Allies, Inc: Krystal L. Odell, President & CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

Life experiences can have a way of influencing career choices. In the case of Krystal L. Odell, President and CEO of Allies, Inc., growing up with a sibling with special needs served as the basis for her co-founding a non-profit organization that assists people with disabilities and their families.

“I have a sister with Down syndrome and growing up, the choices for her were pretty much slim to none,” Odell said. “One thing that has always driven me in my career in the disability field is to make sure that people with disabilities and their families have choices, that they can

live each day in their own community, and they can grow just like everybody else.”

Odell, along with Elise M. Gambino, vice president and COO, founded Allies as a non-profit organization in July 1999. What began as a volunteer effort for these women became 10 years of service for people of all ages and with all levels of disabilities in Hamilton, N.J. and surrounding communities. Their efforts have evolved into a vibrant organization of more than 750 employees serving about 1,500 people with disabilities through a multitude of programs.

The facility and its founders have received several awards, including new business of the year recognition from Hamilton Township and individual “outstanding women” honors. In addition, Allies has received the highest number of accreditations through The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Scope of Services

The scope of care provided by Allies goes from in-home care for families that may have children with disabilities to providing housing for people once they become adults.

“We have affordable housing opportunities as well as provide group homes and other independent living facilities,” Odell said. “We help people find jobs, (we run a retail business “All in One Basket” which employs people with disabilities and we help students in high school with

disabilities to make the move from school to work.”)

Another special program offered by Allies, called financial literacy, involves teaching individuals how to save and budget their money, she said. This program is offered through Individual development Accounts, which are matched savings accounts that enable low-income families to

save, build assets, and enter the financial mainstream. Individual Development Accounts include a match incentive, similar to an employer match for 401(k) contributions. The resources for the matching funds include government and private sector sources.

Mission Driven

The mission at Allies is to make life better for people with disabilities and their families, Odell said. The staff works as a team to create an accepting environment where everyone has certain gifts and abilities.

“In a field of disabilities, sometimes that is a bit of a challenge,” she said. “But, they see what people can do every day and they really capitalize on their strengths. I think they see possibilities in people and opportunities where we can make life better for people.”

Hands-on Management

Odell describes her management style as hands on, noting that she spends time in the field providing support to staff members.

It’s a very involved management philosophy,” she said. “We think that style is essential because the people we serve are very vulnerable. We need to make sure that we’re available and we’re supportive. This is not easy work.”

Part of making sure the staff works as a team involves hiring and retaining the right people for the task. In addition to an active recruitment effort, (Allies supports their staff by supporting them in

returning to college,) a program which is particularly beneficial to new employees who work at the caretaker level.

“They are the ones who take care of folks in their homes,” Odell said.(How we support our staff is pivotal and we work to help them with the limited resources available to us as a non-profit.) We also have a direct support professional association that helps to provide continuing education.”

Maintaining Quality

Always looking for quality initiatives and ways to improve, Allies focuses on quality in patient care as well as quality standards as established by accreditation programs. To “hit the pulse” of the people being served by Allies, the staff conducts quality interviews, analyzes replies and then makes any changes based on that feedback.

“We want to make sure that the people receiving our services are happy, getting what they want, and that we’re meeting their needs,” Odell said.

Regarding internal quality programs, Allies follows the lead of its accreditation program, looking at its systems and making sure that there is a strategic plan in place and that it has all the earmarks of a comparably sized quality organization.

Capital Challenges

Learning how to do more with less is the greatest financial challenge for Odell and her management staff. Capital expenditures are more about keeping the organization running on a daily basis, as opposed to enhancing technology or adding new infrastructure. As a non-profit,

Allies needs to do what’s necessary to remain competitive in the marketplace.

“Nobody’s going to give us more money than what we can get through contracts and fundraising, so we’re always looking for competitive ways to stay in the forefront,” the CEO said. “We’re always trying to be creative, to be able to look at the healthcare and home care pictures

and see what things we can do in a better way. That’s always an ongoing challenge.”

Allies does, when financially possible, work with its clients to help them find affordable housing. That help can come in the form of a down payment on a house or other assistance in helping them secure affordable housing, she said.

Public Relations

Using the Internet as a marketing tool, Allies has produced a user-friendly Web site that provides accessible information to individuals with disabilities and their families. In addition, facility

personnel visit schools and community-based organizations that deal with children and adults with disabilities. Networking is another component of Odell’s outreach strategy, with Allies belonging to various chambers of commerce and business networks.

“We’re always looking to spread the word about our services and to provide more ways for the public to access them,” she said “Allies is doing amazing things for people with disabilities. We’re recognizing this forgotten population. That’s a tremendous responsibility, but one we find quite gratifying.”

-by Kathy Knaub-Hardy

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