Brad and Nick Schlaikowski founded Courage MKE in 2015 with a mission to fuel a collaborative movement to provide the resources LGBTQ+ youth need to thrive.  After their family fostered teens and learned of their struggles. They made it their mission to build something better for our most vulnerable.

In 2019 Courage MKE opened Wisconsin’s first home for displaced LGBTQ+ youth. Courage MKE believes that in order for youth to work on themselves, they must be able to be themselves. The Courage House is a licensed group home on Milwaukee’s south side. Our Staff, Board and Volunteers are committed to creating an environment in which each resident feels like they are a part of the entire Courage MKE Family. At the Courage House, we assist residents with counseling, life skills, family reunification, and provide them the same experiences every child deserves in a family setting. 


Meet Our Founders

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Brad Schlaikowski

Co-founder & Executive Dir.

Brad had a vision one night in August 2015, to host an event to raise money for homeless LGBTQ+ youth in Milwaukee. The event grew larger than anyone imagined and thus, Courage MKE was born. Brad’s credentials are in Early Childhood Development, which have led him and his husband down the path of fostering kids ages 2-17.


Volunteering has been a passion of Brad’s for as long as he can remember. He has served as a leader on many boards at his children’s schools and in the foster care community. His passion to ensure every LGBTQ child in and around Greater Milwaukee is given the opportunity to be successful is what drives him every day.


Brad has been married to his husband Nick for two years; they live in Wauwatosa with their children Xavier, Noah, Landon and Ivy along with their two dogs, cat and ferret.

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Nick Schlaikowski

Co-founder & Officer

Nick, also known as Nadia St. James, has been a servant to the LGBTQ+ community for many years. After coming out at a very early age, he quickly realized the support and services that his community was lacking. While still in high school, he served on many collegiate panels across the state to educate students and professors on lgbt issues. After high school, Nick joined forces with the Gay Straight Student Alliance Coalition where he helped start GSA's in high schools across N.E. Wisconsin. Young and ambitious, he moved to Milwaukee at 24 years old. Since then, he has poured himself into fundraising and was consistently a top 5 fundraiser for AIDS walk WI.

Nick found inspiration in a teenage girl who was kicked out of her family home after coming out. Her strength and ability to overcome adversity continues to be his driving force. Nick is dedicated to creating a safe environment that fosters individuality and empowers lgbtq teens to be successful.

Meet Our Staff

Marcus L. Wise

Director of Operations

Marcus, a Milwaukee transplant, moved from Buffalo NY in the summer of 2016.

Marcus is passionate about Courage MKE  because his personal history is rooted in the same experiences shared by the youth that Courage serves.


With a difficult home life and having come out at 15 in high school at a time before GSA’s existed and acceptance was more common, he dropped out junior year and moved out. He spent the next couple years couch-surfing and finding creative ways to support and feed himself. These were difficult years that could have been prevented in the presence of a place like the Courage House.

At 20, Marcus moved to New Hampshire with his dad to get clean from drugs and break ties with bad influences. He got his life back on track,  returned to NY and got his G.E.D. and enrolled at the University at Buffalo where he received his B.A.

In the years following, Marcus would  open a number of art galleries; the first, 464 Gallery served as a space for local and emerging artists. His second gallery, Glow Gallery, catered primarily to serving the LGBTQ+ artist community. 

Marcus moved here to join his husband of 14-years who was transferred for a job in Milwaukee. 

Now, Marcus enjoys travel, fine art photography, movies, socializing with friends, hanging with his husband Daniel and their fur babies.

Laura Cherek-Laabs

Grant Writer

Laura is passionate about being part of the Courage MKE team because her son came out at 17. “I always had a feeling that he was gay but, let him figure things out on his own and I knew he would tell me when he was ready.” Said Laura. After speaking with her son she had one second of regret, she wondered what was going through his head all of these years? Could she have helped him work through these confusing thoughts? However, he was (and still is) a happy, productive human being. This is him and she loves her son no matter what. She is very proud of him and what he has accomplished in his life.

Prior to Courage MKE Laura was a successful grant writer at another non-profit for 8 years. She also ran an effective teeth brushing program for those with disabilities. Laura was key in raising enough money to open a needed 3 chair dental clinic for only those with disabilities. She was involved in the clinic from design to the grand opening. She continued researching and writing grants to keep the clinic sustainable. The dental clinic continues to be a beacon of hope for those who are unable to be seen in a general office setting due to physical or cognitive disabilities.

When Laura heard that Courage MKE was in need of a Grant Writer she knew immediately she not only wanted the position she needed it, it was a perfect fit. She knew she could help the cause by raising money writing grants. It is Laura’s goal to raise enough money to keep Courage MKE and Courage House sustainable for many years to come. She understands many teenagers are not as fortunate as her son and would like to help those who are in need.

