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Podcast – Lauren Wright: How Illinois Partners for Human Service Helps the Community

Monday, March 14, 2022
Margaret Bastick
Podcast – Lauren Wright: How Illinois Partners for Human Service Helps the Community

This week, at The One Thing Podcast, by the Horton Group, our host Jason Helfert, talks to our guest, Lauren Wright, Executive Director of Illinois Partners for Human Service, a broad coalition of different human services organizations. They have over 850 partners statewide that help their communities in a wide variety of ways, ranging from childcare to elderly care, creating a sense of belonging, home and community for people.

The organization is leading efforts to fully fund human services and ensure that all Illinoisans reach their full potential and have access to a sector that is equitable, sustainable and speaks with a collective voice. Many organizations experienced feelings of isolations during the past two years, but Illinois Partners put a special emphasis on collaboration, working with other coalitions, associations and partners to ensure that they are moving the needle forward. Wright feels it is important to recognize the interconnections between health and human services, and understanding that these organizations are stronger when they work together and speak with a united voice.

The power of collaboration has helped Illinois Partners navigate one particular challenge that many of their partners throughout the state of Illinois are facing: the struggles within the workforce. Frontline workers within the human service sectors have been dedicating their time and energy to responding to the global pandemic, and the workforce is starting to feel burned out. Providers want to pay their frontline staff more and give them better benefits, however they rely on state contracts to do their services, and those contracts don’t always cover the costs of delivering those services. Illinois Partners worked with their association partners to hold a joint advocacy event to highlight this issue and the unique nature of the workforce-related issues in human services. It is crucial for nonprofits to talk about these issues and work together to advocate for the workforce. Wright encourages organizations to not shy away from telling their stories – in order for change to happen, leaders should have a seat at the table with key decision-makers and ensure that these issues are being addressed.

Listen to our podcast above for the full interview with Lauren Wright and learn more about the resiliency of the nonprofit sector and how important it is to stay persistent, dedicated and focused on improving your community.


Well, hello and welcome to the one thing podcast brought to you by the Horton Group. We’re at the horn group. We specialize in Insurance employee benefits and risk advisory, and I’m your host, Jason Helfert. Today. We’re excited to have a guest, a friend and partner of the Horton Group, executive director, of Illinois, partners for Human Service, Lauren Wright. How are you doing? Lauren? I’m good. Jason. How are you? I’m doing great. I’m doing great. Thanks for joining us today. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s funny. It was I got a hard-hitting question. I want to bring to you first, but I’ll tell you why I thought about it. We were having dinner last night at home. And I married my wife. Laura, we have four kids and we’re sitting there towards the end of dinner. Tess. My daughter comes  up with this little box right in the boxes that I kind of cards in it. And I haven’t seen him before. She said, I got this at school, a friend of mine, gave it to me. I’m like, oh, that’s pretty cool. She was, we play a game like, sure, right, kiddo. Play games with parents. No problem. Let’s do it. And so, she pulls it out and there’s just a question on the card and it was a question. Like, what’s your favorite food? I was like, oh, that’s an easy one. I like cheeseburgers. And she goes, okay, it’s your turn. I go home at what happened. Like, did I win? Did I lose? She goes stomach that in place. There’s no, they start a finite game. Like, Simon sinek Says a finite game and infinite game, right? So it’s just to get to know each other better and I’m like, that’s cool. Right. I’m like, is a family. You’re like, well, I know exactly what your favorite food is and I was wrong. It wasn’t what I thought. It was. What I thought it was cool just to get to know people. And so the viewing audience, I want to bring that forward here. And when I ask you a question, just one super easy to answer if there’s no right or wrong answers because it’s your answer, right? And so we just came off for a lot of people holiday season. And so what is your favorite holiday and why? That’s a great question. Oh, that’s a really good question.

