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2020 Shooting Stars

Mary Broach, Diane Chillis, Katie Fleming, Calvin Mullins, Erma Ridgell, Renisha Rogers

1310 Wenonah has historically been a challenging home; serious behavioral issues, chronic problems with retaining staff, finding ways to keep everyone meaningfully and happily engaged have always seemed to be next to impossible problems to solve.

When the novel coronavirus struck the world with a vengeance in March of this crazy year, businesses and employers and employees everywhere were put in a position to have to immediately come up with new ways of conducting business and delivering services and goods. UCP Seguin was no exception. So many employees had to suddenly take leave from their positions because of childcare issues or illness or needing to provide care to family members who were sick. We needed to come up with a new way of providing coverage and doing it as safely as possible and we had to do it quickly.

The nominator of this group of award winners admits that she was skeptical about the “6 on, 6 off” model of support that was proposed as a potential solution for providing coverage. Having staff stay in the homes for 6 consecutive days and then have the subsequent 6 days off…she just wasn’t convinced that it could work. However, despite her doubt, she accepted the challenge. It takes a truly dedicated group of people to make the model work. It requires teamwork, tolerance, commitment. Only the right ingredients can result in a successful recipe and there has never been a more perfect mix than Mary Broach, Diane Chillis, Katie Fleming, Calvin Mullins, Erma Ridgell, and Renisha Rogers.

Fast forward a few months and any skepticism or doubt has turned into engagement, happiness, fun, teamwork, stability. Walks in the community, baking cakes in competition with other homes, working quietly on puzzles, low levels of stress, decorating for holidays…and all of this during a pandemic! This is the kind of life our participants deserve and the kind of work environment that our staff deserve! This is the environment that these six staff members have worked together to create at 1310 Wenonah.

Their administrator Shantina Pugh, who also nominated them for this award, said in her nomination that, “when I thank the staff and let them know how personally proud I am of all the hard work they are doing, they always tell me that they’re just doing their jobs. It brings me to tears because these men deserve these six staff and this is exactly what I want for all of our participants because they deserve it. I’ve always been so scared of losing our best staff but with the creation of this model, people will be here to stay! I can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the men at 1310 will continue to flourish and be given the best supports because they have staff that are there for them and are doing everything they can to make this new model work the way it’s supposed to work. These staff are a team in every sense of the word. They are breaking down silos and working cooperatively and professionally with all departments. Thank you all so much for being amazing.”

Mary, Diane, Katie, Calvin, Erma, and Renisha – congratulations on your award “Team Work Makes the Dream Work!” You are Shooting Stars!

William Dillard

Ten months ago, UCP Seguin made the final decision that its Time and Attendance software system, T-TRACCS, was badly in need of an upgrade. While T-TRACCS had served the agency’s needs well for years, it was more than time to find a more efficient and effective solution that would allow for employees to take responsibility for their own recordkeeping.  Making the decision to transition to Kronos software was the easy part. The hard part, actually making it happen, was going to require a lot of work by the right people; people who had not only acquired the skills and knowledge to understand and use new software, but also who possessed the level of genuine enthusiasm needed to contribute to successful leadership through a significant change.

While some might be upset when they learn they’ve been drafted for a project that they would now have to fit into their already tight schedule, William Dillard was the opposite; he was excited to be chosen as a project leader for this transition. Not only is Will incredibly interested in technology, he’s good at it AND he has a broad program perspective and knows so many of the staff who would need to learn to use Kronos in the coming months. Honestly, let’s face it: who would be better than Will at this kind of transition?

The project started in January with an original target date for implementation, a “go live” date of mid-April. The CORE project team, of which Will was one of four, began meeting regularly, sometimes daily, in preparation to meet the aggressive April timeline. Kronos had been engaged, T-TRACCS was set to be shut down in July, and everyone needed to be trained and ready to start on time. Then COVID-19 hit in March, potentially knocking the Kronos project off-track for the foreseeable future. A mere pandemic was not enough to disrupt this Kronos team!

