Honoring International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31.

Recovery is about becoming more than an addict; it as about becoming a caring husband or wife, a loving father or mother, or perhaps a better son or daughter. Helping people achieve healthy biopsychosocial and spiritual lives and helping them recognize that they have the capacity to do so is the greatest tool we have to prevent and reduce stigma. Richard Landis, Sr VP of Operations | Danya International

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. Based on a movement begun in Australia by the Penington Institute, the day has established a true international presence, and it is in that spirit that I write today.  

I’ve written before about the statistics of those who lose their lives to overdose. In 2014, 207,400 people throughout the world died from drug overdoses—many of them from prescribed painkillers. In the U.S. alone, 47,000 people died from overdoses. In New Hampshire, the death rate has risen a staggering 670% from 2004 to 2014. This is the largest rise in percentage of deaths across the country.

While this plight is a crisis, there are also those who recover and go on to succeed at recovery. Recovery is exponentially possible with a supportive community, as we are experiencing in our recently opened Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, NH.  With peer-support and by becoming part of a  community, those in recovery can work their way back from defining themselves as addicts to actively participating members of society.

One large issue often stands in the way of recovery: stigma. This topic is very important to me and its tendrils reach every population we serve from recovering addicts to the previously incarcerated, those with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities, individuals over 55 who find it difficult to find employment, veterans returning from war and youth aging out of foster care. They all have in common the issue of stigma as a hurtle on their path to economic parity and equity.

Recently I was asked about my vision for Fedcap’s future. I envision a world where we not only make an impact in the lives of thousands of people we serve, but in the society as a whole. Imagine a world where recovering addicts are welcomed and supported by their community who champion every day of their sobriety. Imagine a world where those who do not struggle with addiction, honor the lessons learned from those who have wrestled every day with the pull of drugs and alcohol.  Imagine a world where stigma wasn’t the largest hurtle for addicts to overcome.

The people I know in recovery are among the bravest people I have encountered. They have been through situations none of us would ever conjure for ourselves, yet they not only survive these trials, but they get past them.

Stigma is perpetuated for a number of reasons. It helps people create and maintain a distance between themselves and the “other,” who they want to believe is not like them. It helps ground people in superiority and helps them feel safe as if to say, “This can’t happen to me.”

But stigma is what prevents those who are affected—addicts as well as their families—from recovery.

What can we do to reduce stigma? Speak up. Talk. Tell stories. Listen to stories. Humanize the people behind addiction and know that their story could be your story. We are not better than addicts. It can happen to us. We are they.

So during this week that singles out a day for overdose awareness, I ask that we focus on listening to stories of those who are succeeding at recovery and ask ourselves: what are my own prejudices or thoughts about those in recovery? And, what can I do to help reframe beliefs that might be contributing to stigma? And finally, what can I do to influence those around me to reduce stigma?

I welcome your thoughts.

The marriage of purpose, margin and culture in nonprofit.

I recently read an article written for the corporate sector reminding business readers to keep track of the ultimate purpose of their work as a means to engage staff, stakeholders, and ultimately, customers and clients.  If staff understand that each day, everything they do is contributing to a greater good, then they will be more apt to be productive, loyal, and stand as ambassadors for the organization. In a hospital setting, for example, a custodian might count his or her days by the number of floors washed or wastebaskets emptied.  Or, she can determine that every act of cleaning up is contributing to the well-being and healing of those who are sick and in their care. Articulating and knowing the purpose will have the intended consequence of improving the bottom line—and, it will improve the quality of life for everyone who touches an organization—customers, clients, and employees alike.

It’s easy to forget purpose when one is caught up in the day-to-day busyness of work. Though in the nonprofit world, purpose is mostly what attracts people to the work. We enter this work to make a difference. We get to go home and night and know that we have contributed—and improved—the life—or lives—of others. We get to work alongside people who care deeply about the work that they do, and our lives are enriched by the stories of strength, hope, and resilience told by our clients and by our colleagues about what brought them to this work to begin with.  

