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Podcast: IARF Illinois Breaks Barriers for People with Disabilities – Josh Evans

Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Natalie Terchek
Podcast – Josh Evans: IARF Illinois Removes Barriers and Helps People with Disabilities

This week, at The One Thing Podcast, by The Horton Group, our host Jason Helfert, talks to our guest, Josh Evans, President and CEO of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (IARF). IARF is Illinois’s leading association of community-based providers, serving children and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and serious mental illnesses.

The pandemic impacted everyone’s lives – especially in the nonprofit space. IARF was forced to shift their core mission, focusing on services that will help individuals succeed towards health and safety. This year, they are committed to getting back to in-person activities, connecting staff of similar responsibilities from across Illinois to share their learning experiences together.

IARF has used the pandemic to connect with their agency partners, teaming up to achieve a common goal. They’ve also used this opportunity to join forces with other nonprofits, bouncing ideas off each other to think creatively as they overcome these challenges together.

“There are things that remind us of the good in humanity – what connects us as human beings and social beings,” Evans said.

Listen to our podcast above for the full interview with Josh Evans and learn more about how IARF works with their partners to overcome industry challenges.


Hello and welcome to The One Thing podcast brought to you by the Horton Group. We’re at the Horton group. We specialize in Insurance employee benefits and risk advisory. I’m your host. Jason Helfert. We are excited today to have a Guest and a client of ours, president and CEO of irf, Josh Evans. How you doing Josh? I’m doing well, Jason. Hope you’re doing well. Thanks for having me. You bet you bet happy to. So while the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln have been celebrated for Generations in this country 1971 marked the first time the first year for that matter or as a country. We celebrated Presidents Day as a whole. So did you do anything to celebrate the great presidents? Today, I did part of the day. I unfortunately didn’t realize was a holiday. And so I work part of the day. But then when I did thankful for the leadership of those presidents and followed up by doing some, some, some honey do list. I guess we’ll call it around the house to prep for the spring about you. Well, good. Yeah, I was so I have kids too is, you know, and so, the kids were home, obviously, and spent some time with them. The weather was pretty good most of the snow and until we get More. Oh, no, it was pretty good. And so thanks for indulging me with the question. But I think I believe that most people are familiar with fire and most people familiar with you. But for those people that aren’t what’s the one thing people need to know about dire. Well hang the one thing is is the entire history of the organization since it was founded in 1973 is our sole reason for being is to add. A group disability.
Has the mental. He’s in on away from the very first budget. We work on as an association until the work. We’re doing a day. It’s been all about what can we do as a trade Association to ensure that the voice of our not-for-profit service providers is a part of the broader discussion about services and supports and that’s what we probably want. Anybody know, if that’s what we’re here to do and that’s what we’ll continue. Well, it’s quite an important Mission, quite an important agency. You’re running there and I don’t even know if I know this, I might. But if I did, I forgot. I apologize. How did you come? Let’s have your role here. So, basically, when I was in grad, school in the early aughts, I was in a course where a gentleman by the name of Randy wood or came and presented to one of our courses. And you know, I had a thought. I had an idea of what Allah Yes, did before that presentation but I gotta I got a clear sense of some of the amazing work that lobbying or the third house can do in advancing interest. And so I ended up interning with with Randy winner. And one of the clients at the time was, I are a few Association rehabilitation facilities. And as an intern that Association was part of my portfolio. So I got a 30,000 foot level introduction to the issues that the organization faced anyone that internship. Ship was done. I was brought on as legislative liaison with the association and for the better part of the 2000s. I did a lot of work in this space for the association and so 2018 when I when I took on this role, so I didn’t come at it from a direct service perspective. Come at it working in the not-for-profit provider space. I’m or came at it from a understanding of the Statewide advocacy issues where the faced disability service providers, and that really caught my attention. And chicken. And I wanted to try to do more to advance the mission of the association and the we’re not proud. It. Is that still? What gives you gives you a passion every day, I would say. So, you know, I came from doing advocacy. I’m I’m a little less engaged in that. Now, my current role, we have an exceptional, exceptional group of vice presidents that work on policy and advocacy within the association, but I nudge my way and a little
position, right? But no mostly, you know, I think it’s advocacy in a different perspective. It’s looking at the training and education that we offer to our members now. It’s connecting with Are executive directors, and CEOs of our associations, and, you know, understanding what their needs are outside of the government relations, and I think that’s what’s exciting about. And now, you know brings a different Dynamic to the position and I’m excited to do that as well. Sure, and maybe we’ll get more into the training of development pieces as we move through the podcast. But I think you’ll let me expand. Josh. Did you get to watch him at all? Not nearly as much as I was hoping to, and I don’t know if it’s the time or if it’s the fact that my children dominate the TV, when it’s available during normal hours. I would say I probably watched a lot more cocoa. Melon Masha, the bear that I have the Olympics, but when I have, you know, Try to try to see the skiing events whenever I can. But yeah, they’re pretty fun. Well in canto is pretty big in our house right now. I don’t know if yeah that’s on your screen at all. But they keep saying that Bruno song. No, we don’t talk to Jason. Yeah, which is interesting. Yeah, so the Olympics I just had to just closed on Sunday and as can be the case, with some Olympics, there is some controversy
albeit with one of the country’s doing something, right? It happens once. In a while, but even amidst all the controversy.