Will worked tirelessly with his teammates to select people to participate in the testing phase, set up the process for testing, help to analyze data from testing, and then construct a plan before it was time to actually “go live” with the new system. Will worked closely with the Director of IT Business Processes, learning the software independently stepping up to put together short video training vignettes for staff to be peppered with information in digestable pieces.

Although the timeframe was pushed back to accommodate problems with access and scheduling as a result of the pandemic, Will was instrumental in making sure that the Take 2 timeframe was on the mark. And once that “go live” switch was thrown, Will spent his days fielding dozens of calls from staff users, helping so many people become acclimated to the system. He talked on the phone, face timed, was invited out for drinks from grateful staff! In spite of how overwhelming the transition felt to Will, especially since it was so nontraditionally carried out because of the need to not do in person training sessions, he was careful to always be patient, kind, helpful, supportive, and inspiring to those who reached out to him for assistance, encouragement, or reinforcement. This includes his teammates!

Will is a dedicated to UCP Seguin – to its participants, its employees, its evolution, and its mission. Whatever the project, Will is always ready to lend his expertise and support. He always goes above and beyond his “regular” job and he continues to strive to learn more always. His leadership is all day, every day. His Kronos teammates fondly refer to him as “The Tech Guy”, “The Cost Center Guy”, and “The Enforcer”. The rest of us just call him a Shooting Star.

Ana DiazDeLeon and Mary Green

Have you ever watched the show “The Golden Girls”? Do you know the theme song for that show? “Thank You for Being a Friend?” In the last few months, it’s hard not to think of one group of ladies in particular. For several years now, three members of UCP Seguin’s now notorious, self-proclaimed “G-Squad” – a group of ladies who work in the agency’s Intermittent CILA program - have been regularly assigned to the participant-owned condos located at Katherine Manor in Naperville. Ana DiazDeLeon, Mary Green, and Sharonda Armstrong have been UCP Seguin’s equivalent of the Golden Girls for the last three years.

While rarely do we go into a job thinking that we’ll leave having made lifelong friends, when you work in residential services and are with each other in close proximity day in and day out, you form bonds. Work is a chapter in our lives that nobody who isn’t there with us really understands; its nuances are lost if you are there to experience them for yourself. And like many of us who have worked together closely for a long time, these three gems know each other really well and are fiercely loyal to each other and to the people they provide support to.

When COVID-19 struck in March, our very own Golden Girls felt its wrath early on. First one of their beloved participants was infected. Ana stepped up and volunteered, without hesitation, to move into a quarantine home with him for at least two weeks to take care of him as he recovered. Unfortunately, Sharonda was diagnosed with the virus soon after and was hospitalized. With Ana quarantining and Sharonda in the hospital, Mary held the fort down at Katherine Manor, temporarily moving into the condo complex because she felt it was safer for everyone if she were to be on-site. Others at Katherine Manor became ill and still Mary stayed.

As the days went on, the participants recovered from COVID-19 under the watchful care of Ana and Mary. Sharonda did not survive her battle but for those who were lucky enough to have known her, and especially Ana and Mary, will never forget her or the positive impact she made on the participants she cared for and on her own Golden Girls.

Although they continue to grieve for the loss of their dear friend, like all of the dedicated heroes at UCP Seguin Mary and Ana continue to show up day in and day out to support the participants during what will likely be the most critical and unprecedented time in any of our lifetimes.

Knowing Sharonda, she would be so humbled to hear how strong of an impact she had on people with disabilities in her care. And she would be so very proud of her fellow Golden Girls and all of her co-workers, friends, and work family for their sacrifices on behalf of the people served by UCP Seguin.

Mary and Ana, we want to Thank You for Being a Friend. You are both Shooting Stars. Congratulations!