Inculcating the culture of caring by shining a light on our purpose is what drives those who work in nonprofits—and what has driven us all along.  In the meantime, there are strong lessons to be learned from the business sector—specifically employing the metrics that measure the impact and value of our work—not just the numbers of people we serve—but the actual lives changed and the ways in which they are changed.   When we stress margin in the nonprofit sector, it is because the  revenues generated above expense will be turned back into infrastructure, research and expanded services.  This can translate into  greater influence on policy that benefits those we serve.

In the meantime, for-profit businesses are becoming more and more invested in the vision and purpose of their work, borrowing from the non-profit sector’s long-time raison d’etre. I find it thrilling to be trading best practices with successful businesses, marrying our cultures of bottom-line reasoning alongside purposeful and meaningful work to better serve the world in every way.

At Fedcap we are united in the purpose: The Power of Possible. I like to think that every day each of us can go home and know what our purpose is—and that every day, we are making a difference, raising aspirations—not only for our clients—but for all of our stakeholders.

What impact does purpose have in your day-to-day working life? Are there ways to incorporate it more directly? How might you articulate the culture of your organization more clearly and with intention?

I welcome your thoughts.

Finding the Common Denominator for Youth in Transition

This week we celebrate our programs that support youth in transition. Launching the week is our annual golf tournament at Quaker Ridge in Queens, NY, where dozens of golfers will turn out to have a day of fun and raise awareness and funds to support our education, work readiness, and life skills programming. It is always a great day with wonderful food and camaraderie,where people from all walks join in a great common cause.

Supporting youth in transition is a hallmark of our work at Fedcap. Our Fedcap School in New Jersey offers vocational programs for youth with disabilities and learning challenges.    Our signature  GetReady!™  web-based curriculum offers 6000+ youth  each year the opportunity to assess their talents, strengths, and skills, build their personal brand, develop a network of professional support and plan for the “next step” in their career—whether it be further education or employment.  Our innovative Connect2Careers™  and Networking by Design™ provide the opportunity for youth to practice what they learn through Get Ready to practice their informational interviewing skills, build their professional network and learn about the diverse career options available.

Our programs are not just about slotting a young person into a job or education program and leaving it there. Instead, our goal is to support a next step, and a sustained step, which will lead to economic well-being. For many of these youth, these concepts were once only an idea. Our programs turn those ideas into reality.

Our programs are creating relevant, sustainable impact.  They tip the scale in terms of numbers youth who have the skills and supports to successfully transition to adulthood. Research suggests that change is very difficult for all of us—even when we are faced with life-threatening illness or circumstances. In his 27 year longitudinal research Barry Duncan suggests that there are three key ingredients to sustained change. These three ingredients form the backbone of our programming—they are the common denominator for a successful transition for the youth we serve.  Duncan suggests that for any of us who want to make a change, these three things are required—especially for youth in transition:

  1. Relationship: We need a consistent emotional attachment to a person or community who inspires us and sustains our hope.
  2. Strengths : We need to engage with people who see us as having strengths—and we need to build our future based on these strengths—enabling sustained change
  3. Hope: We need those around us who generate a hopefulness and sense of possibility for the future.

The true common denominator that undergirds these three principles is key: a consistent adult—a mentor who “sees” us, who will support, champion, coach us to our best selves—by seeing our strengths, our talents, and our existing skills —and, ultimately to believe in us even when we falter at times in our own belief that we can change or make a transition to something new and unknown.

I welcome your thoughts.

A gathering of the minds—one way to keep strategy off the shelf.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the smartest people I know to talk strategy and social innovation in service to our work in the world. Together these thought leaders gathered to discuss ways to advance the ideas and actions that will propel our strategy for eliminating barriers and improving economic and social well-being. It was a thrilling exercise. So often leaders get caught up in the minutiae of day to day that they don’t take the time to call on the expertise of their colleagues and advisors and consumers to help them think through the most important aspect of their work: strategy. I am lucky, indeed, to be able to call on a brilliant cadre of thinkers.

