The important work of creating an equitable society where all people can thrive cannot be achieved without the support of diverse community-based partnerships. Global Volunteer Month, celebrated in April, provides a great opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate partners that donate time, resources, and expertise to make a difference in our communities.

Social Current is grateful for its corporate social responsibility partners, which bolster our network’s impact by engaging teams of corporate volunteers and generously donating resources.


Social Current is grateful for our 16-year partnership with Aramark. Rooted in service and united by purpose, Aramark strives to do great things for its employees, partners, communities, and planet. Their global volunteer program, Aramark Building Community, engages the talents and passions of employees to develop solutions that address challenges caused by lack of access to healthy food and proper nutrition, financial insecurity, and inequitable environments. The program drives stronger communities, creates employee volunteer opportunities, and encourages employees to give back to their local communities.

The Aramark Building Community grant program and team of engaged volunteers have been an incredible support for Social Current partner Branches in Miami, especially over the holidays. Aramark volunteers cooked, packaged, and delivered meals over Thanksgiving, while also purchasing and wrapping gifts for college students during the holidays.

“We are continually grateful for the service-minded spirit of Aramark volunteers,” said Sarah Pattinson, associate director of development at Branches. “They come ready to serve the community and to tackle any project we present them with. They serve with joy and are always willing to go above and beyond for others.”

CSC ServiceWorks

Since 2021, Social Current has partnered with CSC ServiceWorks, the leading provider of laundry solutions and air vending services throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

CSC CommunityWorks’ Signature Services program works with community organizations to provide reliable access to clean laundry and basic supports. They believe access to clean laundry is essential to helping people be successful in school and work as well as to maintain healthy lifestyles. CSC teams support their local community-based organizations by providing washer, dryer, air, and vacuum equipment; ongoing service for these machines; and volunteer support. Through their donations of washers, dryers, and ongoing equipment maintenance, CSC helps strengthen the capacity of Social Current partners who are providing essential services.

“The equipment [provided by CSC ServiceWorks] has allowed us to keep our laundry done in a timely fashion because our machines stay in operation,” said  Danny Whitley, chief facilities officer at Thompson Child and Family Focus in Matthews, North Carolina. “We are 24/7 facility, and laundry is crucial to our care.”

Rodney Prystash, director of facilities/operations at Auberle in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, shared, “The six high-quality washer and dryer units provided by CSC ServiceWorks have really helped meet the need for families residing at our homeless family shelters, and for the young women and men at our semi-independent living programs. The donated equipment and volunteer installations have allowed us to use resources for other critical items for those that we serve.”


Social Current celebrates and thanks all of its corporate volunteers, working in partnership with our network of organizations and helping us implement equitable solutions to society’s toughest challenges. For questions about Social Current’s corporate partnerships, please contact Emily Merritt, senior manager of corporate partnerships.

Too often great ideas are kept in-house without recognizing their potential to create change beyond the communities where they are born. COA’s Innovative Practices Award (IPA) identifies, documents, and celebrates examples of successful approaches to management and service delivery practices adopted by our accredited organizations.

In 2020, a committee made up of COA volunteers and staff selected 4 finalists to move forward with a full case study. Alternative Family Services (AFS) came out the winner. Read on to find out how the AFS Enhanced Visitation Model kept families in touch during the crisis of COVID-19.

Helping families stabilize, heal, and reunify is an essential part of the work at Alternative Family Services. In-person visitation between kids in foster care and their biological family members is an integral part of the therapeutic process. The frequency of visits between parents and their kids are one of the strongest predictors of the family reuniting. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges kids and families must overcome on their journey towards reunification.

As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became more apparent, AFS staff and clients were suddenly faced with the reality that in-person visitation between kids and their family may be halted, or at the very least severely restricted. The ever-changing state and county guidelines added uncertainty and stress to the situation. Since many of our AFS staff, biological families, and foster families are considered a “higher-risk” demographic to have serious consequences from COVID-19, there was palpable fear in conducting in-person visits. AFS staff knew it was critical for families to continue to stay connected, especially during such uncertain times. So, a taskforce was formed that included representation from key AFS stakeholders. The group was asked to create a safe and equitable plan that would allow in-person visitation to resume. After much input and deliberation, the Enhanced Visitation Model was approved.

Exploring the AFS Enhanced Visitation Model

Health Risk Assessment

It was important for AFS staff to evaluate and address client’s COVID-19 concerns and mitigate the risk of individual exposure to the virus. The taskforce sought input from its constituents, researched professional resources, and ultimately developed the “Wellness Questionnaire.” Staff can rapidly administer this assessment tool to determine COVID-19 risk factors each visitor had been exposed to within the 14 days prior to an in-person visit.

Visitation Service Plan

A “Visitation Service Plan” is a simple, flexible, and predominately check-box/circle-based tool that seamlessly incorporates the risk factors identified in the “Wellness Questionnaire,” assigning families to one of three visitation service levels according to COVID risk level:

AFS staff wanted to provide therapeutic strategies in a fun, genuine, and safe environment regardless of their Visitation Service Plan. Once the assessment and planning tools were established, staff needed to create pandemic-safe stations for families to interact.

Enhanced Visitation Venues

When families have a positive, stress-free visit, they are more likely to retain and practice the therapeutic skills they learn.  So, AFS staff developed a variety of indoor and outdoor “Visitation Venues” that are fun, affordable, replicable, and portable. The visitation venues meet COVID-19 safety protocols so parents and their children can safely interact. Here are some examples of our indoor and outdoor venues:

Indoor Visitation Venues

Hugging station
The Hugging Station.
Enhanced Visitation Room
A wider shot of the Enhanced Visitation Room.

Curious to see what these options look like? Check out  this video that highlights our indoor visitation venues.

Outdoor Visitation Venues

Since research has shown COVID-19 is less likely to spread between individuals while outdoors, AFS staff has developed a variety of safe outdoor venues that can easily be setup and disinfected after each use. When visits occur in the parking lots of one of our offices, artificial turf and gymnastic mats provide ground cover for families to play outdoor games. Pop-up tents provide shade when necessary, and bikes and tricycles are provided for families to ride together (staff uses a Clorox Total 360® Disinfectant Cleaner between uses).

