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Podcast: Elim Christian Services’ Tailored Programming for People with Disabilities – Bill Lodewyk

Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Elim Christian Services

This week, at The One Thing Podcast by The Horton Group, our host, Jason Helfert, talks to our guest, Dr. Bill Lodewyk, President of Elim Christian Services. This organization partners with their community to provide comprehensive educational/work experience and accommodations to children and adults with disabilities. Their mission is to equip each person to pursue their God-given potential to acknowledge their strengths and achieve big dreams.

Elim offers specialized educational services for students with profound disabilities between the ages of three and 22. Once they enter adulthood, they transition into adult day programming. All of their services are person-centered and specifically tailored to each individual and their aspirations.

“Every morning, [our participants] get picked up by a bus/van driver who loves them, knows them by name and welcomes them onto the bus,” Lodewyk said. “They then walk into our facility, whether it’s the school or adult day program, and are greeted by staff who know them intimately and invite them into a routine that is very clear to them.”

Like many nonprofits, Elim has been battling staffing shortages and had to limit the number of participants they could admit to their program. This caused them to get more creative with their recruitment and retention strategies. One way they accomplished this was through an employee survey, which helped them pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses within the organization’s culture.

“That process has been really helpful because it provides us with detailed data and gets staff involved to help us make and put together solutions,” Lodewyk said. “We’re beginning to see incremental improvement in the staffing situation, and we are admitting more of those adults and students. The process is not as quick as we like it to be, but we’re making progress.”

Elim also realized they needed to work harder to differentiate themselves from their competitors and developed a new message for prospects: “It’s more than a job. It’s a calling.”

“If I surround myself with willing, capable, faithful, creative people, then we will find creative ways to get past the challenges we’re facing,” Lodewyk said. “I’m encouraged by the future. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but I really am encouraged that we will continue to make a difference for the next generation in ways we can’t even imagine right now.”

Listen to our podcast above for the full interview with Dr. Bill Lodewyk to learn more about how Elim Christian Services navigates the staffing shortages to provide tailored services for their program participants.


Hello and welcome to The One Thing podcast, brought to you by the Horton Group, where we specialize in Insurance, employee benefits and risk advisory. I’m your host, Jason Helfert. Anchored in Christ, Guided by faith driven by purpose position. To thrive our next guest knows those words all too well as use the president of Elim Christian Services, out of Illinois, I like to welcome a friend and client of the Horton Group, Bill Lodewyk. How you doing? Bill. Great Jason. So good to be with you guys today. Well thanks, we are happy to have you. I know you love this time of year just like I do. We could probably tell the background. We got the Christmas Village set up. I had all four of my kids in this last You can never set it up. So we are excited for this time of year. Yeah, and it looks like you’re probably displaying that tapes Jersey up there too. Yes, I’m praying. The big man upstairs to help them Blackhawks because they’re on tough times, right now. We’ve seen a lot of good times with them over the years though. Yeah but up Bill so the mission of Elam and your website stated as follows and if it’s okay with you or read it, I know you know what it is but our viewing audience might not so Elam Christian Services, equips People with disabilities to pursue their god-given potential by offering person-centered services and partnering with the community. So bill when I read that and you hear that, I’m sure you think about certain things. But why is that mission so important to you? Well I think I do as a Christian and Alum rooted in our Christian Heritage and tradition. The the words that first capture my imagination, our god-given potential. You know, I think about the fact that All of us have human potential but only God knows God given potential

and often that goes beyond what our world would understand to be potential for. Oh. So for example, I was walking a supporter through Elam today and what I told him to be mindful of was the amount of unconditional love, that would be coming his way as on our tour Grand that to me, Me is a powerful expression of god-given potential. I’m often. So limited in my ability to love people because of my own insecurities or because of the way that I view them are students and adults. Don’t have those inhibitions,

they just love people because they love people and to me that’s god-given potential, you know manifested in a very real way. Well that that’s beautiful. Thank you. I think so. And I and so for those of you that might not know, or I guess Bill for people might not know, you know what types of person-centered services are provided at Elam, and I think you hinted on a little bit there, but what role does faith like play in those Services? Well, yeah, faith is absolutely integral to what we do and it really begins with acknowledging. The fact that God has created each and every human being in His image and that each and every human being, no matter what our ability or disability might be,

