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Hakes Wellness Solutions: ‘Helping you hold the line’

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April 29, 2024

CHIPPEWA FALLS – According to research conducted through the U.S. Department of Justice, police officer stress results in “higher rates of heart disease, divorce, sick days taken, alcohol abuse and major psychological illnesses – such as acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety disorders.”

As the daughter of a former 911 dispatcher and the wife of a retired law enforcement officer, Holly Hakes – owner of Hakes Wellness Solutions – said supporting law enforcement and other first responders has become her calling.

The path to getting to where she is today, however, Holly said isn’t necessarily one many people would call traditional.

An unlikely path

Though she said she’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, Holly said she never imagined she’d start her own business, especially at 50.

“My husband and I always worked for someone else,” she said. “We went to work and got a paycheck. I didn’t come from a self-employed family or anything like that.”

Her connection to the law enforcement profession, however, Holly said dates back to her childhood.

“My mother was a 911 dispatcher with the Chippewa Falls Police Department back in the day, so my exposure to the industry goes way back,” she said.

When her mother passed away from breast cancer when she was 20, Holly said she followed in her footsteps and applied for a job doing the same thing.

“I think that’s where the hook started to dig in, in terms of law enforcement,” she said. “I loved being a dispatcher.”

Eventually, Holly said she obtained her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and went on to work for Eau Claire County in the juvenile justice system.

“I did juvenile court intake and was the supervisor of a juvenile detention facility – which gave me more criminal justice experience and more exposure with law enforcement,” she said.

From there, Holly continued her education and obtained a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Stout – though at the time, she said she wasn’t quite sure if it was the right decision.

“When I graduated with that degree, I wondered if I made the right moves,” she said. “I felt like I moved further away from law enforcement than I wanted to, and I was a bit confused.”

Unsure what her next step would be, Holly said she didn’t immediately take a full-time job doing counseling work, instead, she began working for a private human services agency – a role she held for 19 years.

Though her professional role wasn’t directly connected to law enforcement, Holly said her personal life was.

“My husband (Lee) and I have been married 32 years, and he spent 27 of them working in law enforcement,” she said. “That gave me a different perspective – that law enforcement spouse and family perspective.”

Holly said she didn’t start to think about combining her counseling/mental health educational background with her exposure and experience with law enforcement until about 2013.

“I don’t know why it took me so long to come up with that idea,” she said. “(Looking back), I think it is partly because the world didn’t talk about it. Cops didn’t think about mental health. Law enforcement agencies weren’t thinking about wellness and trauma impacts to their personnel the way they do now.”

Holly said she started out doing group support for agencies in response to “their worst days.”

“I think that is what I’m most talented at – helping out after a bad incident or event,” she said.

Those group support sessions, Holly said, eventually turned into referrals, and “then it was off to the races.”

By 2020, Holly said she couldn’t keep up – which left her with a decision.

“At that point, a couple of things happened,” she said. “That winter, December 2020, I turned 50 – so maybe that was part of it, as I started to think about how I wanted to finish my career – was that working for someone else or doing something different?”

During that same time – May 2020 – Holly said her husband decided to retire from the police force and began thinking about his next steps.

“I was like, ‘you know what, I should quit my job, too, and we should open a business doing counseling support for law enforcement professionals and their families,’” she said. 

Looking back, Holly said she isn’t quite sure what inspired her to take the leap, but “it’s worked out.”

“I can’t believe I did it,” she said.

As she reflects, Holly said the timing of the decision made sense.

“I think through the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of stressors for law enforcement,” she said. “Now we’ve got this recruitment retention issue that is infecting all sorts of industries in our country, including law enforcement – which makes them short-staffed with frequent turnover, creating a different type of stress and burden for them.”

When she was a dispatcher, Holly said she remembers the captain she had at the time told her she had too many interests, and “that I needed to pick a path.”

“I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t want to pick a path – I like this, and I like this, and I like this,’” she said. “I didn’t pick a path and now, all of those things I did through my professional career – and I’m 53 years old now – pulled together in a bundle of cords that make sense. But I didn’t know they would.”

Hakes Wellness Solutions

Holly said she opened Hakes Wellness Solutions – a counseling agency that supports law enforcement officers and their families – in 2021 in a 400-square-foot former beauty shop that included an office and a bathroom.

“I made it look a little more like a house,” she said.

Having no business ownership experience, Holly said she’s proud of what she has accomplished. 

“Sometimes, when I go to the mailbox and there’s a check in it from somebody who paid us for some services, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m proud of myself that I figured those things out’ – the accounting system, the billing system, all of it,” she said.

Starting Hakes Wellness Solutions, Holly said, has allowed her to “help good people continue to do great work.”

“I’m rich in heart,” she said. “My husband says I say ‘there are so many good people,’ quite often. But it’s true – there are good people all across the state. And sometimes, that isn’t what we see on the front page of the news, but I’ve seen some good people do some amazing things to benefit our communities.”

Though Holly will tell you the main reason Hakes Wellness Solutions is located in the Chippewa Falls region is because that is where she is from, she said she is also “passionate about rural Wisconsin.”

“I feel like supporting law enforcement in Northwestern Wisconsin is different from doing it in a densely populated metropolitan,” she said. “We have fewer resources and a lot more miles between them.”

Though she has done some work outside the Chippewa Falls region, Holly said she tries to focus on areas within a two-hour radius.

