Milisauskas named KABA Mentor of the Year
Helping people find their place in the world—that’s the thread that has coursed through the life of John Milisauskas.
For the past 12 years, through the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) Mentor program, he has channeled that passion to guiding third- to fifth-grade students at Jeffery Elementary School in Kenosha.
On Thursday, April 5, Milisauskas will be recognized as Mentor of the Year at KABA’s Annual Meeting at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha. In his nomination, Tom Schock, a counselor at Jeffery Elementary School, cited Milisauskas’s warmth, patience and commitment with those he has mentored.
“John understands children,” Schock wrote. “John understands that children often show hurt and loneliness different than us adults. He understands their needs including the need to just listen. Listening can sometimes be the best medicine for loneliness.”
During his lunch hour each Friday, Milisauskas visits Jeffery Elementary to spend time with his mentee, the fourth boy he’s worked with since 2000. He usually brings at least one new item to see how it may spark the youngster’s imagination.
“Initially I find out what they like to do and then we spend the rest of the time doing that,” Milisauskas relates. “The kids will always surprise you with how creative they are.” “The goal is that they do better at school and socially—and that they think a little bit more about the future,” he adds. “I try to help them see the connection between what they’re learning and what they’ll be doing later on in life.”
Milisauskas is one of roughly 130 mentors from the business community who mentor children in the third to fifth grades, as well as middle-school students from Kenosha County school districts. His involvement is the natural progression of a life teeming with empathy for those who have endured unstable footing of some sort.
That’s how his own life began: in 1948, in the wake of World War II, Milisauskas was born to Lithuanian parents in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Three years later, his family moved to the United States. When he was 5, after his godfather told his father of an available job, Milisauskas’s family trekked westward to Kenosha. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Milisauskas thought about receiving a doctorate in the subject before deciding he wanted to work more directly with people. He was hired by the Wisconsin Job Service in 1970 and over the next 42 years, worked for three employers in guiding those seeking employment and job training.
Though he retired at the end of 2011, Milisauskas plans to continue serving in various volunteer roles, including as a KABA mentor. Over the years, starting with the eldest of his three daughters, Milisauskas has been an active volunteer as a girls’ soccer and basketball coach at a variety of levels. He’s been coaching for nearly 30 years, with his 8-year-old granddaughter now among his current charges. His wife of 39 years, Barb, was also his coaching partner for many basketball and soccer teams.
John Jansen, Director of the Kenosha County Department of Human Services, has known Milisauskas for a dozen years and worked directly as his supervisor from 2008 until Milisauskas’ retirement at the end of 2011.
“In his 42 years involved in employment training, his door was always open to everyone,” said Jansen. “John would stop everything he was doing and take the time to help that person. He is truly one of those persons who goes above and beyond.”
Adelene Greene, Workforce Development Director at the Department of Human Services, worked alongside Milisauskas for 12 years. She praised him as “kind, caring, compassionate and helpful.”
“He not only mentors students, he would mentor people on the job,” Greene said. “John has always been very helpful, whenever you would go to him for information or advice or just a listening ear. Over his career John has made a positive impact on both adults and students.”
Fittingly, Greene is among those whom Milisauskas encouraged to become a mentor.
Kenosha County government is especially supportive of the program, with 10 mentors coming from its ranks, including seven who will be recognized at the annual meeting for attaining three, six, nine and 12 years of service. The award is known formally as the John Bechler Mentor of the Year award, named for KABA’s first president. He developed the KABA Mentor Program as a way to connect the business and education communities on a personal level.
KABA is Kenosha County’s economic development organization and employers association. KABA provides a range of economic development and business services to its nearly 400 member investors and to prospective members as well. KABA manages a portfolio of economic development revolving loan funds that are used to provide low-interest loans to new and expanding businesses to support job creation. Additionally, KABA serves as a clearing house for site selection and economic information. KABA also delivers a number of training programs designed to upgrade the skills of area workers. Through its education foundation, KABA plays an active role in the Kenosha area’s education system including an elementary school mentoring program, annual scholarship awards, and support for various technology-related initiatives.