Celebrate. Recognize. Inspire.

October 19, 2022

As nonprofit leaders, we know that our teams and organizations deserve recognition for the incredible life-changing work that they do. A recent study by Gallup and Workhuman found that when recognition hits the mark, employees are 4 times as likely to be engaged, 73% less likely to “always” or “very often” feel burned out, and 56% less likely to be looking or watching for job opportunities.

And we know that receiving recognition outside of our organizations is important, but not often given.

Beyond recognition, we also know the importance of being inspired by innovations and practices from other Lutheran social ministry organizations and sharing ours’ with them in a safe, trusted environment. Where we don’t compete with each other but want our peers to succeed and value the support they willingly provide us.

This is your opportunity to celebrate, inspire and recognize your own organization as well as your peer Lutheran social ministry organizations throughout the country.

Nominate your organization or a peer Lutheran social ministry organization for our Lutheran Services in America Leadership Awards:

  • The Innovator Award recognizes members that pioneer new solutions, business practices or technologies that solve complex challenges–especially those that can be shared across the network with your peers.
  • The Micah Award recognizes members that lead the way in work addressing justice, mercy and equity and exemplify Micah 6:8, “Act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
  • The Paragon Award: The Ken Daly Award for Excellence in Mentorship recognizes leaders with an exceptional gift for identifying talent in people and lifting up the next generation of leaders. It is given in honor of the late Lutheran Services in America board of directors member, Ken Daly, who was an exceptional mentor to me and to so many others.

Winners are announced at our Annual Membership Meeting at CEO Summit 2023. And ALL of the nominees are recognized along with the winners not only at the meeting but throughout the year—because we want to lift up the incredible innovation, works of justice and mercy, and mentorship not only to people across the network but well beyond.

Because you deserve to be recognized and celebrated for the amazing work that you do each and every day. Join us in sharing your work and nominating your organization or a peer today. The deadline for nominations is December 6, 2022.

Extravagance of Grace

October 31, 2022

Today is the 505th anniversary of the Reformation when Martin Luther shared his theological insight that God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ frees us from being focused on ourselves and opens us to care for others. Or as CEO Summit Theologian-in-Residence Pastor Mark Huber once put it, “it means it’s not about us.”

How is this relevant or reflected in Lutheran social ministry organizations today?

The foundation of our work is that all people have dignity and worth—not because of anything they do or don’t do but simply because they are—and that they are valued by God. As Lutheran social ministry, we create the space where people experience God’s grace through our care and compassion. It’s the why behind our work and reflected in how we do our work, in relationship with our neighbor, no matter who are neighbor is, where they’re from, or what they do.

So why does this matter?

God’s grace is extravagant and is revealed in the beauty and light we let into people’s lives, to remove the barriers that hold them back from achieving their potential and to empower them to realize their dreams. It’s why we persevere despite having to continually pivot and be stretched and stressed. It’s our calling, our vocation.

In the midst of our challenges and an uncertain future, may we remember that our presence matters, that our work brings more light and beauty into people’s lives, and that we do not do this work alone.

I’ve Seen This Movie Before: “The Remake of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Old Challenges, New Day”

October 18, 2022

It seems like only yesterday, I was attending the Chief Diversity Officers Forum at Bennett College for Women. The wonderfully organized, two-day event brought together the nation’s top 2,000 diversity and inclusion leaders and executives from corporate America, colleges and universities, nonprofit and civic organizations, and government agencies to this small, but talent-filled institution in Greensboro, North Carolina. The professionals in attendance were trying to find solutions to a plethora of diversity and inclusion issues and concerns. Two concerns consistently surfaced in every keynote address, breakout session and water-cooler conversation: how can organizations successfully implement diversity and inclusion initiatives into their business operations, practices and cultures, and how do organizations address the new workforce challenge, coined in 1998 by the global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, called the “war for talent”?

In actuality, this forum in Greensboro took place in May of 2006.  Although the “war for talent” lexicon of “professional” speak has faded away, the harsh truths of systemic workforce and DEI issues still remain. I would be remiss not to share another two similarly significant questions that were offered in 2006.

Question One: “Today, we’re using the terms diversity and inclusion to define our work and business case. What terms and concepts will we use to define and direct this work in the future?” This question was not fully answered then, but now in 2022, it’s apparent that the terms, concepts and work of DEI have noticeably evolved.

