The art of showing up

Buffalo100517_017By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Just to keep our interest as we approach our January book study of Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, I thought I’d share a concept that has me thinking differently about healing in a hurting world. The concept as Brown describes it is “Hold hands. With strangers.”  In a day when we may be so overwhelmed by differences and confused or angry about our interpretation of the beliefs of others, we find our world in a spiritual crisis. It’s hard to see beyond ourselves let alone be mindful of something greater. In times of such spiritual crisis Brown suggests it is essential that we remind ourselves that we are undeniably connected as we are all human beings, connected in a way that is impossible to disentangle or separate. If we ignore that connection it’s easy to retreat, to shut-down, and to “hate” from afar – behavior that just perpetuates hurt and divide.

So how do we exercise a renewal in that human connection?  By showing up for experiences of collective joy and collective sorrow. We’ve each experienced both from time to time. How about collective joy?  You know that one song at a wedding reception that has everyone instantly dancing or at the very least singing? You find yourself acting silly alongside others you’ve never met but who cares…. Celebrate good times….. Come on! Maybe the stadium full of college football fans when the team fight song or alma mater plays. You don’t care who is standing next to you as long as they are singing, too, as you sway back and forth with your arms draped across one another’s shoulders. We are connected!

The collective sorrow, although painful, is equally – if not more – powerful. Depending upon your age, you remember exactly where you were and who you were with when President Kennedy was shot, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded or when the towers came down on 9/11. We stop in our tracks. We stand in shock and disbelief alongside one another. We ache at the loss and we turn to comfort and to be comforted by whomever we are with. We share sorrow even as strangers and it binds us. It reminds us that there is something bigger than us, reminds us that we are created as part of the same race, the human race! It is powerful and healing.

Throughout this holiday season I hope you will take the time to be thoughtful about what you are showing up for. Be watchful for the magic moments of collective joy and celebrate them!  Show up and stand with others in times of sorrow and tragedy, too. Let it be a reminder of our connectedness within this beautiful and intricate human tapestry.

When our belief that there's something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks


Read ‘Braving the Wilderness’ with us?

Marisa Geitner, our president and C.E.O., invites you to pick up a copy of Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, and join us for a conversation on Facebook.

The first 25 people who respond on Facebook and want to participate in the book club will get a free copy of the book. Watch the video below for details.

Then, after the first of the year, Marisa will host four online discussion sessions so we can learn from the book and from each other.

If it’s easier, here’s a transcript of the video:

Hello, everybody! This month we decided to try something different rather than the written blog. I recently read a book and got very excited about it so I wanted to talk with you a little bit about it today.  It’s Brene Brown’s latest book Braving the Wilderness. It is an excellent read and a quick read and as I said something I got very excited about as soon as I read it. In particular, I found it so relevant to the work that we do at Heritage Christian Services because our work is all about relationship with people.  And this book kind of brings us back and in a time in our world where maybe we’re not feeling as good about how we’re treating one another and this book kind of brings it back to ourselves and how we’re working ourselves. How we’re welcoming others into relationship with who we are and how we’re moving forward together as human kind and that just really resonated with me as relationship is the fabric of the work at Heritage Christian Services. It’s so relevant in today’s world because as I said, many of us might be feeling that we’re taking some steps backwards in how we’re treating on another and that doesn’t feel good to many of us and this book acknowledges that but also provides some strategy for how we might move through it and how we could successfully move through it and I just found it energizing. Once I started reading it I just couldn’t put it down. So, what I’d like to do is offer the opportunity for 25 people to join me in reading the book. The first 25 people who comment we’ll make sure we get the books to you give people some time to read it and then shortly after the first of the year when we’re getting ramped up and ready moving into 2018, we’ll host four, quick, online sessions of the book club where we’ll talk about really the four main chapters that she breaks this book down into and really just share our learning together share how we felt in reading the book and hopefully by that point if you’re like me you’ll already be implementing some of these exciting things and talk a little bit about the difference it’s already made for us. So I thank you for the opportunity to share some of the excitement that I have today related to this book and I look forward to enjoying more conversation with some of you after the first of the year.

Keeping the conversation going

1710By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Sometimes certain words or themes have a way of finding us. They show up in emails and in conversation, on social media and even on billboards. That is what has happened to me last week.

First, one of our residence managers, Bethann Selice, posted this question on our Facebook page:

I’ve been reading a few profiles of people who choose our services and it seems weird to me that we are referring to friends as “peers.” I don’t make plans “to go out to dinner, or bowling, or camping” with my “peers,” I make plans with my friends. Using the word “peer” seems like a “lessthan” language word. Just something to consider when referring to people that utilize our services. What are some other words that you’ve noticed that seem like “lessthan” language?

It generated more than 30 comments – all full of suggestions for how we might be more equal in our language.

Then, Steve Fedchak, a behavior intervention specialist, included this in a monthly email that circulates throughout the agency:

This month we’d like to talk about how words matter. Words mean things. And words mean different things to different people. It is important to remember that the intention of our words does not diminish their effect on others.  Historically, our culture has been careless about the way we explain, describe, and define people with disabilities- think about the impact of that. We are role models for people in the community who often lack knowledge and understanding of people who have disabilities.