AFS Visitation in 2021

The AFS Enhanced Visitation Model, funded with the assistance of the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, was the winner of COA’s 2020 Innovative Practices Award. While we were humbled to be selected, we are always striving to be innovative when it comes to providing the highest level of care to our children and families. At the end of every Enhanced Visitation Session, staff collects feedback from families to see what they like and what they feel has room for improvement.

While we are thankful that the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed, AFS will continue to adhere to our Enhanced Visitation Model for the foreseeable future to ensure that staff, families and resource parents remain safe.

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Alternative Family Services

Alternative Family Services

Founded in 1978, Alternative Family Services (AFS) provides thoughtful, informed care, adoption and mental health services to foster children and youth throughout Northern California. The mission of Alternative Family Services is to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety and wellbeing in their communities.

AFS, a COA-certified foster family agency, currently serves the diverse and varied needs of 1,500 foster youth, plus their biological and foster families, in the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Sacramento Regions. Services provided by AFS include therapeutic foster care, Intensive Services Foster Care, support for foster children with developmental disabilities, therapeutic visitation, community-based mental health services, transitional housing support, independent life skills training, and much more.

A big thank you to Peer Reviewer and Executive Director of Champions for Children, Inc. Amy Haile for this guest post!

Few nonprofit organizations are prepared for the transition of executive leadership that is coming and the impact it will have on their mission. 

Every time a nonprofit has a transition at the CEO level, this shift in leadership impacts the organization’s financial stability, strategic direction, and employee engagement. But a 2017 survey found that only 27% of nonprofit organizations have a succession plan. Knowing the impact of executive transition on the ability of the organization to maintain a focus on delivering services to meet its mission, the Council on Accreditation (COA) requires a succession plan as evidence for its Governance 5.04 Standard: to ensure continuity during transitions in leadership, the organization maintains succession planning procedures and a succession plan

As an Executive Director, COA Peer Reviewer, and a doctorate student of public health, I set out on a journey to seek solutions that would help nonprofit organizations bridge the gap to create and sustain their succession planning process.  For this study I interviewed 18 community-based nonprofit organization chief executives to gather insights into the barriers and solutions to succession planning.  

CEO interview results

One of the first observations emerging from the interviews was the shared belief that a nonprofit organization’s current CEO has a responsibility of putting the greater good of the organization and its mission in front of the needs of the individual. For example, there was conversation regarding the need for a resigning CEO to provide extended notice of no less than six months, with a year preferable and two years ideal. It was opined that this length of notice was required to sufficiently prepare the organization for the transition and not believed to be burdensome in the event of a CEO’s retirement. However, many interviewed CEOs noted this type of notice would be unlikely for a CEO seeking another position.  

There was universal agreement from the interviewed CEOs that succession planning is more than planning the replacement of the CEO position. It is about other key positions and building a leadership legacy with leader development within the organization. This theme is about being intentional and the CEO creating opportunities for new leaders to emerge within the organization as well as building external relationships beyond the CEO with the community of funders, partners, donors, as well as local, state, and national organizations. Leadership development comes outside the envelope of ‘management’ and ‘supervision.’ It is about creating and encouraging employees to accept stretch assignments. Several interviewed CEOs saw these types of project-based assignments as a mechanism to create bridges for more employees to be visible within the organization as emerging leaders and an opportunity to address equity. 

A guidebook for best practices

This study culminated in the creation of a ‘Guidebook to Succession Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A quick start framework to start and sustain succession planning.’  This guidebook contains many of the suggested elements outlined in Governance 5.04, such as: 

  1. Identifying the critical positions within the organization and their key leadership and management functions. 
  2. Describing under what conditions interim authority can be delegated for those positions, including unexpected leadership disruptions and planned departures, and the limitations of that authority. 
  3. Outlining to whom various leadership and management functions will be delegated. 
  4. Delineating the governing body and staff responsibilities as they relate to transition planning. 
  5. Creating a plan for how succession planning and leadership transitions will be communicated to the governing body, staff, and other relevant stakeholders; and 
  6. Implementing mechanics that assess readiness to assume leadership positions and for providing training, mentorship, and other leadership development opportunities to support readiness. 

Reviewed by nonprofit leaders, this Guidebook describes succession planning as an iterative process and for leaders to expect the plan to mature with reflection and use. To help begin a pathway forward, the guidebook establishes a three-phase approach: start with emergency planning, adopt a framework for leader development, and establish regular conversations regarding succession planning with organization leadership- including the concept of ‘legacy planning’.

The Guidebook provides a brief background with succession planning based on a thorough literature review, guiding principles based on the themes from this research project, and strategies on how to make the plan work. Woven throughout the guidebook are links and titles of other tools, further learning opportunities, and templates to ease the journey. Finally, the guidebook concludes with a sample plan.

Through a partnership with the Nonprofit Leadership Center (, this Guidebook is included in their Resource page and is available via a PDF downloaded file here.


Boardsource. (2017). Leading with intent: 2017 national index of nonprofit board practices [PDF file]. Retrieved June 22, 2019, from   

Froelich, K., McKee, G., & Rathge, R. (2011). Succession planning in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 22(1), 3–20.’ 

Giambatista, R. C., Rowe, W. G., & Riaz, S. (2005). Nothing succeeds like succession: A critical review of leader succession literature since 1994. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(6), 963–991. 

Schepker, D. J., Kim, Y., Patel, P. C., Thatcher, S. M. B., & Campion, M. C. (2017). CEO succession, strategic change, and post-succession performance: A meta-analysis. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(6), 701–720. 

Amy Haile

Amy Haile is the Executive Director of Champions for Children, Inc., the Tampa Bay region’s leading agency focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect, which is accomplished through evidence-based family education programs that promote positive parenting and child development. Amy blends 30 years of private and public service experience and is completing a Doctor of Public Health degree from the University of South Florida, where she has focused her research on succession planning in nonprofit organizations. Her role as a Peer Reviewer allows her to witness how other family-serving organizations are innovating and implementing best practices across the country.

As we head into winter with the pandemic still raging, we wish our entire COA community health and safety. We know that many of our organizations provide essential services and have quickly implemented practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19. On behalf of the staff and board of COA, thank you for your continued service to your communities. We are inspired by your dedication and flexibility in this extremely difficult and ever-changing environment.

