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Co-worker Foundation Story

Thanks to residents, clients and family members, a co-worker’s belief in miracles was strengthened. That faith was reinforced by the Co-Worker Foundation—a program designed specifically to help co-workers who are experiencing a financial emergency. “I had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn. At that point you have to ask for help and I am so thankful for the Foundation,” she says.

Life can be hard. A 2013 survey by Bankrate.com found that nearly 75 percent of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. All it takes is one unexpected situation to result in a financial emergency.

"From time to time people have crises in their lives that may be the result of a serious illness, tragic accident, fire or even flood. We started the Co-Worker Foundation to develop an organized way to help these co-workers," says President & CEO Michael Leader.

Funded from donations made by residents, families, co-workers and the Leader family, the Co-Worker Foundation awards non-taxable grants of up to $2,000 to co-workers for unexpected emergencies that may include fire, theft, death of a loved one, damage from a natural disaster or other situations. Since it was founded in 2010, the Co-Worker Foundation has awarded more than $110 thousand in grants to co-workers.

Susan (not her real name), found herself in a downward financial spiral following an unexpected health emergency.

“I was at work when I couldn’t breathe and was taken to the hospital. They admitted me and through further testing, I was diagnosed with COPD, a leaking heart valve and severe sleep apnea; I stopped breathing more than 400 times a night. It was just awful,” she says. “Things just kept getting worse and, in turn, I kept missing work and my paychecks.”

As money became scarce, Susan was unable to pay bills and utility providers, including heating oil, water and electricity, were threatening to cut her service. “If they shut off the electric I couldn’t use things that I need…I desperately need to use my [breathing machine],” she recalls.

Susan’s co-workers reminded her of the Co-Worker Foundation and suggested she apply for assistance, but she felt too embarrassed to apply. A supportive executive director further encouraged her to seek help and said, “All people in their life, at some point, have to ask for help—that’s what the Foundation is here for.”

Tracy Newcomer, vice president of Human Resources, co-chairs the Co-worker Foundation's board. "There is a definite need for this program. It really humbles you to realize how one unplanned event can spark a spiral that people just can't get out of. Whether it's a death, loss of job or natural disaster, many co-workers aren't equipped with an emergency fund to get them through it and as a result, they fall behind," she says. "Frequently these are the dedicated co-workers who are there whether it's raining, snowing or sleeting, who give 100 percent to our residents.”

Susan asked her executive director for the application and completed the process. Shortly thereafter, the Foundation gave her a miracle by paying her outstanding debts to her utility providers. “I was ecstatic! I was down and out and I couldn’t believe it…miracles do happen! I was completely flabbergasted!” she says. “I am so thankful. When you’re at that point where you don’t know which way to turn and somebody comes through and helps you out…that’s a big thing. And to say thank you is never enough. But at that point there isn’t much more you can do other than say thank you, I appreciate it!”

“This is really an important and concrete way that the Leader family shows that they, and the company, care about the people who work here,” says Howard West, executive director of Spiritual Life and co-chair of the Co-worker Fund board of directors. “The Leader family is unique…they care about co-workers in a personal and compassionate way. They wanted to go beyond a loan.”

In addition to grants, co-workers also may be referred to the REACH Employee Assistance Program—a free benefit provided to all co-workers—to receive counseling on budgeting and managing finances. According to Newcomer, “The Foundation can give them the money they need and REACH can provide resources to help them manage so they don’t find themselves back in the same situation.”

Susan is thankful to donors who contribute to the Co-Worker Foundation. “The families comment on the good job that [co-workers] do and it’s nice to know there’s a fund they can contribute to—it’s a nice thanks,” she says. “Mere words cannot express how grateful I am to know that a caring spirit and compassion for others still exist in our world today.”

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