‘Went away immediately:’ UNISON to cease operations, employees laid off

WAUWATOSA -- Embattled charity UNISON announced Thursday, Feb. 28 its closing its doors next month. The local nonprofit has been in hot water since November, when the then-CEO was arrested on suspicion of misappropriating funds.

Denise White received a letter from UNISON, her employer, explaining she would be laid off -- effective the next day.

"Wednesday was the last day where we had to get everything taken care of and end it," said White.

White worked part-time as the program assistant for UNISON's Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach office in Wauwatosa, one of 10 locations around Milwaukee County that coordinates free rides and home visits for seniors.

UNISON's Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach

"They're low-income. So it's hard for them to pay for anything additional other than their regular needs," said White.

Denise White

While White has a new job lined up, she is more concerned about the impact on her clients.

"This program is something that they depended on. And it just went away immediately," White said.

In a statement UNISON said, "It has become evident to UNISON's leadership and Board of Directors that it is not financially feasible to continue."

In December, the County Board of Supervisors voted to reject a $1.9 million contract with UNISON to run the senior centers. This, after it was revealed $17,000 in federal grants for computers was never accounted for.

UNISON's Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office also arrested and investigated the then-CEO Laurene Lambach in connection to the missing funds.

Laurie Lambach

"I care about these people and I just want them to do well," said White.

As UNISON continues to transition services and staff, an emotional White says the focus should be on protecting the already-vulnerable population.

"They matter. You know and that's the important thing is they matter," White said.

Lambach has never been charged with a crime. The executive director of Milwaukee County Department on Aging is working to find a new provider for these services.

Holly Davis, the executive director of Milwaukee County Department on Aging, says she’s already in discussions with a new agency to take over the free rides and home visits. Davis says the goal is to sign a contract within two to three weeks.

As for the three senior centers UNISON had initially been contracted to run in 2019, Davis says that contract was awarded to Serving Older Adults, which also manages the congregate meal sites housed at the same locations.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.