As organizations shift into and out of in-person work, the decision to move one way or the other is made even more challenging by conflicting guidance, mandates that vary across communities, and the unique challenges posed by virtual service delivery.  Our hope is that this roundup of guidance from the field will help you make better informed decisions about how or if to return to conducting in-person work. We also hope that you’ll add your feedback and tips in the comments section to share your experiences and help our readers continue to adapt to this challenging time.

US Government Resources

Website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA)

From overview information to daily tips and updates, OHSA has an enormous amount of information about in-person work in the time of COVID-19. Find the latest guidance on hazard recognition, COVID-19 standards, medical information, and tips on control and prevention, as well as a number of other resources. Some materials are available in Spanish as well as English.

Visit the site here.

Website of OHSA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

This is the place to go to report unsafe working conditions, including unsafe conditions as they relate to COVID-19. You can also find information on the applicable law, COVID-19, how to create an anti-retaliation environment at your organization, and what to expect during a whistleblower investigation.

Visit the site here.

US Department of Labor COVID-19 Webpage

This site hosts a number of practical, nuts-and-bolts resources around workplace safety; wages, hours, and leave; unemployment insurance; and more, all as they relate to COVID-19. You will also find guidance on preventing the coronavirus at work, how to return to work during the pandemic, and how to keep the workplace safe until we can get a vaccine.

Workplace safety information is available in a number of languages, including Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Burmese, Chin, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Croatian, French, French Creole, Hmong, Korean, Kunama, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Visit the site here.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Website

This site is especially useful as a resource for everything PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment. They have general tips on keeping staff safe, as well as information on the status of PPE supplies, what respirators are testing best, and crisis strategies on what to do if PPE runs low–a situation we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. There is also specific advice and strategies around navigating COVID-19 in schools, as well as how to reduce the risk of violence when having to confront clients who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing.

Visit the site here.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus Website

Of course, no government resource list would be complete without including all of the information available from the CDC. Here you will find helpful tips about wearing masks and which kinds of masks are most useful; the latest on COVID-19 symptoms and testing; the latest data and trends on cases; guidelines around quarantining and travel; and business-specific guidance and communication resources. Assistance in multiple languages is here as well.

Visit the site here.

Other resources

Returning to a Pre-Pandemic Workplace Resource Roundup from the Council on Nonprofits

The Council on Nonprofits walks through the factors an organization must weigh before returning to in-person work, and then provides their own list of resources for helping you with that decision. Some of our favorites include:

Find their full list of resources here.

Reopening our Workspaces: A Playbook from Leading Edge

This playbook from the Leading Edge Alliance for Excellence in Jewish Leadership also takes on the considerations around returning to in-person work (or not) from a philosophical point of view. It walks through the many things an organization must weigh, including what impact their decisions will have on diversity, equity, and inclusion; team culture; organization values; and the opportunity that COVID-19 provides us all to “re-dream” what we could be doing.

The playbook contains decision trees to help leadership teams make careful, informed decisions about next steps in the face of the pandemic, as well as a wealth of practical tips and considerations on transitioning back to in-person work. The back half includes day-by-day checklists to help ease that transition.

Find the PDF of the playbook here.

HR Forms and Blog Posts from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

SHRM tackles the thorny HR issues that COVID-19 can surface and that staff may experience as they come into and out of the workplace. Their Coronavirus Resource page hosts back-to-work checklists, screening and notice forms, FAQs, COVID-19 culture quizzes, and more. Their blog posts offer troubleshooting advice on an array of issues such as social distancing, contact-tracing, and payroll. They also have articles that will help keep you up-to-date on what other companies’ HR departments are doing, providing inspiration and insight that might help your own organization.

Visit their Resource Page here. For more from SHRM, check out their helpful list of other reliable resources for workplace issues related to the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Return to Work Playbook from Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente’s all-in-one, clickable playbook offers tips on everything from the details of modifying workplace safety plans and COVID-19 screening to big-picture concerns such as the impact of the virus on the social drivers of health and emotional well-being. It even includes a section on specific guidelines for those who work in public services, which will be of special interest to the COA community.

Visit the playbook here.

What other resources have you seen or used that have been helpful? What re-opening tips and experiences would be helpful to other organizations like yours? Please share them in the comments below! Remember that you can always keep up-to-date on COA’s operational status during the pandemic on our COVID-19 Resources Page here

Welcome to the Council on Accreditation (COA) blog post series Profiles in Accreditation

The organizations that COA accredits are diverse in both the communities they serve and their reasons for seeking accreditation (or reaccreditation).  Profiles in Accreditation will explore the accreditation experience through the perspective of these organizations. Through them, we can discover the value of accreditation, best practices, lessons learned, and recommendations.

Organization profile

Name:  Presbyterian Home for Children (PHFC)

Location: Talladega, Alabama; Hoover, Alabama

First accredited: July 2020

Snapshot: The Presbyterian Home for Children is a 152-year-old ministry of the Presbyterian Churches of Alabama which provides a faith-based safe haven for children, adolescents, young adults, and families through programs which nurture, educate, and equip individuals to become the fully functioning persons God created them to be.

Interview with Presbyterian Home for Children

For this Profiles in Accreditation post, we asked Doug Marshall, President and CEO of the Presbyterian Home for Children, to share his experience at an organization undergoing the COA accreditation process for the first time. Doug shared how he and his team navigated the workload in spite of a sudden upending of staff, and highlighted how accreditation has been a great source of validation for his agency. 

COA: Why was seeking accreditation important for your organization?

DM: The Presbyterian Home for Children is a ministry to children, youth, adolescents, young adults, and families. Our faith-based non-profit is in its 152nd year of service. We have longed to obtain accreditation recognized at the national level that comprehensively represented the programs and services offered by our agency.  We chose the Council on Accreditation (COA) because COA is one of the most highly respected national accrediting bodies.

In addition, COA is an approved accreditor for Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP), relative to the Family First Prevention Services Act. As a faith-based agency with multiple service programs, we have an expressed need in our Moderate Residential Care Treatment Program to be a QRTP.

COA: What about COA made you decide to partner with us?

DM: As a long-standing member of the Alabama Association of Child Care Agencies (AACCA), our membership is filled with agencies who have obtained various accreditations. COA was specifically identified as the best national accrediting body for our agency’s needs. COA was the best fit for us due to our holistic programmatic structure and service type.