Let me think, you know, this is probably a pretty standard answer and, you know, it is what it is, but I have to be true to myself here and I would just say for my family and my memories. Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday. To be honest. I think I have a lot of really positive memories from growing up and even as an adult with my family and extended family. I have a pretty big family that’s grown over time. And so The period of covid. It was really. We did everything virtually and that was hard. So this was the first Christmas. We were able to be together again. So it was really meaningful for me. So I guess that’s my, that’s my answer. Very cool that that is my answer to and you know, one you mentioned a little bit. One reason why I love the holidays is that it brings people together, you know, and it’s it gives people a sense of belonging if you all right. And so when I think about holidays Christmas being one, It does remind me of Illinois partners for Human Service for this reason. There aren’t too many other agencies out there that do a better job at bringing people together and creating a sense of community that you do. And it’s almost like this is not a religious podcast, but it’s almost like one reason why I like religious institutions. It creates a sense of belonging and Home and Community for people and that’s what you do. And I’ve always been a huge fan of your agency because you do that. So wonderfully. Well and Mother Teresa said, she

said together, we can do great things. Sorry, had a remember what you said, but the three said we together, we can do great things. So in that Spirit, what’s the one thing or the one success story or the one thing you’re most proud of when you think about Illinois partners for Human Service and what that means to the community? Oh, that’s a really great question. So, I would say the one thing that I’m incredibly proud of and particularly. We in light of the past, two years where I think we’ve all felt probably lonely at times. There’s been a lot of experience of isolation. Some of it necessary and some of it, you know, just because of our circumstances that we’ve been living through, I would say that. I am incredibly incredibly proud of how Illinois Partners has been able to Center collaboration as our way of doing our work. And I think I have always been a person who values collaboration over competition. Maybe almost to a fault to be honest. I think in sports and school. Not only was I not very athletic. But I also I also always wanted every team to win like genuinely, I didn’t want anyone to lose and I think that has been instilled in me since I was young and it very much, you know, influences my approach to how I lead the organization but What’s amazing about Illinois Partners as a coalition is together. We see the value of collaboration and we see how important it is to not be siloed in our advocacy for the human service sector to recognize the interconnections between Health and Human Services, particularly in a global pandemic. And to just make sure that recognition of the fact that we are stronger together. And when we speak with a United voice, we’re actually able to accomplish a lot. We’re in. So, I would say that’s really what, I am. The most proud of at Illinois Partners is our ability to work with other coalition’s. Other associations, all of our Coalition partners and make sure that we’re moving the needle forward. Yeah, I love that. Right? And I love that spirit because let’s be candid. I mean, in even in a business world for profit nonprofit should be winners and losers, right? So because one agency got Grant doesn’t mean another agency losses, right? No, not at all. And so I love the spirit of hey, let’s everybody, let’s what are the biggest issues in challenge? We’re trying to tackle, do we think we can achieve that together or individually? Well, I think, most people, hopefully understand that individually. You can be stronger, much stronger together in a group. And, and so, how many members do I think about it? How many members are part of Illinois, Partners Human Service. So, what does that Community Encompass now? Yeah. So we now have 850 Coalition Partners Statewide and our Coalition is a little bit unique, in the sense that it’s you don’t have to pay to be a member of Illinois Partners. We’re not necessary or not a membership Association. We are instead a broad Coalition of different Human Service. Organizations representing the whole breadth of the sector, everything from Child Care to care and support for older adults and everything. In between and so that ability to be that

broaden our scope allows us to really understand the interconnections and to build Bridges with in other communities. And so we have a number of local area councils across the state that convene locally and they’re made up of Health and Human Service organizations. So they can discuss issues that matter to them. And then we bring we learn from those local area councils and bring that into our policy and advocacy at the Wobble. Yeah, I was going to ask that because 850