The most intellectual and calculated answer to the original question, “what terms and concepts will we use to define and direct (DEI) in the future?” is “IDK” – I don’t know! And that’s okay. It’s okay to acknowledge that diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging are concepts that are interdependent and interconnected, but not interchangeable. It’s okay to recognize that inclusive leadership is emerging as a distinct and critical capability that assists organizations in adapting to a diverse set of clients, markets, ideas and talent. A Harvard Business Review article, “The Key to Inclusive Leadership,” states that what leaders say and do can make up to a 70% difference in whether or not an individual reports feeling included. And it’s okay to ask for grace, understanding and assistance with navigating the sometimes turbulent skies of gender pronouns, race relations, cultural appropriation, operational ambiguity, tribalism and plain old meanies.[1] It’s okay to simultaneously feel comfortable and uncomfortable about diversity, equity and inclusion and ask the question, “what’s next?”

The good news is this world and your organization has people that are willing to take flight and explore what’s next. Since 1996, Make It Plain Consulting has maintained its mission of helping individuals and organizations uncover their inherent strengths for sustained growth. In other words, human beings have the remarkable ability to evolve mindsets, language, and behaviors that result in unseen and unimaginable positive outcomes. Are you willing to better your best?

Question Two: “How do organizations address the new workforce challenge?” The question of workforce and worker shortages is fueling America’s labor crises. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing and residential care facilities industries have roughly 350,000 fewer jobs than in February 2020. Additionally, many older workers left the labor force during the pandemic. This and other workforce challenges should be addressed from a diversity lens. Why is that?  Organizations and the people in organizations should think differently to get a different result.

For example, from a recruitment perspective, what networks, resources, and platforms are your organizations utilizing to attract, recruit and hire talent? How far into the talent pipeline is your organization investing in its recruitment strategy – college, high school, middle school or non-traditional talent pools? What pre-existing and unintentional biases are incorporated into your organization’s recruitment processes, candidate review teams, interview questions, and hiring criteria?

There are many tough and unanswered questions related to our workforce challenges. However, as in 2006 and many years prior, the fundamental answer lies in:

  • the PEOPLE – who are we attracting and why?;
  • the PROCESSES – what are our policies, procedures, practices and protocols to attract, recruit, retain and develop the talent that we seek?; and
  • the CULTURE – how do we do what we do?

What do our staff, residents, families, community partners and competitors TRULY think about us?  Are we really invested in addressing the workplace barriers?

The short answer is IDK. But, together and during the diversity, equity and inclusion series, I hope that we can uncover the inherent strengths of your people, processes and culture with practical and realistic DEI action steps that address immediate and long-term needs.

Register to join me for the first of three webinars hosted by Lutheran Services in America about reimagining diversity in the workplace on November 8.

Tommie Lewis is the president and CEO of Make It Plain Consulting.

[1] Meanies.  Informal (plural) – mean, small-minded, petty or selfish people.

Food Insecurity and Social Determinants of Health

October 5, 2022

I attended the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health last week, the first such conference in over 50 years. The conference focused on ways to end hunger where today over 10% of the U.S. population is food insecure, and where 80% of a person’s health is influenced by social determinants of health such as access to food, housing, transportation, equitable economic opportunities, and more.

Lutheran Services in America is a network where members provide a wide range of services so people can be healthy and lead their best lives. The ways we meet those needs vary widely from digital food pantries to connecting older adults in their homes, affordable housing and independent living to services they need to remain independent, connecting families in crisis to supports they need to remain together, empowering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to reach their goals, providing healthcare and so much more.

Join us on October 7, 2022 at 2 pm ET, for a Strength & Service Series webinar on “Bridging the Great Health Divide:  Nutrition Security and Health Equity,” led by Dr. Sara Bleich, the first Director of Nutrition Security and Health Equity at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. On leave from her position as Professor of Public Health Policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Dr. Bleich will share USDA’s work to end hunger, reduce diet-related diseases, and advance health equity.

Dr. Bleich will be joined by a panel of Lutheran Services in America members—from Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio, Lutheran Social Services of Nevada, and Lutheran Social Services of Southern California—who will describe how they are strengthening food security and meeting the social determinant of health needs in their communities.

Join us to learn more about efforts at the federal level and in communities across the country.

The Robots are Here

September 28, 2022

This weekend the Washington Post ran an article titled “The robots are here. And they are making your tacos.” It was a story of how fast-food restaurants are addressing workforce shortages by using robots to fry French fries, tortilla chips and tacos. It’s seen as a wave of the future—even though the robots occasionally freak out when encountering tacos requiring a human worker to toss them in the garbage.

