Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lutheran Services Carolinas at SC Lutheran Assembly

The SC Lutheran Synod was nice enough to allow LSC to present to the Assembly. Below are my remarks. Then LSC Director of Refugee Services Bedrija Jazic was allowed extended time to share the current state of our refugee services work in the State of South Carolina.

Lutheran Services Carolinas is proud to be part of A Reforming Church: Living out Reconciliation and Renewal!

The Synod and LSC do that together.

We do that together when the Ku Klux Klan targets our Columbia office because we serve refugees who are escaping persecution and death. Bishop Yoos and the Synod stood foursquare against the Klan and to oppose anti refugee legislation.

We stand together to serve hundreds of foster children coming out of saddening and often horrendous broken home circumstances.

We have stood together in the last two years developing now 10 group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

We stand together serving homeless veterans, even though that is getting increasingly difficult due to government changes.

We stand together as we partner with WELCA to share books with disadvantaged children.

We stand together in local partnerships to meet local needs: St. Andrew’s Columbia’s refugee Welcome House, St. Luke Florence for use of their ministry house, All Saints Mt. Pleasant’s birthday cakes for foster children, St. John’s Beaufort for Christmas presents for foster children, St. Luke’s Summerville for hosting our foster care Christmas party since the early 2000s, and Reformation Columbia for our shared office/meeting space!

In 2011, our child and family services were about a $15 million ministry. About 10 in NC and 5 in SC.

Today, we have grown from $15 million to a budget of $19M, and one half of that budget is managed out of the Columbia office. I only mention budget because that means we are serving more people who need services!

That growth in ministry is coming through opportunities across the state, and an entrepreneurial and innovative staff in Columbia and around the state. Executive Director Bethany Vause and her staff have been passionate leaders in reform and in ministry.

LSC is just getting started. There are great needs across the state. In part to try to address those needs, the Synod has graciously given us permission to conduct a synod-wide capital campaign beginning in 2018.

One example, I am pleased to announce that LSC, with a grant from the ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response, will be employing a case manager in the ongoing aftermath of the October floods that devastated the area. And at the same time, LSC, with a grant from Lutheran Services in America, will be employing a VISTA worker for the next three years to help indigent and underserved populations be better prepared in the event of disasters. The emergency crews are long gone, but I am proud that our church is walking with those with the greatest need as they rebuild their lives.

Thank you for standing together with us as The Reforming Church, for your prayers, and for allowing me to be here today.

And now the star of the show. Refugee services is one of the hottest topics in the state and in the country. Bedrija Jazik is one of those passionate leaders I mentioned earlier. Our refugee services are growing in ministry and in size and in service. To brief you on the latest in refugee services, please join me in welcoming one of the most dedicated, sacrificing, passionate people I know, Bedrija Jazik.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Claudia Sigmon's retirement with 41 years of service!!!

The letter below will be read to CNA Claudia Sigmon at her Trinity Village, Hickory, retirement party at 2 pm today. I hate I'm not able to be there. Love this woman!

Dear Claudia,

I am so sorry that I am not there to celebrate your retirement from Trinity Village. I’m serving as Chair of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, and we have a major event today at exactly the same time as your party.

On behalf of the entire Lutheran Service Carolinas family, thank you for 41 years of faithful service to the residents of Trinity Village. You have been a role model for me. Your 16 years of quiet leadership and service had already become well known when I started there as administrator 25 years ago. I have witnessed your servant leadership happen ever since.

We often talk about ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ to the people we serve. You are the hands and feet of Christ! Imagine how many people you have comforted and cared for. Imagine how many hours you have served. The simple math of 41 years times a normal 2080 hours worked per year would equate to 85,280 hours. And I’m sure you never worked any extra shifts! You have set a standard that the rest of us can aspire to.

Thank you again for what you have done for your residents and for Trinity Village. God’s richest blessings as you enter this next phase of your life. And remember, once family, always family. So don’t be a stranger.