is created with a purpose to reflect God’s character into our world. So for some of our adult or student participants, all of our employees, they may have uniquely been wired with some certain quality of God’s character. That they are uniquely positioned to, you know, to shine into the world. And, and so, that’s sort of the beginning for us. It’s it’s what we recognize in each person that they’re not. It’s just not about independence for them, it’s about exploring and manifesting and maximizing. You know, the the image of God in them as the way that God designed them to be. And then so what are, what are some of those Services bill? That we’re providing to your program. Participants. Yeah. So we were unique environment and that we provide services for children as young as three all the way to adults who you know whenever God calls them home, could be 80 something years old. So we provide very specialized Educational Services for students with profound disabilities between the age of The re and 22. So when they become 22, then they transition into adulthood, and they move into a whole different sphere service for us, which is our day, programming for adults, from the age of 22 until, you know, the date. God calls them home. Sure. So walk me through if you can open, it’s a fair question, but a traditional day in the life of a Neelam participant. You know, what could some what could a family member expect if one of their their loved ones was? Part of the Elam family, right? Well, you know, I think what you’re asking is sort of what is the routine of their day, look like because I think at the heart of it for us it’s about the love and care and respect that we would show unto each of our participants, but from a routine standpoint, they’re going to get picked up by a bus driver of a van driver who, you know, loves them knows. Them by name and greets them and welcomes them onto the bus, gets them into You know, our facility, whether it’s our school or our adult Day program and they would walk in to an environment where they’re greeted by staff, that know them intimately and invite them into a routine that is very clear to them. So, for example, students, with autism the students that we have with autism would come in and their daily schedule and everything that’s needed for that day. Schedule would be right there on the wall. All next to their desk and they would clearly be able to see that they’re going to be progressing from this activity to this activity. Then they’ll have this. Then they’ll have this. And for every one of those activities that they go through, then they take the pictorial card. They peel it off with the velcro and put it off to the side and then so they’re walking through their day, very much with their staff people and that day would include some devotions that occur within the So, the classroom would involve whatever it is that their IEP, their individualized program requires. But it would often include things like therapy, various therapies, occupational, therapy, Physical Therapy, but then also, classroom activities, and potentially a field trip for our adults. It would include activities both on campus and Lord willing off campus. Sure, whether it’s a work environment or whether it’s a field trip where there. Engaging with the community. All of those things would be part of their daily routine. You know, when I love, how about I’ve got to know you and Elam over the years and one thing that I have come to appreciate and love about Elam, is that it truly is person-centered.

It’s not everybody has here’s what we’re doing for everybody. Because you understand, and as you all like Lynn said, everybody’s our own individual, had their own aspirations, write their own likes and dislikes. And so what I found that, I think that’s why people love appreciate them so much just That’s truly what it is. This is for you, what do you want to see? You know, what are your parents want to see? And I love that about it. So that’s one thing that’s always warm my heart. When I hear the Elam story and I think you carry that torch very well. And speaking of yourself, how did, how are you? I don’t know if I know this bill. How were you introduced to elim? Well, my background is in education and all educational as a teacher. But then also as an administrator and one day, my predecessor who is about to retire call, Me up when I was working as a high school principal and said, Bill, I just want you to know that God laid your name on my heart at 2:00 in the morning. I sat up in bed. You said we’ve been on a long search. We haven’t found my successor and God laid my name on your heart and I don’t have breakfast with you this morning. Tell you about it. And the rest is history that was some 22 23 years ago now, you couldn’t ignore it. No I mean you know and when you when you know that it’s God’s call for your life, right? Then You step into it and it’s been a challenging but rewarding Journey all the way through sir. Well, I know there’s a lot of rewarding stories and then hopefully get to the some of those. But I think, you know, you and I have discussed, I guess at length, a little bit about some of the challenges that Elam is facing and Staffing being a large, one of those and Bill. You and I know that’s not unique to you. It’s not unique to Horton for that matter. So you’re not alone and that regard, but You know, what has some of the staffing issues, those challenges, you know, how has it impacted your ability to provide services to the people that you love and care for? Well, that’s a great question because it is sort of the question of our times right now. Really extreme head winds on the Staffing front. We feel that as much as so many other organizations, but I what I would say for us in the school environment is that what we’ve had to do is turn the spigot down the faucet if you will for incoming enrollment.

So we have probably 25 people on our Waiting list that could be coming in the next week or two if we had the staff to take them and that that just breaks my heart because you know, those families those districts are looking for supports and interventions into the life of each of these students in ways that will help them become as independent as possible. And delays are are not welcome. All right, on the Adult Services side, we have some of the same sorts of things. We have had to slow down. Down

