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Business of the Year Acceptance Speech by Executive Director Sandi Gerdes

A number of guests from that evening asked to have these comments published. We are happy to oblige.

THANK YOU for this honor.

We appreciate that Northfield’s business leaders view us as partners in the community’s work, and regard us as an asset in the community. We accept the challenge implicit with this award and its encouragement to keep moving forward. Your recognition has presented us an opportunity to stop, for just a moment, to answer the question, “Why us?”

It’s my nature that if we haven’t reached the destination, then we need to keep driving, no matter the purpose of the journey. Ask my kids. When we get in the car to go somewhere, only the truly crucial stops are made: bathroom, and, if the drive is long enough, food and sleep. Otherwise we’re continuing the journey.

So thank you for the reminder that it’s important to take that minute to stop and say, “Hey, we’re making progress. We’re doing good better than we were yesterday, or last month, or last year.”

OK, we stopped, we noticed, now everyone back in the car! We’ve got to keep moving forward!

Seriously, we also appreciate this opportunity to share with a wider audience who we are and what we do.

None of what we accomplish would be possible without our partners. Together we can…and we will and we do. Without being smarmy, it is difficult to express how much we appreciate and understand that YOUR commitment and efforts contribute to OUR success. Our partners include:

The people we support who allow us into their lives. We are given a fragile trust to manage and nurture. Without this trust, there would be no business to receive honors. Our clients and their team’s active participation in the service process demands that we change and grow to meet their needs and desires.

Our employees. We have only a small representation of our 146 employees here tonight. Most of them are out supporting people to meet their dreams and goals. Our employees’ commitment to providing quality supports, to meeting our mission, vision, and values every day with every person they meet, makes honors like tonight possible. The money they earn is clearly not their motivation; it is knowing they make a difference for people.

Our Board of Trustees, some of whom are here this evening: this team of dedicated volunteers brings their collective wisdom and experience together to provide governance and direction. They carry our message to the community, work countless hours ensuring that we are keeping our promises, and that we are doing the work the community asks us to do.

All of those people who are no longer with us, who brought us to tonight, and who have carried Miss Baker’s mission and vision forward, changed with the times, and made sure we endured.

Our donors, volunteers, and the community in general. They, and you, are critical to our success. Without these vital groups, some of our programs and services simply wouldn’t exist. More about that in a minute.

Who are we? We are a premier not-for-profit provider of support for people with developmental disabilities. Our mission is to support the life choices and dreams of people with developmental disabilities, and help them reach their goals.

We’ve been in business since 1897, when our founder, Miss Laura Baker, established her school for Nervous and Backward Children in Minneapolis. We’ve been a part of the Northfield community since 1898, and we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to live, work, and create community together. For all these years, we have been a part of the fabric of Northfield, creating homes and opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

In the late 1970s, our first clients moved away from 211 Oak Street and into a house in the community. By the mid-80s, we had expanded to supporting people who needed just a little help in their homes or apartments in the Northfield community. In the late 80s, we developed three “group homes” throughout Northfield (we now have 5). Now, we serve over 85 people in their homes, in the community, at 211 Oak Street, and in our school.

Did you know:

We are one of the 15 largest employers in Northfield.
We employ almost 150 people.
Our payroll is almost $3 million/year.
Our revenue last year was just over $5 million. We try to do business as much as possible in Northfield, so we’re turning those dollars over to many of you. Almost $10.5 million per year.

If we want to make capital improvements, we need to raise the funds to do so.
93% of our funding comes from government sources, primarily Medicaid and public schools. 4.5% comes from donations, and 2.5% comes from people who pay privately.
We provide services for over 80 people in the Northfield area
(Oh, and as a side note, that isn’t everyone in the area with a developmental disability).

We have a school, and we are more than a school.
We serve adults and children in a variety of settings. Most of our services are provided in people’s homes, or in the homes we provide for people.
We support 30 people in 5 households at 211 Oak Street, our headquarters.
We support an additional 4 people at our school at 211 Oak Street.
The rest of the people we support live in and around Northfield, in group homes, or in their own homes.

Our most visible change has been the renovation at 211 Oak Street. In 2004, we built Wright Cottage. In 2010, we renovated Elwell House. In 2011, we renovated Baker House. In 2012, we will create the plans for 2 new cottages and the removal of Margaret Graves Hall. In 2013 we will build those cottages and raze Margaret Graves. To accomplish these renovations, we have raised just under $2 million in two campaigns from 2003 to the present.

In tough economic times, and facing budget cuts of over 5% in the last 3 years, our programs have continued to grow. Revenue has increased 10% over the last 6 years.
We continue to develop new programs and have experienced a 20% increase in client population in the last 6 years.

Each time we have faced funding cuts, our goals have been:

1) To continue to maintain or improve support for our clients.
2) To keep our employees whole.
3) To continue to move forward with our goals.

Those have been challenging goals to meet. We don’t get to set our rates; the government does that for us. So when our costs go up, which they do, like everyone else’s, our options are to diversify our income sources, increase our program revenues by adding people, or cut something else.

