Finding Hope

125 years. It’s astounding. As I wrote in my Annual Report letter, our history – indeed our history of overcoming significant challenges – is one of the things that gives me hope for the future. In a world that seems dominated by hatred and selfishness and ill will toward others, where violence seems to be the immediate response to any kind of conflict, where there aren’t enough people to fill the jobs that are available, finding hope can seem like a futile search. For me, finding hope is essential to continuing to work through the enormous existential challenges we face every day.

Will today be the day that we don’t have enough staff members to do the work, to keep people safe, and, beyond keeping them safe, giving them a sense of purpose and belonging?

Where will the dollars come from to pay our staff members what they are worth? How long can we expect the community to be more and more generous?

Is this the week that we have a major COVID-19 outbreak? What will that mean for our clients and our staff?

What support will we get from the legislature? From DHS and the Department of Health? What new requirements will we need to meet? How do we convince policymakers, those who control the purse strings, to set politics aside to create policy and support people?

What is the Future?

What IS the future for LBSA? What IS the future for human services?

Companion organizations in our area are raising their wage scales for staff members, knowing that if the legislature doesn’t do something dramatic to adjust compensation, they will be closing their doors in 2023 or 2024. They are closing homes and programs to adjust to the number of staff they can find.

I’m here to tell you that the staffing crises are real. The pay issues are real. The threat that we won’t be able to continue providing services if policymakers don’t act is real.

A colleague proposed an interesting solution recently: we present the Governor, or the commissioners of the various agencies who oversee our work, or our local legislators, with the keys to our facilities, and walk away, and tell them good luck. And we remind them as we’re walking out the door that everyone who works there needs to have a background check (good luck getting that processed), and they need to meet all of the training requirements, they need to be fully vaccinated or have gone through the exemption process, and some agency will be around in the near future to make sure they’ve dotted every I and crossed every T. And families will want them to be accountable for providing the highest level of support to their loved ones. And they better not make any mistakes. And they’re going to get paid $13 to 15 per hour to do so. And the public, including the press, will be clamoring for them to do better, do more, be better. And inflationary increases? Who needs those?

All of this, and then I had the opportunity to do something I love: talk with staff members about what it REALLY means to be person-centered. What does it take to set aside our own biases and help someone imagine the future that they want? How do we move beyond the boxes we may live in, to see someone’s promise and opportunities? These kinds of possibilities bring me joy and energy. The process of teaching others brings me joy and energy – seeing the spark of understanding and possibility that can radiate and inspire others.

You Can Be Our Yes

So, the challenges are real. The challenges seem unrelenting. The challenges make us weary. We’re working through all of these challenges and working to find more permanent solutions. We rely on you, our supporters to help as you are able: write letters and talk to legislators – imploring them to put people over politics – and to ACT, provide monetary support, tell our stories, apply to work for us, and encourage others to do the same. You can help by sharing the possibilities you see, when it seems that the world is telling us “no” at every turn. You can be our yes.

We’ve had a little relief this summer on the financial front from anEmployee Retention Tax Credit. This is helpful for now – and it’s a temporary fix.

We’re continuing to work to develop new services and supports that will supplement our existing services and provide long-term financial support so we can pay our staff better and not risk our future by doing so.

We’re working to continue today’s work and develop the services of the future, continuing to provide a full continuum of support so people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can reach their dreams and goals. We want to exist in the world of possibility so the people we support can live there too.

Please join us in seeing and sparking possibility in whatever ways you are able. Join us in finding hope, in the joy of community, and learning and working together. Together, we can.