COA: What was your biggest worry coming into the accreditation process? How did that worry bear out?

"Time management and team effort were the keys to success."

DM: We had been advised that accreditation by COA was extremely challenging and a tremendous amount of work. The greatest concern was balancing the workload of COA with the daily workload of program operations.

At times, the workload was arduous. It was quickly learned that one had to be disciplined and organized in order to meet proposed deadlines. Hence, time management and team effort were the key to success.

COA: What did your workplan and timeline for the Self Study and PQI process look like? How did it work out on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?

DM: We had a hiccup at the start. In the first quarter of our work with COA, our Director of Resource Development and two additional members of our Leadership Team–one in Finance and one in HR/ Accreditation–made career changes and left their positions at PHFC.  As a result, we requested and received an extension from COA.  Thus although we started in October 2018 upon acceptance of our application, our Self-Study was delayed. Matters were further complicated by the fact that those positions had to be filled while all program management duties and the process to document achievement of work plan goals had to be maintained. 

"Workloads had to be managed, tasks had to be assigned to those directly responsible for them, and allocation of assignments had to be timely and not overwhelming."

We established a PQI Committee that consisted of our Leadership Team. Throughout the process, the PQI Committee met on a bi-weekly basis to discuss assignments, progress, and concerns.  As a result of the PQI Committee’s work, we were able to submit our Self-Study on July 31, 2020. The COA Lead and the Manager of Accreditation communicated frequently, and they diligently worked together to ensure that work assignments were completed in a timely manner to maintain motivation of the team members.   It became apparent that some departments excelled in productivity, while others required more support from the COA Lead and the Manager of Accreditation.  Workloads had to be managed, tasks had to be assigned to those directly responsible for them, and allocation of assignments had to be timely and not overwhelming.  

COA: How did you engage and communicate with entire organization during the accreditation process?

DM: We managed engagement and communication through staff meetings, Leadership Team meetings, and PQI Committee meetings, as well as through email. That way, our team had important information in multiple formats.

COA: What did you like most about the process? What did you find to be most helpful/beneficial to your organization?

DM: The end results! The most helpful benefits were:

COA: What was the biggest challenge?

DM: The biggest challenge was the unknown. This was a process that we desired but were fearful of at the same time, because we did not want to fail. Both our financial resources and our reputation was on the line, and we wanted to be good stewards of both.

COA: Were there any unexpected results after completing the Self-Study?

DM: There were not any unexpected results. We had strong processes in place–we just needed to document and demonstrate implementation of those processes, which took additional time.

COA: What do you see as the main benefit of COA accreditation?

DM: The main benefit is that COA validates our agency as a high-quality, non-profit faith-based organization at the national level.

"COA validates our agency as a high-quality, non-profit faith-based organization at the national level."

COA: How has COA (re)accreditation impacted operational success?

DM: Through our COA accreditation, we have a set of organized, cohesive standards for our faith-based non-profit ministry, which will guide our daily operations.

COA: What are the top three pieces of advice or tips that you would give to an organization considering or currently undertaking the accreditation process for the first time?


COA: Are there any other learnings or insights that you’d like to share?

DM: Talk to your peer organizations who have completed the process. They have valuable wisdom and knowledge to help you along the way.

Thank you, Presbyterian Home for Children!

We would like to thank Doug for his illumination of the accreditation process through an organization impacted by the Family First Prevention Services Act, and acknowledge the entire Presbyterian Home for Children board and team for embracing accreditation and collectively contributing to the promotion of best practices. Thank you, all!

Do you have an accreditation story to tell? Click here to share it. You could be the next organization we feature!

2020 has been a year of unexpected challenges for many organizations, communities, and individuals.  One segment of the population that has been highly impacted by the challenges of the current pandemic is the older generation in the US.  We know this pandemic has impacted this group because not only are they at “high-risk” for more severe medical outcomes if they become ill, but also older adults, specifically discussed here grandparents in caregiving roles and their multi-generational families, have been impacted by the economic and social challenges we are facing in unique ways.  In addition to the generational complexities, we know the wide disparities in health outcomes associated with race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic factors intersect with age to create a higher risk for some individuals and families than others.  In light of Healthy Aging Month in September, we highlight ways in which many individuals in this demographic who often function as formal or informal caregivers have been challenged this year and ways in which we can hope to provide support.

Situational snapshot

We know that the pandemic has had a significant impact on families and specifically multi-generational relationships and households. These households often have members that are considered high-risk, including older individuals.  In cases where grandparents had been formally or informally providing critical support to their children and grandchildren, these months have brought unique challenges and difficult choices.

To get a sense of the scope, over seven million children in the United States live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. Before the pandemic, over 2.5 million grandparents reported that they were responsible for their grandchildren’s needs. In addition, one out of four children under 5 years old are looked after by grandparents while parents attend work or school.  Out of these grandparent caregivers, one-fifth (21%) live at or below the poverty level. We’ve written about the relationship between the child welfare system and the opioid epidemic in the past, and the strain this has put on the already taxed system as well as individual caregivers.  As might be expected, research from the Census Bureau has also found a correlation between the rise in the opioid crisis and the number of grandparents raising grandchildren.

In recent months, many of these grandparent caregiving roles have shifted significantly. Some families have had to rely on extended family networks, often including grandparents, for caregiving, with school and childcare settings closed for months.  Those that were already providing care have often taken on more challenging roles as the caregiving hours expand from after-school and homework help to full-day caregiving responsibilities, with duties of not only supervision but also homeschooling. Other families have not been able to rely on those supports they counted on previously, out of caution or concern about exposure for those individuals categorized as high-risk.   With that, some grandparents have been isolated from family members, sometimes for months at a time.  The balance of months of trying to achieve social distancing, or at least physical distancing, while being mindful of the significant impact of isolation on mental health has been something that each family has had to navigate as well.  And with back-to-school season upon us, families face the uncertainties of a new school year ahead, trying to balance the challenges and competing needs of the well-being of all family members, with no easy answers. 

It’s critical to note also that this crisis has not impacted all older adults in the same way, but has exacerbated many existing systems of inequality in our society along the lines of age, race, and socioeconomic status.  Not everyone is at equal risk.  The strain that this pandemic has put on older adults and families already struggling with poverty, access to resources, childcare, and opportunity has been exacerbated this year as well.  

