Ellen Carlson

My day job is executive director at MOM, the Middleton Outreach Ministry.

People sometimes wonder if our organization is connected to a church. It isn’t—though churches started our organization and have been very involved over the years. And our work certainly aligns with many people’s faith values.

Our mission is to create food and housing security in Middleton, Cross Plains and west Madison. Our model allows our clients to come to us any time, vs. the once-a-month model of some places, so we work within a defined geographic area to facilitate that. There’s no right or wrong model; this is just the one that made sense to us. Each local resource is part of the puzzle of addressing food and housing insecurity in our area—and each is vital.

MOM’s original focus was more on food but over time we came to realize how many issues around food security were impacted by housing security and now address both. If you’re spending all your time looking for those resources, how can you make it to work, school, etc.? Our pantry provides our clients with a resource they can use any time. Taking that worry off their plate won’t solve everything, but it’s a critical thing. We’ve had many people tell us how important it was to know they could always fall back on us.

I came to non-profit life through AmeriCorps VISTA. I had an undergraduate degree in psychology and was actually about to enter grad school here at the UW but wasn’t exactly sure that’s really what I wanted. A friend told me about AmeriCorps and that I could apply for a job in Madison. I worked in the area of literacy with the school district and United Way and I just loved it.

While I was in this role, I connected with one little girl in particular. She was so sparkly and happy—I loved working with her. One day she came in and something was off. It turned out she was hungry. It really opened my eyes to the issue of hunger in a new way.

My AmeriCorps experience confirmed my desire to work in the nonprofit world and I was fortunate to be hired as the office manager at MOM. I loved the work and feeling that I was constantly growing, constantly being forced to look at things in new ways.

Several years ago, the then executive director asked if I would be interested in training towards a  a director level position. He was helping me learn the skills that I would need when he tragically passed away. I was honored to be hired as interim director and then as executive director later that year.  I hope my story telling and outreach help others see that our world doesn’t work equally and we can all play a role in solving that.

My most memorable caffeine would be the coffee my husband and I drank on our very special honeymoon in Switzerland. We would go to the little Mövenpick shops, which were everywhere. I had gone abroad on a high school trip and spent a few days in Switzerland. I decided that I wanted to return someday on my honeymoon and thanks to some pre-wedding saving and generous family and friends we were able to! That entire experience was magical and to this day, drinking coffee has never lost that feeling for me. 

My current caffeine of choice is typically a black coffee—I actually like the taste of coffee—though I will add cream for an iced coffee. If I’m having a warm coffee, I like something “nutty” and not too bright; if it’s iced, I prefer a floral, fruity profile. This is a pretty specific level of preference I know. Maybe I just have more taste buds!

My favorite place for caffeine really depends on what I want to accomplish. Do I need space to work? Do I want to cross paths with people? I like to support local and Helbach’s on Parmenter and Barriques are both great. But I have to say that if I’m in a hurry, the Starbucks app is very handy.

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are Lady Gaga and Björk.

I’d love to get together with them and make our own costumes. Wouldn’t that be great? But what really attracts me to them is that they had their own creative vision of what they wanted the world to look like and the drive to make it happen.

I love to connect with people who are trying to find new ways to figure things out. I love seeing how people think. There isn’t any one solution to anything and we need to be willing to think about what we’re trying to achieve and what steps could help us get there.

Say we live in an A-Z world, with each letter representing a step to get us to Z, which is some vision of a perfect world. If I look at our work at MOM, I think we’re about at “F.” I have a vision for what things look like up to G, H or maybe as far as “K” but I have no idea what Steps R or W will be. But by connecting with the right people, those with new perspectives, maybe we can get there. 

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: There are so many things to tackle it would be hard to pick. But I love looking at intersection points. For instance, what’s something in the tech world that might change how we look at some other problem. It takes a lot of time to have those cross conversations and awareness that allow us to see those interconnections. The right amount of caffeine could help create those opportunities and move us a little closer to that next thing. That’s what keeps me going!