We had a great meeting. It reminded me of how important it is not to operate in a vacuum but to bring the best minds one can find to keep us on track, tell us what we don’t know or can’t see, consider different points of view, and help move us into new thinking and advance our general connection to the future. It ensures that our “plan” is truly a living and dynamic blueprint that is ever evolving to meet the needs of the individuals—and the society—we serve.  It helps us to develop new approaches and gives us confidence to move ahead.

I will confess that I don’t really like the terminology “strategic planning.” I think that it suggests a static state. To me, strategy is about action, about innovation, and about change. Our strategy is really about practicing social innovation—excavating ideas, solutions, and pathways that create true social value and that allow for original solutions to a societal problem that are truly more efficient, more just, more relevant, more sustainable, and that have more impact than what is currently being tried.

Working with a group of advisors is always a good idea. What made this meeting different is that I was surrounded by innovators and thinkers who have taken huge risks in their careers and have made enormous impact in their respective fields. I am a fan of risk—with the obvious caveat that it must be managed and pitfalls identified. Working alongside this group of thinkers inspired me to continue my own push forward to identify those precise interventions that will continue to challenge the stigma and eliminate barriers.

We plan to engage others and grow and expand the group of advisors who are willing to share their experiences and help us achieve our goals, moving to cities and communities across our footprint. I look forward to these conversations as I am made better by them every time.

What do you do to make sure that your vision turns to reality and that your planning never becomes stale?

How to Change the World and Have Fun Doing It…

Last week I wrote about the Butterfly Effect and the way one precise intervention in the midst of a large, seemingly insurmountable problem can alter the mechanics of an entrenched system or even the course of an individual lifetime.  This “one small step” thinking is generally how we approach our work at Fedcap. It translates into a way of being we can implement every single day.  I ask myself every morning—what is one thing I can do TODAY that will potentially solve a problem or change a life? Is there something I can DO that will not just raise awareness, but also inspire ACTION?

The work we do is pretty serious. Every day we work to eliminate barriers to economic well-being and we work to promote social justice. Every day we strive to find ways to erode the stigma that is among the greatest barriers for the populations we serve.

While the work we do and the issues we tackle are serious, we also look for ways that are not-so-serious to act on behalf of those whom we serve. For example, Easter Seals sponsors a national fundraising event called “Walk with Me.” In existence since 2003, over 230,000 people have participated in 615 Walk with Me events, generating $41 million dollars to support families at Easter Seals. People walk as individuals—or even more fun—as teams, raising money to help support people like Ryan, whom we got to know through our affiliation with Easter Seals New York. Ryan came to us with a rare genetic condition called Rader-Willi Syndrome, characterized by weak muscles, feeding difficulties and inhibited breathing among other symptoms. He was non-verbal. His was a serious issue. But because of the monies raised by the Easter Seals walk, Ryan was able to work with a speech therapist and one-on-one supports. Today, Ryan is “talking up a storm” and will be entering Kindergarten this fall—all because of the good work of Easter Seals, possible because of monies raised through Walk with Me. Check out the Walk with Me website at www.walkwithme.org for more information on this truly fun event—the Easter Seals New York event is coming up this weekend on July 30at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens. There’s still time to enter!

The Walk with Me event is just one way to offer truly meaningful—and fun—support to our various populations. In addition, the Fedcap “family” also sponsors golf tournaments throughout the summer and fall to raise awareness and proceeds targeted at specific groups. On August 8th, Fedcap is sponsoring its Third Annual Golf Tournament to support youth transitioning out of foster care. This is a dazzling event—and I am not kidding—the facilities are spectacular, the food is fabulous, and the spirit around the event is festive, fun, and all the people involved feel connected by their own passion to rally around this important—and serious—cause.  In the three years since its inception, the Golf Tournament has been responsible for helping youth who might not have successfully transitioned out of care into High Impact Internships in diverse places such as Columbia University, J.P. Morgan Chase, the Museum of Modern Art, The New York City Office of the Medical Examiner, and the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. What could be better than supporting a cause you care about, joining friends, enjoying a gorgeous venue, and having fun doing it all? Check out the venue on our website: www.fedcap.org.

