Boy sitting in wheelchair

About CFI

For more than 80 years, the Centers for Independence has strengthened communities by helping people advance their total health. CFI is dedicated to assisting people of all ages and abilities achieve their fullest level of independence through a supportive environment that fosters hope. CFI’s unmatched breadth of services and resources allows others to find value in themselves and see a path forward.

In 2020, we won the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Focus on the Future Award and was a BizTimes Nonprofit of the Year nominee.

Who We Serve

The Centers for Independence assists people of all abilities, ages, and socioeconomic standing. CFI’s vast array of services and programs are based on community needs and are offered to every client, patient, and consumer who seeks them. In many cases, CFI brings solutions to people who might not find assistance anywhere else. The CFI 2022 Impact Report combines inspiring stories and demographic information as well as information on CFI’s impact and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

What We Do

The Centers for Independence integrates health care and social services. CFI’s commitment to total health with a trauma-informed care approach results in a framework of wellness that improves lives, families, and communities. CFI’s programs, which are committed to helping people maintain control and choice over their care, serve people who need:
  • mental health and substance-abuse treatment and care
  • job-training and placement services
  • rehabilitative help following a brain injury or neurological condition
  • day programming and activities to fully engage in life
  • in-home personal care services
  • assistance managing finances and employment for long-term care needs
  • medical day care services and therapies for children with complex medical conditions
“Speaking for the entire team, I can say unequivocally that we found your organization to be exceptional in terms of service quality and its commitment to realizing its mission.”
‐ George Molano
Jewish Vocational Service outdoor sign


CFI has been providing life-changing programs for people struggling to gain independence since 1938. It began as Jewish Vocational Service to help new immigrant families fleeing oppression in Europe settle in our community.

Since then, the agency has grown to 30-plus programs and help more than 20,000 individuals annually from throughout Wisconsin on their path to independence.

Past CEO/Presidents:

  • Michael L. Galazan (1938-1980)
  • Norman Gerber (1980-1989)
  • Howard L. Garber (1990-2017)
  • Teri Zywicki (2018-2023)
  • Leif Elsmo (2023-present)
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Leif Elsmo picture, CFI CEO and president

Leif Elsmo

bridget fassett

Bridget Fassett

Chief Financial Officer

Chris Williams

Chief Strategy and Operations Officer
pamela latherow

Pamela Latherow

Chief Information Officer, Information Technology

Heidi Chada

Vice President of Employment & Commercial Services

John Chianelli

Vice President, Behavioral Health
steven devougas

Steven DeVougas

Vice President of Legal and Compliance
leighann hanrahan

LeighAnn Hanrahan

Vice President, Human Resources
rebecca jackson

Rebecca Jackson

Vice President of Home and Community-Based Services

Our Board of Directors

    • Antonio Riley, Chairperson
    • Dr. Mary Spencer, RN, MSN, Past Chairperson
    • Rebecca (Riv) Goldman, Vice Chairperson
    • Leif Elsmo, CFI President and CEO
    • Bridget Fassett, Treasurer, CFI CFO
    • Steven M. DeVougas, Secretary, VP of Legal and Compliance
    • Bruce Betters
    • Morris Cain
    • Jeff Fleming
    • Lyah Holmes
    • Norah Johnson
    • Tobias Kaemmerer
    • Elliot Lubar
    • Dan Neely
    • Robin Reese
    • A. Joy Rivera
    • Morgan Tilleman
    • Tim Voigtman
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We listen and evolve together, working with internal and external resources that best help individuals, families, partners, and coworkers achieve goals. Success depends on constructive dialogue and effective collaboration skills.

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CFI is dedicated to delivering health care and social services that strictly conform to the highest standards of accountability for administration, clinical, business, marketing and financial management.

Our Code of Ethics contains general guidelines for providing services and conducting business with the highest standards of ethics. We are committed to an environment where open, honest communications are the expectation, not the exception.

We believe in and practice self-directed care, meaning that those we serve, or their representatives or guardians, have the authority to make decisions about the types of services they receive.

If you believe there has been a violation of policies or standards, please feel free to contact Steven M. DeVougas, VP of Legal and Compliance, at 414-290-7834.

If you prefer to make an anonymous report about possible workplace violations, please contact EthicsPoint, 855-612-7055 (TTY 866-294-9572), or click here.

To file a complaint about a client incident, contact our help line at 414-290-2025 ext. 7525.

If you are in need your records, please call 414-937-2065 or email

To access your records, you will need to fill out one of the following forms, either electronically and emailed back or one that can be printed, filled out and faxed.


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The Centers for Independence is committed to creating a diverse, inclusive and culturally competent culture that best reflects and serves our clients, our staff and our community.

Diversity is fundamental to every aspect of CFI, from the mission, vision, and values to the governance and business planning of the organization.

CFI is a pioneer in cultural competency and widely recognized for initiatives that advance and welcome people of all races and ethnicities, the LGBTQ community, veterans, and people of all ages and abilities.

As a strong community partner, CFI is among other Milwaukee nonprofit organizations that have pledged to take steps to dismantle structural racism in the community, including diversifying their boards and staff.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Why are early intervention programs successful?

According to research, learning and development are at their highest rate in the preschool years. Some children, due to economic or social or developmental delays, risk missing some of the most important learning and developmental milestones. Early intervention helps keep children on a path to making the most of abilities and skills developed during the early years.

What does person-first and person-centered mean?

A person centered approach is about ensuring someone with a disability is an equal partner in planning, developing and monitoring care to make sure it meets their unique needs and wishes.

How are CFI’s programs funded?

CFI programs receive funds from a variety of sources, including Milwaukee County, the Department of Public Instruction, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Medicaid, Medicare, commercial insurance companies, private pay, grants, private foundations and individual donors.

Does CFI only serve people with disabilities?

While this is our primary focus; we also serve all people with barriers to success. For instance, our charter school is all inclusive, serving children with and without disabilities.