Title: “Providing Help & Independence For Those With Disabilities”
Guest: Dafna Krouk-Gordon of Toward Independent Living And Learning
Interviewers: Jeffrey Davis – MAGE LLC & Evan Macedo – FEI Boston / Sapers & Wallack

Click here to read the transcript

Jeffrey (1s):
Well, hello everybody. And welcome back to Radio Entrepreneurs. The show, the constantly streaming stories of entrepreneurship leadership, organizational situations, as this economy continues to change, and we wind down to unbelievable 2021 into 2022. I want to welcome my guest host Evan Macedo from F E I financial executives international and also Sapers and Wallack. Welcome back, Evan. Okay.

Evan (28s):
Thank you, Jeffrey. It is an absolute pleasure to be here and always happy to be your trusty cohost.

Jeffrey (33s):
Thank you very much. And since this is an FBI segment, would you like to introduce our next guest?

Evan (39s):
Absolutely. So our next guest, Dafna Krouk-Gordon, founder, and CEO of toward independent living and learning. Welcome Dafna.

Dafna (50s):
Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure.

Evan (54s):
Absolutely. And I guess to get things kicked off over here, we wanted to, you know, I know our listeners want to know, can you tell us a little bit about what I’ll say TILL for short what TILL does and what inspired you to start it

Dafna (1m 9s):
Gladly till there’s a human service agency? And our emphasis is on providing services to people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities acquired brain injury, people on the autism spectrum, and those who require some assistance due to mental health or emotional issues. And the inspiration really was in 1980, I started tilt toward independent living and learning, and it was in response to what was going on nationally. And in particular in the states for about 150 years, the way that we worked handled served or didn’t serve people who were in any way different or had any kind of what was at the time called mental retardation problems was to keep them away from society and start very huge institutions of about 2000 people in each institution.

Dafna (2m 4s):
And the intentions perhaps were honorable back in the 18 hundreds of protecting people who needed protection, but very quickly, what happens when you have people out of sight, out of mind, you really forget that they’re individuals with unique needs and families, and you suddenly demonize them and think about them as a category rather than men as people. So in response to that, by the early seventies, there was a movement that really fit in with the larger society saying, what have we done? And I was part of the, I’ve been fortunate to be part of that mission really worked with hundreds of families to close down institutions since the early seventies and develop what is now a very robust community-based service for people with all of those specialized needs that I mentioned.

Dafna (2m 52s):
So till is a large human service agency, and we’re very proud of having 59 group homes and three rehabilitation centers and different apartment complexes and condos because one size does not fit all. So we make sure that people get what it is that they need and stuck with it as they grow, we develop with them.

Jeffrey (3m 15s):
So, you know, quite an interesting profession, what’s your background? How did you evolve into this role? Have you been an entrepreneur before?

Dafna (3m 27s):
Well, before it was, since this has been for 41 years, so there wasn’t too much of a before, but it’s always been within my, let’s say my personality and my makeup. My background is I have a master’s in psychology and very, very early on. I realized that working one-to-one with individuals did not necessarily meet my, my personality. I much preferred to see a problem take what I believe is calculated risks and figure the very worst is that you will learn something from it and move on. So that’s the way that I approached most of it’s throughout all of Till’s years, we’ve really taken we’ve, we’ve tried very hard to be innovators and part of being an innovator with when you’re dealing with other people’s lives and needs is that you have to be very responsible to them, make sure that you’re including the individuals who are going to get those services in whatever ideas I have.

Dafna (4m 22s):
So I feel very fortunate that if I have an idea, I have the energy and the interest in really getting other people to buy into it and to develop things together. So entrepreneurship, you know, we’ve started a landscaping company ran for 10 years. We started a daycare company, a travel company, and each one has been with the mission of serving individuals who would be recipients of those services, but seeing a problem and then getting very excited and enthusing other people is really what I like to do. And fortunately, I feel I’ve been successful at it.

Evan (5m 1s):
That’s great in Dafna it’s, it’s amazing. You’ve been in this industry for so long. You’ve must have seen all kinds of different things change the whole time you’ve been there. What do you see as some of the major problems or major issues in, in today’s day and age?

Dafna (5m 21s):
Well, there are two things over, over the years when I first started this, nobody knew what they were doing and there’s a definite benefit to that because we all learned together. We took risks. The rules have not yet been written. And I think when you’re a mission driven organization, you have that very clear in the forefront all the time. You know what you want to get accomplished over the years, there is more bureaucracy, there are more rules and regulations perhaps for everyone’s protection, but it does hamper some of the innovations. So I see that as being one of those slippery slopes, to make sure that we don’t get so caught up with ourselves, that we’re protecting every possible thing that could go wrong, which prevents you from doing the things that could go, right.

Dafna (6m 7s):
COVID has been a unique situation, not just for human services, but really for the entire workforce. And in the past two years, we, we never closed our doors. We didn’t have a choice on March 19th when the rest of the world had to close, we continue to stay open and we felt fortunate to be able to do that. But as time has gone on, and we’re now going on 20 months or more, the employment crisis is particularly the prices here. We don’t have a choice to do our work remotely. So I think one of the biggest hurdles is really to continue to get the word out that the human services is a profession.