members, right? Or partners that serve a wide range. Of people. And so, how do you keep that all straight? Right? And so because that’s a lot, right? That’s that’s a lot of different initiatives, challenges opportunities, constituents decision-makers people to state that, you know, and so I’ve always been fascinated like, you guys and I are off to like how you keep this all straight, right? And so, it’s hard and I won’t pretend, I’ve now been in my position for two and a half, a little over two and a half years. And I’ve only recently, if I’m being very honest. I’ve only recently started to feel comfortable with my kind of sense and understanding of all the different Dynamics at play bow that you know, in terms of our policy and advocacy and how we’re advocating at the state level. But really understanding all the moving pieces. And so the way I think that we’re able to do that is through, not having all the information. Stay all the information for our Coalition shouldn’t just be in. In my head, it should live in the areas in which we Advocate. And so this kind of democratic approach to making sure that local areas are lead locally by folks who live there by organizations that operate there and that those local leaders actually. Most of them are on our board of directors and the ones who are trying to make sure that they’re influencing at the local level. They also influence our policy at the state level. So I would say the only way to really This effectively is to make sure the power lies within all of your Coalition partners. And so if I’m no longer there, it would still be a really functioning and effective Coalition. Well, that’s a that’s great leadership qualities. So, right? It’s so hey, if I leave this still hums right along, right, which is great. And so we talked about some of the things that you feel good about right, that you’re proud of and not saying you can’t be proud of challenges, right? But there are challenges that exist in any Any environment and any industry, and a lot of people are aware and in tuned some of those challenges you shared. But if if I had to ask you, if you would answer, maybe with one answer or two answers, what are two of the biggest challenges right now that you want people listening to this know that you’re facing. How could we help? Right? And what do you want people to know? Yeah, I would, I really think they’re there’s really one. Mary challenge that our Coalition partners are facing. And I will say, as such a broad Coalition, it can sometimes be hard to find the one kind of beautiful question. No. No, but but to your point, actually, in this particular case, we actually have found that uniting thread that all of our Coalition Partners wherever they are in the state of Illinois are experiencing and that is struggles with the workforce and making sure that and it’s really a chicken and egg scenario. I’ll say for human. Versus because we are, as a sector bound to lagging State reimbursement rates that are having been raised in some cases for, you know, multiple multiple years where often we rely on state contracts to do our services and those State contracts. Don’t always cover the cost of delivering those services and we’re in a really difficult time. We’re in a global pandemic and Human Service organizations have been on the front lines. Responding to that pandemic and so rightfully. So their Workforce is burned out and providers want to pay their Frontline staff more. They want to give them better benefits. But they’re in this Catch 22 where they are bound to the state contracts that they that they need in order to do the work. And so this this is a struggle that a lot of our organizations are facing right now and it’s something that we have really, you know, We’re continuing to focus on and bring to light at the state level and with our state legislators. And we recently were able to hold a joint. Advocacy event, with some of our amazing Association Partners such as ir and many. Many others to really highlight this this issue and the unique nature of the workforce, Workforce related issues and Human Services because we are not able like many for-profit Industries, to raise our prices in order to better pay our employees. And so That has created a real crisis for a lot of folks. And it’s something that we are holding really at the center of our advocacy, this legislative session. And so we’ve been able to collectively work together to highlight this and that’s why collaboration I think is so important and it’s why we, as Illinois Partners, can’t talk about this alone. We have to work with our other advocates in our organizations, to make sure that Frontline workers and the very, very important work that they’re doing which Is disproportionately performed by women and people of color. They are on the front lines. Doing so much of this. Much of this important work have to be able to talk about it. And we have to be able to have that Equity lens and how we’re advocating for the workforce. And so that I would say is the one Central challenge. That’s so many of our community organizations are facing and that’s the center of our policy and advocacy agenda. Yeah. I mean, it’s it’s a, it’s a challenge that is Paramount certainly for Human Service, and it’s Goes, well, beyond that, right? So, you talk to any you friends at our construction or manufacturing. It’s, it’s so widespread, but your point about, you know, you’re a DSP on the front line working in a Scylla. Yeah. You have to be a work, right? You don’t have a choice. So, I guess, technically, everybody has a choice, right? But I mean, the jobs in the roles of Performing are wildly important to people’s lives. Absolutely. Yeah, and, and so, when you think about that, and I’m very happy to hear the coalition’s coming together in this Workforce, you know, Attack team trying to figure out ways to better I guess, attack this issue. Right? And so what are some of the things that have come in out of souls conversations out of those meetings planning sessions. It could be, hey, get a sticky pad. Just figure out some things. What are some of the agencies doing well, success stories like around some of this, you have, I think that

there is such a just so much resilience in the human service sector that we just don’t. We don’t talk. About that often. But since the beginning of this pandemic, every organization in our Coalition has adapted, they’ve made do with what they have. We have leaders who are now doing case work, doing what they need to do, to make sure that the needs of their communities are met and so that resilience.

