services available at Aurora Zilber Family Hospice, as well as throughout the system with Aurora Home Hospice Services.

An event that began 25 years ago, Tree of Angels brings communities, families and caregivers together to celebrate and remember the angels who’ve made an indelible mark on their lives – and who will continue to do so through memories held dear.

A quiet moment with an angel.

The event ensures that these angels are visible in the community through the end of January by hanging weatherproof angel ornaments on the Aurora Zilber Family Hospice’s three evergreen trees through the end of January.

“Numerous Aurora Health Care leaders, Aurora Zilber Family Hospice and Home Hospice caregivers read the names of 680 angels,” said Allison Klein, Aurora Foundation development coordinator. “We’re truly honored to play a role in helping families celebrate their angels in this way.”

Many families also took home pewter keepsake ornaments that read, “You have left my life, but you will never leave my heart.”

“Some of our families display these ornaments during special times of the year, or all year long,” said Allison. “These ornaments mean so much to our families.”

ToA25purpleWe want to thank all those who attended and donated to this year’s Tree of Angels Celebration and Remembrance Ceremony. Your gifts are what ensure that the care patients and their families receive remains loving, life-affirming and accessible to all. You can still donate to Aurora Zilber Family Hospice and Aurora Home Hospice Services when you click here.


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One family’s journey toward healing

A young Ethan at the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee

Ethan Monson-Dupuis could have been any child in the Midwest. He grew up in a nice neighborhood in the Milwaukee suburbs with his parents and older sister, Deva. His mother, Robin, was a psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor at Aurora Health Care. His father, Jeff, was a detective with the Greenfield Police Department.

“He was very intelligent,” said Jeff. “Sometimes to his own detriment – he was too smart for his own good.” Ethan himself voiced this at times during his numerous recovery attempts as he struggled with feeling like he should be smart enough to recover on his own without outside help.

Ethan was on the gifted and talented track at Whitnall Middle School. He loved music and could play the piano, drums, guitar and the marimba. He was also an athlete, playing on a select basketball team in middle school and running varsity track in high school. But he also struggled with anxiety.

“We were never sure he’d make it through an entire sleepover,” said Jeff. “He liked familiar surroundings. Transitions were tough for him.”

The trigger

In the summer of 2008, just before his senior year of high school, Ethan was prescribed medication for acne. Some of the rare side effects of this particular drug included serious mental health problems, like depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation.

Ethan’s parents believe the medication was the trigger that led him to his struggle with addiction.

“The depression just slammed into him,” said Robin. “And he turned to drugs to self-soothe.”

It began during Ethan’s senior year of high school, in September of 2008.

“That senior year was horrible,” recalled Jeff. “He was on top of his game, and then he was hit with depression. He had always been an honor student, and then we all were afraid he wouldn’t graduate. His self-esteem really dropped that year.”

Ethan was prescribed medications for depression and anxiety – including one that was addictive, which he started abusing. He also experimented with Oxycodone and OxyContin to treat physical pain due to athletic injuries; he drank Robitussin cough syrup to get high.

A long, hard struggle

Ethan went through numerous treatment programs and saw several therapists over the years. He relapsed multiple times, which is a common part of recovery from addiction. He also tried to take his own life three times.

In November 2016, on the heels of another relapse, Robin and Jeff told Ethan that he couldn’t come home for Thanksgiving. Setting limits had always had a positive impact on Ethan in the past and he appeared drug-free when he came home for Christmas of 2016. He even had a new job, was meeting with a therapist again and talked positively about his future.

From L to R: Ethan, his sister, Deva, and his parents, Jeff and Robin

“Those four days he was home were some of the best days we had had with him in years,” admitted Robin. “For eight years we had struggled, put our marriage on the back burner and not paid enough attention to our daughter. He seemed clean. It was a very happy Christmas.”

An ending, and a beginning

Ethan planned to go back to La Crosse two days after Christmas 2016. His struggle with opiate addiction had hit the eight year mark, but he kept trying to beat it. Then, the night before he left, he unexpectedly asked his parents if he could move back home.

“We were caught off guard”, recalled Robin. “He had a new job in La Crosse – his dream job – why would he want to move back home? He wouldn’t give us any more information and we told him ‘no’ – that he needed to continue taking responsibility for his recovery and was doing a good job. It was best if we supported him in being an adult without enabling and taking care of him at home.”

Robin and Jeff discovered later that Ethan had only gone to work for one day, then quit. He had stopped seeing his therapist, was about to be evicted and hadn’t paid his car payments. They had no idea.

