Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Yesterday and Today

By: Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services

It seems as though just yesterday we were celebrating the the accomplishments of 2013, so when I reflect on the changes I've seen in 2014, I can't help but compare them to yesterday.

Yesterday we saw a person hired into a paying job.

Today we watch that same person leave that job in order to pursue a career that is more in step with his interests and passions.

No longer about a job, but rather about the right job.

Yesterday we encouraged a family to include their daughter, as they would any other, in the difficult experience of losing a loved one. We encouraged them by saying, "We can support them through it. We can't protect them from loss."

Today we watch as that same family is shaped by the emotional fortitude and faith demonstrated by that same daughter as she holds the hand of her dying mother with a presence not often witnessed and leads her family through the celebration of life that follows with a sense of peace and strength that only comes with true faith in what is to come.

Emotional fortitude and faith developed from a lifetime of experience and adversity.

Yesterday we thought of self-direction as a complex New York state "system" appropriate for only a few.

Today we see citizenship, authority and direction as an entitlement of all.

It is about what I want out of life, not what a system wants for me. If my desires aren't clear to you based on how I communicate, look and listen differently. I have intuition that shapes my choices.

This change, this shift in thinking, wouldn't happen without your commitment. Each of you has stepped back -- not only to allow space for people to grow, but to enlarge the world in which we live. You've stepped back and extended a hand to welcome others into a relationship that you have come to cherish.

Broadening relationships, expanding experiences and imagining new possibilities.

Share with us, expand the story, encourage others. What are your yesterday versus today stories? I look forward to your sharing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Fight or flight -- we can do better

By: Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services

I take my health very seriously. I try to listen to the signals my body gives me. I work to understand how to interpret those signals and adjust to ensure the best outcome to my physical and emotional wellbeing. Perhaps that’s why I am so fascinated by the response we have to confrontation. Like animals, we too are hardwired for swift response to confrontation: fight or flight.

Supporting individuals in achieving their outcomes in a system in chronic flux is riddled with daily confrontation. We can spend hours commiserating about the uncertainties and the insufficiencies – and waging war against “the system” and those responsible for the decisions that impact it.

When faced with these daily confrontations, my brain (and my heart) quickly rule out running away, so I prepare to fight. My heart rate quickens, my breathing deepens and my senses are in high alert. I am prepared to stand strong, defend and fight. I close myself off to anything that might influence or distract me. I am battling. It’s only in hindsight that I see the shortcoming of my response.

Too often we surrender to a primitive response in the face of adversity. Adversity is a gift if we accept it. Not a passive acceptance – that to me is the same as fleeing. I’m talking about active acceptance with open arms, open ears and an open mind. Embrace it so that we can guide our actions beyond a chemical response.

If we remain only battle ready we miss the opportunity to collaborate and innovate. To create possibilities not yet imagined. To solve age-old problems with new and sustainable solutions. Let’s harness the energy our body gives us not to fight but to imagine and be active in the change.

That is the kind of response this important work deserves.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Substitute -- or supported -- decision making?

By: Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services

At Heritage Christian we’ve been talking a lot about the difference between substitute decision making and supported decision making – and how each one of us can continue to learn and support decision making differently.
This section, from a report by Inclusion International, explains it well:

People in the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities – usually with the best of intentions – often try to eliminate all of life’s risks and prevent any opportunities for failure. What can result is a life where an individual has never had the opportunity to develop new skills and learning, and has never experienced the satisfaction of achieving something that was not certain to be achieved from the beginning. … by supporting each other in informed risk-taking, and utilizing the many teaching opportunities it reveals, we are provided with the opportunity to try new things, test our limits, and discover capabilities we never knew we had, helping us to achieve goals that further enrich our lives.

The people who choose to use our services and the Inclusion International report, “Independent But Not Alone: A Global Report on the Right to Decide,” make a compelling case for welcoming people with disabilities into the conversation and into the decision-making process in a very meaningful way.

How are we doing with our ability to support decision making? What limits us from supporting decision making differently? What strategies have you found helpful?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Beautiful Justice

By Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services

I’m honored to share this space with Dr. Beth Mount, who teaches we all have gifts – and that those gifts can and should be used in community. She is an activist and an artist, a quilter who uses fabric and stitches as a metaphor for weaving people together. May you find beauty in her words.


My life's work of 40 years is devoted to the possibility that all people, particularly those with disabilities, are seen in the light of their capacities and possible vision. My community of friends and colleagues work steadily on many aspects of personal, neighborhood, organizational, and cultural change so that the hopes expressed by people and families have some concrete impact on the structures of society. This work has affirmed in me the belief that all people have gifts to bring, and that the fabric of community is strengthened when we incorporate the capacities of all people

I grew up in Atlanta during the civil rights movement and consequently had the privilege of living with the voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. calling us all to remember that, “We are all tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

Dr. King’s beloved community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood and this will be accomplished thru the attainment of civil rights and mutually respectful relationships. Legal rights create the foundation for equal opportunity, however the vision of the beloved community invites personal and social relationships that are created by love—and these cannot be legislated. Dr. King describes this agape love as an “overflowing love seeking to preserve and create community.”  Undoubtedly, the people I know best benefit from and contribute to this art of relationship building and belonging.

The TEDx talk “Beautiful Justice” expresses the vision that people can work and belong to community regardless of their intellectual limitations and other constraints. We are all better together when we create new worlds for people that bring forth the best in all of us.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Appreciating families and their input

By Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services

At Heritage Christian we are so thankful for the rich support we receive from the family members and friends of those we serve.  Your input helps us focus on what matters most to each person, particularly when an individual has a challenging time communicating.

We are also grateful to those who took time to complete our family engagement survey. You reminded us that personalized support, good communication and consistency in staffing are key to providing excellent and dignified service. Please know we welcome your thoughts – not just on this survey but throughout the year. We are committed to improving because we are committed to your loved ones and our mission.

We have an agency full of creative, solution-focused staff members who work hard each day to digest feedback and plan for an approach that strengthens people’s relationships and builds their experiences. Why?  Because we have an agency full of people who see endless possibilities for the people we serve. Thank you for being part of that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning about citizenship for all

By Marisa Geitner, president & C.E.O. of Heritage Christian Services

I’m committed to being a lifelong learner. I celebrate accomplishments, but I always search for ways to grow and improve – especially when it comes to the way we partner with people who are in need of our supports and services.  That’s why at Heritage Christian we’ve dedicated time and resources for some of our staff members to take an online course in Citizen Centered Leadership.

In the course, they learn about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, of belonging within a community, and they learn alongside those who receive services from our agency. For example, Joanie Parker, director of day services, and Tina Crandall, who is employed by Heritage Christian and also benefits from some of our services, meet weekly to discuss what they are learning and how our supports could improve.

“We look for things that are different in her life and mine that don’t need to be,” Joanie said while Tina nodded. Things like waiting until it is your turn to go out for the evening or having other people make doctors’ appointments for you when you’re capable of doing it on your own.

“I’m learning to speak up about myself,” said Tina, who likes to please people, even if it means she doesn’t get what she wants. “I want to run my own life.”

Already, Tina has told her parents and the people who work at her home that she wants to take a more active role in making decisions and start volunteering on her days off.

“It is helping me to be myself,” she said.

And that’s worth the extra studying and additional time. It’s worth it to all of us.

If you are interested in joining the conversation about citizenship, we’ll be hosting very casual “lunch and learns” every fourth Friday at both the main office and the regional office. Bring your lunch and we’ll start at noon.