What I love about the Olympic Games is that in every games, you’re going to have is really cool success stories throws up. Togetherness. Not only with the athletes will with, with Community with, with country in stores. It a really, really uplifting. And that’s what I take away from the games beside the competition, and your favorite events, but I really enjoy that. And so if you had to put on your Olympic analogy, what’s the Thing going on right now and I are that would bring a smile to the faces of the people. What’s one thing you want to share like a success story? That would put a smile on people’s faces. Maybe like the Olympics did for people are watching. I think, first of all, I like the the way you tie that in and, you know, I tend to share your Viewpoint about the Olympics. It’s a competition. It’s at its core. But I like to believe the celebrating the success of the athletes are the teams is what brings all the He’s across the the world together towards common purpose and there’s so much about whether it’s our body, politic in this own country, certainly on the foreign policy stage right now. There’s, there’s some concerns over in Eastern Europe, but I like that, you know, there there are things that remind us of the good in humanity, what connects us as human beings and social beings. And so from that perspective, you know, I like to think that even though you have a great team that I get a chance to work with or a cog in a wheel. What he goes into from Soup To Nuts, from trying to help a child or an adult with a developmental disability, realize the American dream. That is what our member agencies are there to do their mission based organizations to try to help in any way. They can an individual, or family member will help that individual live, the American dream and feel a part of their community and as many ways as they So a success story may seem mundane to your to your average person unless you dig a little bit deeper and then maybe see it’s a, you know, it’s a young, a young adult that has transitioned out of high school and now is able to work so many hours a week and a job. Your average person may not understand all the work that it takes from special education potentially to direct support work at a, from a provider agency. They may not All it takes to help that individual get to a point where they’re potentially working independently or the job coach. And unless you were able to connect that individual directly and see that, that you’re getting, that job may be the most important thing in that person’s life and achieving that level of success than reverberates to the teachers to, the direct support staff to the queue, idps to the executive directors. That is, what is it, the essence of what? I think our member agencies do. And that is what lifts us all from from you know, where Rice it as a small Cog in the wheel on the process, you know, all the way up to where you know, quality of service exists with direct support professionals getting a job, somebody living with other housemates, or living on their own and apartment. There’s so much that can go into that when someone may have a developmental disability or some comorbid medical medical conditions so much that goes into that. And so, when we get a chance to talk about what providers do, it’s great because they’re able to peel back the onion if you want to use a trek analogy since truck.
