Catalyst for Change

2018 #Catalyst4Change Award Recipient


Manitowoc County Human Services
Manitowoc, Wisconsin

As a Social Work Supervisor for the Youth and Family Services Unit at Manitowoc County Human Services and Treasure Hunter for Kids at Hope Stacy Ledvina is a champion for children and integral to the County’s adoption of the Kids at Hope core philosophies.

In 2010, the Manitowoc County embarked on the mission to implement evidence-based practices in their youth justice system. Designated as a “super user” of secure detention, the County ranked among the top ten highest among the state’s 72 counties for 72 hour holds and sanctions to secure detention.* Add to that the 2012 closing of Manitowoc’s secure detention center, and the need was greater than ever to forge a new path for the County’s youth services.

Understanding the monumental task ahead of them, the County recognized that to ensure that all Manitowoc County youth were provided the opportunity to succeed this change required a culture shift, and, the collaboration and hard work from many individuals and agencies. That included creating new programs, developing resources and providing training to staff and community partners to ensure that the toolbox of services and interventions for youth involved in the youth justice system was research based and met community needs.

In the fall of 2012, Manitowoc was selected as a pilot site for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). The JDAI efforts provided a strong jumping off point for the agency’s transformation, resulting in a 72-percent reduction in bookings since 2012.

However, the effort still needed a foundation. That’s where Stacy Ledvina enters the story. Ms. Ledvina met Rick Miller, the founder of “Kids at Hope” at the American Probation and Parole Association Annual Training Institute in August 2014. The program’s mission — to create an environment and culture where all children experience success – and the program’s philosophy — All Youth are Capable of Success, No Exceptions! — resonated with Ms. Ledvina.

The program is based on three universal truths:

  • BELIEVE: Children succeed when they are surrounded by adults who believe they can succeed, no exceptions.
  • CONNECT: Children succeed when they have meaningful and sustainable relationships with caring adults.
  • TIME TRAVEL: Children succeed when they can articulate their future in four domains rather than one (which is generally Education & Career): Home & Family; Education & Career; Community & Service and Hobbies & Recreation.

Recognizing that Kids at Hope could provide a perfect option for community-based programming to replace the use of detention and serve as a strong foundation for the County’s growth, she quickly became the program’s champion. The County supported her vision, and she embarked on a one-year journey to develop funding to support the program.

Ms. Ledvina, along with members of Manitowoc County Human Services Department, worked diligently to develop appropriate programs that incorporated the Kids at Hope platform. In fact, today all of the youth services programming and interactions are based on the Kids at Hope philosophy that states: We believe in youth, we connect with youth, and we time travel with youth. (Time travel includes having an interactive conversation with youth that includes a discussion of their future, return to the present and help to prepare for their journey.)

It’s not every day you will hear someone tell you they are a treasure hunter, but that is something you will hear frequently at Manitowoc County Human Services. All youth justice staff are “Treasure Hunters” – an adult that is committed to search for all the talents, skills and intelligence that exist in all children and youth.

In October of 2015 this program was kicked off with a community event featuring Antwone Fisher, whose life was the inspiration for an autobiographical major motion picture, and Rick Miller, Founder of Kids at Hope. The event explored Antwone’s journey of hopelessness to hope followed by a discussion around those themes and how they relate to the science of hope.

Since 2015 Manitowoc County has trained 23 local individuals to be Kids at Hope trainers and provided additional program implementation training to community partners.

Manitowoc has also had eight individuals graduate from the Kids at Hope Master’s Institute, an intensive event held yearly in Phoenix, Arizona.

In all, thousands of youths have benefitted from Manitowoc’s Kids at Hope philosophy since its launch.


Manitowoc dedicated staff members, programming dedicated to evidence and research, and the cultural philosophy of Kids at Hope are the three components that have allowed Manitowoc County to successfully remove the status as “super users” of secure detention. Since the closing of Manitowoc’s secure detention center in 2012, they have reduced the booking to secure detention by 72-percent. Between 2012-2016, juvenile court referrals have also decreased.

Understanding this journey is ongoing, Manitowoc County attributes their current success to their dedicated staff, innovative programming, and cultural belief that All Youth are Capable of Success, No Exceptions!

*In 2010 and 2011, Manitowoc’s bookings to secure detention for 72 hour holds (probation holds for alleged violations) and sanctions to secure detention were in the top ten highest of all 72 counties in Wisconsin. Additionally, in 2010 Manitowoc rated third for the highest number of bookings to secure detention for 72 hour holds and second in 2011.

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