Providing Care and Stability in the Face of Ever-present Changes

Ana Stier, MSW ’01, works at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee. The centers provide health care for all ages, health education, and social services free from linguistic, cultural, and economic barriers for nearly 43,000 primarily low-income and Latinx individuals each year. Ana’s work during the Covid-19 pandemic was recently featured in the story below by MKE Lifestyle.

Providing care and stability in the face of ever-present changes


Ana Christina Stier (left) and MariCarmen Saavedra-Retzlaff (right)
Ana Christina Stier (left) and MariCarmen Saavedra-Retzlaff (right)

The novel coronavirus pandemic has challenged and changed nearly every aspect of our lives. But for Ana Christina Stier, MSW, a social worker with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, the ability to adjust to those changes while continuing to provide excellent care is all part of the job.

“When you are a social worker, the work is fluid,” explains Stier. “When you have your feet on the ground in a community, you’re working with anything and everything that comes through your door. COVID-19 has definitely heightened concerns, but I feel like this is what we as social workers are constantly responding to. Each family we help, every crisis we face or year of experience we’ve gained better prepares us for what comes next.”

Stier was born in São Paulo, Brazil to a Brazilian mother and an American father. When she was 7 years old, she and her family relocated to her father’s Madison-area hometown where her mother became involved as a community organizer. “We were one of the few families of Latino background in Sun Prairie,” Stier recalls. “My mom did a lot of outreach and innovative community work with our Catholic church. She brought in a lot of support and services for the Latino community that was increasingly establishing itself there, and when I assisted her on these ‘adventures,’ it really left an impression on me.”

Her mother’s influence led Stier to earn her undergraduate degree in social work from UW-Oshkosh, followed by a Masters of Social Work (MSW) from UW-Madison. Stier’s career includes time in Madison, Chicago and Racine before she arrived in Milwaukee 11 years ago at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.

“Our families come to us through so many different avenues,” says Stier. “And while many of our clients are Latino, we also have a large population of refugees who have resettled in the Milwaukee area, so we’ve built relationships to serve them as well. Plus, many of our Southside communities used to be Polish and German, and we still serve individuals from those backgrounds too. The faces of our patients are turning into a mosaic more than ever before.”

With work that demands providers to be nimble by nature, COVID-19 has been a challenge, but one that Stier has taken in stride. It’s common to find her checking in with clients over the phone, but she can also be found delivering food to a family’s doorstep or meeting a client in a clinic parking lot to get important paperwork signed. “My job is a lot of facilitation to make sure that clients have secured the services that are addressing their needs,” says Stier. “We don’t let COVID stall everything that’s going on in these people’s lives.”

Stier shares a quote from Jane Addams, from a speech that the founder of social work gave upon her 1881 graduation from Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford University). Addams said, “We stand today united in a belief in beauty, genius and courage, and that these can transform the world.” Steir says that the statement speaks to her ethos because, although she began her profession with a desire to save the world in one fell swoop, she’s realized that the greater gift is to offer your best in every single interaction.

“We find their strength, we use our skills and we make an impact and possibly a powerful change in individuals’ lives,” she says.

Working with a multidisciplinary team of professionals, Steir sees herself as part of a cohesive and collaborative unit that enhances the well-being of the community, in pandemic and beyond.

“There is beauty, genius and courage in all that we do,” she says.