Openings have layers. There’s so many layers that go to helping somebody achieve success. And it’s great. When we have to tell those stories, I would say, you know, that’s what it’s all about. We talk here at the association about state budget numbers about state budget policy. But the end of the day for us is what, what does that translate into helping an organization? Help somebody achieve their own individual dream and successful. We’re all trying to do here in this country. But that is what they do. And so we like to thank, you know, what’s it for us? What are we doing to remove barriers to help our members succeed? What are we doing to help? Ensure that they get the resources they need? That’s where the attention needs to be the success of the individual living on the road, getting a job in their Community, connecting with colleagues and friends. That’s what it’s all about for us to and that’s what it is. Yeah, I love that. And we’re fortunate enough to be, you know, Partners a lot of idd agencies. And there are countless numbers of stories or countless examples, where you have an individual. Now, that does is able to work on their own and live on their own and enjoy a lot of the same luxuries, right? It’s called luxuries that than everybody else would and it’s it’s wonderful that so many agencies in Illinois. That fight so hard for that right to your point for the dsb. It’s the executive directors. And I just love that and I love the fact that the call out of our itd agencies yourself includes our North Star, right? Let’s not lose sight of what’s really important and I love that about the industry. And it’s it’s a reason why I tend to pay so much attention to it and put so much work into it. And I think one thing that your agency does well in you highlighted before amongst other things is training and development and I don’t want to lose sight of that too. Because a lot of really talented individuals that work within the space, but there are a lot of people All that receive services from a training development standpoint. So, can you expand a little bit about that? My only bring it up as you shared it, you know, some of the things that you’re proud of within your agency are the training and development programs and service that you provide and then you want the listeners to know about that. So it’s something that we look at closely and has changed over time. Like many things, we can’t be static in terms of what we understand or think we understand. What about what our not-for-profit members need. We have. Check in with like any good way. We know that there’s some things that, you know, our members are always going to need in some respects because maybe their certification require continuing education. But you know, we also know that, you know, the pandemic has left an indelible impact on everybody’s lives in this world and especially so in our own space where we’ve had to shift over, what our core missions of them, which is what is person-centeredness. What is this, individual me to succeed towards health and safety as It is a primary driver of what we do and that’s not something a lot of us are familiar with, you know, that’s a traditional health care approach to serving that we’ve had to get back into the pandemic. Necessitated. So, you know, I guess from that standpoint. One of the things that we, you know, we’ve been excited about positioning, I think ourselves in this current calendar year to get back in some respects to some of those in person activity that networking that connecting staff of similar responsibilities from across the monoi together. That’s a learning experience. Ariana and you know, God willing and public health willing, we’re going to be able to do that. Lets you know, because a lot of our agencies have have toed the line doing what they needed to do from the public health and preventive standpoint. And so the things that I think that, you know, we’re excited about is we as we look to this year and things are in play, as you know, we want to try to bring resources to Our member agencies, and diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging. We want the to ensure that agencies that want to make this as part of their core strategy and is part of the culture of the organization that they Resources to do that and we know not-for-profits, our own organization included or in different places. So we’re partnering with an exceptional group called united front at Fort Wayne, Indiana, and we’re really looking forward to just rolling that out to our member agencies. Very excited. Okay. The thing is, we have position of front line supervisor. That works in a lot of our organizations and we recognize our unique needs about that role from leadership standpoint, and we’re really looking hard enough. other partnership with a national group that we hope to roll out this year to to try to meet some of those self identify needs from our My supervisors because, you know, you’ll pick up on, you know, we’re working, you know, cultural levels within our member organizations or missions within our organizations that are identified needs. But a various levels of identified need with the staff and our member agencies. We’re trying to meet them where those needs are providing services to them. And I think it’s something that actually Horton does extremely well as well. You know, we’ve been looking very grateful to partner with you guys because you provide a lot of exception content, especially I think to HR professionals to our chief financial sirs, and they have a role to play In Our member agencies and their very important as well. Think about the resources, you guys brought for it, also from legal analysis perspective. Thanks, Reggie, you know, extremely well. Thanks. I appreciate his kind of a nice pivot if you will on to a different topic and weave. I think while it’s more enjoyable to talk about success stories, right? Things that are uplifting things that are fun and positive
