It is hard to believe we are a week into December – this year has flown by! While I’ll admit that this year has presented its fair share of challenges, it has also presented incredible opportunities and achievements, largely thanks to the remarkable people on our team. I truly feel lucky to be in my position, leading and working alongside our team to bring our mission to life.
There is never a dull moment in and around AWARE and that’s what makes the work we do exciting. We are humbled and inspired by our clients and our team of caregivers; we find solace in the humanity of serving people and our communities. We are surrounded by a team that gives definition to the term “resiliency.” We have focused our attention on opportunities and with creativity, optimism, and thoughtful planning, we have accomplished remarkable things.
Here are just a few of the exciting things that happened in 2021:
In January, it was announced that AWARE received an Innovation grant through the Center for Children, Families, and Workforce Development at the University of Montana, in partnership with the Montana Children’s Mental Health Bureau. The $111,000 in grant funding supported enhancing family engagement through Early Childhood Services.
In February we launched our annual Employee Engagement Survey and had record participation, with 56% of employees completing the survey. Overall, our employee satisfaction has increased over the past 3 years which we are very proud of. We take this survey seriously and use the feedback, both the good and the constructive, to shape our path forward. It is important to me, and our leadership team, that our employees have a voice, and this survey is one of many tools we use to ensure they do.
In March we launched our monthly e-newsletter, INK. We use INK to share updates, success stories, exciting news, wellness tips, career opportunities and other information with our supporters and AWARE team members. To date, INK newsletters have been opened and read nearly 3,000 times. We are very proud of this and hope you’ll invite your friends and family members to subscribe to keep up to date with happenings around AWARE!
In April we increased our sign-on bonus to $1,000 AND added a referral bonus of $1,000 for current employees. AWARE employees may earn up to $10,000 in referral bonuses each year!
Due to growing needs in the Great Falls area, AWARE purchased and began renovations on a new office in Great Falls. Some of you may recognize the space – the old Blue Cross Blue Shield office will soon be the future home of AWARE Great Falls. It is our first location in the state to house all the services we provide directly under one roof.
After a brief hiatus, Corporate Congress returned in full fashion June 16-18 at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena, MT. Delegates arrived with more than 30 bills geared toward improving AWARE’s services. For those who don’t know, AWARE’s Corporate Congress is a unique and integral part of AWARE’s strategic planning process. It’s designed to solicit and use input from stakeholders, staff, management and the people we serve. The process helps with overall management of the organization and enlists the help of delegates representing each of AWARE’s services and communities. Be sure to read the full newsletter for some exciting news about one of the bills that came out of Corporate Congress, directly from our frontline staff.
In July, expansion to AWARE’s case management services began after AWARE was awarded the contract for the Severe Disabling Mental Illness (SDMI) Home and Community Based (HCBS) Waiver Program in 10 Regions across Montana. Through the program, AWARE will be able to serve an additional 400-750 people.
We also tried out a new (to us) therapy opportunity with some of the youth in our care over the summer. We are grateful to the Breakaway Youth Ranch who made equine therapy a reality. The experience was certainly more than therapy. It was truly an opportunity for these kids to have fun, be outdoors and experience something new. We hope to provide more opportunities like this in the future.
While Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is not a new service offered by AWARE, in August the decision was made to dedicate a service line to ABA. Under the leadership of Diane Black, AWARE offers ABA services to children and adults across Montana. AWARE delivers services in the home, community, school, or residential locations. Parents, guardians, and other providers or stakeholders are involved in the planning, goal setting, and implementation of services through a treatment plan. We are proud to be leaders in providing this service to Montanans.
August was also the host to our first of many Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership training sessions with William Henry. AWARE leadership and supervisors are doing the work to learn and grow as individuals and as a team to develop and foster a healthy culture within our team. The training initially involves supervisory level staff and front-line workers separately, but then concludes with joint sessions that bring everyone together. The goal is to speak the same language with mutual understanding of our direction and issues faced along the way.
September brought big news and an incredible opportunity not only for AWARE, but the entire state of Montana. AWARE was awarded a $4.5 million, two-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to expand preventative and mental health services for youth and families in Montana. The focus of the project is to springboard clinical services and support back into communities that have suffered loss of behavioral health support due to the pandemic. The response to this new program has been phenomenal. With services set to begin no later than January 31, 2022, we already have several teams hired and ready to onboard.
In October, we hosted an open house for our beautiful new Center for Early Childhood Services and Early Head Start in Belgrade. Enrollment is open and we are looking for enthusiastic people to join our teaching team.
November was another big month for AWARE. To help combat the workforce crisis and support our recruitment and retention efforts, we announced significant wage increases across the board. While we are still in negotiations for the union positions, we are optimistic that all on the AWARE team will get the pay increases that they deserve.
Additionally, in November, AWARE was selected to be a part of the PacificSource Health Plans Community Health Excellence grants program. We were awarded $78,300 to enhance family health and well-being through provider development and training. These grant funds will be used to certify AWARE clinicians in Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy. With this new training and certification for AWARE clinicians, AWARE will proudly be the first provider of this therapy in the state of Montana, which goes hand in hand with the work our FACT teams will be doing.
Finally, on November 30, AWARE participated in GivingTuesday to raise funds for the AWARE Employee Childcare Scholarship Assistance Fund. Thanks to the generosity of many, we raised over $5,000 for that fund in one day. Thank you for your support.
Here we are in December with so much to be grateful for and excited about. As we all gear up for the holidays, I hope that you will consider helping us one more time by supporting the Best Day Ever campaign. Together, I hope we can wrap up a year of incredible accomplishments by reaching one more goal that will have an immediate and direct impact for people we serve. Learn more about how you can make this holiday season the best ever for clients in our residential homes here.
2021 was quite a memorable year! The list of accomplishments above doesn’t come close to touching on all the successes we had as an organization. More importantly, clients in our care had continued opportunities to live, work, and play as independently as possible in communities across our state. I encourage you to visit our website to read many of those success stories if you haven’t kept up with them all year. You won’t be disappointed!
I am excited about what 2022 will bring, but for now I am going to embrace and reflect on 2021. We’ll hit the ground running in 2022, and I’m excited to have you on our team helping people live independent lives.
If you are reading this, you are a part of our team, and I’m glad to have you here. Without you – our employees, donors, legislators, community partners, clients, families and friends – we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do. Thank you for making our mission possible.
With sincere gratitude, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!