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Vision Forward welcomes new members to the board of directors

Vision Forward Association is proud to welcome the following members to their Board of Directors: Guillermo Baena, Milwaukee Youth Symphony; Dr. Michael Dante, Marquette University; Crocker Stephenson, Retired Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Nicholas H. Tosi, M.D., Retina & Vitreous Consultants of WI; and Sonja Williams, Wellpoint Care Network.

Guillermo Baena, Philanthropy Officer, Milwaukee Youth Symphony

Photo of GuillermoGuillermo holds a degree in economics and a graduate certification as a life coach. Legally blind since birth, Guillermo loves to share his story, acting as a keynote and motivational speaker on different occasions.

“I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa as a young child, and all my journey has been a process of adapting and rebuilding activities. I genuinely believe in Vision Forward’s mission since it is about teaching people to live an independent and productive life without sight,” states Guillermo.  Guillermo lives an active lifestyle that has led him to engage in rock-climbing, downhill skiing, martial arts, and cycling. He has even acquired his scuba diving license and completed a certification to become a professional skydiver, having jumped solo at 10,000 feet.

With a unique blend of professional experience in economics mainly focused on business consulting and strategic planning in the corporate arena, and with a passion for helping others, he successfully transitioned into the nonprofit world.

Having played various roles in the community, Guillermo recently served as a board member at the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra before joining them as a staff member. He also has volunteered for the Lighthouse of Broward, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Foundation Fighting Blindness, and the National Eye Institute, among many others.

Michael Dante, PhD, Marquette University

Photo of MichaelMichael ’s motto is living life to the fullest, “There’s a certain zeal in the way that I live – with gusto, and I just savor the time that I do have with such gratitude of what I have been given, not that everything is always easy.”

One challenge he speaks very openly about is his vision impairments, which he acknowledges primarily for its gifts.  Michael says of his vision loss, “It allows me to see beyond what the eye might see in terms of potential and to see with the eyes of the heart.”

Michael began his relationship with Vision Forward as a client when moving to Milwaukee in 2012. He received mobility and technology training.  He also participates in a monthly conversation group that explores the challenges and experiences of vision loss.  When speaking about his appointment to the Board of Directors, Michael said, “I am very humbled to take on this position.  So many people have supported me along my journey. This role offers me a chance to support others in kind and the opportunity to use my ‘inner-eye’ to further Vision Forward’s mission.”

Since 2012, Michael has worked as the director of Marquette University’s Faber Center for Ignatian Spirituality.  Through retreats, book discussions, and seminars, his center fosters the spiritual growth of the faculty and staff and helps them understand the key principles of the Jesuit heritage.  Before joining Marquette, Michael taught in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University in New York.  Prior to transitioning into his new career of ministry and teaching, he was a mathematician in Washington D.C.. He performed program management, funds execution, and budget analysis on U.S. Space Programs for Senior Government officials.

Michael earned a Doctorate in Spirituality from The Catholic University of America, a Master’s of Divinity from the Washington Theological Union, and a Bachelors in Science from Johns Hopkins University, among others. He is excited to use his education, experiences, and gifts to further Vision Forward’s efforts. 

Crocker Stephenson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Photo of CrockerRecently retired, Crocker worked as a journalist for over 30 years covering urban affairs and city government for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Throughout his career he covered crime, public health and an array of feature stories for the newspaper. He was sent to New York City in the aftermath of 9/11 and to Kosovo to cover the war in the late 1990s. His hallmark is writing with rich description and revealing detail.

Crocker has won many awards for his work, but the most meaningful to him are the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, which he won three times, and the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine Keck Communication Award for Empty Cradles, his 2011 series on infant mortality.

Crocker began losing his vision about five years ago. “It was sudden and dramatic — a retinal disorder not unlike macular degeneration.” Adaptive technology, mobility techniques, and other adaptive strategies he discovered at Vision Forward helped him adjust and continue working until his recent retirement.

When asked about his involvement as a board member for Vision Forward, Crocker states, “What a great opportunity to give back to an organization that, at a very difficult point in my life, taught me so much and gave me something I was not expecting: Hope.”

Nicholas H. Tosi, M.D., Retina & Vitreous Consultants of WI

Photo of Dr. TosiDr. Tosi has been a retina specialist at Retina and Vitreous Consultants of Wisconsin since 2015, and currently is a partner and serving as Vice President of the organization.

Prior to coming to the Milwaukee area, he completed a traditional ophthalmology residency at LSU/Ochsner Hospitals in New Orleans and a two-year retina fellowship at UAB in Birmingham, where he developed a passion for retina surgery.  In addition to a clinic-based practice which focuses on medically managed diseases (such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy), Dr. Tosi performs vitreo-retinal surgery weekly and after hours for emergency retina procedures (such as retinal detachment and trauma).

As a practicing retina specialist in SE Wisconsin, Dr. Tosi is familiar with Vision Forward’s mission of helping serve patients with low vision needs.  “I tell my patients that my obligation and goal is to help them maximize their full visual potential through medical and surgical avenues.  Similarly, Vision Forward seeks to optimize patients’ vision potential, but through hands-on occupational therapy and education.”  Dr. Tosi hopes this overlap of clinical practice with Vision Forward will create synergistic value for the organization, while also providing an educational experience for himself.

Sonja Williams, Wellpoint Care Network

Photo of SonjaSonja Williams is an accomplished people leader with nearly 25 years of talent optimization and organizational development experience. Driven by a desire to support the work of community-based organizations with compelling missions, she has performed impactful work in community-focused and educational organizations over the course of her career.

Sonja is currently employed as the Vice President (VP) of Human Resources at Wellpoint Care Network (formerly SaintA) – a national leader in trauma-informed care that serves and helps nearly 5000 children, youth, and adults build life skills and navigate systems of care in Southeastern Wisconsin. Prior to this role, she has held Human Resources positions seeking to improve the social, health, and economic outcomes for marginalized groups.

Sonja has a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater and a Master’s Degree in Administrative Leadership from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She is also a nationally certified Human Resources professional, and a 16-year member of the Society of Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) local chapter.

In addition to her role on Vision Forward’s Board of Directors, Sonja currently serves on the boards of Lutheran Home & Harwood Place and Triangle of Hope, Inc.  She is also actively engaged in the Christian community through her church membership at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

“The Vision Forward mission statement resonates with me because I feel strongly that community-based education and advocacy can reduce the disparities in health, access, and opportunity experienced by the visually impaired.” commented Sonja.  “Glaucoma has impacted my family and I too am at risk and would like to raise awareness within the African American community about eye health as well as help to remove barriers that prevent people of color and others from benefiting from advances being made in the vision community.”