In her free time Laura likes to spend time with friends and family, yoga and gardening. On September 17, 2018 she will be celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary with her husband Rich. Laura and Rich are currently working on refurbishing their home in Wauwatosa.

Erin Schounard

Resident Care Worker

Erin is a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota with a passion for being an empathic presence in the lives of others. In her free time, life is consumed with cooking, planting, and outdoor hiking adventures. Erin is excited to be a part of the Courage team, an organization that aligns deeply with her values and lifestyle. 

House Program Manager

House Supervisor

Resident Care Worker

Resident Care Worker

Resident Care Worker


Meet Our Board of Directors

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Eric Heinritz


Eric comes to Courage MKE with over 17 years experience in nonprofit management including various leadership roles specifically with LGBTQ+ serving organizations. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Cardinal Stritch University and has an extensive background in nonprofit finance. Eric is also the very proud father to his adopted twin daughters.

Eric is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and is dedicated to supporting organizations that better the lives of all LGBTQ+ people. As a former foster parent, he learned about the incredible lack of resources and support available to Milwaukee’s LGBTQ+ youth. After stepping down from his role as executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride earlier this year, Eric has recently returned to Milwaukee and is excited to support Courage MKE’s continued growth.


Jill Waxman


Jill is a fairly recent transplant from Chicago (GO CUBS!) to Milwaukee in the last 5 years and has fully acclimated to making Milwaukee her home. She is both honored and grateful to be joining the Courage MKE Board of Directors. Jill brings a wealth of personal and professional knowledge, as she works as an adolescent mental health therapist here in the community. It is her passion to support and guide adolescents and young adults in to the best, healthiest versions of themselves they can be and to do so in a safe, empowering environment, which is exactly what the Courage House will offer them.

In her spare time she enjoys running and working out and balancing that with trying out new restaurants in the local neighborhoods. Jill resides with her wonderful partner, Katie, and their 3 fur children. 

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Meg Strobel


Meg is photographer and videographer living and working in Milwaukee.  A long time advocate for LGBT rights and gender equality, she is honored to serve as treasurer for Courage MKE.  Her work explores beauty and gender fluidity, often featuring drag performers. 

Meg enjoys cycling, traveling, and collecting exotic plants.


Natalie Zanoni


Natalie started her career as an adolescent therapist at Lad Lake and is currently serving as the Director of Client & Program Services at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. Her involvement with Courage MKE allows Natalie to combine her dual passion of serving youth and the LGBTQ+ community and use her clinical background as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Substance Abuse Counselor. 

A Milwaukee native, Natalie lives in Bay View with her wife, Jen and two rescue dogs, Kevin and Louie.

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Leslie Angove

Vice President

Leslie Angove has more than 15 years of experience in human resources. Her broad experience includes benefits, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. Leslie’s mission with Courage MKE is to work with the youth of Milwaukee to provide opportunities focused on post high school planning, networking engagements and professional development.  


Leslie’s passion--simply put--is to make a difference in our future generation.  LGBT youth often face the challenges of social stigma and discrimination, and can be at risk of becoming homeless as they are may be rejected by their families.  The Courage House will provide a home that is safe, loving and encouraging.   Leslie’s mission is to empower the youth to ignite their warrior spirit, cultivate their future, and support them as they strive to reach their full potential.  Through the mission and resources of Courage MKE, the possibilities will be endless.

Leslie earned her Bachelor of Arts in Human Resources from Concordia University and is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management. Prior to serving on the board for Courage MKE, Leslie served as a Board of Director and Secretary for Vital Voices for Mental Health. 


Joe Foster


After attending a Courage MKE event in 2018 with Dennis and Judy Shepard, Joe knew that he wanted to do his part to make Brad's endeavor as successful as possible.

Over his 8 year career, Joe operated his own fundraising consulting firm, J Fo Consulting, where he consulted with multiple nonprofit organizations, including Housing Works and GLAAD. Joe has also held positions at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research; Roundabout Theatre Company; and Lambda Legal.

Before relocating from New York City to Denver to join the Matthew Shepard Foundation as Development Director, Joe was a member of The Center’s Young Leadership Council, Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the New York Gay Flag Football League.

Joe is a native of Atlantic City, NJ and received his Bachelors in Theatre Studies from Montclair State University. In his free time, he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts, playing flag football, and going to local breweries.


