I have been fortunate to be associated with Penn-Mar for 33 years of its 40 year existence. It is my honor to be able to lead our organization into this significant Anniversary year and to have the opportunity to work alongside a committed and loyal team of amazing people. As I reflect on my time at Penn-Mar I am pleased to share a few thoughts shaped by core beliefs, investments others have made in me and advantages and practices which have enabled me to grow personally and professionally in my sphere of influence.
1. Every person is of immense value. And while we are all different, no one is better than anyone else. If I didn’t believe that all of us are loved and treasured by God, I would not be able to do what I do. I’ve often said that while many enter into this line of work to help and teach and make the world a better place, what happens in the process is the relationships we forge end up changing our lives for the better.
2. My faith it is inseparable from what I do. This is a profound and bedrock belief that informs everything I do at Penn-Mar. As a Christian and Pastor, I strongly believe the identity of us all is based on how God values life. What I do is a reflection of who I know I am, and while Penn-Mar is not a faith-based organization I see this play out every day as our team members give unselfishly of themselves in service to others.
3. The support of my wife and family have made it possible for me to keep the Penn-Mar mission and vision front-and-center. I could have never succeeded in my career at Penn-Mar without the support and understanding of my wife Terri and our four children. They have accepted that I don’t have the type of job where I can leave my work at the office. My family has made many sacrifices over the years, as many others have, to ensure my availability whenever needed.
4. We all need mentors to help make us better. I have had three important mentors during my time at Penn-Mar. In my early days with long hair and a bushy beard, Mike Shriver, who was Penn-Mar’s Executive Director was a source of encouragement for me to grow. Fortunately for Penn-Mar, Mike is now leading our consulting division. Succeeding Mike was Keith Peterson who helped me better understand the value of processes and planning, many which I still rely on today. And Board Chair Mort Zifferer undoubtedly had the biggest impact on my leadership as he gave of himself in mentoring when was I was first named President and CEO. From Mort my love of reading exploded (it had to in order to know what he was talking about). I have also had the distinct opportunity to work with three other Board Chairs, Anthony Gallo, Jon Kinsley, and currently Doug Rein – who with their vision and commitment and encouragement have pushed me to lead Penn-Mar into new and exciting areas.
5. We can accomplish so much more together than alone. My experience at Penn-Mar is hard to separate from the commitment of my team. As CEO, I have increasingly become “the face of Penn-Mar,” the perception being that I am the one responsible for the tremendous success of our organization. But top-to-bottom, everything that Penn-Mar achieves reflects the dedication of our team members. Specifically our leadership team, which communicates from the basis of trust, invests in each other, and has tough conversations that usually generate great results. Iron sharpens iron.
6. Listen to dreams. It is so important to listen to the voices of the people with disabilities who we support. Our person-centered approach must provide the power for each person we support to envision their very own best life. We are then charged with helping to discover that alongside them.
7. No one loves the people we support more than their families. Our families want what’s best for their sons and daughters. As services and supports have changed and evolved through the years, part of our professional responsibility is to encourage families to think differently and consider various options. However, we should never forget that families are the ones who most desperately want success and a good life for their adult children, and we should always work together to celebrate the success of their children by helping them find what brings them the most happiness and fulfillment.
8. Growth is a choice. As I continue to grow and mature I now clearly understand that there are many different ways to look at things. If everything was only from my point of reference, Penn-Mar would not be where it is today. Diversity in all its various forms provides a great platform for understanding. Many people invested in me and provided a support system through the years but for all of us we must choose if we are willing to grow.
9. Intellectually curiosity is a key to change. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more passionate about reading. I’m a voracious reader (thanks Mort) and I don’t just read topics and authors I agree with. I attempt to create that same discipline in our leadership team. I stand among equals and we are all there to energize, challenge and push one another – never settling for the status quo – to allow us to dream and do “what’s next.” Stay curious.
10. You can’t give away what you don’t have. At Penn-Mar, we are responsible for investing in people’s lives, which includes both the people we support as well as our team members. It is imperative that we continually find new ways to advocate for our DSPs and invest in their success as the overflow in their hearts is what they will have to offer to others. Healthy people help other people get healthy.