**We are pleased to share words from AWARE’s Chief Operations Officer, Leighann Knight as a guest columnist for the May Issue of INK.**
As AWARE prepares to enjoy a beautiful summer in Montana, I wish to take a moment to express sincere gratitude to AWARE’s employees who work each day to accomplish our mission of helping people live independent lives.
AWARE employs more than 700 hundred people across Montana in roles that cover industry fields from carpentry to psychiatry. AWARE employees come from diverse backgrounds. These experiences in other organizations often serve as barriers to communication and teamwork. However, our diversity is what makes AWARE a special place to work, grow, and reach full individual potential.
I am continually impressed with employee dedication, determination, and honor to our mission. I truly believe one would be hard pressed to find another group of employees who rival AWARE employees. For example, there has been many, many times AWARE employees have navigated community resources to ensure clients have bare necessities, clothing, and food. Then – not being satisfied – they assisted with housing, employment, and life-long dreams of owning a car or home. In the human services field, I have often heard people say, “well, we did our best.” But at AWARE, “our best” is not good enough – staff aspire to do what is “best for our clients.” This approach to care and delivery of quality services is truly inspiring.
AWARE experienced the impacts of COVID-19 in a unique way, partly due to unaddressed inequities that existed before the pandemic, as well as not having sufficient support. Despite the challenges, AWARE rededicated the organization to serve clients, including developing innovations regarding quarantines, community engagements, and family connections. The COVID-19 pandemic placed extreme stress on AWARE’s workforce, leading to workforce shortages as well as increased burnout, exhaustion, and trauma. These pandemic-related challenges took place in a context of significant preexisting workforce shortages and maldistribution, as well as in a workforce where burnout, stress, and mental health issues were already significant problems. AWARE’s employees were impressive during this time, performing at a fantastic level, ensuring services were continued and residents were cared for with dignity and respect.
The appreciation I have for AWARE’s team grows each day. The endless hours spent working with residents, families, students, and children are stunning. I am in a position where I have the privilege of receiving many compliments regarding AWARE, and it is all due to AWARE’s employees. The team’s diligence, self-motivation, and focus have been a source of motivation for me. I hope it never ceases to flow in elevating the human services field and lifting up Montana’s most disenfranchised populations. AWARE employees are truly the best in providing quality care to residents, families, clients, children, students, colleagues, and stakeholders. Each is steadfast, dedicated, tireless, and tenacious; and I hope they are proud of the fact that they have the power to rise above any situation and deliver the best results no matter the circumstances.
Thank you, thank you AWARE employees!
Leighann Fogerty Knight
Chief Operations Officers