Silvia Garcia

At some time or another, each one of us or someone we love is likely going to experience vulnerability of some kind; maybe it will be physical, perhaps emotional, or it could be a combination of both. Whatever the compartment it belongs, vulnerability can be frightening. It can make you angry or sad. With vulnerability comes a whole host of emotions and people need different things from others when they are vulnerable.

Silvia Garcia is a Life Skills Instructor who has worked with seniors at the Betty Scheck Senior Center for about the last two years or so. Every day, she provided support to several people, all of them with different personalities, various needs, and diverse skill levels. It is not an easy thing to accommodate such a host of differences and to do so, a person must possess the ability to genuinely empathize with others. Silvia is one of those people.

Her true character, her genuineness came to full light when one of the participants in her group was nearing the end of her life. Silvia no longer was this participants day program supervisor – she was her favorite companion, gossip girl, comfort keeper, ice cream vendor, sing-along partner, and friend. No matter the demand – and there were many and they were often – Silvia never even seemed mildly annoyed. Whether  she was told “I’m too cold”, “I’m too hot”, “My leg hurts”, “I’m thirsty”, “Pikachu”, “take that off me”, or “I want to eat NOW”, Silvia was there, always noticing little signs of discomfort, trying to do everything she could to make it better.

Sadly, this participant passed away following her battle with cancer. Her family shared these words about Silvia:

“Silvia is so kind and loving. She is such a caring person. My sister really liked her and loved her and really enjoyed Silvia taking care of her at Scheck Center. Silvia fed her and sang Happy Birthday to her. Silvia is a wonderful person.”

While it is unlikely that this was the first time or will be the last time that Silvia shows such thoughtfulness, creativity, patience, and attention to another person, how important it is to acknowledge the impact that her kindness had on a person who was vulnerable and also how comforting it was to that person’s family to know that Silvia was there when they couldn’t be.

Thank you, Silvia, for bringing your “Comforting Spirit” UCP Seguin. You are a Shooting Star.

Sharon Larkin

How do you even begin to describe a level of dedication and commitment that you’ve never had the opportunity to see before because there has never in any of our lifetimes been a crisis like the one brought on by COVID-19. What are the right words to use to try to somehow accurately portray the devotion to others, including to relative strangers, that so many of us have seen in our own Sharon Larkin over the past several months?

Sharon was nominated for a Shooting Star Award by Director of Adult Case Management Ashley Casati. This is what Ashley had to say about Sharon:

“Nurse Sharon is one of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met. While no one could have prepared for COVID-19, Nurse Sharon has worked tirelessly to ensure that the individuals at UCP Seguin are well cared for. She calls any exposed house every day and provides the team with updates. She takes calls after hours, on the weekends, and works non-stop to make sure that our individuals are provided with the best medical care possible. She has gone into homes to do telehealth appointments and I’m sure there are so many other things that she has one that are well above and beyond her job responsibilities that I am not even aware of. I am so proud to be on Nurse Sharon’s team!”

Not only has Nurse Sharon done all of the things Ashley mentioned in her nomination, she continues to be involved in all-things COVID. Her tireless dedication has undoubtedly reduced risk of further exposure in the homes as she is steadfast in her mission to stop the spread.

We thank you today and every day, Sharon, for everything you did pre-COVID, everything you are doing to provide care and keep people safe during the pandemic, and in advance for all that we are sure you will continue to do post-COVID-19 – a time that we all wish for!

We are grateful for your tireless dedication to everyone at UCP Seguin. You are a Shooting Star.

Princilla Mallory

This year’s Shooting Stars are all about COVID-19 in some form or fashion but it’s so interesting to see how important all of the different departments are in managing a crisis at UCP Seguin. Some things we just have grown to take for granted; we don’t give them much thought unless there’s a problem and when there is a problem, we need those things desperately!

When the Department of Human Services gave the order to shut down Community Day Services back in March, dozens of UCP Seguin staff were displaced from their usual workspaces. We as an agency were unprepared for a mass exodus to remote working; although there were already several employees set up to work remotely, there were dozens more who were not equipped for this sudden change.