the the Train on admissions, just because we don’t have the staff to adequately. Serve them. What I would say is that we’ve made some really creative and thoughtful investments in recruitment, okay? And in retention and what we’re beginning to see is incremental improvement in our staffing situation. So we are now admitting some of those students and adults who have been waiting Get in. It’s not as quickly as we’d like but as we’re able to hire staff were able to bring more and more of them on so that that’s a big deal. And the other thing I think that’s really true for us is asking some really hard questions about ourselves from a retention standpoint. You know what is it that’s causing people, you know, to leave if they leave and so that some of this stuff is really actually good crisis, brings out The best in all of us sir. And so I’m curious and I knew the answer because we talked about and so you mentioned some of those unique recruitment strategies or unique retention strategies. You know, just as important why we’ve spent so much time and effort and energy and bringing people into our work family and then to see them leave for other opportunity. We understand that happens, you know, we’re we wish them the best when they do leave would love to keep the people that are in organizations happy and here with us. And I know Your organization. Like a lot of nonprofits. You it’s hard sometimes to compete from the dollar pure dollar standpoint. And so, I’m only guessing that some of the unique ways you’re using to recruit and retain are not always solely surrounded by the dollar. So what else, you what are you talking about? And what are your the feedback you mentioned? Like, what kind of feedback are you getting from your employees? Hey, we have this problem. You know, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we try that, right? Well, I think first, I go to our recruitment. We did some. Rebranding, which is great, but one of the things that came out in our Recruitment and it’s where are we, who are we choosing to compete with? And it’s our sense that we’re not practically competing with a place, like, Amazon if we’re able to distinguish ourselves, based on our recruiting message, and our recruiting message is, is something like this. It’s more than a job. It’s a calling. And so we’re appealing to people who are looking to fill their lives with something more fulfilling than just a job.

And I think that has been effective because it’s also affected where we’ve gone with our recruitment or marketing. And then on the retention side, we exposed ourselves to a wonderful

employee survey instrument.

That allowed us to get our employees to provide us with detailed feedback. And then the data on that has been just tremendous, which right now is a drill down and find out where the hot and cold areas are for,

you know, culture in our organization and it has allowed us to get in, you know, go into those areas. Solicit staff input into How we might be able to bring remediation to some of those challenging issue that they’ve identified sure. And allows us to be very focused in certain parts of the organization where culture is most at risk and that tends to be in places where we’re most short-staffed and dealing with the most difficult participants. So that process has been really really good because it provides us with detailed data. But then it also gets staff involved in helping us make and put Together Solutions, that’s good. We hear, you know, we are some individual, some agencies had say that that do the surveys and some quite frankly and you know I’m not a casting judgment by any means but they don’t want to because they then they have to do what do something with it. And so I think there’s a challenge there and I’ll plug you for leaning in. And what I found is that people that ages that do the surveys, but also have the individual survey respondents is part of the solution right here. We identified these issues that may be at our Our core we can fix but there have been a challenge. What do you suggest

when you bring people into the into the problem-solving Arena? It’s not just you write as the president of the agency. I think you find a lot better responses. You a lot, the culture starts to change and so, you know, can you share anything that you found right? You heard people speak up. They said this, you heard this and even a cool solutions that were brought into broad kind of out of the woodwork of you will. Well it’s interesting. When you ask so we have we are at a place now where we have multiple solution groups in different areas of the organization that are at work. They are meeting with a facilitator and developing their recommendations. Okay? In January myself and other members of our executive leadership team will be sitting down with each of those solution group separately and hearing what Solutions they’re proposing.

But I can tell you one thing that’s become apparent to me. We’ve always been about equity

