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.

A stronger community requires repairing relationships

M_Geitner_217By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Recently, while studying about relational justice I came upon a quote by Jonathan Burnside: “Seeking justice means seeking wisdom, seeking community and seeking right relationships.”  I found it a thoughtful statement as we continue exploring the deeper ways in which we can support one another through the ups and downs that come along with our lives and the lives of those we share time with.

In this age of acceleration the world doesn’t slow down for anything, let alone when bad things happen. It is often that we find ourselves, despite our best intentions, experiencing an outcome that is less than we’d hoped. Maybe that’s as simple as squeezing in a few too many errands while someone waits a bit too long for a ride after baseball practice. Maybe that’s having a moment of frustration where someone’s behavior pushes someone they care about away — missteps that can usually be corrected with a bit of time and a heartfelt apology.

But what happens when the outcome comes with an even greater pain?  What happens when it is an outcome that causes emotional heartache, spiritual confusion, financial burden or even physical pain?  Usually it wasn’t the person’s intention to cause hurt to another, but most often in today’s society when bad things happen, our first response is to attend to the one that was hurt. We want to stop the hurting and ensure healing. We focus on restoration of that person — their health, their dignity, their well being. In doing so, we might also find a bit of relief ourselves, believing that restoration for the victim is a part of the justice we seek even as a bystander.

Then we typically turn our sights to the one whose actions led to a less than favorable outcome and we start the second part of our justice — the punishment, the reprimand or the directive to never do that again. Then we, as bystanders move on, hoping or maybe believing that we have made the world a better place.

In seeking justice through wisdom, community and relationship we are called to provide a bit more than that. We need to extend ourselves in offering opportunity for healing and restoration to the second victim — the ones whose actions might have led to a poor outcome. We have to repair the relationship between each victim, offering them the opportunity to talk about what happened, look to rebuild trust and again share a relationship.

It is often that individuals who require the support of others for their most personal care are asked to simply forgive and forget when the innocent actions of another lead to an unintended, but poor outcome to them. But without relational justice, the burden on both is too great. The relationship just severs and leaves both still hurting.

I believe we are a society that seeks wisdom, values community and honors right relationship. Let’s put it to practice in a way that challenges who we are and advances who we’d like to be.

Appreciative inquiry

HCSBuffalo092514_021By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Appreciative Inquiry, while not a new concept, certainly has a very important place in today’s world.  Broadly summarized, it’s a way of developing a discipline for positive change. It’s the act of transformation anchored in positivism that seeks to explore the best in people, their organizations and the world around them. It breathes life into a being, process or movement and activates the deep study of a moment when things are working and fully alive. Approaching advancement through an appreciative and curious way is not only spirit lifting, it also ensures we build on opportunities and assets.

I have experienced how quickly this approach can turn negativism on its head. Some may wonder if this is just a superficial strategy to “weed out the complainers.” It certainly could disorient the person who rehashes everything that has not worked or who prefers to list reasons why it won’t work. After all, the further we push potential solutions from our point of influence, the less responsibility we take for unmet outcomes. It’s a classic leadership trap of the modern age.

Dare to be different. Confront the tough stuff. Ask about exceptionally positive moments and share stories that give life to a cause. Allow others to dream with you about the future then innovate and improvise in a way that shapes that future. Learning and inviting others to take part in appreciative inquiry is a discipline. In a world that bends toward negativism, it is counterculture. Critics suggest it ignores reality, and to them I say it isn’t about ignoring reality, it’s about surrounding it, embracing it and shaping it!

We all need help day-to-day to stay in a positive frame of mind. I appreciate having a team that supports and influences my thoughts more positively. A team that can remind me that growing from what’s working well is more productive than belaboring what’s not.