Shelly Sabourin


Shelly brings a wealth of healthcare, clinical, and operational knowledge to the Courage MKE family with her extensive background as a Nursing Leader. She also has intimate knowledge and experience with what it's like as a mother, leading a child and family through the transition that comes  when your child comes out as transgender. She recently moved to Milwaukee with her husband Clay, who is originally  from the area. Both are nurses and have 5 children ranging from age 20 to 23.

She was drawn to Courage MKE because of her love for her son, Ronan, her daughter Bethany, her desire to improve awareness, education and equality for them. Courage MKE is more than just with four walls to Shelly. She sees the hope and love that it has and will continue to give LGBTQ+ youth the opportunity to grow and thrive in a family who loves and supports them as she has seen in her own children and that every child deserves. Shelly is excited to use her creative leadership abilities and her personal experiences to help Courage MKE grow.

Shelly has many hobbies such as triathlon, running and health and wellness; but more so she loves to create in the kitchen She also loves to travel the world and meet new people and learn about others, their food, cultures and ways of building relationships


Miss and Mr. Courage MKE

Elected yearly, Miss and Mr. Courage serve as representatives of the Courage MKE community. As the faces of Courage MKE, they participate in philanthropic events, donate their time, and spread the word on Courage MKE's work. 


Miss Birdee

Miss Courage MKE 2019

What inspires you?
I'm inspired by injustice, inequality and disrespect - when I see negative interactions in the world, I feel a fire ignite inside myself to work harder and more tirelessly to correct the inequities that exist all around us, and to improve the moral standards and the standard of life by which we as people hold to ourselves and each other.  I'm inspired by the opportunities I have to strengthen and give back to the communities I live in, and to empower those people who want to, but cannot build themselves alone.

What would you want people to know about Courage's plans, mission, or the organization as a whole?
It may be 2019, but it's still harder being LGBT+ than being heterosexual, especially for young people who are trying to find the balance between fitting in and being themselves. There are still youths who are expelled from their homes and families merely because they couldn't fit the mold they were expected to fill.
We exist because the need exists. We exist to provide the love, care and support that these young people need to become the fully functioning, independent people they are meant to be.

How do you help as Miss Courage?
My role as Miss Courage is to continue spreading awareness of the Courage organization and its mission, and to be a public figure fighting for what is right on behalf of Courage.  My role includes the tasks of organizing and participating in fundraising and supply-donation events, the public duty of being a connection between our community and our institution, and the symbolic importance of standing strong as a beacon of hope, acceptance and love.

Who would play you in a biographical film about yourself?
Ohhhh goodness, my life's film is still barely beginning!  Some of the performances I do include impersonation, but I'm not sure who would play me?  While I've done many things so far, my accomplishments couldn't possibly stand up to those who have come before me!  It's been an ambition of mine to work on a film or stage production about David Bowie, and I'm fascinated by the cultural revolution that has taken place from the 1960's to the 2010's.


Edward Candelaria

Mr. Courage MKE 2019

Edward Candelaria Is 40 years young. Born in Puerto Rico, raised in Union City, NJ and resides in Greenfield, WI. For the past 13 years, he has worked as a Patient Financial Advocate Lead for Advocate Aurora HealthCare helping uninsured and underinsured patients with programs to help with the overwhelming healthcare cost and their plans for future expenses. He also advocates, helps and supports suicidal patients.

He is the director of Pridefest’s Leather & Fetish fashion show a member of Mr. Friendly Wisconsin, Milwaukee Organized Bears (MOB) as well as a member of the Castaways MC of Milwaukee which they hold monthly fundraisers to support many local non-profit organizations. 

Eddie's vision is to spread Courage’s vision and values all over the state working closely with many of the connections and friendships built through years of representing over 12 Wisconsin titles. He is very proud of Wisconsin's LGBT+ community and Allies for showing so much love and support.


“Being Mr. Courage MKE is not what you are going to do during your reign it’s what you have already accomplished for your community”


What inspires you?

Nothing inspires me more than being humble. How you treat others and affect those around you is how the community will see you. Being Humble is something you can’t label yourself, it’s something you must earn based on your positive actions. 


What would you want people to know about Courage's plans, mission, or the organization as a whole? 

Courage is a trust worthy organization with honest board members. They are always there to answer any questions and advocate for the organization.  

This organization is needed all across the Nation!


How will you help as Mr. Courage?

Stand up, speak and listen. I have been positively advocating about Courage MKE since 2016 and plan on doing so even after my reign.  

I am proof of not needing a crown to make an impactable fundraise event.  With passion, dedication and community support, you can make a difference.

Courage MKE

270 E. Highland Ave. Suite I

Milwaukee, WI 53202

(414) 240-2882


Office Hours: 9am - 4pm Monday-Friday

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