What we can do

We know that the challenges are great and, in many ways, unprecedented. Many individuals and organizations have sprung into action, and many may still be asking what they can do.  At an individual level, Generations United has developed a comprehensive COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families that contains relevant resources for grandparents and children, including crisis hotlines, COVID-19 information, and assistance program information.

In response to this crisis, many social service organizations have drastically and rapidly shifted their service delivery in many ways that may have previously been unimaginable. While the social service sector is already taxed in so many ways, organizations have been assisting by repositioning themselves and adapting their service models to support caregivers and families in new ways, including supply assistance, as in the case described here.  Organizations have also in many cases quickly adjusted their service delivery models to provide a higher level of virtual support for caregivers through the use of technology (friendly reminder, COA has standards for that!).

At a macro level, The Center for the Study of Social Policy has published this informative brief that discusses challenges faced by a range of kinship caregivers who may need supports during the pandemic. It offers recommendations for steps we can take to address these challenges at a policy level. 

We know there are many others providing support and resources to those in need.  How has your organization or community responded?  What other resources have you found helpful or are you seeking as an individual or provider to support the well-being of this population? For Healthy Aging Month and Back-to-School season, please share in the comments below as we continue to seek ways to partner with the human and social service community to address these challenging circumstances.

A big thank you to Ruben Mina, LMSW for this guest post!

Can you tell me the history of your community?

Can you tell me some histories of your community?

Yes, histories.

Do you ever ask these questions of adolescents with whom you work? There is a distinction between the two questions. The first question focuses on one story: the prevailing story of how a community came to be what it is. It feels like asking adolescents to pull something in from the past, make sense of it and connect to it.

The second question asks adolescents to tell histories of their community. It invites them to share the who, what, how, and why about the people, institutions, political forces, cultures, and much more that make their community dynamic. Like adults, adolescents have a range of experiences in the communities to which they belong that are rooted in traditions they observe, inequities or injustices they endure or witness, and forms of oppression about which they are aware. They deserve the space to tell their stories. Each individual experiences and interprets life in their community in ways that cannot, and should not, be captured by a single history. By creating space for adolescents to share their varied perspectives and experiences, we are supporting their social and emotional development.

This is not about adolescents being unable to make sense of standard accounts of history. Nor is it about making up stories. It is about engaging adolescents in critical thinking and critical dialogue so that the histories they see, feel, and live each day are amplified. This deepens their connectedness to their respective communities, cultivates empathy, and provides a foundation for them to work collectively to transform their communities.

Mapping histories

While both questions at the beginning of this blog post could create opportunities for shared learning, focusing on multiple histories of a community does more. It invites adolescents to further develop self-efficacy by telling and showing one another the ways they view the world around them. Youth-serving programs want to build adolescents’ sense of self-efficacy, while letting them know that their voices matter. We let them know their voices matter when the learning that happens in human service organizations honors their perspectives.

Earlier in my career, I developed a group activity called “Community Stories” as a way to center adolescents’ experiences, while facilitating their exploration of ways they could transform their communities. This activity has helped adolescents in the Bronx in grade levels ranging from upper elementary school to high school identify and raise awareness about issues such as domestic violence and a lack of neighborhood parks that were impacting their daily lives.

Community Stories take the form of maps that reflect adolescents’ insights about experiences they have in a community to which they belong. It integrates numerous concepts and approaches, including: popular education concepts (participatory, group-oriented), photovoice, and community asset mapping, as well as literacy-building activities. The maps require basic art supplies and no art skills; they are animated by the dialogue adolescents engage in about the ways a group 1) experiences a shared community and 2) envisions its transformation. 

This activity allows adolescents to explore a community they identify with in creative, empowering ways, and is intended to engage them in a communal exercise. Constructing maps to tell community stories allows adolescents to reimagine their communities and envision their transformation. By trusting and engaging the expert wisdom of adolescents’ lived experiences, you are letting them know that you value their agency.

Before creating maps, the group must identify a community to which they feel connected and would like to represent on a map. Since communities are not strictly defined by physical borders, it is vital to encourage consideration of non-geographic communities (i.e. community of teen activists). This is crucial for two reasons. First, adolescents are in the developmental stage of exploring membership in groups based on interest, values, and identity, not solely geography. Secondly, this allows for greater inclusivity, particularly for adolescents who experience oppression or marginalization as a result of others’ targeting them based on identity or perceived identity.

These maps are populated by what I have termed “characters” (feel free to use different terminology). “Characters” are representations of those elements that impact adolescents the most (i.e. institutions, places, events, policies). As a facilitator, I have found it helpful at this stage to engage adolescents in naming the dynamic relationships between people and other elements of a community and the meanings of such relationships.

Below is a description of the activity, with facilitator instructions.

Creating the maps

Benefits of the activity:

Framing questions to ask at the beginning, and revisit throughout to encourage dialogue:

Step #1 – Map design

Ask participants to name a community they belong to and want to transform and/or take action in response to an inequity and/or oppression that has been individually or collectively experienced. Instruct the group to create a map that features “characters” (i.e. places, buildings, institutions, policies, rules) that comprise their community (geographical or non-geographical). Pay attention to group dynamics to ensure an equity of voices in the decisions of what gets placed on the map. For non-geographical communities, participants could use systems, policies, and/or institutions as “characters” that impact the community. Relationships and power dynamics can be shown by giving “characters” different sizes (i.e. the bank is the biggest thing on the map because of its impact on the community’s economic state).

Step #2 – Mapping the story

Introduce the word balloon for dialogue between “characters” on the map and thought bubble to see the inner thoughts of a given “character”, and explain their purposes.  

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Present the reflection questions below and instruct participants to use word balloons and thought bubbles to represent dialogue between the “characters” about the transformation or oppression that was identified in step #1. Reflective questions may include:

Participants should then discuss the questions or other questions that may resonate with the group and write responses on the word balloons and thought bubbles. Participants can then place the shapes on the corresponding “characters” on the map.

