Faithful Servants: Long-Term LSSI Employees Reflect on Their Work
Eye on LSSI, Summer 2007 Download PDF of entire publication)
Approximately 2,100 employees work at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). About three percent have worked at the agency 20 or more years. A few of these individuals are profiled here.
“I love to work with children, and I know that Head Start works.”
For 27 years, Debra Ellis has worked at LSSI’s Englewood Messiah Head Start site, but her history with the program goes back further. In March 1979, she enrolled her son, Les, there. In May 1979, she became the site’s secretary and in 2002, the social service worker. Along the way, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in business.
“It’s a very challenging and rewarding position,” says the soft-spoken Debra, who is also a foster parent. “I love to work with children, and I know that Head Start works,” she adds. “The proof is in my son.” Les graduated in 2006 with a master’s degree in science from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
The program, she adds, “not only gives a kid a head start, it brings the family into the whole scenario — we’re here to work with the child and the family.”
“They’re like your second family.”
Tim Eckert, a bus driver and activities staff member, likes working with older adults at Intouch Adult Day Services in Moline. “They’ve been through a lot in their lives, and there are a lot of stories they can tell you,” he says. “[Intouch] is a way of repaying them for what they’ve done. [We should] treat them with respect and reverence.”
Tim believes in Intouch. “We provide a good service here … we provide a lot of respite,” he says.
“When you drive, pick them up, drive them home at night, you feel connected, you feel empathy for them,” Tim reflects. “When they pass on, a part of you goes with them. They’re like your second family.”
“I’ve stayed with it because I felt like I’m contributing.”
“I’ve stayed with [LSSI], because I felt like I’m contributing.”” says Carrie Carr, who’s worked at Nachusa Lutheran Home since 1984.
She currently works at the Alternatives to Detainment program (ATD), which offers 24-hour residential treatment for teens experiencing emotional and behavioral problems at home and in the community.
“Miss Carrie is just an outstanding person,” says Greg Duffey, supervisor on the ATD unit. “What’s unique is her ability to look at the kids and know what their needs are. She knows when to show empathy and when to set limits.”
Working at Nachusa has been a learning experience for Carrie. “I just hope that I can make an impact,” she says. “I hope that in the long term [the kids] will learn how to trust. I have a passion for abused kids and [the] elderly. I get real emotional when it comes to their welfare. It ain’t about me.”
What is most important is “making them feel valuable as a person…”
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” says Jacqui Lind, an LPN at P.A. Peterson Center for Health, in Rockford. She began her career there in 1984 as a CNA (certified nursing assistant).
When she works, Jacqui actively connects with the residents. She talks with residents about Cub games, their grandkids and whatever other topics are on their mind. “You just try and get involved in their world and what they’re interested in,” she says.
For seniors in long-term care, Jacqui says what is most important is “making them feel valuable as a person — no matter what their limitations are — making them feel valued and taken care of.”
“I just like helping the elderly. I love it.”
Diana Rainey has been at Salem House since 1986, which provides home care services to more than 300 low-income seniors in neighborhoods on Chicago’s southwest side. She started out as a home care assistant, and since 1996, has been a supervisor. Her work includes matching clients with assistants, scheduling visits, addressing client concerns, handling paperwork and making sure her staff gets paid on time.
“I just like helping the elderly,” she says. “I love it. … When I worked as a home care assistant, I felt like I was making a difference.
“You have to have patience and have to care about what you do,” Diana explains and acknowledges that it is hard to care for an elderly loved one. “But I just love [the clients]. Sometimes they just don’t have anybody else.”
“I wanted to serve, to provide a ministry to people.”
Years ago, Frank Jeffers considered becoming a priest. Instead, he “went into psychology. I wanted to serve, to provide a ministry to people,” he explains.
He began working with LSSI in September 1975, starting out at the Byron Street office in Chicago, where he evaluated seniors for in-home services or nursing home placement. Then, he began providing mental health services.
In 1993, Frank helped lead the development of Project IMPACT (for Immediate Multidisciplinary Pre-Screening Assessment Team), which serves individuals and families in crisis from mental illness, substance abuse and/or domestic violence.
Every day, Frank and the staff at IMPACT see people with a variety of problems and circumstances. He acknowledges that working with people in such highly charged situations can be very challenging.
“At times, it can be very difficult, but you have to look at a bigger picture to get you through the small, painful one,” he says.
“[LSSI] is still doing good for people. I feel good about that.”
If there is one person at LSSI who has her finger on the pulse of the agency, it is Dixie Downes, executive administrative assistant in the Office of the President since 1975. Dixie manages the Office of the President, maintains the corporate records for LSSI’s 21 subsidiary corporations and acts as liaison to the Board of Directors.
Over the years, through all the ups and downs at the agency, one thing has kept her going. “The overall picture is that our program people are out there doing good for people,” she states simply. “[LSSI] is still doing good for people. I feel good about that.”
“It’s been a very interesting and enriching job for me,” Dixie says. Besides learning about LSSI’s programs, she says she’s enjoyed “so much exposure to people in other areas of business,” including heads of other agencies, senators, representatives and even a former Illinois governor.
“I love that I have known so many people in the agency for so long.”
Nancy Lenz, director of LSSI’s church-based counseling centers in the west and northwest suburbs, came to her chosen field somewhat unconventionally.
“I was going through a divorce,” she says. “And I needed to get a career. My divorce opened the door for me to have a second life.”
Nancy first did an internship with LSSI in 1982–83, and then in 1983 became an official LSSI employee. She is well known for a divorce support group she started in 1982.
She says, “One of the things I like about doing the divorce group, is that in eight weeks, you can see a shift in attitude [in group participants]. Instead of feeling hopeless and wounded, they have a shift in perspective, a renewal of optimism and have defined some goals for the future.”
“I love that I have known so many people in the agency for so long,” she says.
“The clients I work with are wonderful people. It makes working like not working.”
For more than 32 years, Sue Will has dedicated herself to helping birthparents make the best decision for their children. In 1974, she came to Peoria to work for LSSI’s adoption program. And from the beginning, she worked primarily with birthparents who were in crisis about whether to parent or place their child for adoption.
Over the years, the biggest change Sue has seen is that adoption has become a much more open process. It used to be that a birthmother signed away her child and never saw him or her again.
Today, she says, “Birthparents select families and meet those families, if they choose to do that. That’s kind of the evolution of adoption.”
“I like what I’m doing,” Sue says. “If I hadn’t, I would have looked elsewhere.”
“. . . what has been most gratifying for me has been the opportunity to impact the lives of children and families.”
Lynn Goffinet retired in 2006 after 28 years with LSSI, most recently as its statewide coordinator of adoptions.
“From the beginning, I felt a real commitment on the part of the agency’s leadership and staff to provide the best possible services to children and families,” she says. “We were allowed to develop programming that would meet the emerging needs of the children and families we served.”
During her career, Lynn has seen an increased emphasis on the reunification of children with their birth families, as well as growth in international adoptions and in the number of single adoptive or foster parents.
“All in all, the thing I’m proudest of are the wonderful people that took this journey with me to serve children and families,” she says, referring to her colleagues.