Dear Fellow Staff—

The tumultuous year 2020 is now in our rear view mirror and the vaccine for the deadly COVID-19 virus is being distributed to those most vulnerable. It is hoped that it will be available to all of us by mid-year.

We at NCIA begin 2021 with an increased sense of optimism. As I look back, I am both proud and humbled by our reactions and experiences to dealing with this pandemic, from an organizational as well as personal level. We didn’t panic, close our programs and bury our heads in the sand. Rather, we stepped up, kept our doors open and adapted on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. On a personal level, the vast majority of our staff and individuals remained virus-free, and those who did contact it took responsibility to isolate themselves and not infect others. Our challenges are not over, but if we maintain the same habits, the future is bright and sometime this year we will be able to return to “normal”–whatever that will mean!

I would like to spend this update highlighting our accomplishments during the past year, and thanking all NCIA team members for their contributions. As you will see, we not only survived COVID-19 but also actually grew during this past year!

One of the keys to our success over 2020 was our outstanding communication efforts. When the pandemic hit in mid-March, we immediately established a “Safe In All Settings” campaign. Throughout the year, Stephen Cooke, our Communications Specialist, and Sophia Lawson, our COVID-19 “czar,” constantly shared our protocols, procedures, policies and health updates. This allowed NCIA to communicate verified resources and information to employees on a timely basis. They also provided messages of encouragement through our website using text, photos and video to keep morale as high as possible. Our “Capturing Covid” video series displayed how resilient our programs were and throughout the year, we were able to celebrate our staff through stipends, incentive pay, bonus checks, appreciation gift cards and H.E.R.O awards. We became a model for other social service agencies.

We had a lot of “unsung heroes” throughout the year. One of those was our H/R department. Over the year, they highlighted the necessity of raising our starting wage for hourly employees, developed virtual training programs, implemented an auto enrollment plan in our 403(b) retirement plan, made regular calls to employees impacted by COVID, and did contact tracing and required lists for the various County Health departments. Additionally, they developed a program of paid sick leave for staff affected by COVID, helped place any YIT school employees who were limited by COVID- related layoffs into other departments, and implemented additional benefits and resources for employees. Simply a remarkable job!

Another unsung hero is one I have mentioned in my past updates—our Maintenance and Transportation Department. Rick Fleischmann and his staff have gone over and above not only in keeping our facilities clean and safe, but also in coordinating the delivery of holiday meals, getting programs the vast amount of PPE equipment needed and implementing any and all necessary transportation needs. These tasks are rarely seen but necessary to keep NCIA programs running smoothly.

Over the past year, I have highlighted the extraordinary program efforts developed by each department’s leadership. It is simply amazing the manner in which our programs have adapted to the COVID pandemic, and have continued to lead their various departments. Each department has had their own set of challenges, and our largest department, Adult Residential Services, led the charge. At one point, we had eight houses on “outbreak” status and staffing was challenged. Led by Rochelle Matthews, who assumed the position of Residential Director just as COVID began, we successfully negotiated the pandemic and kept our 47 homes operational. April Jensen, our DDA Director, also helped expand our Business Services Division, as well as developed a new program, our Behavioral Support Services home for individuals needing crisis intervention. She also is leading our efforts to expand home-based Alternative Settings supports to provide day services for almost 100 persons who are unable to attend our Career Development Center.

Our Youth In Transition School has been equally resilient. We provided chrome books for our students to learn virtually, our teachers developed creative virtual classrooms and teaching methods, we were able to conduct therapy sessions on-line and our behavioral outreach was non-stop. As a result, we were able to maintain (and even grow) enrollment at pre-pandemic levels! Angela Chambers and her staff have been incredible in their efforts to motivate students during trying times.

Our Vocational Training Centers have been equally incredible! During the pandemic they have transitioned between virtual and hybrid learning, adapting as various government regulations in Maryland and North Carolina have limited groups of students, but they have successfully navigated those changes and we have been able to train over 400 students this year. Our workforce institute and job developers have been equally inventive, maintaining a 60% employment rate in spite of COVID!

Finally, one of the highlights of our year has been our ability to attract and hire professional staff. Our Business Services, Finance, DDA, and Vocational Training Center programs have all hired experienced staff to further our mission. At a time when many programs have closed, NCIA has continued to expand! Keep up the great work.

I will never forget to say “Thank You” to all NCIA employees. You have helped make our mission successful over the past 43 years, including the challenges over the past year. The best is yet to come!