“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.” Mother Teresa

Home. It means different things to different people, but we all share common ideals. Home is where you’re safe. It’s where you’re secure. Home is where you can be yourself, be loved, be at peace. We take pride in our home. That’s the same for residents of North Coast Community Homes (NCCH). Unfortunately, not every home is perfect.

“When we talked about our houses [in maintenance meetings], we used to only focus on the negative and what needed to be fixed.” said Mike Howard, maintenance manager at NCCH. “I said let’s find a way to focus on the positive for a while. Let’s flip it.”

NCCH’s mission is to provide safe, comfortable, and affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, or other disabilities. It’s a lofty goal and it’s challenging because the organization is limited in its scope.

“We’re basically the landlord”, says Howard. “But we’re trying to build these relationships with the staff [of the care providers], so that we can make more of these houses be like our best homes.”

It was with that in mind that Howard proposed the “NCCH Best Homes Contest.” It would be a contest that recognized the homes that were cleanest, best maintained, and had residents that seemed especially engaged and cared for. A place that was a good home.

Suzanne Seifert, CEO of NCCH loved the idea.

“When I heard this idea, I loved it!” remarked Seifert. “It was great to hear staff members buzzing about different homes and why they thought this or that one should win. And then at the picnic, I saw care providers and residents feel really happy to have their house win.”

She wanted to ensure it was well recognized and the rollout was big, bold, and impactful. So, Seifert tied it to the annul residents’ picnic event. The staff at NCCH who were helping with the picnic got together to brainstorm about a prize.

One person suggested a pizza party. The idea stuck, because it would give the residents and the care providers an opportunity to celebrate together. The maintenance staff would also be included, because they nominated the homes. Howard also wanted to use it as an opportunity to further build bridges and bonds between NCCH staff, care providers, and the residents that both teams served.

NCCH owns and manages about 200 homes in Northeast Ohio. That’s a lot of homes to potentially assess. Seifert tasked Howard with coming up with an actionable, cost effective way to assess the homes. It had to be fair. It had to tie to NCCH’s mission somehow. With the annual picnic only a few months away, it also had to be fast.

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Since they see them every day, Howard asked members of the maintenance team to each recommend three homes from the pool of homes they supported. The homes would be judged on a few key criteria. Some were criteria provided by the companies who employ the care providers. NCCH looked for houses that were very clean and they were also looking at houses where the staff went above and beyond in interacting with the residents. The homes would also be rated on how proactive they were in contacting NCCH’s maintenance team to fix things in the home and other criteria. But it was the last section of the form which was most important. Howard asked each maintenance member to consider if they’d want their own family member to live in the home.

“I told them if it’s a ‘no’ don’t even put it on the list.”

After getting back the list of nominated houses, the maintenance team sat down to discuss the homes to narrow it even further. At the end, letters went out to only nine homes informing them they’d been nominated. There would be three winners; one from each region NCCH had houses in (East, West, and South).

Other NCCH members went out to look at homes that were nominated. They’d provide input to make the final decision. Shannon Hill, receptionist and financial assistant at NCCH, was one of the people who reviewed the nominated homes.

“I spent a lot of time talking with the residents.” said Hill. “I introduced myself to the [care] staff, but I focused on the residents. It’s their home.”

IMG_20170907_150853 - croppedHill was surprised by how much pride the residents had in their home, and in their individual rooms. One lady showed Hill her trophies and awards she had hung on her walls.

“I asked them what things they like to do.” Hill explained. “In the one house, they have a workout room that they use. They have karaoke. They were pointing out all these things they do in the home. I was like ‘when can I move in?’”

Another NCCH team member assessing homes saw one that where the staff were really involved and seemed especially invested in the care of the residents. When the team arrived, she was bustling about, getting one of them, who is wheelchair bound, a beverage in her favorite cup. She helped the resident show off a present she had gotten from her family – a new radio. And, when doing so, she encouraged the resident herself to talk about and show off the radio, which really acknowledged the resident’s autonomy. The care provider talked about how she’d been with the same residents for a few years, and how they felt like family to her. It was an easy decision to recommend the house as a finalist.

The NCCH team narrowed it to three homes that were the best of the best. A home in Massillon, one in Mentor, and one in Strongsville.

As planned, the winner was announced at the annual picnic on Sunday, August 20th. What wasn’t planned was how interested and engaged all of the providers were. Some of the homes really thought they should win.

“I had people ask me ‘why did I lose?’” remarked Howard “I explained that they didn’t lose, it’s just another house won.”

Since the picnic, Howard and his team have heard rumblings from other homes. It seems more homes want to win, and it’s created a space for dialogue about houses and how to make them more of a good home.

IMG_20170907_152537 - smlrThe contest for this year may be over, but the NCCH team has big plans for its future. The team has been mulling how to expand the program, so it isn’t just about one best house. They want a “Most Improved” category. Perhaps “The Best Holiday Home” for those who decorate for the various holidays. They want to consider how to use the contest to engage family members in the process. They want to get more homes interested and participating.

Most of all, they want to leverage the contest to continue engaging the staff of the care providers in a dialogue about how to make the homes NCCH manages and owns into homes in the strongest sense of the word.

The best homes contest was an entrée to connect the people who provide healthcare support to the residents with NCCH’s broader mission. It’s significantly more action and care than you’d get from most landlords. That’s because the payoff isn’t in dollars and cents. It’s in hearts and smiles, which is one way that NCCH measures that they’re meeting their mission.