Here at Helm & Hue, we love working with our amazing clients! Whether they’re a solo entrepreneur or a global company, our clients are all making an impact in their communities. We’ve developed this series as a way of helping them expand their reach and spread the word about how they are making a difference.
This month’s featured Client Spotlight is Wendi Strickland, one of the founders for Branches of Life. Take it away Wendi!
Tell us a little about Branches of Life – what’s the primary goal you’re trying to accomplish?
We see a Virginia where people of all ages and abilities have the supports needed to enjoy the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the opportunity to have a great life.
We opened Branches of Life in 2013 to address the transition gap between school services and research-based adult services for people who experience significant disabilities. Since then, we’ve expanded our services to include Community Engagement Services, Group Day Services, Consultation Services, and Employment Services.
Tell me how you got involved with your company.
Traci, Jessee and I were high school special education teachers in Chesterfield County. We had huge plans and big dreams for our students after graduation and worked hard to design meaningful curriculum to teach skills needed to support increased independence. We were having a blast and seeing huge improvements – we love to teach!
Unfortunately, we found that the transition away from public school and toward adult services and supports were sometimes scary, negative experiences for the students in our classes and their families.
We learned that there was a lack of high quality services for adults who experience disabilities that was dedicated toward providing opportunities for lifelong learning – that’s building a social group, gaining meaningful employment, and solving problems that get in the way of the best possible life. This is understandable – most people in adult services are not formally trained special educators.
It was an eye opener for us, and we quickly realized that we had the skills necessary to help address this issue.
Starting a small business was the adventurous part – that’s where our fourth partner Shirley comes in. We joke and say that she kept the lights on, but it was so much more than that. If you’re interested in our small business story, you can read more about it here: http://branchesva.org/2016/12/the-story-starts-here/
Describe a day in the life of Branches…
We have a lot going on! Branches of Life offers a variety of different services, and we’re all happily working away in our own lanes to make a collective difference.
Group Day Services spends a good portion of time at the building we call 110. It’s a cool place with a rec center vibe, where people can come and hang out with friends, use adapted technology to surf the internet, work on projects, and take classes on things like cooking, social media, advocacy, confidentiality, and pop culture (like popular films and music and things in the news). 110 is the place to be for the latest and greatest, and Traci, Tamra, Ashlynn and our Life Coaches keep life fresh and fun.
Community Engagement Services take small groups out and about Greater RVA, exploring and connecting with cool resources in the area. Trips and adventures and chances to try new things are an everyday occurrence – they know all the good spots.
Employment Services are on the grind, always. You’ll find them doing a thousand different things – from making contacts within the community of business professionals all the way to interviewing someone’s former high school teacher to get a good grasp of a person’s work and volunteer history. Jess, Shannon and Ainsley work hard to find folks opportunity to work hard, too.
Consultation Services are usually meeting with teams of people, trying hard to spread a little sunshine. Wendi and Jenny have the pleasure of participating in the work people do to meet goals they’ve set for themselves. They spend a lot of time brainstorming, creating, encouraging and helping people get closer and closer to the best that life offers.
Shirley and Courtney are usually chin deep in paperwork and Quickbooks. They are the reason that we are able to invest so deeply in our programming and in our staff, who participate in weekly professional and organizational development opportunities – because they’re always on the lookout for the best way to keep providing ethically sound, generous benefits and extras to the employees of Branches of Life.
We value our staff, and hand-pick people who believe in the same thing we believe — that everyone is equal, no matter what, and want to put that into practice every single day. Also, Shirley’s everyone’s go-to for candy.
What is one of Branches biggest challenges?
Our waiting lists! We feel like it is so important to individualize services and ensure that our resources can provide the same high quality level of support that our reputation promises. With so many folks eager to join us, it can be a challenge to balance preparation with the urgency of need that our services address.
What might our readers be surprised to learn about your company?
You might be surprised to know that we are chronic DIY types. We’ve painted every wall, done every demo, upholstered every piece of furniture at 110, shoveled all the snow in the winter, and until recently with Helm & Hue, did all our own branding, brochure building, marketing, and website creation, too. I can’t even tell you how happy we were to hand that one over!
Tell us a recent success story.
Our clients are part of a marginalized group of people who experience discrimination and limited opportunities because of societal views about intellectual disability and autism.
Our favorite stories are things that might not be easy to notice – a guy that figures out that he is a practical joker, a woman who blossoms into a social butterfly, a girl that learns to text through emojis, a man that learns to drive a power wheelchair, a young woman who earns her own paycheck and buys her own clothes now —
Every effort is a measure of progress and success, nothing too small. Perseverance is beautiful and we are grateful daily to have the chance to be part of someone’s success story. They are part of our success story, too.
What’s next for your company?
We’re hoping to spread our message and expand our reach. We want to find other like-minded, progressive disability organizations and individuals to collaborate with and support, and become a community resource. We’re putting out feelers to get a non-profit up and running to help address the funding of services for people who are on the enormous waiting list for waiver funding in Virginia. We love to share and want to position ourselves in such a way that we can stay ahead of the curve, to be leaders in inclusive, person-centered opportunities for people who experience disabilities.
We also want to thank Helm & Hue for such incredible service and support. Branches of Life couldn’t be more pleased to associate with such a community-minded, high-quality company – and our website and brochure are amazing!
You can learn more about Branches of Life at their website, www.branchesva.org