Dafna (6m 48s):
It’s a career ladder. It’s a place where you can grow. And really just by being who you are, you can help another person be as much as they can be. So that’s those two things are the biggest challenge. It’s the rules that we have to remember why we’re what the end result is not just to write more regulations. And the other is to get the word out there that human services is a profession. It’s not just a job that you do in between. It’s perhaps a noble profession, but it’s more than it’s a satisfying profession. And now with community-based services, it’s not just direct care. You can be in finance and it can be an advertising. You can be in nursing and direct here.

Dafna (7m 30s):
And it really is a career ladder for many people. I hope that I can encourage some people who are listening to this to be able to say, yep, I’m going to look into human services. This thing I didn’t know about before.

Jeffrey (7m 43s):
So, you know, you, I was thinking of my question before you said mission-driven and I’m thinking right now, you know, talking about what it’s like running a mission-driven business, how it’s helped you, or it’s been more difficult through the pandemic. And as you look into the future, I’m just wondering how, how you do that and what it’s been like for you.

Dafna (8m 4s):
Well, one of the things that’s been interesting where people are, you know, the bit we hear a lot about the big quit and people really reflecting on what’s important for themselves. We’ve done quite a few hires in the past. I would say six or nine months of higher level management positions, finance positions, where people have left their careers. And COVID has really given them a chance to say, how do I want to spend the next part of my career? And they have been in fields that had nothing to do with mission, had nothing to do with working and helping another human being. And frankly, that’s been the most encouraging people have left those other areas where they really felt that they were not making a difference.

Dafna (8m 47s):
And since day one, I would say we have about 980 employees currently over the years, most people get into this clearly not first and foremost for the finances that they’re going to make, but rather because they do want to make a difference in someone else’s life. And I’ve seen a return of that for people who simply never thought about getting into this field believe in near fields. So that has been interesting. It’s been a challenge mostly for the mechanics of how do you keep people safe? We spent, you know, 18 months making sure between vaccines, we did weekly testing. So it’s that you have to stay, keep your head above water and keep remembering what your end goal is at the end of every day.

Evan (9m 31s):
And Dafna before this interview, you were telling me a story about a new venture that you’re creating. That’s very near and dear to your heart, trying to solve parent’s biggest fears. What happens to the children after their, after they pass away or after they’re gone. So you created a new company called forever parents that I know that you’re actively working on. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what your plans are for it next year?

Dafna (9m 59s):
Okay. Yes. Forever parents has again been in response to what families have asked for over the years. Pretty much from the first five years after developing community-based services, families are always thinking, regardless of their age, what will happen when I’m not here to be the primary caregiver, or if they’re no longer the primary caregiver, the one who knows all of the details can predict what their family member, their child’s needs are going to be. So now that we’ve been around for so many decades, I am working with those same families who have been worried about this from day one. And what we’ve created is forever parents.com forever parents, Inc, which is a way to recruit the best and the finest individuals who want to incorporate somebody into their life.

Dafna (10m 51s):
It’s not just a job and it’s not just for a year or for a few hours. We’re screening individuals who weren’t committed to being in human services, who want to see this as a long-term responsibility. So if forever parent professional, eventually when the parents is no longer here, they would be the first call. So the first few years, for example, they would develop a relationship with the individual, get to know them and do this jointly with the family as the family’s needs change, they would take on more and more responsibilities until at some point they are the ones who are responsible, but you’ve had that lead time to be a family member.

Dafna (11m 32s):
You can pull it up, family surrogate, a companion, but you are the one who is then going to get to know the person. You can never replace somebody’s mother or father, but you can certainly be the adjunct that allows you to live peacefully and hopefully die peacefully, quite frankly. So that’s why we’re calling it forever parents because they don’t go away. It will be there when you are no longer there.

Jeffrey (11m 57s):
Well, we’ve been speaking with Dafna Krouk-Gordon and a Evan Macedo of Sapers and Wallack and Dafna, if someone was looking for you and a T I L that’s what I’ll call it when you’re on, how would they find you?

Dafna (12m 16s):
They can certainly go to our website, www tilt Inc org, or they can put in a request for information at info. I N F O at TILL, Inc org. The same with forever parents, they would go to info@foreverparent.com and somebody would respond based on the inquiry that they put in. So we welcome inquiries and we look forward to it. Reader. If the audience has any questions, further information provided,

Jeffrey (12m 49s):
I want to thank you very much for being on Radio Entrepreneurs and Evan. If someone’s looking for you, how would they do that?

Evan (12m 55s):
Jeffrey, if somebody is looking for me, sabers in the wallet, just go turn a website. Sapers hyphen wallet.com. You can go to our team page, you’ll see myself and all of my wonderful colleagues there. We’d love to talk to anybody about your wealth management group benefits, retirement advisory plans, and anything else that we can help out with. And then, because this is an FBI segment. If you are a senior financial leader in, you’re looking for a wonderful networking group to join, please come check our networking group out at FEI Boston dot org. We have over 500 senior financial executives in this group, and we meet about once a month. It’s always fun and definitely helps to improve your networking capabilities.

Evan (13m 42s):
So thank you, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey (13m 44s):
Thank you. And remind everybody. This is Radio Entrepreneurs. My name is Jeffrey Davis. We’re going to take a break. We’ll be back with more stories after this short break.

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