Yours in Christ,


Monday, April 25, 2016

Customer Service and Lutheran Services Carolinas

I'm traveling for Lutheran Services Carolinas this week and last. Traveling to different cities and staying in hotels highlights the broad variety of customer service experiences.

In the last few days, I have had hotel staff to not be helpful and not look me in the eye, and an airline employee tell me to wait, then 5 minutes later to say she was going on break and that another person would be manning that station for my flight in an hour. Thank you very much. Email me if you'd like know the airline.

But now I am in Minneapolis at the Hilton, where everyone is helpful and seems to genuinely want to be helpful. They remind me of LSC! Part of our secret sauce is people who are passionate about their ministry, and it shows.

By and large, LSC teammates speak to everyone they see because they want to help; phone calls and emails are returned; people are treated with dignity and respect; and we have fun! Life's too short for otherwise.

We always have room to improve. Occasionally we hire a Gloomy Gus or Gussie, but they can't last long in the face of all that passion.

We've also discovered another side effect of being friendly. Security! Security is a growing concern across our society. To protect our clients and residents and our teammates and our buildings, we have to be on guard - with a smile. When we smile, make eye contact, and speak to a visitor, whether it be in the yard of a group home or hall of a nursing home, or in the parking lot at an office, we are letting that person know they have been identified. That alone may stop their ill intended actions.

Security is a byproduct, but remember when we smile, we mean it!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Trip to the Mexican Border

Undocumented migrants, undocumented children, border security, ministry, care, Somali refugees, Cuban asylees, demographics, and immigration politics were the fascinating subjects of a quick 2-day trip to the Mexican border this week.

I flew into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas late on Sunday evening, June 21, 2015 to join about 15 other Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service representatives. LIRS is our national organization that supports refugees, immigrants, and migrants. Lutheran Services Carolinas is the LIRS affiliate that resettles refugees in the Carolinas.

We spent the first day in and around Hidalgo, Texas on the Mexican border, then the second day in Houston. The border area was a different and eye-opening experience. I have never seen so many police. The U.S. Border Patrol was ever present along the border, supplemented by even more Texas law enforcement. Texas has taken a hard stance against undocumented migrants so has bulked up law enforcement. As always, there are two sides to the argument. Law enforcement is upholding the law. Many of the undocumented have been here for years or even generations. Many of them have children born in the U.S., who are therefore citizens. They obviously fear the law enforcement presence, which could sweep up a single mother on her way home from work. A broken tail light can easily tear a family apart.

We got to see this firsthand. You could rarely look in either direction without seeing a police car. Our unmarked, rented, tinted-window bus was pulled over. Members of our party began to search for their identification in preparation for the search of our bus. The Texas State Patrolman seemed surprised when he climbed up the steps to find a dozen white, middle aged tourists staring at him with apprehension. We were not what he was looking for. He smiled, said hello, and didn’t even check our ID. Afterward, we walked right up to the giant border fence and looked over the Rio Grande River into Reynosa, Mexico.

We toured the colonias (colonies) along the border where thousands of people, documented and undocumented, live in houses they do not own and on land they do not own. But they’ve been there so long that they buy and sell these houses (many are shacks) without a title, deed, bank, or lawyer. They’ve created their own economy. We were able to sit down with two mothers and their children to hear of life and fear and hope in the colonias. I asked one third grader what he liked best in school and what he wanted to be when he grows up: mathematics and fireman! His first grade sister: writing and school teacher! Hope springs eternal!

We toured a small ministry run by the sainted Sisters of Divine Providence where we met a dozen Somali refugees. Somalis? Were they lost? Was I lost?
People from Somalia are immediately granted asylum in the United States, if they can get here. The problem is there is no way to get here. But hope springs eternal. These Somalis have found a way. They ride and walk from Somalia to usually South Africa, are smuggled to Brazil on the next continent, make their way west across the Amazon, thru Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Central America, and through Mexico to the U.S. border. If they get here, the prize is asylum. What would make someone take that trip, and many don’t survive? Their stories are haunting: my father was beaten, my brother was killed, I was held prisoner, I escaped….