Step #3 – Expanding the story

Introduce two tools (adapted versions of “flashbackflash-forward” and “hot-seat the character”) that the group will use to engage in critical dialogue. Prompt the group to think about what the “characters” would say if they could flashback or flash-forward in time. For example, if a park is represented on the map, a flashback question could be: what would this park have said was its experience with gentrification 10 years ago?  

Next, invite a group member to “hot-seat” another “character”. Group members then get to pose questions to the “character” that are discussed as a group. The focus can be on expanding upon what was written in the word balloons/thoughts bubbles, or what was shared in the flashback and flash forward discussions. For example, a group member might “hot-seat” a group mate’s school “character” and ask: why do you want school administrators to do more to make families feel welcome in the school? Such a question, and others, could engage the group in deeper discussions about school-community relationships.

Step #4 – Processing, closing, action steps

This final step provides a way for the group to reflect on their experiences going through the activity. The group may also draw connections to potential future actions they could take related to the issues represented on their maps. I have found sitting or standing in a circle with the map inside of the circle as the most engaging way to facilitate this step.

The questions below are recommended, but are not the only ones that you could ask.

These steps are about adolescents’ ability to make meaning of their community, and treats them as the subjects of their own learning. My experiences facilitating Community Stories have shown me that adolescents grow more comfortable discussing issues that resonate with their individual and collective identities when given the space to do so. While that can take various forms, hopefully, Community Stories will serve as another approach that you can use with adolescents who are looking to change their communities.

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Ruben Mina, LMSW

Ruben Mina, LMSW, is a social work community practitioner with close to 15 years of experience in youth development and education. He currently works for the New York City Department of Education alongside an amazing group of folks who are dedicated to achieving equity for students in all schools and districts throughout New York City. His work involves leading workshops for educators on topics like implicit bias awareness, racial equity, and anti-oppression. He also works with educators at the school- and district-levels on creating equitable policies and practices. He serves on the Masters Exam Committee for the Association of Social Work Boards. As a born and bred Brooklyn native, he loves music from any and everywhere, and classic Twilight Zone episodes. He is excited to begin pursuing a doctoral degree this fall.

A big thank you to Shondelle Wills-Bryce, MSW of Sisters Keeping InTouch, inspires, LLC for this guest post!

The peace and serenity of a spring morning is undeniable. Take a moment wherever you are and observe the synergy of nature surrounding you. During my moment, I heard birds chirping, I felt the cool breeze on my arms, and I saw greenery all around. I smiled in amazement, thinking about how nature seemingly effortlessly comes together to bring us beautiful days. I then found myself perplexed about how we as people and we as professionals make “coming together” –aka partnership–so complicated.  

Whether you choose to use science, religious beliefs, observation, or a combination of all three, you cannot deny that Mother Nature is the queen of partnership. According to the Oxford dictionary, nature is “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations” (emphasis mine). Each part of nature’s collective does its job without hesitation, and as a result, the system operates successfully.

The system of nature is so effective that even when humans disrupt its natural order, the system automatically adjusts. You may call one such adjustment global warming. However, if Mother Nature could say anything about her adjustment, she might simply say, “I am getting back on track because I am clear about my job and purpose for life on earth.” 

In my opinion, the words of Henry Ford describe partnership best:

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." -Henry Ford

So, I challenge you to ask yourself, am I clear about my job and my purpose in my partnerships?

Successful partnerships at work

In my various personal and professional roles, I have witnessed the transformational power of partnerships. Some successful partnerships are used for positive impact; others, not so much. Let’s agree to spend our time focusing on the impact and qualities of successful partnerships in order to improve our own. 

The annual journal Partnership Matters examines the current thinking and practice in cross-sector partnerships. This journal was developed as a result of the growing recognition that partnerships between business, government, and civic organizations can effectively tackle the social, economic, and environmental challenges of the world. However, based on my experience “aging out” of NYC’s child welfare system, working for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, and coaching millennial women, I would challenge the journal to include individuals, families, and communities in its examination.

NYC’s Child Welfare System

I was a timid and terrified 15-year-old when the Bureau of Child Welfare (BCW) (today known as New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS)) placed me in a Bronx group home with 21 other girls. The back story of how and why I was placed in the care of the state isn’t relevant at this time. What is relevant is how the partnerships within the child welfare system helped me become a valuable addition to society.

 To wit: The hospital that admitted me did not solely care for my fractured arm.  

  1. The hospital used a collaborative tool to ask me questions about my injury.
  2. The collaborative tool then triggered the hospital’s need to contact BCW for a closer look at my situation.
  3. BCW did not solely decide to remove me from the care of my family. BCW spoke to countless community partners (hospital, my school, my family, my neighbors, and me) to make that decision. 

The evidence of this successful partnership—and all the communication that it took — was me. Although I was a terrified 15-year-old with limited exposure to the realities of the world, I did not feel lost, and I did not feel alone. After spending six years in the care of BCW, I emerged an educated, responsible, and psychologically sound member of society. That was in large part thanks to this teamwork.

NJ Department of Children and Families (DCF)

15 years after leaving the care of New York City, I began working for New Jersey’s child welfare system (the Department of Children and Families, or DCF) as its Assistant Director of School Linked Services.  During my nine years with DCF, my office monitored the distribution and service delivery of $38M in state and federal funds to support school-based prevention and intervention programming. Partnership was key to DCF’s ability to serve children and families effectively, and critical to that was DCF’s strong partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF).  

During my last five years with DCF, my office was awarded an additional $6.5M in competitive federal funding.  In addition to putting forth and strong comprehensive grant application, I am confident the historical strength and integrity of DCF’s partnership with ACF played a role in the award decision. As a result, the funds expanded services to support NJ’s expectant and parenting youth (including young fathers) with evidence based services. My office had to partner within the department, across state departments, and with the local communities throughout New Jersey:

I will be honest: The time to coordinate, the patience to listen, and the willingness to compromise with these partners was not always easy. However, what made it a little easier was agreed upon goals, clearly documented working agreements (MOUs/contracts), and some good old fashioned open and honest dialog.

As a result of our collaboration, DCF more than doubled its support of expectant and parenting teens from 208 (female students) to 500+ (male and female students). One of the program goals was to prevent subsequent pregnancies while students were in school. I am proud to say that the outcome data reported less than 1% subsequent in-school pregnancies.

