Community: LaFayette Township
Occupation: Executive director of VIP Services
Family: Single with extended family living across the United States
Education: Holds a master's in business administration from Cardinal Stritch University; dual master's degrees in special education/physical education from UW-La Crosse and a bachelor's degree in physical education from UW-Stevens Point.
Worst life experience: "While not always successful, I choose not to dwell on the negative."
Best life experience: "The day that I got my first dog, Hamish. He started a life-long love affair with showing and training dogs."
Favorite music: "My taste is eclectic, though I am especially partial to the music made by the Day Services clients at VIP who are conducted by a wonderful volunteer."
Favorite foods: "I have been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling in my life and always love to explore new foods and culinary traditions."
Favorite book: "Anything by James Herriot. His affinity for animals mirrors my own."
ELKHORN Last year, Cindy Simonsen directed the retirement of an $800,000 mortgage, completed a five-year $2.3 million fundraising campaign and celebrated the 40th anniversary of VIP Services—an agency that provides employment training, support and day-care activities for disabled adults.
Despite those accomplishments, Cindy cannot get Gerald, whom she's known for 10 years, to remember her name. He always calls her Lisa.
Gerald is one of 375 adults VIP is helping to develop job and personal skills. He works on an assembly line in a tidy work space at VIP, 811 E. Geneva St.
The agency provides jobs to 120 people inside its spacious, well-lit building. Another 100 clients work jobs outside of the building, including doing maintenance at Interstate rest areas in Walworth and Rock counties, cleaning state armories in Whitewater and Elkhorn, and cleaning the state Department of Transportation Office and the Elkhorn Police Department, Simonsen said.
Workers in the building do light assembly, quality control, material handling and packaging. Kikkoman Corp., which produces soy sauce in Walworth Township, sends manufacturing jobs to VIP.
Nonworking adults seek developmental, communication, mobility and day-to-day living skills at the agency.
"That's our job," Simonsen said of VIP. "It's to push the envelope of each individual to reach new levels of responsibilities."
Simonsen also put that same type of challenge on VIP's board of directors five years ago, when she sought to raise money needed to secure the agency's future.
John Nanna, board president, said Simonsen had the courage to challenge her directors to raise the money.
"This isn't Chicago where you can put together a $2.3 million fundraiser just like that," Nanna said. "It was a real thinker on whether the fundraiser should be done. She had the courage to say, 'Let's do this,' and Cindy challenged the board to do a grassroots job by calling everyone we knew.
"We had some businessmen who stepped in early with donations of $50,000, and once you get people talking, the four- and five-figure checks start coming in."
Nanna is the retired president of J.W. Peters in Burlington, a precast concrete company.
The fundraiser's largest contributor was Kent Shodeen, a developer from St. Charles, Ill., who owns a home in Walworth County. His company's foundation contributed $500,000.
Other contributors were the Geneva National Foundation, $20,000; Paul and Katherine Schmidt and the Kikkoman Foods Foundation, $100,000 each; and the Elkhorn Rotary Club, Melita Frankfurth Grunow, Tom and Donna Neshek Family Foundation, Earl and Susan Paddock and San Jamar, which donated $50,000 each.
Nearly 600 local donors, businesses and organizations contributed to the campaign.
Simonsen said the community responded because Walworth County residents know the importance of taking care of their own.
VIP moved into its new building in October 2007, leaving behind an under-lit, crowded building on Centralia Street.
Simonsen is a 30-year veteran in the field of adult rehabilitation. She has been VIP's director for 18 years.
"I have watched her grow both in leadership and management," Nanna said. "Some people level off and some grow, and she has grown. It was fun to watch Cindy throw pitches about the quality of what needed to be done for VIP and its clients."