Rinna Waters joined our Grand Rapids division as Program Specialist at the beginning of May.
With over 25 years of experience working with people with disabilities and older individuals, Rinna also brings into the role her expertise as a professionally credentialed gerontologist. In addition, she maintains a close familiarity with the nonprofit world of the Grand Rapids area.
An important task she had before her at the start was improving the local reputation of ODC, which had suffered in recent years due to the way HTC services had been managed and perceived in the past.
“One of the biggest areas of change has been focused on the HTC,” Rinna said. Within her first few weeks, she noted that while staff were doing the best they could, it was clear that productivity and engagement had become stagnant. Rinna quickly recognized “that staff and the people we serve needed to find pride in their jobs again.”
Having recognized what was missing, she began to implement ways for people to become engaged in their workplace again. Efforts were put into cleaning up and making the environment a place that employees wanted to be. This included planting flowers to greet visitors outside along with redecorating the interior to create a more welcoming space.
Next on the list was starting to change perceptions in the community. A monthly calendar was implemented that included a variety of activities to increase community engagement and involvement.
Included on this calendar were visits to the county fair, the forest history center, several shopping trips and community events. Most recently, individuals had the opportunity to bring joy to a local nursing home and deliver handmade cards to the local police and sheriff’s departments.
“We started encouraging our people served to try new jobs or teach their peers life skills such as budgeting or cooking,” Rinna said, adding that staff contributed to the success of these initiatives by learning new ways to engage each person in their work.
Rinna went on to describe the positive reactions they have been receiving from case managers and community members alike, with several stating they “just feel the difference when you come here now. People are happy.”
The biggest challenge Rinna has tackled is “coming into something that was being perceived as very damaged by the community. The most important thing we have done to help this process is to acknowledge the challenges but then demonstrate the solutions.”
Goals she has outlined for Grand Rapids in 2020 include continual improvement “upon what we already do so great and that is serve people with disabilities,” adding they will continue building the bridges of communication with service providers, VR services, case managers, and family members.
Focusing on community integrated employment is another priority for the division. “We have so many people with untapped skills who can be the solution for local employers.” Rinna said, adding: “This community is very involved in the non-profit sector. It wants us to succeed.
“With more positive exposure as we move forward, ODC will see this support increase. I expect we will see more people wanting to volunteer and more businesses wanting to employ our people.”