Our family of affiliates sponsors events throughout August and September. Easter Seals NY is sponsoring a golf tournament in Rochester on August 29th to raise money and awareness for those with autism. On September 12th, our Boston affiliate, Community Work Services, is sponsoring an event to help build their commercial cleaning and streetscapes programs to help create employment for those with barriers. On September 15th, Easter Seals NY will be sponsoring an event on Long Island, specifically targeted at supporting veterans who are struggling to find employment after their return from military service.

All of these events are open to the public. And while I love to meet new folks who join us, one of the things I love best about our events is that they are also a way for our staff to gather outside of work, to get to know each other as people and friends, and to share and show the passion for the work they do in ways other than their daily duties. I love these events—I love seeing the people I work with having fun, embodying their passion for the work we do through action and through doing and having fun doing it. These events are one way I can answer that question I ask myself every day: what is one thing I can DO today that can transform a life?

Yes, a single day of golf can transform lives. A walk among friends can alter the course of a generation. You can have fun and still do the serious work of creating possibilities in people’s lives. I hope to see you at one of our events. It’s guaranteed to be fun!

What is the population or issue that you most care about? What problems are you trying to solve?  What is a way that you can support it—and have fun doing it?

The Butterfly Effect—Changing Lives One Small Step at a Time.

I am a great believer in the Butterfly Effect—the concept that evolved out of the field of meteorology suggesting that a tiny change in initial conditions can significantly impact or alter the outcome of an event or condition. Here at Fedcap, we think of our work through a lens similar to the Butterfly Effect: rather than try to tackle an entire system, we look at precise interventions that can move a habitual trajectory slightly off course to what might be—and most often is—a better outcome—and an outcome that has the potential to change an entire system.

One example of this type of intervention is our work with youth aging out of foster care. For many of these youth, college may not have been imagined as a logical next step after high school. So we asked the questions: What is one, careful intervention we could design to help ready youth in care to go to college? How can we help create a college-going environment in a foster home? The answer was a precise solution: we created our PrepNow! ™ and GetReady!™ programs to help foster parents answer the often daunting questions about how to help youth get ready for college. These programs are changing lives and helping youth who may never have believed college was even possible—by helping them navigate the application process, wrestle with financial aid, and hone their values and skills so they are college-ready. What we have discovered, though not a new concept, is that often, the best answers to huge societal problems lie in fairly simple solutions.

Peer recovery for those who are struggling with addiction is another precise intervention that can mean the difference between recovery and sustained addiction.  It is not new news that the opiod crisis has had an impact on every state in the country. And nowhere is the crisis more keenly felt than in New Hampshire, where the percentage of opiod deaths last year were higher than any other state in the U.S.

Peer-led support is fairly simple, yet it has proven to be the most radical and effective tool in the recovery toolbox. Support for those who have substance use disorder is led by people who have traveled the pathway to recovery and who understand the joy and the challenges of the journey. When a person in recovery “walks” alongside someone who has a shared experience, that support is ever more credible and sustaining than work alongside someone who is not intimately familiar with the unique pitfalls and possibilities of recovery.

Research shows that a peer-led recovery environment decreases morbidity rates, improves self-efficacy, lowers incidences of depression, heightens self-esteem, and overall, improves quality of life. The precise intervention is qualitative: it is about human connection, which is what makes all the difference.

Peer-led recovery lives in four domains, as identified by the SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration):

  • The Emotional Domain—the obvious driver of support—emphasizes empathy, caring, and real connection among peers.
  • The Informational Domain focuses on vocational skills and practical life skills that will help those in recovery develop new habits that will support their recovery
  • The Affiliational Domain where those in recovery interact and become attached to the community thereby deepening their socialization and feeling of connection to a larger world
  • The Instrumental Domain—the most practical domain—where those in recovery work alongside their peers to solve problems that can drastically interfere with getting the support they need—such as transportation, child care, or safe and affordable housing.

This week, we are celebrating the opening of our Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, NH. Safe Harbor falls under the umbrella of our Granite Pathways subsidiary—the agency that is leading our efforts in New Hampshire to serve individuals with barriers.  At Safe Harbor, those in recovery—and their friends and families—will be able to experience peer-to-peer mentoring, family support, community building, vocational support, and ongoing support telephonically or technologically.

