GREEN BAY — Nicole Schneider says in her resume she’s spent more than 20 years “working at the intersection of poverty, health care and education.” Those experiences and skills led her in November to accept the position and, as she describes it, “the responsibility” as the new president of Freedom House Ministries in Green Bay.
A member of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, she joins the organization as it celebrates its 25th year serving the needs of families who are homeless. It has been the primary emergency responder and sole shelter for Brown County’s homeless families with children.
Freedom House is a nonprofit organization started by a handful of Green Bay churches in 1992. More than 1,300 families have so far been served. Matthew 25:35 provides the foundation for its work: “For I was … a stranger and you welcomed me.”
The mission of Freedom House is to equip families with the skills and resources needed to become self-sufficient and to maintain self-sufficiency. It serves a diverse population of Brown County’s homeless families. Freedom House also provides licensed daycare services to its program participants and the public as well.
Freedom House began as a four-bedroom house on North Irwin Avenue in Green Bay, serving four families at a time. In 2003, it acquired and moved to its current shelter location at 2997 St. Anthony Drive. Up to 12 families at a time reside at the east side location.
In 2014, Freedom House expanded its reach to the far west side of Green Bay where its campus, called The Bridge, is located at 840-842 N. Taylor St. Eight families reside in the rent-based transitional living program there.
Unemployment, the death of a spouse, illness, divorce or childhood trauma are some of the many life circumstances that can lead a family to homelessness.
Schneider said she was invited to apply for the position of president of Freedom House Ministries which had been vacant for seven months. With a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, as well as a master’s and doctorate in social policy, she has spent a full career helping people improve their lives in area social programs and educational programs, including through the GRACE education system in Green Bay.
“It’s very important for me to be part of a team again and a mission-based organization,” said Schneider, “and Freedom House was in need of a leader and it was a good match.”
Family life is at the heart of everything Schneider has done, from her first professional work in the community with Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin to her current position with Freedom House.
She and her husband, Paul Schneider, have been married for 22 years and first met as students at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay. They have four children. Molly, 17, and Will, 16, attend Notre Dame Academy, and Al, 13, and Sam, 11, attend Father Allouez Catholic School.
Schneider has taken on challenges since a young age. She proudly recalls starting her work career when she was 14 years old, waiting tables to pay her tuition at Notre Dame Academy and then later working the paper machines at Fort Howard Mill to support herself through college.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Loyola University in Chicago in 1997 and her master’s in social work from Columbia University in New York in 1998. She had the opportunity to study there when her husband was recruited to work on Wall Street. She also worked in the New York City public schools as a social work intern.
“In a big city like that you see poverty and homelessness different than a community like Green Bay,” she said.
When Schneider returned home in 1998, she began working for Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, first with the Sexual Assault Center in Brown, Door and Oconto counties, then with the Crisis Center. She would eventually do outpatient counseling for Family Services and then move into program management.
In 2012, Schneider earned her master’s in social policy from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management in Waltham, Mass. She’s owned her own consulting firm and also worked for Bellin College and Bellin Health in Green Bay, Green Bay Public Schools, St. Norbert College in De Pere and at UW-Green Bay and UW-Manitowoc.
Prior to accepting her position with Freedom House Ministries Schneider was a contracted employee with the Green Bay Area Catholic Education System (GRACE), serving as a research officer. She conducted enrollment projections for the system and competitive salary market analysis, as well as provided administration with curriculum and student assessment data analyses.
Schneider said the time is right for her to come to Freedom House Ministries.
“I can tell you Freedom House runs on angels,” she said. “It really does take a village to run this place. Right now they have about 40 families on their waiting list.
“We have volunteers that come and serve meals, which is our biggest need,” she said. Volunteers do childcare during life skill classes while there are volunteers that help teach classes that parents are required to take on budgeting, job readiness and parenting. Donations like diapers and baby bottles, are always needed.
Program participants are also asked to look to their faith lives. Each Sunday, Freedom House closes for two hours, and they are encouraged to go to church.
Schneider describes herself as “a faith-with-action type of person.” Much of Schneider’s role as president will involve fundraising. Of the $800,000 budget for Freedom House Ministries, only about $20,000 comes from the federal government, she said. Donations small and large help pay utilities, buy groceries, and pay staff, she said.
It is with the help of “guardians and soldiers” that Freedom House does its work, she said.
Schneider also wants to get more involved in preventive efforts “upfront,” as she describes it. Car repairs, the need for food, lack of bus transportation are all things that can change the course of a family’s life, she said.
“Everyone has their own personal story,” said Schneider.