Laurie Strauss Baumer
Marrying her passion for volunteerism and being the creator of your own opportunity, Ele’s Place President and CEO Laurie Strauss Baumer shares how her organization uses relationships as pavers in the road to success.
Michigan Nightlight: What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Ele's Place President & CEO Laurie Strauss Baumer
: We exist in areas, Lansing and Ann Arbor, comprised of individuals, businesses, and foundations who are extremely supportive of nonprofits like Ele’s Place that clearly show the impact of its programs. Our greatest challenge is in reaching grieving children who do not have access to our services. That is why our off-site programs are so important for children living not only in the inner city, but also in rural areas. There needs to be more attention given to rural communities and to supporting social services organizations that provide outreach programs.
The major challenge for any social sector organization is reaching families and people. Our lives, and our children’s lives are so full now, that we’re competing with sports, play practice, church, and so on. Fewer and fewer people are actually coming Of the 212 eighth graders, 140 reported that they’d experienced a relevant death and were interested in support; it showed us how many grieving children are hidden in the community.
to centers because when your plate is that full, even services you need are more difficult to get to. We’ve kind of leveled out in terms of the number of people being served on-site at Ele’s Place, but we still see so many people in need in the community; we need to go where they are to be of support.
Ele’s Place didn’t have an outreach program until 2006. We collaborated with the principal of Otto Middle School in Lansing, where they allowed us to survey the school and develop an in-school program. That eight-week program was outrageously successful; there were so many children in need. Of the 212 eighth graders, 140 reported that they’d experienced a relevant death and were interested in support; it showed us how many grieving children are hidden in the community.
Schools in rural communities receive little funding when compared to more urban or inner city areas, so grieving children in these areas are not only geographically isolated from support, but also limited in terms of what resources are available to them at school. Funding for in-school counseling is dwindling, so the need for a program like Ele’s Place is high and has been well-received in the schools we’ve been able to partner with.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We have placed a high priority on outreach programs in our strategic plan, and we are already reaching many of our goals. In the 2012-2013 school year, we will be adding off-site programming in rural districts as far away as Corunna and Leslie. We are also helping West Michigan start a children’s grief center, slated to open in 2013. Statewide, we have created the Michigan Network for Grieving Children with public service announcements to heighten awareness of the needs of grieving children, and to direct grieving families to a new website, KidsGrief.org. This website contains information and resources to help grieving children wherever they may live, including a directory of all children’s grief support programs throughout the state.
Metrics are important as we measure our progress. In 2006, we had 12 children in our school-based programs; in 2011 that number grew to 207.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the incredible team we have created -- staff and volunteers -- who have a deep commitment to quality programming, and who are passionate about supporting as many grieving children as possible. Every day we’re on the phone with grieving families, teachers, medical professionals, and others who care about grieving children and need our guidance and support. Many call from beyond our official “service areas.” It doesn’t matter where a grieving child lives, Ele’s Place is here to help.
We recently developed a vision statement, a first for the organization in 20 years of operation. The board of directors decided Ele’s Place needed a guiding light, an answer to the question of who it was we wanted to be when we grew up. Our vision There is no better job in the world. I wake up every day and look forward to going to work. I don’t know many people outside the nonprofit world who feel that way.
is: “Every grieving child in Michigan will have access to compassionate support.” We’ve expanded the mindset on who is it we’re serving, and I’m proud of our recently launched statewide endeavor with Michigan’s First Lady, Sue Snyder. Our vision has led to the above-mentioned Michigan Network for Grieving Children
, with Mrs. Snyder as spokesperson.
What does being a leader mean to you?
To me, leadership means inspiring others on our team and moving barriers out of the way to support their work and the growth of our mission. Often that means keeping our name visible in the community, helping our donors make a difference, and maintaining our core values like our commitment to excellence. At the end of the day, all we have as a nonprofit is our reputation. We must excel in all we do if we are to remain successful.
As president and CEO, I don’t have the opportunity to work with the children on daily basis. As a leader, I ask what it is I can do to help the staff and the community serve and support children more effectively; I ask how we’re able to heighten awareness. Recently, our Program Coordinator has been struggling to grow the Together Learning to Cope (TLC) program. We’ve been working closely together to get the word out and gain credibility on this program, which lead us to The Sparrow Cancer Center. Come to find out, their staff did not know about our TLC program and what a perfect fit it would be for families coping with a terminal illness. We’re now building a relationship with Sparrow and those families in the Cancer Center to make sure they know what Ele’s Place has to offer and to hopefully begin supporting them in additional ways.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream and the Ele’s Place vision are one in the same: that all grieving children throughout Michigan will have access to compassionate support. That’s a big dream, and one I work on every day, helping communities support their grieving children. Someday I know our dream will be a reality.
In speaking with younger people who are interested in careers in the social sector, what advice would you give?
There is no better job in the world. I wake up every day and look forward to going to work. I don’t know many people outside the nonprofit world who feel that way. Second to parenthood, there is nothing better in life than working for a mission you believe in. I think, “What will I do today to make a difference?” and then I get to do it. I’m extremely fortunate and I feel blessed that God has given me this opportunity.
I think young people in any generation tend to wait for the perfect job to be listed in the newspaper or someone to come to them with opportunities. I would encourage them to think about what it is they truly want to do or how they want to make their time meaningful, then get out there and create that opportunity and cultivate the position of their dreams.
When I was first starting out, I volunteered at Sparrow Health System. I realized that I wanted a position more related to my career interests, so I helped develop a marketing internship there. Later in life, when I was job-hunting in a bad economy, I looked for ways to fill my days. I volunteered for the Humane Society and utilized the same passion for creating my own opportunities into developing my eventual position of director of development and community relations. And, you guessed it; I was a volunteer at Ele’s Place before becoming president and CEO.
Nonprofits are starving for people who have time and talent, and who are willing to share both.