Princilla Mallory supported the rapid transition of more than 50 staff to remote access while ensuring network standards and security effectively and consistently have supported more than 200 remote users over the last seven months. So many employees had not been assigned equipment like laptops and many more needed help with setting up their own personal devices to be able to work remotely. Princilla managed the entire equipment setup. She worked with staff using their own equipment and established access and controls for the dozens of staff transitioning to remote work. She initiated the upgrade of network access software as well as the procurement of additional laptops to ensure that all staff working remotely would be “up to code” in terms of equipment, software, and security standards.

As if she weren’t busy enough doing THAT, Princilla also responded to a new initiative that provided iPads to our CILA residents including managing the configuration of the devices, providing remote support and ensuring security standards were met.

It cannot be overstated how crucial of a role Princilla played in the transition to remote work. There just are not enough words. Without her leadership, experience, commitment, critical thinking skills, knowledge, patience that were all critical pieces to responding to an extraordinary business need such as the one that COVID-19 dumped into all of our laps, we would not have been able to achieve such a seamless transition to our “new normal”. Simply put, it couldn’t have been done without her.
Princilla, your ability to transition so many of us to successful remote work in just a couple of short weeks is proof that when you put your mind to it, nothing is impossible.

You are a Shooting Star.

Darrel Wood

Back in March of this year, Seguin Gardens and Gifts was having its best revenue year ever and at the same time, was getting ready for Spring - its busiest season. Then BAM! Here comes COVID.

Darrel Wood is the General Manager at Seguin Gardens and Gifts and when the order for Community Day Services to close was issued, Darrel had to close the store; it is a registered program site. Darrel found himself with an entire greenhouse full of plants that would need care no matter what DHS said and Spring was just a few days away! He was already working remotely himself and was unable to go into the physical space, so what did Darrel do? He kicked it into high gear is what he did!

With an ecommerce site already active, Darrel set about redirecting and amplifying his online efforts. He uploaded more than 30,000 individual items to be sold on the website. Soil, pots, flowers, herbs, vegetables, perennials, and even the houseplants were listed. If it was in the store, it was listed for sale online. Darrel did all of this in just a couple of weeks! He managed all of the tech functions of the website, spending hours learning how to make this work and seeking tech assistance through help lines and calls with ecommerce. He worked day and night to make sure that Seguin Gardens and Gifts, in spite of the pandemic, would still see a successful Spring season.

Because the website was so robust thanks to Darrel, SGG became THE local option for curbside pickup for many gardeners and landscapers in the area. In addition to curbside pickup, Darrel also figured out how to maneuver schedules to allow for local delivery of products. One Saturday, there were over 60 pickup and delivery orders. That’s in one day. Darrel and his staff never stopped, not for one minute.

While so many small businesses suffered great loss and in many cases, were forced to close their doors due to loss of business as a result of forced closure because of COVID-19 restrictions, Darrel absorbed COVID as a challenge – and he won. SGG finished the fiscal year less than 2% lower in sales than it had finished in FY19, when there was no COVID. And, the store added nearly 700 new customers almost solely because of the curbside pickup and delivery options. The amazing comments that customers shared on social media about the ease with which they were able to use our services resulted in new business. A truly amazing, admirable, and herculean effort by Darrel.

Not to bore anyone with Darrel’s accomplishments in response to COVID, but important to also mention is his creation of an online grocery ordering platform for the food hub. This platform has allowed for the CILA homes to pre-order their groceries online for curbside pickup over the last several months, creating a safer environment for all.

Many thanks to you, Darrel, for keeping SGG healthy and growing even during a pandemic. Your creativity, ability to change direction at a moment’s notice, your commitment, and your determination are just some of the characteristics that you bring to the table that contribute to the continued success of SGG no matter what barriers might be present.

You are a Shooting Star!