Peer recovery, like PrepNow!, is the fruit of asking essential questions such as: What is a precise and simple change we can make that could potentially and significantly alter the outcomes?

What essential questions might you ask to effect a simple, yet essential change to a system you care to improve?

Graduation as the embodiment of second chances and the power of possible.

June is a month of graduations, new beginnings, and second chances.  For Fedcap and its family of agencies, this is a time of joyful celebrations, as pre-schoolers graduate from our ESNY child development programs and move on to first grade, teenagers graduate from our Fedcap High School, and adults graduate from our Career Design School.   Each of these celebrations is different in its own way, yet the theme of courage, hope and joy is braided through each.

We pause to honor these many graduates because of our conviction that education is the pathway to equity and to long term economic well-being.  We know that along with education comes the power of choice. When someone graduates from one of our schools, they are taking a stand and saying: I am in charge of my future.  They are saying: I believe in the power of possible in my life.

Our graduates come to us as they are—some are lost, some are angry, some are eager and excited, some are scared, some are homeless, and some come from a legacy of abuse and failure.  We embrace, we teach, we train, we believe, and then we all work hard to help them achieve their dreams.

Over 800 five-year olds with varying forms of disability are leaving our pre-schools and entering public school to learn alongside their non-disabled peers.  One parent—in tears—at our Valhalla Child Development Center graduation said, “I did not think it was possible. I am starting to believe that my daughter will be viewed by the world as so much more than her disability, but the courageous, smart little girl she is…Easter Seals did that for her.”

And in Manhattan, 150 proud graduates received their diplomas from Fedcap’s Career Design School amidst the raucous cheering of nearly 600 family and friends. Chastity Salas was one of those graduates and embodies their spirit and heart.  Because of family struggles and a mentally ill mom, Chastity was homeless.  Yet she graduated from the Home Care program and started work.  She slept on the subway, dressed in shelters, and did not miss one appointment with her clients. She told her fellow graduates, “I do not intend to paint my homelessness story as a sad and hopeless one. I am not sad nor am I hopeless.” I am in full realization of what I am capable of achieving and becoming… I fully understand that I have to do this for myself and I will.”

When a young person is labeled as a “behavior problem” or defined as “special ed” and shuffled from class to class it is hard to believe that graduation is even possible.  Yet at our Fedcap School, eight young people did what most thought impossible…they graduated from high school, and several are going on to college.  The cheers of teachers, family members, and fellow students were jubilant—as one graduate put it, “I proved everyone wrong…even myself… I did it!”  And now, the world is open to her.

Our graduation is not merely an event, but it is a portal to possibilities that were once just distant hopes.

Chastity’s message to her fellow graduates was this: “Good, better, best, never let it rest until your good gets better and your better gets best. It doesn’t matter how old you are—never give up.”

Join me in congratulating our classes of 2016.

Graduation and Commencement—Celebration, New Beginnings, The Power of Possible.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.   — Lao Tze

We are rapidly approaching my favorite day on the Fedcap calendar—Graduation Day. June is full of graduations—but none is as evocative or inspiring to me as ours. On June 15th over two hundred and fifty men and women—of all ages—will cross the stage at John Jay College and receive a diploma for an extraordinary accomplishment—many against unimaginable odds.

Our graduates come from all walks of life. They represent a full roster of the people we exist to serve—those with barriers to employment—individuals with physical or mental disabilities, youth aging out of foster care, veterans, the previously incarcerated, recovering addicts, and older workers who have been nudged out of the workplace. Each graduate harbors a story of triumph in personal courage and determination. Each story is an example of resilience and hardiness and strength. And each moment among cheering parents, relatives, children, grandchildren, and friends inspires me, our staff, and our board of directors to keep on doing the work we are doing to make possible what was, for many, once inconceivable.

Graduation opens the door to job placement, many in our own businesses. We see folks settled into jobs in facilities management, culinary arts, document imaging and printing, and security. Many of the graduates are already employed, and many will be, based on the skills and strengths they have built through our programs.