Coaching millennial women

At the age of 21, I was no longer allowed to be dependent on NYC’s child welfare system. The system prepared me to be on my own to the best of its ability; however, there was so much I had to learn on my own. I knew if I stayed focused and made all the “right” decisions, I could make it on my own. It worked. I did it–I learned how to survive by getting my college degree and a job to pay for my basic living expenses.

I may have been 28 years old when I felt like I could pause and take a breath. The breath allowed me to no longer worry about failing and worry about what “people” would say. That breath allowed me to truly look at life for its beauty and possibilities. That breath allowed me the luxury of connecting with myself to understand my goals and purpose to thrive in life.

It was about that age that I felt that maybe, just maybe, I was thriving in life. At the same time, I knew then and I know now that there is still so much thriving for me to do. At that age, I didn’t know who in my “real” life to ask for guidance. I’m not sure I even knew to ask. I wonder if my school or the system partnered with me more, I would have known how to really thrive.

What worked for me was finding incredible virtual mentors like Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Iyanla Vanzant and Suze Orman. The character of each of these women were attractive to me because they were authentic and partnered with the world to make it a better place. Today, I look around and see my former self in young women who have amazing potential but are struggling and doubting themselves.

According Pew Research Center, millennial women (women born between 1981-1996) are better educated and hold a bachelor’s degree at a higher rate their male counterparts. I strongly believe that when the millennial woman takes leadership in her life, she will positively impact her partner, family, and community.

Therefore, approximately two years before I left DCF, I began my own personal development firm, Sisters Keeping In Touch, Inspires (SKIT). In this work, I am committed to partnering with millennial women and those who want to help them not just survive but thrive. This purpose-driven work is accomplished in partnership with millennial women through public speaking, blogging, and facilitated experiences.

In these partnership with millennial women, we work to uplift and strengthen them, so that each can build the personal and professional life of her dreams.  When a woman does her building, she will avoid and/or minimize unhealthy relationships with her partner(s), children, finances, friends, and career.  We work through an ART process, where she is the artist in her life:

Awaken the millennial woman's awareness of her conscious and subconscious thought and its influence on her life.

Reveal to the millennial woman how to identify and lead her support team who will celebrate and hold her accountable to her dreams.

Transform the millennial woman's thinking and behavior to confidently build the personal and professional life of her dreams.

In my work with millennial women, they have felt heard, encouraged, and connected with people and resources needed to thrive. Visit our site to see some stories of success

These are just three examples from my world of successful partnerships. I am quite sure you have examples of successful partnerships surrounding you as well. 

Closing thoughts: Recipes for success

There is an abundance of articles, journals, and opinions about what ingredients go into a successful partnership. My personal favorite is the guidance provided in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements:

1. Be impeccable with your word by speaking with integrity and carefully choosing your words before saying them aloud. 2. Don't take anything personally by having a strong sense of who you are and understanding that we each person have unique experiences that shape our thoughts. Therefore, another person's behavior truly has nothing to do with us. 3. Don't make assumptions by asking questions to make sure the communication is clear between you and everyone involved. 4. Always do you best by not judging yourself and doing your best at all times to avoid regret.

These four agreements have served me well as a recipe for my success in cultivating and managing partnerships. I challenge you incorporate these agreements in your partnership relationships and experience the transformation. When you do, you may be able to replicate the clear and effective partnership synergy mother nature has shown us in all her splendor.

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Shondelle C. Wills-Bryce, MSW

Shondelle C. Wills-Bryce, a master’s level administrative social worker, public speaker and conversation facilitator founded Sisters Keeping ITouch, inspires to help millennial women thrive and not just survive. Shondelle has developed personal resilience having lost her mother to Breast Cancer at 18 months and aging out of New York’s foster care system.  Shondelle is the mother of two amazing young women and she is married to her husband and best friend who motivate her each day.

Podcasts are a great way to learn and celebrate the work of our colleagues in the nonprofit and child welfare world. The list below includes some of our favorites for insightful and inspiring dialogue.

We hope you enjoy them as much as we have. Happy listening!

(in alphabetical order)

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Annie E. Casey Foundation’s President and CEO Lisa Hamilton brings in experts to discuss how the social sector is working to improve the lives of children, youth, and families.

Frequency: 1 episode a month

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: Georgia Lawmaker Stacey Abrams Tells How State Policymaking Can Help Families and Kids Succeed

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More Than Healthcare

Presented by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Ascentria Care Alliance, and Beech Acres Parenting Center, this podcast uncovers keys to collaboration and holistic health in pursuit of improved health outcomes and lower costs for all.

Frequency: 2-3 episodes a month

Length: 25 minutes

Recommended episode: Podcast Episode 27: When COVID-19 Came and the Child Abuse Hotline Stopped Ringing

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NASW Social Work Talks

The National Association of Social Workers accesses its incredible breadth of expertise within its network to share content that will inform, educate, and inspire.

Frequency: Weekly

Length: 20 minutes

Recommended episode: EP 26 Increasing Social Work Salaries in New York City

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Nonprofit Everything

Sponsored by the Alliance for Nevada Nonprofits, Andy Schuricht and Stacey Wedding moderate this Q&A-style podcast that answers questions that are common to nonprofits – succession planning, burnout, performance evaluations, and more.

Frequency: 1-2 episodes per month

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: More Nonprofit Myths

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Nonprofit Lowdown

Rhea Wong, nonprofit consultant and speaker, shares insights from her 10+ years of experience working in nonprofits and accesses a variety of subject matter experts to share their knowledge on helping nonprofits tackle shared issues.

Frequency: Weekly

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: #74 Unlocking Your Board’s Potential with Cindi Phallen

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Nonprofits are Messy

Joan Garry, Nonprofit Leader and former Executive Director of GLAAD, has thoughtful conversations about tough subjects and interviews leaders in the nonprofit world.

Frequency: 1-2 episodes per month

Length: 45 minutes

Recommended episode: Ep 109: How to Have a Difficult Conversation (in two parts)

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Our American States

Produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Our American States offers compelling conversations that tell the story of America’s state legislatures, the people in them, the politics that compel them, and the important work of democracy.

Frequency: 3 episodes a month

Length: 25 minutes

Recommended episode: Episode 80: Teens in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

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Social Work Conversations

From the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, this podcast showcases talented professionals and gives listeners practical tools they can use to change the world.