The border is also teeming with Cubans. A relic of the Cold War, any Cuban who makes it to the U.S. receives asylum. For many years, Castro wouldn’t let anyone leave. Now, Cuba is willing to give its citizens exit visas. Enterprising Cubans travel to Mexico, travel to the border, and present themselves to the U.S. Border Patrol and ask for asylum. Partly as a result, Houston has the largest population of Cubans in America only behind Miami! When Cuba and the U.S. normalize relations that path will stop, so Cubans are coming as fast as they can get here.

In Houston on Tuesday we visited with Refugee Services of Texas, our sister LIRS affiliate. They do great work across Texas! We met Chalak, a refugee from Iraq who is now a staff member. Chalak was an interpreter for our U.S . troops in Bagdad. He said his car was bombed. Thankfully, he said, he was not in the car. Sadly, two of his best friends were. He was granted refugee status and removed to the U.S. before he too was killed. Once again, America is doing the right thing by supporting a refugee who supported our troops.

While in Houston I learned that Houston is now the 4th largest city in the United States! When did that happen?! We heard from an immigration attorney who has been a policy advisor to two Presidents of the United States. He shared the latest on the politics of immigration reform and the chances of immigration reform in the future. And we heard from Rice University professor Dr. Stephen Klineberg about the demographics of Houston and its rich diversity, and demographic trends in America. The major takeaway for me is that we desperately need immigration reform, because the system is so broken, and we need the immigrants to fuel nationwide entrepreneurship and economic growth. Sealing the border to all immigrants seals our fate as a post modern, declining nation.

I fussed and fumed all the way to the airport Sunday afternoon, not wanting to leave home and not wanting to be gone for two work days. But as always, I learned. I learned more about: LIRS and other related ministries, national policy issues, other cultures, and I learned how good we’ve got it and to be thankful for that.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lutheran Services Carolinas and the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce

I have been asked a couple of times recently why Lutheran Services Carolinas and I are involved in the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce. We’ve been very active and I serve on the Chamber Board, but I was sort of stunned by the question. It’s sort of like someone asking me why I breathe air. But I guess I should develop a good answer.

Lutheran Services Carolinas and I are members of this community. Like any other membership, we should be all in or not be involved. The Chamber is a business advocacy organization, promoting more and better business across the entire county. LSC is a $115 million ministry/nonprofit/business headquartered in Rowan County, and we employ almost 350 people just right here in Rowan. A good, strong community is important to us and we are important to our community. I can’t imagine living and working in Rowan County and not being a part of the very fabric of the community.

Being part of the community is reward and reason enough to be a member, but we do get many other benefits: networking, education, advocacy, and advertising. Leadership Rowan is reason enough alone. The professional development and relationships are worth the reasonable cost. The benefits make Lutheran Services Carolinas a stronger, more successful organization aiming for a bright future. The future would be much less bright without the partnership of our Chamber’s over 850 fellow members.

Next time someone asks me why the Chamber, I’ll be ready!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Prayer and Bifocals

The end of the year is always a time to try to throw away, clean up, and prepare for the new year. Part of that preparation is deciding what my focus will be for the next year.

I've decided on PB. Not peanut butter, but Prayer and Bifocals. Prayer is pretty self explanatory. I want to do more of it, and I want people to pray for our ministry unceasingly! Every time I pray, I include our ministry and the LSC family, which includes each person touched in any way by our ministry (clients, residents, families, staff, visitors, etc!) Won't you add your prayers? Please add LSC to your personal, church, prayer chain, and any other opportunity.

Now let's talk bifocals. Not the glasses, but the vision. I plan to practice bifocal leadership for the coming year, which we'll define as the ability to focus on the near things and the far off things.

Near vision includes communication, customer service, and waste. No organization works harder than LSC at communicating with everyone, but it's never enough. My goal is for everyone to know everything about everything. While impossible, we can strive for it!