“That doesn’t mean I haven’t supported officers from larger communities, because I have, but we’re passionate about supporting agencies in Northwestern Wisconsin because we get it – we get what it’s like (to live and work in this region),” she said.

Hakes Wellness Solutions, Holly said, offers a variety of services.

“We offer counseling and offer a lot of in-service training, which is trauma-focused training aimed at helping professionals that do that work understand the impact of stress and trauma on their brain and how to provide care to themselves so they can continue to endure those conditions,” she said. 

Hakes Wellness Solutions also provides wellness visits.

“Law enforcement staff are mandatorily required to come and see me, my staff or another counselor at a different agency for a proactive wellness check,” she said.

Holly said they are similar to check-ups at a doctor’s office.

“What we do is educate them,” she said. “Each time they come in, I try to have a bit of a different training focus – trauma impact, self-care strategies, coping – and showing them it’s a resource they can turn to if something bad happens.”

Holly said it has a lot to do with making that initial connection.

“It’s a lot easier to tell your doctor something personal and private if you’ve met them before,” she said.

Another aspect of Hakes Wellness Solutions, Holly said, is they need to be able and willing to respond 24/7.

“None of the bad things seem to happen Monday through Friday, nine to five,” she said. “So, a lot of the work we do on bad days is after hours, traveling. I’m going to (law enforcement) agencies – so that’s a little different. Most counseling agencies aren’t running 24/7 availability.”

One of the positives to come out of the pandemic, Holly said, is the expansion of virtual capabilities.

“Virtual support became more of a reality and more accepted because we were all forced to accept it,” she said. “That made a huge difference because I can support people from all over the state, which is amazing.”

Increased demand

2023, Holly said, was a tough year.

“We lost three officers in 2023 – in Barron County Chetek police officer Emily Breidenbach and Cameron police officer Hunter Scheel and St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office deputy Kaitie Leising,” she said. “Those are agencies close to us geographically that I did a lot of work with over the years.”

As she helped support the agencies handle three line-of-duty deaths, Holly said she realized quickly she needed to either “cry uncle and start turning away referrals,” or lean in and grow – both in space and staff.

“I chose the second option,” she said.

Hakes Wellness Solutions recently held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on its $1,000 expansion, and though she has questioned whether growing was the right move, Holly said “it doesn’t matter.”

“I’m 53 years old, and I just did a $1,000 addition on a building and hired a couple of staff – would a financial person look at me and say that was a good investment?” she said. “Will I even see the return on the investment? I don’t know, but what I do know is it doesn’t matter.”

Holly said she sees a need and she wants to do whatever she can to help fill it.

“I just really care,” she said.

The growth in staff, Holly said, includes an additional counselor, as well as an intern – a practicum student who is halfway through earning her master’s degree.

“She is a law enforcement spouse as well,” she said.

Holly said the additional staff has allowed Hakes Wellness Solutions to increase its capacity to offer support.

“We’re serving more agencies, move officers,” she said. 

Holly said it has also allowed her to share her skills and knowledge with the next generation.

“I thought, if I’m going to cultivate a purpose from this, and in 10 or 15 years, or whatever it is that I retire – if I can say I played a part in teaching other counselors how to be well received in law enforcement, that would be a good thing to say I did,” she said. “I’m giving counselors who would like to specialize in this line of work somewhere to come.”

Law enforcement focus

Hakes Wellness Solutions, Holly said, only takes referrals from people who work in the law enforcement/first responder industry or their family members.

“I think (focusing on) that ended up being an important decision because of the shortage of mental health resources,” she said.

Holly said she learned this lesson early on.

“There was about six months when we first opened that I was accepting referrals from anybody,” she said. “Every single day, I come into message after message of people begging, ‘Will you see my child? Please see me.’ It’s heartbreaking that the resources are stretched.”

Specializing only in law enforcement/first responders (and their families) care, Holly said, ensures they can be available when needed.

“That is imperative because somebody’s going to support them so they can keep supporting and assisting everyone else,” she said. “It’s important we give good support to the people who are doing the job because we need the job done.”

As a counselor who focuses on helping law enforcement officers and first responders through traumatic incidents, Holly said, it’s important to understand the profession.

“I don’t need to know how to be a cop or a dispatcher or a jailer or whatever, but I have to know enough to be dangerous so I can keep up with the impacts,” she said.

For those unfamiliar with some of the details of the job, Holly said they may get caught up in the details.

“‘What’s a SWAT team? What’s less lethal?’” she said. “Then the people who are impacted aren’t getting their needs met because they’re spending too much time teaching you what’s going on.”

Holly said most counselors have to be trauma-aware, but they might not see a high concentration of trauma-impacted clients.

“We’re probably looking at 80% of the people we support have been exposed to trauma and stress in their work,” she said.

When she first started, Holly said Hakes Wellness Solutions was one of the only business models that focused on law enforcement officers and first responders.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find two or three names of people in the state who did this kind of work,” she said. “Now, there are more people who are creating business models and specializing and doing more work for law enforcement, so this certainly isn’t just a Holly Hakes show – and I don’t want it to be. I want there to be people everywhere who want to do this kind of work, so it’s been good to see the resources grow.”

Today, Holly said law enforcement agencies are much more trauma aware and informed, “so they do a much better job of offering proactive support.”

For more information on Hakes Wellness Solutions or law enforcement-focused counseling, visit

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