Give Back MKE Live 2021: Life Navigators

We are using the month of December to celebrate local organizations worthy of your donations.


Find out more on the MilMag Facebook livestream on Dec. 6 at noon. 

Since its founding in 1949, Life Navigators has delivered thousands of emergency bags to people with disabilities in need.

“Basic living needs are so important to the individuals we serve, especially with costs going up,” says Vicki Wachniak, executive director. “We just had someone who had to move, and they had absolutely no supplies. We were able to use gift cards to get sheets and bedding.”

Life Navigators relies on drives and individual donations through the group’s Emergency Needs Fund to continue to provide emergency items. And that is just part of the extensive work the organization does to support people with disabilities and their families. Life Navigators offers individualized support, including social groups and volunteer opportunities for the people it serves. It also offers the Guardianship Program, which monitors the health and safety of people

who don’t have a family member to provide this essential support. The organization also offers emergency in-home care when needed. “We have a team who can go out and assess and stabilize the situation,” says Wachniak. “We saw the number of families we serve increase throughout COVID.”

Photo courtesy of Life Navigators

Cindy Bentley is one of the Wauwatosa organization’s many success stories. She was born with an intellectual disability and spent much of her youth at the Southern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled. After leaving the center in her 20s, Life Navigators helped her develop skills to be out and active in the community and live in her own apartment. She now is a member of the Life Navigators Women’s Group and serves on Life Navigators’ board. As executive director of People First Wisconsin, an organization advocating for individuals with disabilities, she has traveled to the White House twice and met several U.S. presidents in her continued fight to ensure resources remain available to people with disabilities.

“I needed some help in how to help myself better,” Bentley says. “If I see somebody in a situation and they can’t get out of the situation, I refer them to Life Navigators. Unfortunately, a lot of people with disabilities get taken advantage of. Life Navigators treats every consumer with respect and dignity. We have to be the voice of people who cannot speak for themselves.”

What We Do:

  • Life Navigators’ mission is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families.
  • The organization provides kids and adults with disabilities with comprehensive services and individualized support to ensure safe, happy and healthy lives.

Where Your Money Goes:

  • The Emergency Needs Fund provides critical support services and basic living items to individuals with disabilities. Donations are used to help meet the growing need for emergency items. Life Navigators accepts financial donations on its website, as well as direct items purchased off its MyRegistry list at

7203 W. Center St.,


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s December issue.

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A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine),, and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.