in pay, no matter what area in the organization you kind of work in. So, if you’re in a program area, you know, if you go in this area or that area, you’re typically going to find people at the same level, who are getting paid the same amount of money. What we’re finding is that our program particular autism program is acutely short-staffed, okay, because it’s arguably. The most difficult work, you know, in the organization. But yet, we generally pay those people, the same that we pay others in other areas of the organization, okay? And we’ve always been reluctant to do anything about that because you know, you get all it’s not fair or but with the data is clearly showing us is that we have the most acute cultural issues in that area of the organization. And so we as upper management must make decisions. To address that and it gives us a very good reason to communicate that to the rest of the staff so that it minimizes it really makes it database data Focus. Yeah, so that’s one thing that’s coming out that makes sense in I know, one thing I’ve even looked online. And after discussions we had with you, I try to do some more research one benefit if you will. It has a certain Financial element to it but I love Bill what elam’s doing around. Tips for employees and we have a partnership with Trinity, Christian college. And so that is certainly Financial benefit, but it’s also investing in your team. It’s investing in education, it’s investing in self-improvement. It’s investing in the livelihood of your team members. And so, if you can tell us more about how that came to be, maybe was one of these groups. Hey, let’s try this. And you know, what do you hear in back? I know it’s early in the game, but what are you hearing on that and what do you want us? Without the viewing audience regards to how that program came to be. What do you think it’s going to do? And what are you hearing about it? Yeah, well, first of all, I would say that consistently over the years. When we do exit data interviews with folks who are leaving Elam one, probably, the predominant reason they list is career advancement and career advancement can meet a lot of different things but certainly one of them is the opportunity for a paraprofessional for example to move. Move their way towards becoming a teacher or an assistant teacher, and that Gap can often be a pretty big gap. So how do we create an environment where we can begin to put our paraprofessionals on a journey towards that goal? If that’s a goal for them. And we have this unique relationship with Trinity, Christian College called the center for special education and it’s designed to be a win-win for both Trinity and Elam. And so what we’ve been able to do is put together a program where it’s a slower Pace than a traditional teacher prep program, but it allows paraprofessionals to continue to work full-time to continue. Then to go to school and take a course or two at a time to have those courses not completely offset financially because we want our paraprofessionals have some skin in the game but it really removes a lot of the traditional barriers for career. Advancement class work and those kinds of things for our paraprofessionals and I think we’ve got 10 or 13 of them in the cohort that’s going on right now. I love it. I love it, you know, talk about, you know, you know again your your team members are there, right? Because they want to be there, they’re driven to provide service, they’re driven by faith to do all things so they’re having a meaningful career as it is. And then on top of that, you know you’re saying hey look we believe in you, you want to invest more in Our future. This is what you want. Great. How can we help you get there? And I think that a lot of people try to do that and agencies and for-profit nonprofit. But I don’t know if many do it, as well as they want to do it. But I think you’re leading by example here, and I think it’s a really good example, for for-profit. Nonprofit, you know, whatever it may be to do things like this for your team member. So I applaud you. I love that. I think, I think it’s going to be very successful. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t read it. So if I’m sitting At home, or I’m listening on a podcast in the car. How do I find out more about this program? If I wanted to, if I was listening to it right now, well, I would say that if you’re in proximity to Trinity or to elim certainly reach out to us and I know that Trinity would love to have, you know, multiple classes going on at one time. And if you’re not in close proximity to where we are, I believe that what’s being done here is something that could be replicated Located in other places, it’s not rocket science. It’s just taking the creative thinking of really good people and making it happen. And since we have a template here, we don’t know yet what the success ratio is going to be long-term, but I’m excited about the effort. And if somebody wants to talk more about it, I’m happy to talk more about it with them, but I definitely think it’s replicable, elsewhere. Yeah, Mi Ovid so, thanks for leading, by example. And maybe last question for you, when you In your chair. Bill is a executive of a large nonprofits providing wonderful services to individuals and Illinois. You know, what do you see what’s the future look like? Well, I you know by Nature because I’m a person who in my humanness I might answer that question you know, skeptically or negatively. But because I serve a god that is Sovereign and Powerful. I believe our future is is very bright

and I think One of the things that I think about, you know, I we’re often limited by money, right? We at least, we think we are sure, but we rank. We’re encountering. We’re going through the greatest wealth transfer.

In history, more and more people are retiring every day and it, you could argue, it’s the richest generation ever. And there are a tremendous number of people that care deeply about what we do and are willing to come alongside and support us. And so sometimes we’re just limited by our own lack of creativity. So if I surround myself with willing capable Faithful creative people. We’re going to look at the challenges we’re facing today and tomorrow and we’re going to find creative ways to get past them. And we’re going to leverage our partners to help us make those dreams a reality. So, I am encouraged, you know, by the future doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Mmm. But I really am encouraged that we’re going to continue to be able to make a difference for the Next Generation. And ways that we can’t even imagine right now. Well, I love the lens, you’re looking through and I think that our community at large would be better better if we took your glasses and look through them once in a while and I applaud you for that and Bill is as I always do and every interaction I had with you I walk away feeling kind of inspired and happy and I always smile and so you have that uncanny ability to put a smile on somebody’s face and just want to say. Thank you so much bill for your time. I’m here today. Thank you for your partnership with Horton over the years. You’ve been a role model to all of us. And I am just so very thankful that you were able to join us this afternoon. Well, I appreciate that Jason. Let me let me return a favor here. And I mean this, With all sincerity, I have a lot of respect for Horton. I’m a good friend of Glenn, have really appreciated what you represent as an organization, your You of risk management goes far beyond a traditional insurance program and broker service it. It is all-encompassing and I know that that that’s really, that is an invaluable for me as a leader, you know, here at Elon and I’m so, so grateful for your partnership. Well, well, thank you. I do. I do mean that I appreciate it and complimented it. So thank you. So so very much. I do appreciate it, so that’ll wrap it up for today. So, until next time, Time on behalf of the horde group. I’m Jason Halford saying, thank you for listening too The One Thing podcast.

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