What we choose to do with our career is one of the most important decisions in our lifetime. For most of us, it must be something that we’re passionate about, there has to be a drive, and we determine how important that work can be for our society. It’s always important to choose work that means something to you because then it will mean something to everyone around you. As Chinese Philosopher Confucius wrote, “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The first day of a job is important, full of emotions and excitement. However, what’s more important is the work anniversary each year after that first day on the job.
With each new milestone work anniversary you have more memories of the people you work(ed) with, and assess how far you have come and where you still need to go. It’s a wonderful time to self-reflect and continue on your path of growth. RISE’s Executive Director, Scott Strong, celebrated his 20th work anniversary with RISE in January of this year. 20 years is a long time to devote to your community. We asked him questions on what this anniversary means, what his ‘why’ is that motivates him to continue his work, and what he’s learned:
This year marks your 20th anniversary. What thoughts and emotions come to mind when you think about that? 20 years in one place is pretty humbling. When I started here I hadn’t thought about how long I would be here, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of a new organization providing mental health services to children, adolescents and their families. What I found is that the 20 years have gone by really fast. Working for a community-based organization that provides child/family focused, wraparound fits very well with my passion. Learning from participants on what works for them, building off their assets and walking along side of them in their journey is humbling. My learning curve was fairly steep when I started, and I haven’t stopped learning. Every day presents something new.
What made you want to have a career in this line of work? In college I took an interest inventory which guided me toward sociology and criminal justice. I apparently had an aptitude for working with people. That gave me direction which led me to an internship at a local residential treatment facility that served adolescents who struggled with mental health and/or substance abuse challenges. The internship turned into a job upon graduation. I learned so much from the teenagers and staff, and it launched me into a career working in human services with children, adolescents and families, particularly experiencing mental health challenges. It led me to my graduate work in Community Counseling and Marriage and Family therapy. I have also always had an interest in the business side of the work which ultimately led to moving into program development and administration.
What were visions or goals that you had in 2000 and how have you met them or have you surpassed those goals? I started as the Provider Network Manager which essentially meant that I was charged with developing and growing a network of providers in the Children Come First program (CCF). CCF was one of the first Medicaid Managed Care Wraparound programs for children’s mental health in the nation and was still relatively new. In order for children and adolescents to be supported in the community instead of placed in an institution, we needed providers who valued community-based programming, were flexible in their approach and willing to work as a member of a team in support of the children and families. We also needed a system of care that supported this approach. This means that the systems that work with adolescents and families (mental health, education, youth justice, juvenile courts and child protection) needed to come together and collaborate. It wasn’t easy at first, and because of the commitment of many people, a collaborative system of care to better serve adolescents in the community developed in Dane County.
I feel fortunate to have been a part of the agency that was in the center of much of this work. In true wraparound approach, we never gave up. Along with many others, we kept coming back to the table trying something new if the first approach didn’t work, and we got beyond pointing fingers and blaming. For families to experience success, we need to work together. For a long time I had a desire to lead an agency. When the opportunity arose in 2004 I was excited to be able to lead an agency that fit so well with who I was. I have been honored to lead since 2005.
What is your “why”? Meaning, what makes you wake up every day and motivates you to come do this work? Has your “why” changed over the years? I value collaboration. This agency was built on collaboration and people are best served when we work together and systems collaborate. None of us work in isolation as we are impacted by those around us. We and our systems need to respond to those we serve and honor where people are at in the journey. This is what drew me to the organization and it is what has kept me here.
In what areas do you feel you have grown in the past 20 years? In what ways haven’t I grown? Perhaps my best growth is centered around listening and learning. There are so many people that I have the pleasure to work with everyday who have great ideas and passion. Observing this passion and listening to ideas makes me and the organization better. Through listening, families get what they need. This is why the organization has thrived.
Could you share your perspective on leadership? I often think that being a good leader is knowing when to follow. When surrounded by talented people, leaders can excel. Similar to what I discussed above, collaboration and partnership are essential elements to sustainable systems, and I believe this is also true for leadership. People have amazing energy and ideas, and it is the leader’s responsibility to tap this talent, build from their strengths and elevate their passion. A good leader listens to multiple perspectives and incorporates those perspectives into decisions. Simply said, leadership is partnership.
What are you most proud of in your career at RISE so far? There are so many things. One that comes to mind is diversifying the service array and growing the agency. We grew from providing only wraparound care coordination for children and adolescents with mental health concerns, to developing a continuum of care from early childhood through young adulthood. This was done through intention and opportunity. We realized the need to expand beyond just wraparound for children and adolescents so when the opportunities arose, we were in a position to respond. This culminated with a merger in 2017, which strengthened this continuum and brought about RISE. Being a part of an innovative, learning organization makes every day unique and exciting. Thank you, Scott, for 20 years of making a tremendous impact in your community and for showing us that hard work can help you grow and learn. Here’s to 20 more!
If you’re interested in learning about employment opportunities and joining our team at RISE, click on the link below: https://risewisconsin.org/employment/current-opportunities/