While there is increased technology, including robots, in Lutheran social ministry organizations, it’s not as straightforward given the “high touch” nature of our work in caring for people. It also takes capital to invest in technology—capital that is scarcer in the non-profit sector. Yet we know that increased and innovative technology is crucial to our future.

We have partnered with the Consumer Technology Association Foundation (CTAF) over the past few years to enable Lutheran social ministry organizations to innovate. Through our partnership with CTAF, Graceworks Lutheran Services is currently increasing access for low-income older adults to telehealth, cognitive tools and virtual visits with family and friends in its 17 affordable housing communities. Previously, Samaritas provided assisted reality devices to formal and family caregivers caring for older adults diagnosed with dementia so they could receive realistic dementia education and training through an evidence-based program. Bethany Village provided “mobile communication stations” to allow frail older adults to visit with loved ones and healthcare providers, and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota provided technology for family caregivers in rural communities to access support groups, counseling, companionship programs, and other services during the early days of COVID.

We’ve also worked with technology providers to create solutions that allow our members, including Genacross Lutheran Services and Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, to evaluate the social determinant of health needs of their clients, connect them to services in the community and enable them to live in their home and community. And our CEO Summit and Strength & Service Series feature workforce experts as well as our members as they share their insights, experiences and innovations.

But there’s a long way to go. Join us by sharing your ideas, your innovations, and your experiences. Together we can advance the ability of Lutheran social ministry organizations to expand innovation and automation and enable all people to lead their best lives.

Joining the Fight to End Hunger—and Recognize Food as Medicine

October 4, 2022

On September 28, Charlotte Haberaecker, the president and CEO of Lutheran Services in America, and I joined hundreds of elected officials, advocates and activists, and leaders of business, faith, and philanthropy from across America in Washington, DC at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health—the first such gathering since 1969.

The previous conference directly led to the creation of groundbreaking programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—commonly known as “food stamps”—and the goals for this conference and the national strategy it rolled out are no less ambitious: ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 so fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases— while reducing related health disparities.

Alongside representatives of other nonprofit organizations and every branch of government, we participated in small group sessions aimed at generating actionable ideas across the five major pillars of the new national strategy that can help make these goals a reality:

  1. Improving food access and affordability;
  2. Integrating nutrition and health;
  3. Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices;
  4. Supporting physical activity for all; and
  5. Enhancing nutrition and food security research.

We were also privileged to hear from President Biden himself about how a lack of access to healthy, safe and affordable food and places to be physically active contributes to hunger, diet-related diseases and health disparities. Other dynamic speakers throughout the day-long session included Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. We ended our day with a call to action from Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, who led a conversation with Gen Z nonprofit leaders Joshua Williams and Avani Rai.

We’re looking forward to continuing the work we began at the Conference and implementing new strategies alongside our member providers, especially for integrating nutrition and physical activity with healthcare.

Learn more about our advocacy efforts to reduce health disparities for people in America.

Alligators and Lutheran Social Ministry

September 6, 2022

Last week the Washington Post ran an article titled “His emotional support animal is an alligator…” and it showed a photo of a man with a 70-pound, 5.5-foot alligator. It talked about how the alligator went everywhere with him and had even been approved as an emotional support animal.

I didn’t read on.  I only hoped not to meet the alligator on a plane someday.

Fortunately, Wendy, our Vice President of Marketing and Communications, read the rest of the article. It turns out that Wallygator visits schools and senior living facilities, among other educational venues. And one of the places he’s visited is SpiriTrust Lutheran in Pennsylvania (see photo above).

It reminded me of the extraordinary efforts Lutheran social ministry organizations make to care for people and ensure they live a full and abundant life.  It reminded me of the alpaca that visited Diakon residents and staff during the earliest days of the pandemic and the staff and certified courthouse dog from Lutheran Community Services Northwest that spend time with victims of sexual assault and so many more stories that I could share.

It reminded me that one of the special aspects of Lutheran social ministry is our emphasis on building deep and meaningful relationships with people—not transactional relationships—but relationships that reflect the dignity and value of people. Relationships that consider people’s whole needs and where we strive to remove the barriers that prevent them from leading their best lives. It reminded me how we put people at the center of our work.

It reflects who we are and what’s important to us.  And it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of one in 50 people living in America.

Heritage, Vision and Mission: How Lutheran Services in America is Building a Healthier Future

September 12, 2022

The Lutheran Services in America network has over 150 years of dedicated service in the way of caring for older adults in America. That sustained success is largely due to the Lutheran tradition of empowering people and communities. “What makes us unique is our shared heritage, vision and mission,” said Charlotte Haberaecker, president and CEO of Lutheran Services in America, on the LTC Heroes podcast.

