RSS Feed

ONEplace

Coffee with Ellen Stone

This month we sat down with Ellen Stone, Executive Director at The Arc Community Advocates.

Tell us how you got to where you are today?

While in college, I started working at a camp for people with disabilities as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor. I fell in love with the people and the work. After graduation from Michigan State, I spent 13 years working at camps in Iowa, Texas, Michigan, and finally Washington where I directed all camping and respite programs for Easter Seals. Eventually, with the camp schedule of working most weekends and 3 months of 100-hour weeks all summer, I wanted to find a job with a more regular schedule. Seeing the struggle faced by individuals with disabilities and their families as they sought to access services, I was determined to help improve the systems. I also had a desire to return to Michigan. In February 2012, I began my work with The Arc Community Advocates and spend my days in client and policy advocacy.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

Kalamazoo is the perfect blend of small town and urban center. As a smaller city, it’s easy to get around, connect with people, and get things accomplished rather quickly. As an urban center, you find good restaurants, theatre, and other entertainment and services. It’s also a very supportive and caring community.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

My primary guiding principle is to always assume positive intent. I assume that people want things to work out well, even if I disagree with their approach. This keeps me from getting overly aggravated or angry, and it helps focus our discussion on the desired outcome that we all share.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

My mentor was Jeanne from Camp Courageous in Iowa. She had a philosophy of abilities that I continue to use as a second guiding principle: approach people and events from a strengths and abilities perspective. This means that I not only work with people with disabilities from this perspective but also with myself, my staff, volunteers, community members, everyone. I look to engage an individual’s passion, utilize and extend their strengths, and then help them build upon those strengths.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

During my first year at The Arc, we had to evacuate Rib Fest (our big fundraiser for the year) due to inclement weather. Unfortunately, we ended up losing money rather than raising money. As a new Executive Director, it was a disaster. Yet, because of this disaster, I came to know the caring support of our base as well as the Kalamazoo community. Individuals and foundations worked with us to weather this storm and demonstrated their deep commitment to the organization.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

There are no average days. Some days I run from meeting to meeting – in town or throughout the state – while other days I’m in the office, answering client calls or grant writing. Every day is different. We don’t even have a strong seasonal pattern to our work.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

I don’t let problems overcome me. They tend to work themselves out as we address them. The things that keep my brain spinning are the opportunities. For example, we recently were exploring a post-secondary education option for people with disabilities – a true college option. The impact on quality of life, especially employment opportunities, could be huge. Those are the things I like to dwell on.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

This is a broad field with a lot going on, so I need to keep up on legislation, regulations, positions, and opinions. This translates into several policy alerts, briefings, and meetings every month. It’s a lot of reading, a lot of listening, and a lot of discussing. For example, social safety net programs are always under attack, so I need to follow the trends and positions of key influencers. It’s a big part of my job, and it’s all very exciting.

What advice do you have for those wishing to secure a leadership position in the nonprofit sector?

Find an area of passion and be willing to go wherever it takes you. Most nonprofits don’t have advancement opportunities within their organizations, especially at the supervisory level, so to move up you often have to move on. You must be flexible. I lived in four states since graduating from college, always moving to take advantage of the next opportunity.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I enjoy cooking, knitting, and sewing. I absolutely hate shopping, so I make gifts rather than buy them. I also enjoy a good cup of tea.

What else?

Over the past two years, we’ve been in the Imperial Beverage building along with two other small nonprofits – Volunteer Kalamazoo and Parent to Parent. Our former office building was not connected to other non-profits and didn’t meet the needs of our clients. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the advantages of this space: feeling less isolated, a large pool of colleagues, collaboration opportunities, and the ability to bounce questions and ideas around with other executive directors. We’re working together in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Space is available and we’d enjoy more neighbors!


On being prepared

It was late, and the airport shuttle had just delivered my parents, brother and I to the far reaches of remote parking. Tired and hungry, we lugged our bags over to my old van. I put the key in the lock and – snap! – the key broke in the lock. The worn faces turned to me with eyes wide and mouths open. What were we going to do?

I simply pulled my spare key from my wallet. We entered the van and went home.

Three years prior to this incident, I had been a passenger when our driver had the same problem – key broke in the lock. He had an extra key in his wallet, and the problem was easily solved. His example helped me prepare for my family’s little emergency.

Emergencies happen – we know this. We just don’t know when, nor do we know the common possibilities. A little planning may not only save us some time and inconvenience, it may save our organization.

Protecting our organizations protects the clients, staff, board, and community that depend upon them. So we offer Emergency Action Planning every year to encourage and equip you with the tools and information you need to be prepared. Our next session is Wednesday, February 25.

For more information, visit Ready.gov

Best,

Thom


What's your point?

Have you ever watched a debate, read a series of comments, or participated in a discussion and wondered if the various voices were even discussing the same issue? You may shake your head and wonder,

What’s your point?

For many of us, our attention swirls around a small set of fixed points from which all other things take their meaning. Be it a matter of value, belief or assumption, the fixed points ground our thinking, guide our notice, and color our interpretation.

