CDC Updates COVID Guidance and a Look Ahead at the 118th Congress

December 19, 2022

CDC Issues Updated COVID Guidance for Specific Congregate Community Settings 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an updated “Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Specific Congregate Community Settings,” with one set of guidance applicable to homeless shelters and correctional facilities, and another for assisted living, group homes and other residential care settings, excluding nursing homes (nursing homes received their own updated guidance on Sept. 23 as part of an update for healthcare settings.)

Overall, the new guidance rolls back some of the previously more stringent recommendations and requirements. Rather than recommending or requiring universal masking and social distancing, the agency now provides congregate care facilities with a framework to assess their risk of COVID-19 spread. The guidance also increases the threshold for applying enhanced prevention measures to High COVID-19 Community Level (rather than Medium) unless a given facility has unique risk levels such as older age or underlying health conditions of residents.

Outlook for Incoming 118th Congress: What It Means for Our Network 

When the new Congress is sworn in on January 3, the Senate will remain under the leadership of the Democrats while the House of Representatives will have a new, slim Republican majority and new party leaders—Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) for the Democrats and likely Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the new Republican Speaker.

Both chambers will see new leaders on committees with jurisdiction over issues of importance to our network, and the shift to divided Congressional control will mean a corresponding shift in priorities and what lawmakers are able to accomplish. In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has oversight over most health and human services programs, will now be led by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), with Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on the Minority side. While Sanders is known as a staunch liberal, Cassidy has a reputation for being relatively bipartisan, so onlookers are hopeful the committee can continue to be productive.

In the House, the previous leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight over Medicaid, will swap places, with Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) becoming Chair and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) continuing to lead the Democrats. McMorris Rogers is known for her strong focus on disability issues and has indicated her plans to work with the field to address challenges.

However, it is not yet clear who will chair the Ways and Means Committee, with oversight over Medicare and many other health and human services programs. The retirement of current chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) left a vacancy for which three Representatives are vying, but the ongoing debate among Republicans about whether to elect Kevin McCarthy as the Speaker of the House has impacted the work of the House Republican Conference Steering Committee. The body has decided not to approve chairmanships where multiple candidates are pending for the time being—and possibly not until after a speaker is elected by the new Congress on January 3. Richard Neal (D-MA) will remain in his post leading the Democratic side.

Overall, given their much narrower than anticipated margin of victory, House Republicans are likely to focus more on messaging legislation and investigations into the Biden Administration than sweeping legal changes. Nevertheless, we anticipate forward movement on bills related to the ongoing expansion of telehealth, the modernization of healthcare including technological advances, and mental health support, as well as potential action on addressing worker shortages if bipartisan agreement can be reached.

Contact Sarah Dobson for more information.

Reflections: In gratitude for all that you do

November 21, 2022

As leaders of organizations centered and rooted in faith, we draw strength from each other as we persist in our mission to bring hope and healing to people.

I began a weekly CEO Update at the start of the pandemic because I thought it was important to stay in touch and communicate through a dark and uncertain time. As one of the largest nonprofit health and human services networks that cares for one in 50 people in America, we were hit especially hard by the pandemic.

While some CEO Updates were about important advocacy issues or programs, others were more reflective. I always received feedback from member CEOs on the reflections—notes like “I really needed that today” which kept me going.

One of my board members suggested that I compile the reflections together. As I look back, it’s clear that where we thought we’d be along the way changed—often—and mostly in ways that brought more challenges and hardships to Lutheran social ministry.

What was also clear was the extraordinary leadership, creativity and perseverance that you and leaders throughout the network demonstrated—examples of true leadership to adapt to never-before-seen situations and lead your teams with grace and courage. Lutheran social ministry stood up when we were most needed and you and your teams are the Front Line Heroes that we lift up for your life-saving work.

These Reflections are dedicated to you—for your remarkable leadership and our extraordinary journey together.

 

 

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.

Offering Choice and Affordability of Benefits is an Art and a Science

November 16, 2022

A healthy workforce is the backbone of your organization. With no end in sight to rising health care costs and insurance premiums, you need to be strategic in how you plan for the continued financial impact felt by your organization and employees at all levels. Research confirms this anticipated trend: In a recent survey of 455 U.S. employers, 71% said they expect moderate to significant increases in health care costs over the next three years.1

A comprehensive, thoughtfully prepared benefits package remains one of the greatest tools for attracting and retaining quality employees. And health insurance tops the list of necessities. Out of 1,000 adults surveyed by The Locust Group, 84% said health benefits are a big reason why they’ve stayed in their current positions.2 From an employer standpoint, we believe employees covered by great health benefits are destined to be a healthier, happier, more reliable workforce (staying more up to date on preventive care and wellness visits).

But the decision to offer health benefits is incredibly complex, and determining ideal cost-share arrangements is even more so. You have a variety of employee circumstances to consider from job categories (part-time and full-time) and salary ranges to diverse health care needs. So, how do social ministry organizations account for the impossibility of knowing the specifics health care needs of each employee? Offering a mix of health plan coverage options can help you more effectively meet the needs of most employees, and it doesn’t have to cost more.

Health Plan Options 101

As a reminder, here’s an overview of plan coverage options available and which employees might benefit most from each based on the core design tenets. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs can vary widely across all options.

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs): These usually have a deductible amount along with coinsurance percentage paid by the plan. Plan values, deductible amounts, and coinsurance percentages can vary significantly. Popular among employees who want choice when it comes to which providers they can see.

High-deductible health plans (HDHP): With provider choice, an HDHP can be paired with a health savings account (HSA), which remains a popular tax-deductible vehicle for health savings with no expiration on spending balances.