It is that shared sense of duty that makes teamwork possible amongst the 300 health and human services organizations of the Lutheran Services in America network in over 1,400 communities across 45 states. “Our organizations trust each other, collaborate and innovate together,” Haberaecker told Experience Care’s Peter Murphy Lewis, who hosts the podcast.

Needless to say, that sort of reach results in making a positive impact on the trajectory of long-term care in the United States. “We utilize the collective power of our national network with national partners to advance innovation and achieve a healthier, more equitable future for people in America,” she said.

According to Ted Goins, the president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas — a member organization of Lutheran Services in America — this camaraderie is faith-inspired. “We are all friends at Lutheran Services in America,” he said. “It’s just baked into the network, which was created by the Church. That sponsorship has taught us all to work closely together without hesitation.”

Perhaps most remarkable is that the Lutheran Services in America network has been able to maintain the highest standard of care for older adults with diverse needs despite a challenging environment and workforce shortage. “Our network has been caring for people with a broad range of continuum of services, from home community-based services to affordable housing and full senior living facilities,” Haberaecker said. “And we have cared for all of the older adults in our care with dignity, respect, health and independence for well over a century.”

Lutheran Services in America is sincerely dedicated to older adults across America. This means remaining humble, unselfish and well-coordinated across the nation to facilitate the most appropriate care for all our older adults.

The Power of Partnership

September 1, 2022

One of the key areas where Lutheran Services in America brings together our members—along with strategic national partners in philanthropy, academia, healthcare and more—to advance innovative solutions is in enabling older adults to live with dignity, health, meaning, and independence in a place where they call home.

We recently partnered with our member NYU Langone Family Health Centers (formerly Lutheran Family Health Centers), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation to empower older adults in affordable housing—particularly those transitioning from the hospital or post acute care—to remain living independently in their community.

The work builds on a four-year partnership with UNC and The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation where we worked with seven members in seven states to successfully transition 875 older adults from post-acute care to home, demonstrating improvement in care transition and quality of life.

The current two-year project will expand UNC’s Connect-Home transition care model to strengthen the capacity of staff to identify affordable housing residents most at risk of hospitalization, address gaps in care that lead to increased isolation and emergency room visits and enable older adults to live independently. Genacross Lutheran Services is providing peer support and expertise based on the extensive work they have done to assess and connect their affordable housing residents to services in the community.

Why is this important? According to CMS, 76 percent of 30-day hospital readmissions are preventable.  And we know the transition from hospital to home places older adults at risk.  We also know that when we bring together our members with expertise and funding from partners in academia, philanthropy and healthcare that we can tackle tough challenges and make a meaningful difference in the lives of people.

We look forward to sharing with you the learnings and results of the work and partnership in the future.

New Board Member Eric Gurley Adds Unique Experience to our Unique Network

July 28, 2022

The Lutheran Services in America network is unlike any other nonprofit network in the United States. From the services we provide to the people for whom we care, we are a network with a unique approach to empowering people and communities.

That unique approach is built into our core, from the frontline workers in 1,400 communities across the country to our very leadership. Lutheran Services in America has a board of directors comprised of 10 to 13 members that brings together diverse insights to our work.

We are pleased to add yet another trusted member to the board with invaluable perspective and depth of experience: Eric Gurley, the president and CEO of our member Immanuel. Eric has worked in the senior living space for 31 years and has extensive experience with strategic planning, implementation and reporting in senior housing and healthcare.

A native East Coaster, Eric migrated to the Omaha-based Immanuel, where he expanded services to cover 2,500 older adults, up from 800. Under his leadership, Immanuel grew from 300 employees to 1,400 and expanded missional service to underserved populations through the implementation of three innovative models of care, including the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). Eric also oversaw the creation of the Immanuel Vision Foundation, which has given more than $15 million to the Church and other nonprofits, and the Immanuel Community Foundation, which fulfills the promise that no one will be asked to leave Immanuel due to the inability to pay.

Eric has broad experience serving on the boards of directors of other nonprofit organizations, including Lutheran Giving, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries, the Omaha Symphony and the Experimental Aircraft Association and its foundation (fun fact: Eric is a licensed pilot!).

Lutheran Services in America member CEOs elected Eric to the board at the Annual Meeting in January. Eric’s term, which began on July 1, runs through June 30, 2025. We look forward to the next three years of Eric’s talent and perspective!

Visit our Leadership page to meet our board of directors.