The LSC team can put our customer first every time, and every one reading this is a customer. We can smile at each other and treat each other as we want to be treated. That smile is also part of our security plan, believe it or not. If a teammate smiles and makes eye contact with a stranger in the hall or a person standing in front of a group home or in front of our offices, they are aware they have been identified. We can easily welcome the friend and warn off anyone bent on doing harm.

Waste should be the enemy of each of us. Ben Franklin is still right, "a penny saved is a penny earned." We should: not print documents unless necessary, recycle old file folders, never throw away files till we've saved the paper clips, commute together to meetings, turn out the lights, recycled plastic, only buy absolutely necessary office supplies, and on and on! We are over a $100 Million organization! Ink pens add up! The day my time is too valuable to haul the trash to the dumpster is the day I don't need to work here any longer. More importantly, I'd rather spend money on caring for people!

Bifocal also refers to the long vision. We have to keep an eye on the little things and we have to keep our eye on the horizon. Our country and our profession are in the midst of great turmoil. In that turmoil and crisis there exists danger and opportunity. Prayer will allow us to skirt the danger and take advantage of the opportunity. LSC has to keep one eye on the long view to survive and thrive.

So when you hear me talking about PB as we move into the new year, join me in prayer and vision.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


PACE, Program for All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly, is a vital component of care and services in our society. PACE is a program that serves seniors who can live safely at home who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare, providing all of their health care needs for a set amount of money paid for by the government. The model is popular with state/federal governments because it shifts all financial risk to the nonprofit PACE provider.

As a relatively new service, PACE has had to battle for its place in the long term care continuum. Some PACE advocates have tried to market PACE as the total replacement for assisted living and nursing homes. Assisted living and nursing homes have not wanted to share already inadequate Medicaid funding. Competing philosophies are a classic example of the silos in long term care, when partners need to be collaborating.

Lutheran Services Carolinas is in a unique position, being involved in home and community based services from PACE to nursing homes. LSC has been able to see the synergies and need for the entire continuum of long term care services.

PACE is a new and vital component that is serving the very under-served indigent elder population. PACE participants must meet the minimum requirements for Medicaid nursing home placement. Those criteria are very gray and broad, which has led to some misconceptions.

Some PACE proponents have latched on to "qualified for nursing home placement" to call PACE a replacement for nursing homes. In reality, every PACE has a contract with at least one nursing home so PACE participants can be admitted when nursing home care is needed.

What PACE can do is keep medically fragile seniors healthier and more stable, allowing them to live where we all prefer to live, in our own home. Coming to a PACE site one to five days a week for medical care, observation, socialization, good food, therapy, etc. improves health and quality of life. Thus, PACE participation can delay and in some cases prevent nursing home placement and unnecessary hospitalizations.

North Carolina nursing home residents have among the highest level of acuity in the southeast United States. While PACE participants and nursing home residents very loosely meet the nursing home placement criteria, again, they are not the same. PACE participants are more well and able to live at home in safety, a key PACE requirement. Nursing home residents have multiple, chronic health issues who require 24 hour care and services. Examples would include a person with Alzheimer's disease who could never be left alone or an unresponsive, bedridden person who is totally dependent on 24/7 staff for every activity of daily living (movement, eating, toileting, bathing, etc.).

A good example of the great difference between PACE and nursing homes is 24/7 direct care. Drive by a PACE program after 6 pm or on a Saturday and Sunday. It will be deserted, closed up. PACE participants have family or a friend to watch over them at night and on weekends, or they can get along alone. PACE does supply an emergency telephone number, but that is for emergencies, not for basic care. Drive past a nursing home at 8 pm or on Sunday afternoon and you will see the same beehive activity you see at any other time. That doesn't make one or the other less important, it only makes them different.

The long term care continuum is a continuum, an ever changing mix of physical, mental, and social needs from senior centers to promote wellness and continuing education to nursing homes to hospitals for acute care needs. People will be better cared for when the person is the center, and the providers work collaboratively to meet their needs with the right balance of quality and cost efficiency.