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Goals Converging: Donor-Funded Program Helps With Staffing Challenges

Thirty-year-old Beyan Garvelee has a dream. As a recent immigrant to the United States, he hopes to take full advantage of the opportunities his new country can offer. He has worked in direct support for LifeScape for three years, most recently as Lead Direct Support Professional at an adult residential home. As a native of Liberia, he knows English, as that’s their official language, but the influence of his local dialect affects his pronunciation. He says he is often told that he is hard to understand, which he finds frustrating.

That Beyan is also hardworking, responsible, and compassionate is confirmed by LifeScape Vice President of Human Resources Jason Schoolmeester. “We see a tremendous opportunity with new American populations who are very attuned to our mission and values,” says Jason. “We find that some just need a little extra help with literacy.”

Employee Development Coordinator Theresa Wambach-Fox says she heard consistent talk among LifeScape supervisors about great, committed staff, but their English skills were holding them back. She knew REACH Literacy in Sioux Falls had workplace tutoring and contacted them about teaching speaking, reading, and writing skills to non-native English speakers. REACH Director Paige Carda met with LIfeScape staff to learn specific needs and proposed a program: One-hour classes twice a week for twelve weeks, with three 12-week sessions in a year. Things moved quickly, and a donor was found to fund one year as a pilot program. The course would be completely voluntary, at no cost to staff, and held at LifeScape, with staff paid for their class time.

With unemployment in Sioux Falls at 1.5%, one of the lowest rates in the United States, hiring enough staff is a challenge. “The more barriers we can take down for qualified, caring people, the easier it will be to meet our mission,” says Jason. With a growing number of staff for whom English is a second language, this program could be a game changer. Jason says they will watch the progress and retention with this group to consider continuing the program.

Beyan hopes to work his way up at LifeScape to manage a residential home or move into other areas like training or fundraising. He’s a natural leader and advocate who wants to help coworkers and people he supports to be better versions of themselves. With his strong English skills, he has helped convince coworkers that taking the literacy classes with REACH is a good move.

“This is for folks who want to do more,” says Paige. “This will help them continue to move up in their profession and education. Job retention for businesses who do this is also really high, because staff feel valued.” She says that in a group, it’s harder to quit, and students help and encourage each other. Paige says Forward Sioux Falls has targeted healthcare and construction as areas that need literacy support to meet their staffing needs. REACH is providing workplace tutoring in both areas in Sioux Falls.

Paige says they start with the basics like the alphabet and common phrases and split into two groups. “Some people don’t even know how to write down their addresses and phone numbers. The second group has some education and needs better English—they know how to study and communicate successfully in their own language.”

“This not only helps people reach their career goals,” says Theresa. “They can also take those skills to the bank, doctors’ offices, helping kids with schoolwork. LifeScape is looking at the whole person – it’s a win-win across the board.”

Beyan attends the classes at LifeScape, which started with eleven students in January. He helps other students by translating and with computers. “I learn, too,” he says. “I don’t take this opportunity for granted. We are all very grateful.” He and many like him want to work their way into a good middle-class life. LifeScape wants to excel in its mission to empower people to live their best lives. Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the aspirations of the two groups have converged.

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