By Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services
Great communication is key to the success of any
organization – especially one like ours with such an important mission. But long
lasting success rarely comes from large corporate communications plans. It
comes instead from authentic conversations, the kind where all those invested in our
mission not only receive information but feel that they, too, have been
These conversations – planned or spontaneous, between two or
among many – set the tone for an entire agency. They are where we learn from
one another or push each other away. They are where we strengthen our culture
and our commitment to the people we serve or shut down innovative ideas.
So, what can we do?
We can turn off our automatic responses and listen more. We
can show emotion and make it easier for people to read us and our intentions.
We can talk about what is going right and plan how to make it work even better.
We can offer specific feedback that helps people grow and learn. We can take
risks and share what’s most important to us and to the people we serve, always
with tact so we’re offering dignity and showing respect.
We can model courage and honesty in all that we do because that
is the kind of communication that strengthens a great organization.
Elizabeth Krocke, Therap coordinator, liked working in the agency’s quality assistance department but she jumped at the chance to join the information technology staff and help Heritage Christian Services to transition from paper to electronic record keeping.
What is Therap?
It’s an online reporting system designed to maximize staff communication, documentation accuracy and health record accessibility. Eventually, the system will support nearly 2,000 people served in day habilitation programs, residences and service coordination.
How does Therap affect HCS?
Within just one day habilitation site, we’ve estimated that Therap will save more than 100,000 pieces of paper a year. Imagine that savings across more than 80 sites. The new Web-based profiles can be instantly and securely shared across multiple departments and potentially with other providers. And while there’s been a front-end investment in the software, training and netbooks (mini-laptops), important information about the people we support will be quicker to access and more detailed. Essentially, caregivers will be able to spend less time on paperwork and more time with the people they support.
How has the implementation of Therap been received?
Some staff members were intimidated by Therap, especially those who don’t spend a lot of time using computers. But after just a few days of training and implementation, I can’t think of one employee who hasn’t been thrilled with the system’s convenience and efficiency. That’s something to celebrate!
Robert Pieters – founder, president and C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services – will retire Dec. 31 after 26 years of service, leaving a legacy of agency growth and vitality.
Pieters, named the 2010 Executive of the Year by the Rochester Business Journal, will continue to serve Heritage Christian by joining its board in 2013. His successor will be Marisa Geitner, who became executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2005 as part of a strategic executive succession plan for the agency, which ranks fourth in non-profits in Monroe County.
“We spent years planning so that we could start this organization, and we’ve also spent several years preparing for this transition in leadership,” Pieters said. “We believe we owe it to the people we support and to their families to ensure this agency is strong, not just for today but for the future.”
The story of how the agency began is a time honored one amongst Heritage Christian’s families. In 1980, Pieters and his wife, Marie, banded with other parents who had children with developmental disabilities to start a Christian-based non-profit, mortgaging their homes and partnering with church communities to open their first neighborhood home four years later.
Once Pieters became president in 1986, he spent more than two decades growing the agency from four homes to more than 100 facilities and eventually operating on a budget in excess of $55-million. HCS continues to specialize in disabilities services - including residential homes, day habitation, respite care and Medicaid service coordination – but it has diversified its operations and extended its high quality of service to other ventures including: Springdale Farm, the Pieters Family Life Center, Expressive Beginnings Child Care and Heritage Christian Stables. It now serves more than 1,700 children and adults.
In addition, for the past 10 years the NYS Office for People With Developmental Disabilities has ranked Heritage Christian in the top 1 percent out of more than 800 providers statewide. Nationally, Heritage Christian Services has been recognized with the prestigious 2009 Community Builder award from the American Network of Community Options and Resources for its capacity to model and influence inclusive communities for people with disabilities.
Pieters said that the future is bright and that he looks forward to staying close to the agency through his board service and family involvement. “Heritage Christian has never been one to rest on its laurels,” Pieters said. “I’m proud of where this agency has come from, and I know I’ll be proud of where it is going.”
About Marisa Geitner
Marisa Geitner has served the agency for 19 years and has lead the agency through many firsts, including the launch of a new day program model, building an organizational development department to support 1,400 employees and now guiding HCS and similar agencies through a complex Medicaid redesign. Geitner, too, is one of Rochester Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 and an esteemed ATHENA honoree, recognized by the Rochester Business Alliance’s Women’s Council in 2011.
