For more than100 years, WCS has served individuals who are involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the criminal justice system, as well as other vulnerable and disenfranchised community members.
"The chief work of the society is the care of prisoners who leave the penitentiaries and are placed in positions of self-support. It has developed several departments of work including housing, employment, education for the prevention of crime, and better laws for the regulation of handling crime and criminals.” Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol II and The First Friend, Vol 26
Those words described “The Society for the Friendless,” the original name of the agency now known as Wisconsin Community Services, Inc., when its work began in Wisconsin 100 years ago, and while its name has changed – three times in that 100 years – it still is a society for the friendless, the oldest and largest agency in the state that provides services – and options -- for persons involved, or at risk for involvement, in the criminal justice system.
From 1912 through 1918, the society was a one-man show, small, but vitally important to the many men A.C. Petrie aided on their journeys from prison to responsible citizenship. In 1924, Mrs. Ruth Baker, daughter of the society’s “National Superintendent,” Rev. James Parsons, revitalized the Wisconsin branch of the society.
In 1941 The Society for the Friendless was legally incorporated as “The Wisconsin Service Association.” The description of the Association’s purpose is on the first page of the 1941 board notes: “It aims especially at establishing home and employment conditions and personal attitudes that will prevent such persons from again violating the law; in other words, crime prevention among those most apt to become offenders if they are not given reasonable opportunities and guidance.”
The name had changed; the mission had not.
Through Mrs. Baker’s dedication and organizational abilities, the association’s staff and budget grew and, by the time of her retirement in 1951, both she and the Wisconsin Service Association were recognized names in the community.
The quotation cited above to describe the agency’s mission was not simply a statement of what the association hoped to accomplish. Its work and mission were publically recognized many times through the years.
"The Wisconsin Service Association is a nonprofit, nonsectarian group which assists men released from prison and helps them get jobs and become adjusted to society. About 1500 men are released from Wisconsin penal institutions yearly. The service association helps at least 500 get out of the prison lockstep and back into step with society." The Milwaukee Journal, 1/16/49
"Throughout its history, the Wisconsin Service Association has been concerned, in the broadest terms, with the protection of society from the criminal. This in no way reflects on the humanitarian principles on which the association is based. However, compassion and real concern for one’s fellow man is essential if society truly is to be protected. To protect society it is necessary to effect a change in the individual criminal." Milwaukee Labor Press, 6/20/63
In 1966, the Wisconsin Service Agency once again changed its name. It became Wisconsin Correctional Service (WCS). Under that title, the agency grew from a staff of 10 to more than 200 by 2003 when the agency adopted its current name of Wisconsin Community Services, Inc., reflecting, not a change in mission, but an expansion and adaptation.
"For decades, Wisconsin Community Services has been on the forefront of helping offenders and ex-offenders find and keep jobs by offering education, vocational and job-readiness training, case-management and job-placement services. Currently the agency is leading a major collaborative effort to create a new, intensive prison-release program that places former inmates into jobs or paid training, essentially redirecting their paths as soon as they set foot outside the prison gates." JS Online 9/5/09
Like the proverbial mustard seed, the agency that began as a tiny effort has grown – perhaps even beyond what its Wisconsin founders envisioned. Today, WCS has more than 260 employees. Through its mission to “advocate for justice and community safety, providing innovative opportunities for individuals to overcome adversity" – it has been and continues to be an agent of positive change for many, for thousands, of people. And, as a part of the impact of its vision, makes meaningful strides toward “revitalized communities.”