Top 10 Accomplishments During My Time at Lydia’s House
After five years of working with Lydia’s House, I have chosen to take a new position as a full-time occupational therapist with Cincinnati Occupational Therapy Institute beginning in February. After a slow trajectory of my role shifting to become more administrative, I am excited to return to a clinical setting oriented to patient care. This position will be working primarily with children and will focus on using sensory integration strategies to support children experiencing trauma and mental health challenges.
Reflecting on my time, I assembled the top 10 things I accomplished during my employment with Lydia’s House.
- LYDIA’S HOUSE BECOMING AN AFFORDABLE HOUSING LANDLORD: The renovation of affordable housing units would have amounted to nothing if they sat empty or quickly fell into chaos. During the 3 years since Virginia Coffey Place has been open, I have helped 17 families with 31 children make their home in Norwood. Much of this work is not particularly glamorous – navigating tenant conflicts about laundry machines, enforcing lease rules, and cleaning stairs. That said, the highlights are showing someone their new apartment for the first time and watching them be impressed by how nice the unit is, hanging photos on the wall and seeing the blank slate become a home, and having kids excitedly give me a tour of their new home. I leave Lydia’s House with leases, house rules, manuals, and form letters ready for the tenants to come and a culture of high-quality affordable housing in place.
- ACCESS DATABASE: It may seem silly for a database to make the list, but anyone who has been called upon to quickly generate data summaries, knows that data is only as good as what you can access. Therefore, after 3 years of trudging through an ever-growing clunky Excel spreadsheet, I worked with a consultant to build a database to meet the needs of Lydia’s House. Since that time, it has been filled with data, yielding demographics and outcomes that are easy to access, mailing lists that are kept up to date in a central place, and things such as a list of birthdays so we can offer kids birthday parties monthly.
- THE JOB DESCRIPTION GRID: To those not familiar with Lydia’s House, the fact that my job description changes seasonally (with staffing changes or just organizational iterating) is baffling. However, Lydia’s House with all its fluidity, requires job descriptions to be nimble and fluid. Therefore, the creation of a large Excel spreadsheet with every staff members’ duties listed makes every season shuffling so much easier. Several times a year, I am grateful for this early project.
- IMPROVED ACCOUNTING PRACTICES: During my time with Lydia’s House, the annual budget grew from $82,000 to nearly $400,000. This numerical increase represents a significant increase in credit card receipts and bills to pay. By the grace of God, there has similarly been a great increase in the amount of grants processed and tracked and individual donations processed. This growth has required great attention to detail, willingness to try new systems, and a lot of time in front of the computer. Much of these improved systems were done through the helpful guidance of Julia Kyser to whom I am deeply grateful!
- A ROBUST GUEST EDUCATION MANUAL: Over my time with Lydia’s House, I have spent countless hours learning information in order to teach parents. I often joke that for not having children, I have spent many hours thinking about pregnancy, potty training, child discipline, and supporting kids with sleep. All of this learning has yielded a robust manual of resources that are readily available to teach Lydia’s House families. Topics have been synthesized with families in crisis in mind. I have also developed tenant training and car ownership training modules that guests regularly participate in to offer necessary education (what do those lights on the dashboard mean?) and hopefully prevent pitfalls before they happen. I am hopeful that these teaching resources will outlive my own time at Lydia’s House.
- AN ATRIUM: When we began the journey to start Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the children of Lydia’s House, I had no idea what would be involved. We started with a large pile of donated materials from an Atrium that was closing and now have a beautiful space, ordered and abundant. As I stand in our Atrium space now, I see a room full of handcrafted items that I have helped make – a paper mâché topographical map of Israel, a variety of sewing works, a multitude of prayer cards. Weekly an average of 12 kids, most of them kids who have lived at Lydia’s House, others neighbors and classmates at Azaela, come to encounter God and the consistent presence of loving adults.
- ABUNDANT AFTERCARE ASSISTANCE: Through several iterations we have now landed on a way to provide aftercare financial assistance that is equitable, transparent, and dignifying. Gone are the days when we sat around a table debating each need and trying to recall what other assistance we had recently offered. In a world in which we cannot fix everything, it a great gift to say ‘yes’ to needs and be able to say ‘yes’ often. ‘Yes, we can get your Duke turned back on.’ ‘Yes, we can pay your rent.’ ‘Yes, we can give you money for food.’
- PROVIDING POSITIVE MEMORIES FOR KIDS: It is a gift to be able to come alongside families during a vulnerable time and offer support. I have found that one of my greatest joys in this work is supporting kids to create positive memories during their time at Lydia’s House and at Virginia Coffey Place. I long for Lydia’s House to be remembered for its loving adults quick to play and listen. Highlights include swimming in Brush Creek on our trip to the farm, making slime after weekly tutoring with a child when his own classes were only virtual, reading bedtime stories outside on a blanket, and taking a child to weekly gymnastics classes.
- MANY BINDERS AND SYSTEMS: As a great lover of order, I have often been tasked with taking a piece of Lydia’s House that was clunky, inefficient, or confusing, and improving it. As I leave and look around the office, I realize that I leave in my wake a multitude of binders and systems that are in order. Gift cards are in a designated box with dividers – not in various staff desk drawers. Room inspections happen weekly with an incentive program that has all the supplies in a single binder. There is a system to regularly check-in on and celebrate staff member’s professional goals. There are checklists, pivot tables, and spreadsheets aplenty. Though this particular skill set is hard to name on a resume, I have come to realize it as one of the greatest strengths I brought to Lydia’s House.
- CREATING NEW PROGRAMS: After years of working for the state of Ohio at a mental health hospital where bureaucracy was cumbersome and anything but nimble, the freedom to dream and imagine new ways of doing things at Lydia’s House was a breath of fresh air. In meetings, we brainstormed, made decisions, and set in motions programs ever iterating to better meet the needs we served. It was a gift to be a part of imagining a December rent jubilee, a car program, a way to identify high need guests, and a program to offer birthday parties to all children among many other programs. Though my role in these meetings always bent towards implementation to have such creative and generative power is a great gift.
As I look ahead, I look forward to continue being a neighbor to Lydia’s House and a volunteer at Atrium. I will miss watching kids grow up and parents grow in maturity. I will miss interactions with volunteers – their fresh faces being such a light to days when we sometimes feel in the trenches. (I will miss my 2-minute commute.) I look forward to connecting Lydia’s House with all that I will be learning so that children in the Lydia’s House circle can grow up happy and healthy. I am grateful to the Lydia’s House community for having me on this journey.