So, we have some momentum here. Let’s keep the conversation going.

How can we continue to improve? And how do we know when we’ve hit the mark with our language?

Finding your true self, your compass

Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Are you positioned to bring your true self to work? Does the work you do fulfill your natural tendencies to serve, to be meaningful, to be productive? Without a doubt, working in human service requires authenticity — a harmony with the true you and the work you are asked to do. Serving at Heritage Christian is a choice, a decision that should include some significant soul searching. Why me? Why here? How am I called to uniquely make a difference?

Frankly, life is too short and we spend a significant amount of that precious time in our paid employment so we deserve to thrive in it! In exploring a career opportunity or change think through who it is you really are. How are you similar and how are you distinct from those around you? What is it that you bring that allows you to serve with distinction?

Next, explore what you look and feel like surrounded by the team you work alongside? Is it a good fit with your authentic self? Do you serve a distinct and valuable roll on your team? Once you have successfully reconciled the right team fit, go bigger. Don’t settle for working for a company if you can’t well represent its brand or if its brand does not well represent you.

That is the trifecta friends…. right fit for you, right fit for the team, right fit for the brand! It’s great for your fulfillment, and it’s great for the company you choose to represent.

Aim higher, go bigger, BE MORE, don’t settle! Life is too short.

A call to ‘be more’

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Even today, I find the most valuable experiences I’ve had in my career happened while serving as a direct support staff. I was first introduced to direct support while still in college. My roommate introduced me to a human service agency, and it was that experience that led me to choose an education and a career in human service. I brought that experience with me as I began my career at Heritage Christian Services, serving part time in direct support while I worked my job full time as a speech therapist and pursued my graduate degree.

In the role of direct support I experienced the joy of learning to support others with compassion and dignity — and learned to always demonstrate respect for those who chose me as their support staff. I learned how to listen better, to learn from those around me.

Also, I learned the art of differentiating the support I was providing. Sometimes I was quietly serving someone more “behind the scenes” as to ensure they were center stage. Sometimes I was alongside someone, experiencing something new together for the very first time or providing an introduction and then stepping back. At other times I found myself learning about courage as I stepped out front to advocate for a right and necessary change on behalf of a friend.

At Heritage Christian, I was able to bring all aspects of myself to the job: My conviction that we’re all equal. My desire to learn. My beliefs. All of it. Here, I found myself surrounded by others who strengthened me and supported me in who I was and who I might like to be!

This is a career — and a life – I am proud of and it all started with my experience in direct support.

We are continuing to grow to serve more people. Might you know someone who would like to bring more of themselves to the work they do?  Someone who would like to be more than one thing? Please make the introduction.

And if you already serve here, please bring all aspects of you. Together, let’s be more.

Time to move away from segregated, special places


By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.Marisa Geitner 16

Is integration good enough for our community? Do we believe that it is OK to have people with disabilities near us — in separate homes and buildings that are specially designed for them? Or is it time that people with disabilities are welcomed and included as equals in our gyms, in our churches and in our community conversations?

For me, integration is an admirable step but it can never be the goal. Integration is something we should see in the rear view mirror, while moving toward inclusion.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

  • Of course, we started with the ugliness of the time when we looked to euthanize, sacrifice or hide those with disabilities when we only saw exclusion as a means to address differences.
  • Then, in the 1800s, development of institutions and asylums began as a means of segregation.
  • Following WWI, in the 1930s, we began to experience veterans with disabilities and we started offering options outside of institutions, like homes where people with disabilities would live together in community neighborhoods and buildings where people with disabilities would go to work or exercise. We call that integration.
  • The ’40s and ’50s brought about WWII veterans who paved the way for the next level of demand and visibility of disability rights.
  • The ’60s brought the birth of the civil rights movement, which led to laws in the ’70sthat offered civil rights protection for people with disabilities and access to public education. Around this time, we began to deinstitutionalize and transition from large, campus-based institutions. Tremendous resources were placed on offering group home and day program services for those with disabilities.
  • After more than a decade of lobbying, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. The ADA was intended to secure EQUAL treatment and EQUAL access to employment, transportation and other public accommodations.
  • Still, decades later, people with disabilities battle against deep seated assumptions and stereotypes — and we all battle against decades of investing in segregated buildings that were meant to serve only one group of people. What happens to those special buildings when people with disabilities are welcomed into the workforce, join their friends at the local gym or get an apartment near their sister? How do we justify paying for special buildings that only offer segregation and integration — not full inclusion?

We reached integration and then stalled for decades. I can’t help but feel that people have confused this for the end goal.

We must get out of segregated and integrated special places and share the same places. Let’s push ourselves to demonstrate hospitality and do the tough stuff to ensure that everything we do welcomes people of all backgrounds and abilities.

We must shift practices — not just sidewalks — at every building, every community group, every school and every office to ensure that all are welcomed. In doing so we nurture belonging and begin to develop an interdependence that is rich in a healthy relationship of community.

Do you have a vision for what the future of community looks like for you? I hope so, because it will take each one of us to steer society and take the next big step to truly include.