nonprofit agencies and for properties ourselves, right? We have big challenges in this environment, the pandemic being One Employment, being another one of those and you know, we’re not absorbed to those challenges and I do nonprofits are not at all their hit, very hard by this. And and so if if I was going to ask you what’s the one thing or the one big challenge? You’re working on right now, helping so either for your own agency or 4 member agencies. I think I’ll come at it from the member perspective first and you know Workforce. He only has remained a persistent challenge pre-pandemic exacerbated during the it is increasingly difficult to her to recruit and retain from the staff, you know, for the better part of this pandemic. We try to connect our members. They talked with one another’s. What are you trying from benefits? Get my wage perspective from the salary respect. A lot of creativity and enough profit space. I’m continually impressed with how organizations make data-driven decisions but are also willing to try new things to each with their staff learn from them. What’s important from you? We had organizations that have tried pet insurance because it wasn’t identified area that was important to some staff, you know, and not just your traditional sign on bonus though, if that’s been tried as well. So, you know, we’ve seen a lot of that and there’s been success stories in this. He’s from from sort of one of the things that we do know though, you know, and this is not just an annoying. This is no date supported with provider agencies across the country, is the first thing that we have to recognize is an issue is as state dollar, funded organization. Not-for-profit says, Federal Medicaid, dollar, supported not-for-profits, you know, if we don’t have a rich was probably the wrong term use, we don’t have an adequate reimbursement structure. Then you know, we can’t handle number one which is to offer competitive wages and benefits
and our ability to do that is directly tied to what the statements to invest in the service. Right? What federal Congress? Medicaid must invest in our Circle. Raise our number one Challenge and our number-one hit thing. Right now is to continue to convey to our Illinois, General Assembly to Congress. We need you to allocate dollars for these purposes. And if you do that and you do it on a year-over-year basis, you do it adequate I You we will be on the rail capacity, serve more individuals, enrich the services.
Those are ongoing cost and never going to go away. That’s part of the structure that we have in our social safety. Net. Yet. We have to continually remind, you know, lawmakers of commitments that are made legally Regulatory and morally and and that can be difficult because there are costs associated with it’s part of the game. Your, when you make a commitment to help uplift, all members of society than you have to continue to meet that commitment. It’s not just, you know, invest a few dollars here, waiting a one-time thing, right? So the credit of the Assembly since 2018. I think they’ve recognized that and they’ve started putting dollars into her disability services. And now just starting last year or the current fiscal year. We’re working under a rate study that has told them annoy. This is where your rates need to be at. You know, if you’re going to want to achieve what you want to achieve as a service rain, so that’s not full battle and we’re in it right now and you know, battles probably not the fair term to use because there’s a lot of support in the general assembly. There are many legislators are come to Springfield wanting to focus on. Improving employee social safety. Net, you know, it’s been an honor to work with a lot of them and will continue to do that. I think the pritzker administration is geared towards that as well as our it thing is, you know, how do we try to get dollars flowing into the system? How do we remove barriers? Know what I think. It’s what I think. When you sure the word battle, I don’t think of us versus them. I think about it, and try to solve a problem. Right? I think we’re all in this together, to try to solve a large issue, large challenge right now, and you’ve outlined it very eloquently. And, you know, I remember What about the pet insurance? Because you brought up next I’m going to church guy but you know, been distorts for the CEO of Cornerstone, a good friend of ours as well. He’s as focused is how to make people’s lives. His own employees life staff is a good at home as there are in the agency when they’re at work, right? So he knows that when when you go home from work, you have a family to care for, how do we make your life better at home? In addition, to being better at work and to your point about being creative and data-driven? Yes, but there’s also a feeling right there. Is also a hey, let’s do what’s right by the individuals? But to your point Josh, that also comes in a financial cost. And so these things do do add up. And so I appreciate you sharing that anything else.
You know, Ben is Venza an excellent leader. I think of his organization and you know, I think what he is doing there and what he talked with you about, you know, I think is indicative of a lot of leadership in the not-for-profit space that it’s It was humbling in a lot of ways. There are a lot of organizations that you guess, you could say, talk the talk about investing in their employees about trying to speak with them, understand what their needs are. And then you got a lot of nonprofits that are trying to do that after, you know, have been doing that. And I think, you know, that’s just it’s humbling to be, you know, a part of that and to know leaders and social services that are, that are engaged at that level. And I, you know, I expected something that will continue. And I expect that, you know, perhaps in the for-profit space. That’s something You can learn from non-for-profits. It’s not always the case. It’s the other way. Around
that our culture Centric believe that the solution for a lot of for profit entities was to throw money at the problem. All right, and that’s not, you can’t reach in, you can’t reach in your bag and they’re throwing money at it. You know, so we do learn from our nonprofit brother and say, hey, how are you looking at? What is work for you? What do people feel is important? And I think we had Horton a very culture sensor can have in, for a long time. And so, I think it’s probably why we appreciate the conversations and we’ll listen to yourself and bends it. What are you guys doing? Huh? That’s interesting. And so I appreciate you sharing that because it’s It’s wildly important and it challenges probably an understatement.
