“If you go across any sociological metric of a community, such as homelessness, drug use, or unplanned pregnancies, RISE probably impacts that number in Steuben County in some way,” shared Chris Stackhouse, Executive Director of RISE, Inc. RISE was established to help people live, work, and learn in the community and at home. For individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, navigating the world can be a challenge. RISE steps in to serve these individuals and their families across a large spectrum of needs, from help tying shoes to applying to Trine University. Clients at RISE participate in a variety of activities, including cooking dog treats for a local dog grooming business, taking typing classes in a computer lab to produce a newsletter, and learning about photography. They recently utilized these skills to prepare for RISE to the Occasion, the organization’s annual fundraiser, by taking photos of silent auction items and creating colorful paintings for bidding.
Stackhouse started on the board of RISE in November of 2016, and he transitioned to his role as Executive Director in October of 2017. “What drives me,” said Stackhouse, “is how we support families through taking care of their loved ones.” RISE acts as a community partner, working to improve quality of life and instill hope in people. “During their time of need, we come alongside and help families and our clients navigate tough life choices.” Occasionally this means RISE has stepped up to provide emergency services when needed, but each client’s needs and goals are different. Much of the work at RISE is fueled by witnessing clients make progress towards these goals. “Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in successful job placements in the hospitality industry, so being able to pivot to what industry is in demand has been big,” said Stackhouse.
One of the constant challenges for RISE is securing sustainable funding sources that support their current programming and allow the organization to grow. A key element of that is to secure their CARF accreditation—the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities—which signals to donors and clients that RISE is a high quality organization meeting specific standards of practice for its industry. RISE also completed an internal evaluation of its own organizational efficiency, to make sure its programs and staff are optimizing to make the greatest impact. Stackhouse’s background in business has helped as the board discusses its financial situation and sets the strategy for RISE going forward.
RISE values its partnerships with local organizations, both businesses and nonprofit organizations. For example, RISE is in the process of getting rid of its exercise equipment. “We have this beautiful facility that already exists in the YMCA. Why duplicate their efforts, when we could collaborate instead?” explained Stackhouse. RISE clients often volunteer at the Community Humane Shelter, and they work with the Special Olympics on a 4th of July float every year. The added benefit of these programs is how they benefit Steuben County in general. “I haven’t come across research to support this claim, but I think if you could quantify and measure inclusivity in a community, it would likely show how it benefits other areas of quality of life in a community as well.”
RISE recently expanded its partnerships to the business world with its recent connection with Chapman’s Brewing Company. When Stackhouse found that Chapman’s was interested in adding food service to their Angola taproom, he proposed a unique solution. Clients at RISE prepare and take food orders for patrons at Chapman’s, offering a multitude of “wins.” RISE clients gain valuable job experience, RISE earns some income which can supplement other programming, and Chapman’s is able to offer visitors some tasty treats.
In order to avoid pulling from operating funds to support its programs, RISE recently applied for and received a grant of $20,000 from SCCF to upgrade its transportation fleet. This grant will allow RISE to replace aged vehicles that made clients feel unsafe and had increasing maintenance costs. Because RISE relies on Medicaid funding for a large portion of their budget, the organization is directly impacted by legislation and faces strategic challenges while state representatives contemplate how Indiana will choose to support individuals with disabilities in the future. Although they recognize the potential need to pivot at any time if there are changes to that funding, the RISE board of directors is working hard with operational staff to address sustainability concerns.
In the future, Stackhouse hopes to see RISE increase its capacity for respite services. Currently, RISE has a limited number of rooms and direct care staff available for clients wanting to test out a more independent living situation. Respite services also help families who need to go away over a weekend, but want to make sure a loved one is cared for in a safe place. These rooms are often at maximum capacity, yet there is still unmet need. In addition to uncertain Medicaid funding, this is further evidence that despite RISE operating in largely the same way over the past 20-30years, significant change may be coming. However, Stackhouse was adamant that the overall purpose of the organization doesn’t change. “The ‘what’ matters, the ‘why’ is most important, but ‘how’ that gets done is irrelevant as long as we are effectively serving clients and their families,” he explained. RISE will always align its new or altered programming with the mission, and if the specifics change over time, they will be guided by what is in the best interest of its clients and families.
Stackhouse explained that the history of individuals they serve, their stories and experiences, sheds light on the situations they would be vulnerable to experiencing again if RISE did not exist. As long as individuals in the community are in need of RISE, the organization will continue to support more inclusive and hopeful lives for Steuben County residents. Stackhouse said RISE is dependent on the community itself in order to be successful. “For the size of our organization and the help we get from the community, we are in a better situation than many other similar organizations,” he shared. “There is never a doubt in my mind if our community supports us.”