by Erin McLeod

Whoever said, “Big shoes aren’t easy to fill,” was so right, and I have small feet!

As I entered 2016, I was stepping into the shoes of an industry great – Bob Carter, President & CEO of the Friendship Centers for more than 28 years. He continues to be my mentor but has been a lot like Yoda from “Star Wars” in using the Socratic method to guide me and teach me to look around the corners at what lies ahead.

But looking back in the rearview mirror of 2016, we remained true to our Mission and grew the organization toward the future by focusing on four key areas: Placing value on education, by empowering people, expecting and embracing change, and leveraging our networks.

The Friendship Centers is a learning organization, meaning we are hungry to know more and this field of aging is exploding with new information all the time. We read, we study and share our best practices, we make mistakes and we learn from them.

In 2016, we invested in staff development and explored new educational models, specifically through our newly launched Friendship Center for Aging Studies, becoming a provider of continuing education credits for licensed professionals but with a twist – all courses had an aging focus.

When it comes to empowering others, we are aiming for greater autonomy, collaboration, innovation and motivation. One of the things we try to do is make sure there are enough resources to give people the tools and technology they need. Coupled with a feeling they can make decisions to do the right thing at the right time without jumping through lots of hoops, empowerment becomes powerful in delivering our Mission.

In the past year or so, we have focused on topics like customer service, communication and teamwork. All pretty standard in the workplace, but then our expectation is that once armed with the training, we will use that information to better serve each other and the communities we serve.

Change is inevitable, but in 2016 the Friendship Centers had not only a change in leadership and the launch of a new business, we changed lots of processes like payroll, new phone system, moving case managers to a remote work model and lots more.

Leadership strategist Robin Sharma says, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous in the end.” When we look back at the various stages of our projects we can honestly say we are feeling all of that: it’s hard, it’s messy and it’s starting to look pretty gorgeous.

Finally, leveraging our networks is something we have always done but in 2016 we began looking beyond our traditional partners and found some great new possibilities with businesses, foundations and national organizations who are interested in working with one of the leaders in aging services. That’s one thing the Friendship Centers has is a reputation that invites collaboration and making great things happen.

In the words of Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” We are doing it!