But but it certainly isn’t. There’s a keeping with the President’s Day themed John F. Kennedy once, said, efforts encourage are not enough without purpose and direction.
So, as the lead exec, and I are, who is certainly responsible for setting direction of your related, your own agency. What’s the future look like? If you look through the lens of a executive director of an agency, that touches, a lot of people, a lot of members across the state. What’s the future look like? And I guess, what are you most excited about? Futures optimistic, you know, unfortunately. Historically, you know, You talked to my colleagues in this space, 10 years or more ago, or even less than that, you know, we didn’t have a lot to be proud of who proud of our members of the work. They were doing of the success stories. We are but as a state that looks towards its service array. We learn consent decree. That’s not a good place to be, but I’m optimistic about the future. I’m optimistic because I believe we’ve turned the tide on a lot of the things that are important to return to annoy to a place of Excellency, which we have been historically. Services and supports for persons with disabilities. I see that this Administration Governor prisoners team has shown tremendous leadership in working with all stakeholders to address needs because not just they want to check things off a list. Say we did that say, we did that, it’s because they also recognize we need to grow. We need to return to a place of Excellence or general assembly has done. Is they appropriate dollars, but they also pass all this. That’s that’s what they do. And so they’ve passed policies. They pass laws. Engineer towards evolving. Our services towards being responsive to what families say their needs are because generalization generationally, the needs are going to be different, the expectations of families are different. And so, I’m optimistic optimistic due to the leadership that our Administration shown do investments from the general assembly due to the leadership within our own not-for-profits in Illinois because of the diverse backgrounds and the types of services that they represent. I believe that if we continue on some of the trajectories that we’re seeing both, fiscally From from government investment, but from an idea is perspective, some that you just mentioned about how we think about employees and how investment, you know, I think we’re on the cusp, assuming, you know, pandemic wise, we continue to positive trajectory to wear. This. Pandemic becomes less deadly and it’s We can return stronger than where we came into this Panda, you know, I remain optimistic, because we’ve got no, we got great leadership. We’re already partners and important interconnecting, our members and providing. Resources. So, I’m optimistic optimistic. Our service array is going to continually improve, we’re going to expand Services. We can provide folks. And that, you know, one day when I get to go around and talk to some of my colleagues and other states. They’re going to be like, wow, don’t know what you guys are doing it, right, you know, and I think we’re going to get there real good. That’s so think about, think about that. And I think the optimism is great to have especially when it’s backed by substance, right? You have proof points and examples and things that are really Really, really working. And I don’t know if there was such a sense of sense of happened, two years ago. I mean, when this pandemic hit, she won’t know what we talked. A lot of our clients, lot of our friends and there is major concern about the livelihood of a lot of agencies, a lot of unknown. And again, we’re not out of the woods yet, but I do believe that the nonprofit leaders in the community have stepped up and I think God for them just for the, the work they have put The agencies to stem the tide to bring their employees through this. Healthy do whatever they could to protect every single last client or consumer. Oh and by the way, put in new Services, if but new services and programs along the way. So that all you do with a pandemic and the health care issues that go along with them. And on the mental health challenges that we’re also facing, you create new services.
Right, so that’s why I’m in this. We love you. I’m sorry, tremendous resiliency in our house. It’s what I do and I love the not unbridled optimism, but optimism backed by a passion and backed by a sense of purpose. And I think that the nonprofit Community nonprofit space and leaders of yourself or are really good reminders to the rest of us, how to think and how to act. And so I sincerely Josh, thank you for your time today. I thank you for your leadership. I think the whole state Only thinks you for your leadership and we appreciate your partnership as a friend and client of the her group. Yeah, thank you for having me. It’s an honor to do this and we greatly appreciate the partnership. You guys, Future’s bright. I do absolutely. Well, that’ll wrap up today. So until next time, thank you for joining the one thing podcast.

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