About Heritage Christian
Heritage Christian Services is a thriving human services agency that supports children and adults with disabilities; provides high quality child care; and matches business owners with talented workers who have developmental disabilities.
The agency now operates 70 neighborhood homes, service coordination, respite, community habilitation and 27 day programs and has been recognized by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities as one of New York state's top service providers to people with special needs.
Heritage Christian Services is known for innovative programs like the Pieters Family Life Center and Expressive Beginnings Child Care in Henrietta, Springdale Farm in Ogden, Heritage Christian Stables in Webster, A Second Thought Resale Shop in East Rochester, Heritage Hollow on Sixth Lake in Inlet and Little Valley Retreat Center near Allegany State Park.
For more information, visit www.heritagechristianservices.org.
Ken Shaw wasn’t into essays or poetry – or writing of any kind – but he knew he had his own story to tell. So, two years ago he told that story by publishing a 136-page book, and he hopes his life lessons will help others.
“I hope people come away with a better attitude,” he said from Ferncliff Gardens Apartments in Rochester. Even with tough times, “People can still have a good life and be able to be happy.”
Shaw’s book, Trying to Fill the Void, tells how he learned to cope with the death of his father, a Rochester police officer killed in the line of duty when Shaw was only 19 months old. The book also touches on difficult relationships that Shaw has navigated and some of his physical challenges.
“I think the book is really about how my life has progressed – and how it hasn’t progressed,” he said, adding that his friends have enjoyed the book, which is available through Amazon.com. “I’m proud of it.”
And a recent stay in the hospital has planted the seeds for a possible second book.
“It would be mostly fact,” he said as his first book sat nearby. “Fiction would be too hard to write.”
The Heritage Christian Legacy Mile & 5K is an annual event which benefits Heritage Christian Services Foundation. Proceeds from the event directly benefit the more than 1,600 children and adults with developmental disabilities. Since 2009, 11-year-old Madison Legault, granddaughter of Ruth Benjamin, HCS director of health maintenance and services, has been raising money for the Legacy Mile & 5K.
It’s through involvement with many Heritage Christian events where she has developed a beautiful friendship with Laurie Otto, one of Heritage Christian’s founding children. Madison understands the importance of raising money to ensure that the people supported by Heritage Christian will always have access to the highest quality of care – and that’s in part because of the friendship she has with Otto and others, including those she’s met through her participation in Heart of Dance.
“Laurie taught me how to be a good friend,” Madison said.
Madison’s Legacy Mile & 5K team, Pink Cupcakes, has raised more than $1,700. Madison has a simple approach to fundraising. “I make phone calls, send emails and ask friends and family for donations.”
More than 1,200 guests are expected to attend this year’s Legacy Mile & 5K event on Aug. 25, where Madison will be the spirit coordinator, helping to kick off the one-mile walk with Otto. The event is open to the public and families and friends of loved ones supported by Heritage Christian are encouraged to attend.
Heritage Christian Legacy Mile & 5K
Saturday, Aug. 25
Monroe Community College, 1000 East Henrietta Road, Brighton
5K registration 7 a.m.; race at 8:30 a.m.
One-mile walk 10:15 a.m.
Event highlights: live music, clowns, face painting, bounce house, yard games and more!
Lowes, a service coordinator at Heritage Christian, talks about the grant and running.
1.What motivated you to register with your daughter? Is this her first race? If not, is this something you do together often?
This will be Bel’s first race. Last year I ran the 5K with my niece, Leah (age 12), who is running again this year. Isabel decided she might walk the 5k with my mom or my sister, but this has motivated her to join Girls on the Run this fall. When I asked Isabel about why she would like to do this with me she said she likes to spend time together. She also understands that being healthy is really important and that she will feel better when she is active and eats well.
Isabel was also motivated to try this because she loves to help people and thought this was one way she could participate. She loves to tell people that I help people at work and loves to be a volunteer. She has been coming with me to Heritage events for several years -- including volunteering at the Annual Dinner and Heart of Dance. I like that she understands that being part of a community means that sometimes you help your community.
2.What have you done to prepare (as a pair)?
To prepare for this event, Isabel and I have been going on walks and jogs (along with Sofia in the jog stroller) a few times a week together. We have been having fun exploring trails near our home and making out a weekly plan for when we can squeeze in a walk.
3.What does a shared activity like this mean to you and Isabel?
