Operating the largest child welfare agency in Michigan, Wolverine Human Services a family-run nonprofit, offer programs for substance abuse, rehabilitation, foster care placement, adoption, secure residential treatment and culturally-specific care.
By Michael Dwyer
Wolverine Human Services is a family-run nonprofit. Each member of the Wollack family — Robert, Judith, Zachary, Matthew, Craig and Kristi — has taken on roles within the organization whose mission is to help children to be victors and to give them a second chance. Wolverine president and founder Robert E. Wollack Jr. knows something about getting a new lease on life. He wrote about it in his book They Will Be Victors: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Passion for a Second Chance.
Born in Brooklyn, Robert was a New York City police officer in the 1960s — a corrupt cop — forged from the shady system of the times. After spending nearly three years in a federal prison in Michigan, he found the inspiration to turn around his life. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1978 with a master’s degree in social work.
“My past led me to create Wolverine as a result of bad choices I made as a young man. I felt to pay back for my sins I needed to give back,” Robert says. “I had experience in the field and wanted to create an agency to do it my way and that is what Wolverine became. My book Second Chances chronicles my past that lead to the creation of Wolverine. It is a look into my very personal journey and success at the end.”
The Wolverine Human Services flagship facility, St. Jude’s Home for Boys, opened in 1987. Since then, the organization has expanded greatly with the facilities, services and programs they offer, including substance abuse, rehabilitation, foster care placement, adoption, secure residential treatment and culturally-specific care. Robert’s wife, Judith Fischer Wollack, runs the day-to-day operations of Wolverine Human Services — the largest child welfare agency in Michigan. Judith started in 1988 as the director of clinical services. In 2009, she became the CEO and now works with an annual budget of $34 million and a staff of 685 to serve 485 children at 10 different facilities throughout Michigan. In the last dozen years, their three sons and niece have joined the team.
“This agency became a family affair more by accident then planned,” she says. “I left my role at Hawthorn Center after 11 years when it became obvious that Robert’s life, thus our family’s, was going to be focused on Wolverine Human Services day and night. Zack and Matt grew up experiencing events and community service days. Both chose a career in social work during their undergrad studies. Craig chose to become a chaplain and became a natural fit within the organization. It became an obvious choice for our sons to work where and doing what they’ve always been exposed to.”
In addition, Robert and Judith’s niece Kristi Einem-Smith provides clinical supervision and training at the Wolverine Center in Detroit. Matthew Wollack is the vice president of strategic development and in charge of the organization’s development department, fundraising and evaluations. “The biggest challenge Wolverine has is continuing to set the standards for treatment and care for youth in the nation. We don’t deal with this; we impact this and drive this,” Matthew says.
“We are currently finishing a five-year relationship with the Beck Institute and University of Indiana to become the first in the nation to be Evidence-Based Competent in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for youth in residential child-welfare treatment,” Matthew adds. “This work will be shared and replicated across the nation, setting a new standard in quality of care.” Training like this will help Wolverine Human Services keep on track with their mission and create more success stories.
One such story of success is about a client named Jomo, who “came to Wolverine for treatment after being caught up in criminal activity,” Matthew says. “Jomo took on great aspiration in the program and eventually became personally mentored by Robert Wollack. After Jomo’s success within the treatment program, he graduated and returned as a staff member, working directly with children in our food merchandising and distribution center. Jomo has become a lifelong friend of the family and has since moved on to pursue greater opportunities in the food service industry.”
Wolverine Human Services has reported a 94 percent success rate based on the number of children who complete the programs they enter. The Wollack family continues to stay focused on their mission. They follow Robert’s seven principles of reality, responsibility, respect, communication, negotiation, education and love in helping children to be victors and giving them a second chance.
For more information or to get involved contact:
Wolverine Human Services
15100 Mack Ave.
Grosse Pointe Park, MI 48230