Good Trouble

Congressman John Lewis encouraged Americans to get into “good trouble.”  These are the words he lived by, pushing the envelope and standing up to injustice.  His ongoing fight against social and economic injustice for people of color led him from his march on Selma to his years of dedicated service to the US Congress.  Throughout his lengthy career, Lewis worked tirelessly to right many societal wrongs.

At Venture, our idea of “good trouble” is calling attention to the significant human services workforce problem.  We recognize this problem as a wide-ranging social crisis and we recognize that it’s about way more than just jobs.  If McDonald’s doesn’t have enough staff to make your Big Mac, then you can go down the street to Burger King for a Whopper.  That is not the case in human services.  The systemic lack of staff available to fill positions in our field has led to 7000 adults with disabilities unable to access day programs.  For some families, this is devastating. They rely on that time to work outside of the home or to have respite from care taking.

The social crisis impacts the thousands of workers in the human services industry, too. Because the industry doesn’t pay a living wage, our workers are often forced to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

These choices have a real and significant impact on the families of our employees, too.  Living in low-income households has long-term, far-reaching effects on the children of our employees. Studies have shown that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as asthma and obesity. They are more likely to be sedentary and experience exposure to tobacco, increasing their risk of cardiac and pulmonary diseases.  Only 62% of children from low-income families graduate from high school, compared to 90% of middle and upper economic class families.  Of those, only 3% graduate from college as compared to 37% for middle and upper economic classes.  These children tend to have more behavioral problems in the home and in school.  Parental absence can also be tied to poorer cognitive ability in language, reading and mathematics.

Our employees do admirable work and are dedicated to the field. They collectively have a very positive impact on adults with disabilities throughout Massachusetts. We are all – vendors, staff, parents, guardians, concerned citizens – part of a system that should be supporting the welfare of our Direct Support Professionals and their families so that they can continue to support adults with disabilities.

Lewis said “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” I urge you all to continue connecting with your legislators. They need to know how important the work that the human services industry is and honor the commitment that the Commonwealth made decades ago to care for people with disabilities. Let’s make some good trouble and make our voices heard!

Hope for 2019

I was recently watching a 2018 retrospective news program that featured people who demonstrate hope on a daily basis, despite facing some adverse circumstances. Politically and culturally, 2018 was a year of heightened emotions and challenges. These people displayed hope in small and large ways throughout their personal and professional lives.

After watching this, it occurred to me that many of the people I work with also demonstrate hope on a daily basis in the course of their work. Sheila and Jodie put together a last minute trip to Springfield to see the holiday lights display for some of the people who are supported in Individual Supports and Shared Living – everyone had a great time! Deb, Maria, and Ericka spent a couple of evenings decorating holiday cookies with children from the Uxbridge area who have autism. Rhonda and Nana took Virginia to Disney World so she could have her dream trip.

Paige dedicated a huge amount of time to ensuring that all the people supported by Venture each got holiday present by soliciting donations to make that happen. Ashley, Kevin, Bruce, Robby, Rick, Dot, and countless others spent hours wrapping those presents. Mabel and Loveline took Jenny, Denzel, and Bonnie to a Make It and Take It event so they could spend some time with meeting new friends and make some crafts. Gina has rallied her staff to host a number of events to help Dan, Nick and Ben celebrate holidays with their families in their new home. Katie, Carolyn, and Shannon helped Venture staff teams all over the state to ensure that the medical care provided is in the best interest of the people Venture serves in its programs. Kathy, Zach, Laurie and Kevin are participating in a work group to improve employee retention and improve the ways that Venture appreciates its employees.

Mark, Luisa, Annmarie, Gina, Greg, Wilma, Jen and William all banded together and created a Friendsgiving feast that more than 50 individuals served by Venture attended. Christa, Albert, Dave, Todd, Dan, Dot, Kim and many others devoted time and energy to finding a new home for Mark, Richard, David and Jason that better suits their needs which have changed as they have gotten older. Walter, Lindsey, Jack, and Antonio have collectively spent thousands of hours training Venture’s staff team that has impacted the staffs’ ability to deliver quality services.

Hope was demonstrated in the face of adversity, too. Monica, Richard, Tiffany, Johnny, Tim, Don and countless others came together to assist in assisting Danny, Charmagne, Rita, Peter, and their housemates when the furnace in their home exploded. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the team quickly came together to make sure everyone was comfortable and had a place to stay while the furnace was replaced and the home was deemed habitable by the local authorities. Kevin, Jason and Scott helped Nick, Gustavo and Elaine learn techniques so that they could participate in meaningful activities during their day. Jennifer, Anita, Doug, and Katie advocated tirelessly to make sure that Marilyn was comfortable in the final days of her life.

David and John spent months ensuring the Steven’s medical concerns were being in addressed in the way that Steven wanted them to be handled – he was able to make choices with dignity, and the decisions he made were respected by his staff team. Sam, Fatuma and Tim devoted many hours and a lot of effort to coaching staff to make the lives of Randy, Michael, Frank and Brian markedly calmer and more enjoyable. They also welcomed Gerry with open arms and have supported him to become a valued member of the home. Doug, Allaire, Allison, James, Rose and Titus worked together to transition Brennan to another program that better suited his needs.

While different motivations probably prevail, the underlying theme is hope. Our employees act in the hope of making the lives of people with disabilities better in big and small ways. This much is clear – I am privileged and fortunate to work with a great collection of fabulous people whose work makes me proud of the organization. If we continue to approach 2019 with the same dedication, vigor and hope as we did in 2018, it’s sure to be another phenomenal year, despite any challenges that lay ahead.

When given the choice of facing the sometimes saddening realities of our world or looking around my immediate environment and being impressed with the terrific work that happens day after day, I will choose hope every time.