Any time away from my family outside of work is tough -- we are a very close knit family. Being able to show support to Heritage as well as spend time with my kids is great. It is also important to me that my kids meet all kinds of people, including people that have disabilities. I want them to understand that just because someone needs help sometimes they are not less of a person -- we all need help sometimes.
In the past 17 years, Norma McLernon has brought joy and friendship to people with disabilities, raised money so that community pillars like the YMCA can continue to serve and has welcomed people to the Pieters Family Life Center and introduced them to a healthier way of life.
She has made serving others a full-time, volunteer job.
Through her church, Norma started the Winton Road Friendship Group when a group home opened next to Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church in Brighton. Each month for the last 17 years, Norma and others plan activities for the people who live at the home. Together they host baby showers, watch Super Bowls, create seasonal crafts and build friendships.
In 2008, she won the prestigious Gail Otto Community Service Award from Heritage Christian Services – in part because of her work with the Friendship Group but also because of her years of service at the Pieters Family Life Center, which is a community wellness center. At the center, she covered the reception desk, tabulated sign-in sheets and helped with any other task that came along, from making copies to setting up chairs. Now, she volunteers in the development office at Heritage Christian, where she documents the agency’s history and advocates for people with developmental disabilities. In just those two capacities – the Life Center and the development office – she has volunteered 136 hours. And that’s just a small sample of her busy volunteer schedule.
Nine local agencies – including Heritage Christian Services and Lifetime Assistance, Inc.– are drawing the attention of state leaders by working together to study changes in how Medicaid will deliver and pay for services for people with disabilities.
Lawmakers throughout the state are struggling to make Medicaid self-sustaining, and the coalition of local agencies, called Person Centered Services of Western New York, has invested time, intellectual capital and financial resources in being part of the solution.
Eventually the group may apply to be one of a handful of state-designated managed care organizations, which means that other agencies in Western New York would contract with PCSWNY to offer services instead of working through the state. Such changes are meant to shift away from one-size-fits-all care and move toward more customized options for people.
“This is a crucial step in advancing the Medicaid waiver redesign for people with developmental disabilities,” said Marisa Geitner, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Heritage Christian Services, which is piloting a new “universal needs assessment tool” for the state along with a new program for documenting the services that have been delivered. “We really want to learn as much as we can and then advocate and shape the system so people with disabilities are always treated with dignity and compassion. We’ve got to all be partners in this transition.”
Since the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities recently realigned its regions, some agencies find themselves working with partners in new geographic areas. The nine agencies that make up Person-Centered Services, for example, span both the Rochester and Buffalo areas.
The new 17-county region – and the partnerships – makes sense for an agency like Heritage Christian Services, which has significant operations in Rochester and Buffalo, said Geitner, adding that PCSWNY has held public information meetings in both cities.
Lifetime Assistance, which offers comprehensive services in the region, wants to protect and advance services throughout Western New York, said James Branciforte, president of the agency.
“Forward-thinking agencies need to be out front of the massive public policy changes that will occur in the next three to five years,” he said. “And Person Centered Services is demonstrating the leadership needed to assure the highest quality services for our neighbors with developmental disabilities."
It’s not too late for others to be involved, he added. Those who are interested can view a PowerPoint presentation at www.pcswny.com and learn more about the nine founding agencies.
People who work at Heritage Christian Services serve with their hearts – and that sometimes means the sense of pleasure and satisfaction makes it easy for employees to forget to care for themselves, said Barb Cacia, wellness coordinator at the Pieters Family Life Center.
That’s why she’s leading an employee wellness program called Healthy You.
“I’d like to remind them to keep the oil changed so they can continue to do what they are good at,” she said. “They don’t always know that they need to take good care of themselves.”
Already she’s planning to meet with direct support professionals at each home to talk about sleep management, keeping stress levels under control and other wellness goals. Intramural sports are starting up within the agency as are programs for those who share a love of biking, photography or running. Soon she’ll be coordinating a group that meets to talk about grieving and another group that meets to map out their goals.
“We’ll probably meet in the Garden Café at the Pieters Family Life Center and do a little journaling about goals,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what the goal is. How can we help you get there?”
Eventually, Cacia wants to add an after-work exercise group and sponsor family events – like a trip to the local zoo – once a month, just to get people in the habit of moving and enjoying life.
“We want to help people explore wellness,” she said. “Instead of slugging through life, let’s start living. As our attitudes change, better health will come.”