Their last conversation with Ethan still haunts Robin and Jeff to this day. They ask themselves, “Would Ethan still be alive if we would have only said yes?” It is a painful burden of guilt and grief that no parent should have to bear.

Ethan never made it back to La Crosse.

“On Tuesday, December 27, he stole $20 from Jeff’s wallet, bought heroin in Milwaukee, used in a McDonald’s parking lot and died,” said Robin.

A world shattered

The Monson-Dupuis’ grief weighs heavily on them. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices as they talk about their son. But instead of letting the despair overwhelm them, they are committed to pursuing Ethan’s desire to help other addicts as a way to honor the best of who Ethan was.

They’ve created a fund to honor Ethan’s memory: the Ethan Monson-Dupuis Opiate Recovery Fund to help addicts get the best treatment possible.

Robin and Jeff hold a picture of Ethan playing guitar, one of his many talents.

“Aurora’s Opiate Recovery Program is a year-long program. It provides consistent monitoring of a patient, requires them to be accountable to being in therapy and provides support, and that reduces the risk of relapse,” said Robin.

Ethan was one of 611 people who died of an overdose in Wisconsin in 2016. December 27 will mark one year since his passing.

“We miss him so much. We know he did the best he could. Just because Ethan died doesn’t mean he didn’t live a valiant life. His was a life worth living,” said Robin. “It ended too soon, but we will make sure that good comes out of his story. Ethan would have wanted that.”

How you can help

An opioid abuse epidemic is sweeping the nation. Programs like the ones at Aurora Behavioral Health Services are critical to helping people get – and stay – on the path to recovery. You can help people struggling with addiction  – and honor Ethan’s life – by making a gift to the Ethan Monson-Dupuis Opiate Recovery Fund.



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Supporters of Tradition of Caring event raise over $46,000 for comfort room at Aurora Sinai Medical Center

We are so grateful for attendees and supporters of this year’s Tradition of Caring event. Thanks to their generosity, more than $46,000 was raised to support the creation of a comfort room near Aurora Sinai Medical Center’s Emergency Department. 

The Emergency Department of Aurora Sinai sees 60,000 patients every year, and volumes continue to increase. Thanks to their generous spirit, Aurora Sinai can create a private space for loved ones of trauma patients, where difficult medical conversations can be had or where family members can quietly wait for news during traumatic health scare. Thank you for supporting families during what could be the most traumatic health experience they will ever have to face.

CLICK HERE to see more pictures from this year’s event.

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How you helped families bring happiness home

With the outpouring of generosity from so many donors and volunteers in our community, Aurora Family Service (AFS) assembled and distributed 3,100 bags of Thanksgiving fixings during Family to Family Thanksgiving to help families get together – and keep their holiday traditions alive.

How Family to Family Thanksgiving makes a difference

Alicia Lee

Alicia Lee and her family, along with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“When families are strong, neighborhoods are strong,” said AFS Director Jane Pirsig. “And when we share time, food and memories, we build that resilience in our family and throughout our community.”

Alicia Lee, who picked up groceries with her beautiful family, agrees – especially after meeting Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “It means so much to us that he’s here to show that he’s here to help, and he’s with us,” she said. “It’s a lot like how we help each other in my neighborhood.”

It makes a difference to volunteers, too

Family to Family Thanksgiving definitely helps those who receive a Thanksgiving meal. But the annual event also helps those who volunteer.

Mary and Greg

Mary and Greg

Mary Rynders and Greg Harbachevsky chose to volunteer after realizing how good it felt to serve others during the holiday.

“I serve seniors in the area by delivering meals to them,” said Greg. “I know how much sharing meals can help people.”

This made volunteering during Thanksgiving – a time focused on sharing food together with loved ones – a natural fit for Mary and Greg.

“This is our second time helping at Family to Family Thanksgiving,” Mary said. “And it just feels good.”

Thank you!

We’re honored to help strengthen families and neighborhoods through this key program. Plus, donor support directly impacts those who participate in Family to Family Thanksgiving, and we can’t say thanks enough!

“We’re so happy to be here and be a part of this great program,” Alicia said. “Our Thanksgiving will be better thanks to you!”

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Ways to Give: Start a fundraiser to support your favorite fund!

One of the ways you can support a cause you care about is to start your own fundraiser! At Aurora Health Care Foundation, we are really proud of our diverse community of donors from all over southeastern Wisconsin and beyond. We even have a tool kit to help get you started. Go to to learn more. Here are some awesome fundraisers who might inspire you!

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