Graduation day reminds me of the power of one person to make a difference. One graduate, through perseverance, gumption, and will, can alter the course of her or his family history. Where there may have been hopelessness about a bright future, there is now resolve. Where some focused only on the outcome, they now understand the journey is where the action is. These are lessons learned only through taking a goal one day at a time, one step at a time, showing up day after day until this day—graduation day is upon us. And now, commencement begins—commencement to the next step, the next journey—it is thrilling to imagine what that could and will be.

And the day reminds me of not only the power of the graduates to make a difference in their own lives, but also the power of their families, friends, and “chosen” families to do this for others. Without the support and the backing of those closest to us—those who believe in us—where would we be? Many of us would not be where we are today.

And finally, I am reminded of the difference, every day, that our staff makes in the lives of the graduates and their colleagues. Each of the staff, including many who have crossed the stage before this graduating class of 2016, has the power and ability to mentor, inspire, and lead others to places they had not dreamed were possible.

I can’t wait til the 15th of June! I can’t wait to see the smiles on the faces of those who have worked so hard—and to hear the cheers of their supporters—staff, friends, and family.

We each have an opportunity every day to help others move from impossible to possible. I go to bed each night wondering: What did I do today to help someone discover their “possible”? What will you do?

Transparency = Trust: The metrics tell the story.

Late last week, we released our operating and financial results for our first half of fiscal year 2016—ending March 31. We publicly present our operating and financial results twice a year—a process I look forward to as it offers us—and every stakeholder, partner, grantor, vendor, consumer, and contractor—a clear picture of our performance. Over 130 people listened to our release last week.

I believe that the process of providing operating and fiscal results yields much more than just a dashboard of our work for our constituents to see. The process also yields trust, which is paramount to our ability to create and innovate relevant, sustainable solutions for people with barriers. By openly sharing our financial and operating performance, we create a platform of trust that enables us to expand our collective efforts.

Here are some highlights of the first half of 2016 (October 2015-March 2016):

We served 43,272 individuals through our four practice areas: Economic Development, Workforce Development, Education Services, and Occupational Health—nearly double as the same time last year. Our revenue grew by 44%, driven both by organic and acquisition initiatives. We maintained our program expenses at 88% of our operating expenses, and we expanded our footprint throughout New Hampshire and Maine, Maryland, and Delaware through new contract awards and mergers and acquisitions.

Economic Development accounted for 45.4% of our total first year’s revenues. This practice area includes business service operations that directly employ the populations we serve, the majority of whom have disabilities or other barriers. In the first half of the year, we employed 1500 people in our Total Facilities Management, Manufacturing, Business Solutions, Catering, Security, Home Health Care and Staffing Solutions.

Workforce Development accounted for 34.6% of our revenues and is the practice area where we serve the largest number of individuals. In this area, we placed over 3,700 people in jobs, including 155 ReServists—retired professionals aged 55+ whom we place within organizations to create social impact in the areas of education, health care, and poverty fighting.

Education Services and Occupational Health accounts for 16.5% of our revenue. In these areas, we achieved close to three times the prior year’s revenues due to our combination with Easter Seals New York and our expanded work in the area of substance use disorders and recovery. Our Education and Occupational Health practice areas includes work in behavioral health, assistance for youth transitioning from foster care and vocational rehabilitation for individuals with disabilities. I’m proud to say that over 400 people advanced grade level, graduated from high school, matriculated into college, graduated from college or received a vocational rehabilitation certification through our Career Design School.

I invite you to take a look at our full release on our home page at www.fedcap.org. The metrics matter—they tell the story of our day-to-day work making a difference in thousands of lives and to the power of possible—the mantra we strive to live by every day. I also invite you to evaluate and analyze what you see in our presentation, and I welcome your suggestions, ideas, feedback, and recommendations for any other information you would like to see in the future.

We aim to be on the edge of best practices, to contribute to the highest standard of transparency, and to continually reflect our principles and practices. We count on you as partners to help us achieve the power of possible.