Our two most significant program additions have been our creative arts program, both music therapy and an artist in residence, and our family support services. These programs wouldn’t exist without direct community involvement. They exist solely through donations and volunteer efforts. Every time we face a budget cut, these unfunded programs come up for potential elimination.

Both music and art provide opportunities for our clients to express themselves in positive ways which help them to make progress in other areas of their lives. They are better able to socialize, communicate, and handle the pressure of daily expectations. These supports are vital to individual growth.

Our Creative Arts program primarily exists to serve individuals we are already supporting. Family Support Services addresses unmet needs in our community. Every person with a disability has a family. Supporting a person with a disability can put a tremendous strain on a family. Families continue to be asked to manage on their own. And they try. Sometimes, they need a break. One of the most frequent requests we get is for respite for families. There’s no funding for respite, unless there’s a clear crisis. Even then, it is extremely limited.

We recently provided very minimal respite for a family. We received $72 a day, regardless of how many hours of support we provided, and we were required to provide specialty foods and to attend specialized training prior to providing support that we were required to pay for. If we were providing 24 hour care (a full day), that would be $3 an hour, not including food and the hours spent prior to the respite time preparing.

Last spring we held a community forum about respite and found that families were looking for a few things:

1) Some place their kids could go for a few hours to hang out, where there would be appropriate support and some fun. Parents/families would then also have a few hours to do some chores, take a nap, whatever. As a result of the forum, we’ve been holding monthly respite events for kids. These are staffed almost entirely by volunteers. We have a consistent need for volunteers for these events. We also need volunteers who are interested in helping plan these events.

2) Parents are looking for someone to organize respite for them. This might seem really simple, and trust me, it’s not. If you’ve ever scheduled either staff or volunteers, you begin to understand the challenges.

Respite means different things to different people. For some it might mean someone to help with the chores, or bring a meal, for others it might mean spending some time with the family member with a disability. We have a pilot project right now with 4 families. Two families have 1 child with a disability, one family has two children with a disability, and one family has three children with disabilities.

We are currently recruiting and training volunteers who are interested in creating circles of caring around these families. This is about helping families to make and maintain community connections that can be sustained over time. And while right now, it’s about the community giving to these families, they will all be happy to give back as a part of being connected to the community. This is about creating connections of support in the community that make the whole community stronger. It is about raising awareness of who are neighbors are, and how we can support each other.

Our goal is to provide this community support and connection to a wide range of community families. The need is great, and we can’t do it without the community’s support. Please let us know if you would like to know more about how to help. Or, spread the word to people you know who might be willing to help.

3) The most challenging aspect of this respite is to find a place or places where kids can go overnight, or for a few days, so families can have respite in their homes. We will move forward with this project once we have operationalized organizing respite for families.

Without quality employees who are consistently learning, growing and challenging themselves, we don’t remain a viable organization. Our industry changes constantly. One of our goals is to have an organizational learning culture, which promotes learning at every opportunity and encourages employees to be fully engaged in the ongoing success of the organization.

To this end, we have created elearning classes for our staff members, so they can access learning wherever and whenever they are working or want to learn. Next week we will be holding our first learning fair, where employees have an opportunity to teach and learn together. Our long-term goal for the learning fairs is to extend these opportunities to families, and to the greater community.

Our biggest challenges for moving forward are:

Keeping our focus on meeting our mission, vision, and values, and not being distracted by the flavor of the month or the squeaky wheel. What really makes a difference to our mission, and what can we ignore?

Hiring caring and committed people, and giving them the tools they need to be in this for the long term.

Remaining flexible, fluid and responsive, so we can continue to meet our mission of supporting people to live THEIR dreams and goals.

Continuing to define the scope of our services. What can we effectively do to respond to the need? What resources do we have available to do so? What do we see on the horizon? What does all of that mean for us and for our industry?

Maintaining a balance between focusing on the support we provide and engaging the community and the general public effectively. Our ability to continue to provide support to our clients is wholly dependent on public trust and generosity. The community must understand and support the need for the work we are doing. It’s one of the challenges we face: If we become complacent in our advocacy, we diminish the understanding of the need. The kinds of services and supports can and will change; the need does not go away.

As with any business that’s been around as long as we have, we’ve lived through the ups and downs of recessions, the great depression, political turmoil, massive changes in the industry. Sometimes we have perservered, heads down, nose to the grindstone, at other times we have thrived, grown and lead the charge.

To maintain and continuously recreate a dynamic supportive community, we each need to recognize our ability to give and our need to receive. At LBSA, we have the privilege of being continuously engaged in the process of weaving the fabric of the community together—blend of people who have, people who can give, and people who need support. We are both, you are both. We have the opportunity to create with you all the next chapter in the story that helps us all.

We know that our existence in Northfield has contributed to our ability to last over time. The unique character of this community—the native Northfielders who have carried this city over the long term, the consistent turnover and infusion of youthful energy and scholarly ideas from the colleges, the businesspeople who ensure the community maintains an economic viability and identity—has contributed to our success over the years. You have embraced us, you have advocated for us, you have celebrated with us.

And now, you celebrate us.

Thank you for this honor, and this opportunity.

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