Copay health plans: These plans have fixed copays based on the type of service provided and may provide a more incremental way for employees to meet their deductible rather than incurring that large expense at one time.

At Portico, we offer a range of plan options, including our two PPO style plans: Platinum+ and Gold+; two copay style plans: Select Copay and Value Copay; and two high-deductible plans: Silver+ and Bronze+.

There are multiple ways to put this puzzle together. A great way to really understand your employees and their needs is to send out a survey to find out what their specific pain points are in choosing the “right plan.” Their answers can be incorporated into next year’s annual enrollment process. Portico offers sample surveys to our existing employer clients or can execute surveys on their behalf.

Giving Employees Choices Doesn’t Have to Cost More

No matter how we slice it, one size does not fit all when it comes to health care coverage. As an employer, it may be advantageous to offer a variety of options that allow employees with varying health care situations find a coverage option that best aligns with what they are able to afford. Some employees may be facing exorbitant medical costs for themselves or a dependent, some remain most concerned about potential out-of-pocket costs, while others seek health care coverage where they can contribute to an HSA. While organizations focus on how to offer the best coverage at the lowest cost, the majority of employees are often just trying to understand deductible amounts versus monthly cost. The great news is, when you provide more choice, you don’t have to decide which option is best.

So what does a “good mix” of options look like? For some industry perspective, 80% of Portico’s current health plan clients offer three to four health plan options. One strategy to consider? Offer one of each type of coverage: low-deductible, co-pay, and high-deductible. This can adequately span a wide financial spectrum and range of health care needs. In addition, there are other strategies emerging to help manage costs in tandem with offering multiple options, such as:

  • Accounting for different income levels when structuring payroll contributions to help with costs for certain lower-income employee groups7; and
  • Changing the way organizations evaluate health insurance costs, looking at “average cost per employee.”8

Keep in Mind ACA requirements

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) states that applicable large employers (employers with 50 or more full-time employees or the equivalent) are legally required to provide “minimum essential health coverage” to employees or be subject to an assessment if any employee receives a premium tax credit for purchasing individual coverage from the marketplace. The minimum essential health coverage must:

  1. Provide “minimum value” to full-time employees and their dependents, and
  2. Be affordable based on employer shared responsibility provisions.3

Minimum value is met if it covers at least 60% of the total cost of medical services that are expected to be incurred under the plan.4 Be careful of group health plans that do not “substantially cover” inpatient hospitalization or physicians services, as it’s not clear if these plans satisfy the minimum value — not to mention, they gloss over benefits we all have come to expect as a given.5 All Portico health plan coverage options meet the ACA minimum value requirements.

As for affordability, this standard is met when employee contributions are no more than 9.12% (as adjusted) of an employee’s household income.6

For additional guidance on ACA compliance and essential coverage, organizations should consult IRS.gov or a tax advisor. And remember, there are mandatory ACA reporting requirements that you should be mindful of as we head into tax season.

Additional Support at the Ready

At Portico, we work closely with our health plan clients to identify the best strategies for taking care of employees while simultaneously being cost-conscious and wise about the custom coverage design. Our goal is to help clients see the whole picture and make informed decisions that stand to have positive impact overall.

We also aim to help clients by increasing employee education about their benefits. We often hear that employees may not understand different plan options, which is why clients sometimes hesitate to add more choices to the mix. Our client representatives can meet virtually or on-site during annual enrollment to answer employee questions. As a service to our clients and an incredible benefit to employees, our representatives provide direct support to eligible employees with private, in-person meetings where specific health circumstances and prescription needs can be fully discussed. The reality is, most employees don’t want to share their personal situation with employers, so this is a more comfortable approach with significant impact.

Portico’s experience evaluating different health benefit options stems from having inside experts who have encountered a wide variety of employer scenarios and are equipped to assist by:

  • Reviewing cost-share calculations;
  • Helping clients structure cost-share arrangements so they’re consistent, fair to employees, and cost-effective;
  • Providing thorough information, consultation, and general plan recommendations.

While we can’t make benefit decisions for you, we’re committed to helping organizations navigate this complicated process.

If you’d like to learn more about how Portico’s benefit programs can help you attract and retain your employees, visit porticobenefits.org or contact Ross Eichelberger, VP of Business Development at 612-752-4062 or REichelberger@porticobenefits.org.

Learn more about Portico Benefit Services.

1Todd Shryock, Seventy-One Percent of Employers Expect Moderate to Significant Cost Increases to Health Care Benefits Over the Next Three Years, Medical Economics, Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/71-of-employers-expect-moderate-to-significant-cost-increases-to-health-care-benefits-over-the-next-three-years

2Susan Rupe, Most Workers Say They are Satisfied with Their Employer’s Health Benefits, InsuranceNewsNet, Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://insurancenewsnet.com/innarticle/most-workers-say-they-are-satisfied-with-their-employer-health-benefits

3Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions, IRS.gov, Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/employers/employer-shared-responsibility-provisions

4Minimum Value and Affordability,IRS.gov, Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/employers/minimum-value-and-affordability

5Group Health Plans that Fail to Cover In-Patient Hospitalization Services, Notice 2014-69, Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-14-69.pdf

6Affordability and Minimum Value, IRS.gov, Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/employers/questions-and-answers-on-employer-shared-responsibility-provisions-under-the-affordable-care-act#Affordability

7Renee Cocchi, Employers are Focused on Keeping Healthcare Benefits Costs Down for Employees, HR Morning, Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.hrmorning.com/news/keep-healthcare-benefits-costs-down/

8Marcus Newman, Five Health Insurance Renewal Basics to Make Open Enrollment More Successful, BenefitsPRO, Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://www.benefitspro.com/2022/07/19/5-tips-to-make-health-insurance-renewal-more-successful/

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.