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What is your story? How did you end up in Milwaukee?Ian Abston

I have lived in Wisconsin all my life. I grew up on Lake Geneva and moved to Waukesha about 9 years ago. When I moved to Waukesha I was part of working with churches and nonprofits on diversity and inclusion and helped to start effective cultural programs in English and Spanish. This work brought me in the suburbs of Milwaukee as well as into the city itself. I supported a Christian charter school that began in the south side and helped provide community support and programming at the location of that school. That experienced opened up my eyes to Milwaukee and hearing the children at the school raise their hands for prayer requests and share the heart wrenching requests for what they were experiencing in their lives motivated me to do more for Milwaukee. I began to get involved in the area of Human Trafficking as the location of the school was the area that the most minors were recovered in a record national human trafficking bust. When I was then introduced to Thrivent financial and learned of the organization and it’s incredible mission I began working for the organization with a passion to see the amazing model that Thrivent offered of empowering individuals both with economic empowerment through financial literacy and planning in the products and services they offered but also as the largest fraternal tax exempt organization in the country empowering people to Live Generously and Give Back no matter what stage they are at in life. I then began to work with the nonprofits in the greater Milwaukee area on addressing financial literacy as a core need for the community and part of the solution to many issues that the nonprofit sector is addressing as well as engaging Thrivent members to use their $250 Action Teams to make a real difference to the needs of the nonprofits themselves and the communities they serve. I am also passionate to continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion and have been part of starting Thrivent’s first Latino pilot. I now serve on a number of boards and committees throughout the city and am passionate to inspire others to Live Generously and make a difference, not just through charity but also by thoughtfully engaging the business community as well and inspire social entrepreneurship.

What keeps you in Milwaukee/What do you like best about Milwaukee?

What keeps me in Milwaukee is the amazing organizations in the greater Milwaukee area and the collaboration and networking that exists both within the business and the philanthropic communities. Also the amazing culture of the city and the diversity that is celebrated through the many festivals and community events. There are many challenges that Milwaukee continues to face but I am motivated to be a part of the movement for change, we don’t grow when things are easy we grow as we face adversity in unity and are reminded that we are in this together.

Favorite spot in the city?

There are so many places in the city I love, but if I had to pick one place I would say I gravitate to the Milwaukee Public Market. It is a great place to eat that reflects the diversity of the city, it is also a great place to be able to get some work done, and a wonderful place to gather for meetings and events in a great location and that has easy parking!

Milwaukee festival you are eager to attend each year?

Mexican Fiesta is my favorite festival, as a family with Mexican heritage the culture at this event is something that I love to expose my children to and be able to support the amazing mission of the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation that organizes Mexican Fiesta. The goal of the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation, Inc. (WHSF) is to raise funds to provide scholarships for the higher education of Hispanic students in the state of Wisconsin and to preserve Mexican and other Hispanic cultures by having a truly authentic festival, which is Mexican Fiesta. WHSF provides a cultural and educational environment to enhance and improve academic success of the Hispanic society while promoting a better understanding of the arts, history, literature and perpetuation of Hispanic. The Hispanic cultural values of family, faith, and hard work for a better future make this festival something to celebrate.

What drew you to Echelon?

What drew me to Echelon was their incredible record of impact in the community. Not only raising awareness and funds, but volunteer projects that make a huge impact on the needs of the city. The level of engagement that Echelon has modeled for Young Professional groups has been what caught my attention and made me want to be part of the change Echelon is making. They also have an amazing membership of leaders in our community and they make giving back innovative and exciting. Every event that I have interacted with Echelon they make the work they do look like so much fun as well as meaningful.

Share with us a memorable experience you have had thus far with the organization.

One memorable experience with Echelon was in the Greater Milwaukee Event that I organized, Generosity Feeds Milwaukee, where we packed over 12,000 non perishable meals for local organizations to distribute thoughtfully into the community supporting their existing programs and initiatives which included the Salvation Army Chaplaincy Program, Shelters, and Summer Feeding the Kids programs. Echelon was a vital part of the set up the night before helping to make the event possible and they were wonderful partners volunteering packing the meals the day of the event as well.

What struggles do you see our city dealing with? What can our generation do to help?

Some of the struggles the city faces that I have engaged in have been areas dealing with diversity and inclusion, human trafficking and abuse, and economic development. I think that our generation has so much to offer in coming to the table to discuss and then move to action on addressing these and all the other issues our community faces. As Echelon has significantly demonstrated, our generation is innovative and thinks outside the box. I would love to see this approach to the struggles we are facing continued to be encouraged and supported. Social entrepreneurship and bridging the gap between the business and the nonprofit sector is something that our generation has the energy and innovation to do. I think that our generation is both curious and creative and this allows us to approach the struggles in the city by not only addressing the symptoms but motivated to ask the questions needed to investigate and uncover the causes. The courage to not follow the status quo but stand up for change. The access to education that technology has provided our generation uniquely equips us to strive for growth and development. And our exposure to diversity having grown up being in relationship with people of all different backgrounds, which was made possible through the hard fought advocacy of those who have gone before us and the global platform that technology has provided us, also gives our generation insight into not only dreaming of a more unified community that celebrates diversity and encourages inclusion but also then expanding on our experience of closeness to each other that inevitably eradicates prejudice and discrimination. When young professionals harness the power of collaboration with the broad range of professional development, experience, and knowledge our generation has, we can move the needle forward on positive change and leave a better world for our children.