Frequency: 1-2 episodes per quarter

Length: 30 minutes

Recommended episode: Episode 31 – Dr. Jones talks with Police Chief, Mike Ward, and the agency’s social worker, Kelly Pomilio about the need for integrating social workers alongside our officers

Did we miss one of your favorites? Please add it in the comments!

A big thank you to Catholic Charities of Buffalo, New York for this guest post!

"When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems." --Stephen Covey

We at Catholic Charities Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program believe that empathy can create positive change, giving WIC participants the most resources and best experiences possible to live healthier lifestyles with their families and community. Our term for this is called “Participant-Centered Nutrition Services.” With the family and their needs at the center of each interaction at WIC, we can better focus on the nutrition education and resources appropriate to suit them. With this in mind, we created the Shopping Experience Simulation.

The goals of the Shopping Experience Simulation initiative were to:

The Shopping Experience Simulation (the Simulation) included three steps: planning, simulation, and debriefing. A team of three staff planned and coordinated all activities in the Simulation. This team met with grocery store management to plan the Simulation, created simulated WIC checks to represent all different kinds of WIC participants, and coordinated which staff would work together. In the Simulation, all WIC participant types were represented: pregnant women, breastfeeding postpartum women with infant, postpartum women formula feeding her infant, and families with toddlers and preschoolers. In the Simulation, staff in teams of two were assigned a WIC participant role, and had 30 minutes to shop with the simulated WIC checks. Immediately after the shopping experience WIC staff attended a debriefing session that included a survey, a group discussion, and a brainstorming session for takeaways.


In the planning phase, we contacted TOPS Supermarkets  as the vendor partner for the Simulation. After phone conversations, we selected the local store  and held a meeting  with the company executive, store manager, and store management team to review the  Simulation plan and establish expectations for all parties. TOPS Supermarket would supply two training checkouts and cashiers to simulate real physical check out of food items, enforcing all WIC policies concerning separating food items, signing and dating checks, and purchasing of approved items. Afterwards, store personnel would replace all simulation food items to proper place in store.

The Simulation was piloted by 13 staff from the Kenmore and North Buffalo WIC locations. Staff would be provided one month of WIC checks. Checks would represent a variety of WIC food packages, including breast feeding mother and baby, infant on specialized formula, participant-requested soy products, and a standard package for child and pregnant woman. Participating staff would have 30 minutes to purchase WIC approved foods as listed on checks, following WIC policies. Staff members were given WIC check folders and food sheets to follow and guide the experience. The staff members were not given the WIC pictorial food guide as an aid. The Store Manager was available for any questions or assistance.


Even with all of this structure in place, reality set in. Shelves were bare where baby food should be. Aisles were crowded, and labels were difficult to find to make sure the item was correct. It took over 18 minutes for the pharmacist to unlock the baby formula case. The wait in the cashier’s line was embarrassingly long, as each item had to be checked to make sure it was as written on the check. Staff became frustrated, losing their checks in abandoned shopping carts. If children would have been added to the mix, as they are in reality, it would have been a truer simulation, and almost certainly more frustrating. To ensure an accurate reflection of the shopping experience, the WIC staff immediately completed a written debriefing questionnaire on feelings and experiences associated with the Simulation. Staff then had an opportunity to verbally share experiences and brainstorm ideas for making the shopping experience better, including how to counsel WIC participants to better prepare them for shopping and using WIC benefits.


The debriefing  results were tallied and shared with the entire WIC Leadership Team, WIC staff, and the New York State WIC Learning Community. As a result of the Shopping Experience Simulation results, educational action steps were designed to administer this Simulation training to all 107 employees at all 21 sites across the 3 counties that we serve (the Erie, Niagara, and Chautauqua Counties in Western New York). A report with the debriefing data was then e-mailed to executives at TOPS Supermarket to share the impact the Shopping Experience Simulation would have on WIC activities. This partnership and feedback with TOPS Supermarket also generated ideas on how to make the general shopping experience better.

We took challenges in stride, and made adjustments for future Simulations.  We noted that too many WIC staff participated at one time, which overwhelmed the small store and training cashiers. To lessen the impact on the store, fewer staff will be trained at one time in the future. Too many checks were given out , and it became too much to handle. In the future, one week of WIC checks will be given to each staff member.  

What was learned was more valuable than the resources that went into the execution of the Simulation. This Simulation effectively used resources, as it cost virtually nothing to train the staff. The only cost associated with the Simulation was staff time. Feeling overwhelmed themselves allowed WIC staff to connect with WIC participants. Staff learned to be less judgmental, more supportive, and more open to the needs of WIC families. The WIC Shopping Experience Simulation illustrated  how small but effective educational changes can provide better participant-centered nutrition services and make the work of WIC participants, WIC staff, and vendors  easier through a more successful shopping experience. Empathy resulting from the experience will give WIC staff an increased capacity to respond to concerns of WIC participants and validate WIC participants’ experience and feelings while shopping with WIC checks.

Embedding lessons learned 

As a result of the simulation, several changes have been made to all Catholic Charities WIC office procedures:

The Shopping Experience Simulation accomplishes much with little investment. Catholic Charities WIC Program has shared the Shopping Experience Simulation with all other WIC Programs in New York State as an innovative practice. The original team that developed the Shopping Experience Simulation has presented the project on the state level in the WIC Learning Community and for a WIC Conference in Albany, New York. The Shopping Experience Simulation demonstrates a new way of thinking about WIC participants. Walking in their shoes through their experience creates empathy and enriched practices. This has been warmly received in the New York State WIC community. I encourage readers to ask yourself what experiences you can provide your staff to augment their understanding of your clients. Concentrate on your services. Simulating customer service experiences while following our steps of planning, simulation, and debriefing will help your staff gain client perspective. Gathering data from simulation experience will help frame action steps to make your business and services more client-friendly.

"Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place." --Daniel H. Pink

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Grace McKenzie

Grace McKenzie holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Buffalo State College. For the past fifteen years, she has worked in Community Relations and Outreach for various nonprofit organizations. Currently, she works at Catholic Charities of Buffalo as the Outreach Supervisor for WIC. As a mom, she enjoys family time with her two girls, including exploring nature, tending the garden, visiting museums and family time at home.