Sometimes we formalize these points as mission statements or statements of purpose. More often, however, they remain hidden. Given sufficient reflection, awareness rises of our less intentional yet more influential guideposts – those that focus our leadership and anchor our organizations.

Our vulnerability rests at the level of these assumptions. Here also reside our reasons, justifications, and inclinations toward collaboration and staff support. So, consider:

What are your fixed points? What does this awareness tell you?

Best,

Thom


Coffee with Steve Springsdorf

This month we visit with Steve Springsdorf, Executive Director of the YMCA, as he tells of capitalizing on opportunities, staying focused, and prioritizing relationship-building.

Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)

Mine is partially a story of being in the right place at the right time. I graduated from MSU with a degree in Environmental Education. I couldn’t find a teaching job, but I student taught in Saginaw and the Y Exec Dir. was on the school board, saw my resume and offered me a job. I took it until I could find a teaching job. I became the Asst. Camp Director the next year until the Camp Director quit two weeks into the season. After 9 years as the Camp Director, the CEO retired. I applied and became one of the youngest YMCA CEO’s in the country. I directed the Saginaw Y for 14 years when I was invited to apply to become the CEO of the State YMCA in Central Lake, MI. It was a very different experience for me, no main building, primarily residence camps, a unit in Petoskey and a state wide Youth in Government program. The camps served families not only across the country but also internationally. This job gave me a much broader perspective of how we can influence youth. After 8 years I was invited to be the CEO at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo in 2008 where I continue to serve.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I love the pride that people have in the community, I love the diversity of people and thought, I love vibrant downtown in Kalamazoo and the strong shopping area in Portage, I love the variety of restaurants and brewery’s; finally I love how there is so much energy to make our community better.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

Basically, if you keep doing the right thing, good things will happen and treat people as you would want to be treated.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

My first boss was a huge influence in my career. He was a man of strong conviction, he held people accountable, but he also was a strong advocate and supporter of staff development, both in training and in challenging you to be better. He felt that being a nonprofit didn't mean you were less responsible or business minded than for-profit businesses.

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

If you have someone working for you that is either not performing or doesn’t fit with the organization then make a change sooner than later. Attempting to be nice only prolongs the inevitable and isn’t helpful to the staff or the organization.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

I wish I had an average day. I begin with reading two newspapers, handle emails, check in with staff to see if there are areas I can help with; communicate with my board and other partners; building relationships is a big part of what I do. Finally, I have projects I am working on in the areas of organizational improvement, fundraising, and program directions.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

We are in the midst of a capital campaign so concerns about donors and volunteers are on my mind. The other area is motivating and managing my staff; these are the people who make our Y successful.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I read two newspapers a day, I visit our professions websites, but most importantly, I network and talk with my peers on a regular basis. I try to stay involved on state and national levels.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Stay fresh, stay challenged, and stay focused on what is important – the mission of your organization, how are you impacting the lives of the people your organization touches. Keep your eye open for opportunities, but build your career on results.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I am an avid reader and enjoy a good game of golf, wish I had one. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling and camping around Michigan.


Just ONEthing - Feb 2015

In January, several viewed a video by Kerri Karvetsky (Company K Media) on how to Find Your Audience on Social Media

Focusing primarily on Facebook and Twitter, Kerri identified various ways to locate and analyze followers as well as several tools (many free) to help get the most from your social media presence.

She presented several points from the recent Pew Research Internet Project report. Again, focusing on Facebook and Twitter, she highlighted a few important trends.

 

  • Facebook is leveling while other platforms are still growing.
  • Facebook is still highest use, and it’s graying – fastest growing group is 65+ while 30-49 group use is declining
  • Twitter is growing in all age groups, especially in ages 18-29 and 30-49
  • Overall Twitter tends to skews younger and more urban

 

For more information from the report, visit the Pew Research Internet Project website.


What's in your locket?

I have a professional question for you: What’s in your locket?

A locket is a small pendant that includes a space for storing a small keepsake, e.g., a photo of a loved one. Worn on a necklace or bracelet, this charm holds a cherished item, and the wearer often opens it to be reminded of one so near to their heart.

So, what’s in your locket (real or imaginary)? Besides being a twist on a popular ad campaign (thanks, Capital One), it’s a relevant question for anyone who wants to enjoy their work. Job satisfaction – and effectiveness – is directly related to the laser-like alignment of your deeply held values, personal passions (loves), and outward actions and abilities.

Jim Collins calls it a Hedgehog Concept. Simon Sinek calls it his Golden Circle. Steven Covey calls them habits. Patrick Lencioni has a pyramid. And Peter Drucker posed them as six critical questions. While each of these authors (and several others) adds his own contribution to the discussion, they all build off of this place of inner-outer alignment.

Yet, while many write about it, few of us are so aligned. Like an aching back, painful barbs shoot through our activities and discourse. And we’re left feeling out of sorts.

This chiropractic conundrum of misalignment is often more intrapersonal than interpersonal. Few of us take the time to listen to our true selves (our inner voice) and understand our deeply held values and personal passions. Instead, many align with an external set of expectations packaged and presented as an appealing alternative to our dissatisfaction.

