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.

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.

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.

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.

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.