It shouldn’t have been required of those folks, but we can’t not talk about how incredible that has been and how they have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of their communities. And so as coalition’s and associations as a Health and Human Service Collective. We what we have done recently to really try and center and this issue was we held a Workforce related. Advocacy event where we heard from Front Line. Workers and our state legislators and the result of that was a list of legislation that collectively as Health and Human Services. Associations and coalition’s were putting, we’re putting forth in the legislature this session to try to address this issue. And so I’m happy to share that with you as a resource, but it’s also something that we know that we owe it to our community providers, who have been continuously adapting and navigating this pandemic that making sure that there are able to continue to do that good work and to be able to do it without absolute strain on themselves and their organizations. That’s absolutely at the center of our policy and advocacy agenda. So sure. And so how can the people that are listening that maybe aren’t already involved and there’s 850 that are so they’re probably more that are that aren’t so kudos to you and your team for, for doing, such a wonderful job of getting your name out there. What is your asked of them? Well, I would say my ask would would be a little different depending on who’s listening. Right? And who organization? I’m not here to ask any more of my providers. And those was for more about

what do you want me to ask them, why they’re doing so so much. I will say sometimes

as providers, your stories as community-based Health and Human Service organizations your stories, your The perspective of your Frontline workers. It matters to decision makers. It matters and don’t be, don’t shy away from telling it. I see it as our responsibility to make sure that not only do. Those folks have a seat at the table with key decision makers in our state but they’re actually influencing and moving the needle to to make progress and to address this Workforce related issue. And so I think one of the most important things that community-based organizations can do is to tell their stories and To know that the advocacy that you do in your organization, it has a ripple effect across the state and for I would say though for folks who maybe aren’t in the health and human service sector, but they have they know of a community-based organization in in their Community. That’s making a difference anyway that you can support them. Whether that’s with your time or your financial resources, just recognize that they’re really doing their best to meet the needs of their communities. And Kindness and support goes a really long way. We have very, very well said and it was just talking to a good friend of mine, been Stewart’s, who, you know, and he shared data point. He’s got plenty of them cornerstones a wonderful agency and he said last year, they helped Place 106 people in the new jobs. They about that. Right, sir. Say well, why would I want to donate or help an agency? Well that alone 106 individuals now have HIV. Job, not only helps them right with quality of life. Right? But also you want to look at for economic standpoint, fine, right? They’re contributing now and more so than ever, right. So, it’s these stories are out there to your point about. They just need to be told because I think people will listen to stories like that. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think there’s a misconception that Human Service organizations are not a central component. Of the economic lifeblood of their communities. We have economic Studies across the state of Illinois, Peoria. And Peoria, we recently are just finishing up an economic impact study, and the amount of impact that these organizations have as a sector to the local economy is incredible. And it’s something that I think that Framing and recognition is also, is important. Alongside the really important work that they’re doing. Yeah. Well, anyway, we can do to help promote, or share, we’d love to do that. Aw, thanks Jason. You’re welcome. And and so if you look through your lens as the Ed of Illinois, part of Human Service, when you look into the future, okay, what do you see in what color? If you look if you’re going to save, is a bright. Is it kind of Darkness? I’m not really sure. Is. It is it look, positive. Is it not or what’s your lens tell you? Well, I will say that my entire life, the Mantra that’s gotten me through through good times, and difficult times has been the future is bright. It is always bright and I really believe that. And I believe that because even though sometimes progress feels painfully slow, and it feels incremental, and it feels like we may not be making movement. There’s always a story and there’s always

There’s always something to show that actually we are. And so my perspective is that even though we have been through some of the darkest years. I think of many of our lives that our future is bright and the folks who show me that every day are the community leaders, like, been like others who have persisted through that hardship, and who are making sure that their communities have what they need. Well, again, as Mother Teresa said together, we can do great things, right? Yeah, well Lord, I want to thank you for being a wonderful guest on our podcast. I continue to do wonderful. Work will support any way. We can, we love your mission. We love all the agencies that that you partner with. So on behalf of people like me, that are helping us poor people. Thank you so much for what you do? It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much Jason. Well, that’s a wrap everyone. So on behalf of the Horton Group. Jason hillfort, want to say thank you for tuning in. To the one thing podcast.

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