One of Simon Sinek’s (Start with Why) contributions to this discussion is the idea that people align with others who believe what they believe. He says it this way: “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”

So, we need to open our lockets and peer inside to that which we hold dear and then find the words to speak it clearly to ourselves, our families, our organizations and community. Take some time – quiet, reflective time – to listen and learn from yourself.

My guess is this: once we align ourselves to the most important things in our lives, we’ll find that interpersonal (also intergenerational, interracial, intercultural) alignment comes much easier.

Best,

Thom


Just ONEthing - Jan 2015

Allison Hammond (Arcadia Institute) offered a Voice from the Field workshop last month. She explored the various ways our organizations can welcome and support persons with disabilities as staff, participants, volunteers, and supporters.

At the Arcadia Institute, they work to make it possible for children and adults with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of community life, as they choose. In supporting area organizations, they encourage working with staff to think through and plan ahead for how they may accommodate volunteers or participants with disabilities.

On the question of accommodation, Allison reminded us that we don’t want to go overboard. Trying to be over-accommodating may make everyone uncomfortable.

Instead, Allison suggested that we ask the person what they need. For example, “What can I do to help make your experience with us more enjoyable or more comfortable?” Or, if you see someone struggling (e.g., straining to read instructions or struggling to move about the area), we can ask how we might be of assistance.

Creating a culture of inclusion and hospitality will help your organization serve everyone better. Toward this end, Arcadia Institute hosts Building a Community of Belonging on March 26, 2015.


Hitting Pause

With New Year’s Eve just hours away, I again find myself at an intersection. In addition to being the calendar year end, it’s also the second quarter close of our fiscal year. And, as a holiday week, it’s a time of less (or different) activity.

I like these times. It’s an opportunity to look back and look forward, to evaluate and adjust, to celebrate and to anticipate.

In his book, Traction, Gino Wickman draws upon the work of Patrick Lencioni and others and recommends that top management gather off-site every 90 days to review the previous quarter and finalize priorities for the coming quarter. Why every 90 days? He says, “The 90-day idea stems from a natural phenomenon – that human beings stumble, get off track, and lose focus roughly every 90 days.”

Wickman cites examples of this phenomenon at work, and I could add a few examples of my own. While it’s easy to casually nod in agreement, I shudder at his observation that human beings “lose focus roughly every 90 days,” because…

…we cannot afford to lose focus.

Lost focus wastes time and energy, dilutes the purpose of the organization, confuses funders and donors, frustrates staff and volunteers, and eventually leads to all sorts of crises. As leaders of our teams, departments, and organizations, maintaining focus is at the top of our list of responsibilities.

So, take some time – a half- or full-day – every quarter to hit the Pause button and keep yourself and your team on track. It will save you time, increase your service quality, and promote job satisfaction.

Best,

Thom


Leggo my ego

I enjoy basketball. While some individual players stand out, it’s the performance of the team that decides the game: working together, anticipating each other’s moves, and sharing the spotlight. Sure it takes practice, but it takes more than practice.

It takes trust.

On a team, trust means…

 

  • You hold one another accountable without assigning blame
  • You willingly give and receive extra efforts without keeping track
  • Knowing that the team has your back, you take risks without guilt
  • You communicate openly and directly with your teammates without fear

 

…and you do it all for your mission…for your cause.

Being on a team requires us to extend beyond ourselves. In our recent workshop on Mindfulness in the Workplace, Eric Nelson provided a compelling research- and case-based argument for mindfulness practice. The benefits were so varied and plentiful, I finally asked, “What’s the downside?” Without hesitation, he responded, “It challenges your identity.”

Mindfulness practice makes us face our assumptions and how they often differ from others’ assumptions. It chips away at our ego and helps us recognize how much we need each other to achieve better understanding as well as better performance. By letting go of our need to be right, we free ourselves to be correct. We free ourselves to trust.

I’ve written before on ways to build trust. Yet, these efforts falter when individuals stay wedded to their own assumptions and agendas. The more we understand ourselves and let go of our own egos, the more we open ourselves to trust our teammates. And that’s a step we must take on our own.

The ball is in your court.

Best,

Thom


You're welcome

I expect that every organization and business strives to be hospitable. We want staff, clients, visitors, supporters, and vendors to feel welcomed and comfortable in our place and at our events. Yet, even with best of intentions, we may run into times when we’re stumped.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Some situations may throw us for a loop. Many of us have faltered around language issues, physical challenges, cognitive disabilities, cultural misunderstandings and more.

We can take steps to prepare ourselves and our organizations to be hospitable in these situations: glean your staff’s wisdom by initiating the discussion; identify gaps in understanding and then research and share information at staff meetings; and take advantage of workshops offered by area agencies.

This week, ONEplace welcomes Allison Hammond (Arcadia Institute) to explore Supporting People with Disabilities in your Organization. Allison will help us discover how we can successfully include people with disabilities as participants, volunteers and employees. Plus she will highlight resources to assess and support our ongoing efforts.

Most of us desire an open and welcoming community. It starts with each of us creating that environment right where we are.

Best,

Thom