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Christy Potts Live on XL93 Listen now!
Christy Potts grew up on a farm north of Bismarck. With her roots growing deep in the heartland of North Dakota, she found an even deeper love of working with adults with disabilities after it was modeled for her by her family. Christy has two uncles with developmental disabilities “Time, respect, advocacy, and a high level of care was demonstrated for me by my family, especially by my grandparents who were their biggest champions.” Her personal experience translates into the way Christy advocates for care and respect at the LISTEN Center. When designing the new center on South Washington Street in Grand Forks, every aspect was designed for people with disabilities in mind. The hallways, desks, tables, and bathrooms were designed to help the staff provide the best care for everyone who visits the LISTEN Center.
You have just recently opened a new facility; how does this center differ from previous locations?
Our previous spaces were not accessible or safe for people with disabilities and our staff. The old Drop-In Community Center on North Washington Street was old and outdated. LISTEN had owned that property since 1984, but it’s a split-level building and wasn’t accessible for people with limited mobility. We had many people in our community who loved coming to Drop-In, and many who would have to miss out because they had limited mobility. There were so many opportunities to improve the quality of services and spaces for people with dis- abilities in our new building, that we all worked hard to make it accessible and user-friendly for everyone who chooses our services and everyone who chooses to work for us. We have a dining room now, and we have an actual elevator. We de- signed the building with wider doorways and hallways, lots of natural light, and automatic door openers throughout. We also installed ceiling lifts and hydraulic changing tables in 9 of the bathrooms in the building. We can now support many more people in this building because of the accessibility and wide-open spaces.
What kinds of services does the LISTEN Center offer for adults who live with disabilities?
Everyone who comes to LISTEN during the day decides what they want their schedule to look like and what activities they would like to participate in. Some of which include music therapy, arts and crafts, pet therapy, volunteering for Meals on Wheels, working out at Choice Fitness, movies, cooking classes, ex- ercise classes, and sometimes just taking a quiet moment in one of our sensory rooms. We support people with everything and anything you could think of that would affect someone’s daily life. Giving our direct support staff the freedom and authority to look for ways to improve people’s lives has helped us provide great quality-of-life care for everyone who chooses LISTEN as their residential provider. We can support someone at their family home with these services to provide some relief or a break for their loved ones, or we can support someone at community events or activities during these hours. Our Drop-In Community Center is open to all and provides many low or no-cost activities and events for the community.
What does LISTEN stand for? More importantly, what does LISTEN mean to you?
LISTEN stands for Love Is Sharing The Exceptional Needs. For me, this company means growth, progress, advocacy, and raising the standard for accessible and quality spaces and services for people with disabilities. Professionally for myself, LISTEN has given me a great avenue to show my leadership skills and business knowledge. I’ve had the opportunity to improve so many policies, practices, and procedures at LISTEN that I wouldn’t have had at a larger organization. I really do feel a lot of pride and ownership in our new building and the growth of LISTEN since I started.
What are some goals the LISTEN Center has for future years?
LISTEN’s services and everyone who chooses to work for us. Some of LISTEN’s future goals include expanding residential services with high-quality accessible housing op- tions for people with disabilities. It’s very difficult to find truly accessible affordable housing. So, we want to build partnerships in the community and work to design spaces that are more accessible and user-friendly for people with disabilities.
In what ways can people in the community help the LISTEN Center? Are there volunteer opportunities? Or somewhere they can go to donate?
LISTEN wouldn’t be able to support so many people with disabilities and we certainly wouldn’t be able to help individuals and families in dire need of services. We will always be thankful for donations, and you can certainly do that on our website www.listencenter.org, but the need right now is not for us, it is for all citizens with disabilities in the state because LISTEN can’t support everyone. The best way to help right now is to contact your legislators and encourage them to provide funding for the DD Budget. The Health and Human service funding supports the most vulnerable of us, the most disadvantaged of us, the most under- privileged of us. And when we support all people to have a better quality of life, that ripples up to the rest of us and we see it in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our lives.
BY KEVIN FEE Grand Forks Herald GRAND FORKS
Christy Potts has worked with many people with disabilities. What keeps her coming back to her job as executive director at the LISTEN Center are stories like this: She was supporting a client, Gerald, who was 62 years old. He was an orphan at birth. Potts made calls and internet searches to try to find his family. Bingo. Letters she sent resulted in a response. “I got a response back and it was Gerald’s sisters. He had three living sisters, and they all came to visit him, and everyone cried. Gerald’s eyes got watery, and you could see the joy on his face during that interaction. His sisters had just lost their other brother and fate had sent them Gerald. I get emotional thinking about the experience.” Potts runs LISTEN, which provides homeand community-based services. It is Medicaidfunded through the state of North Dakota, providing residential support for people living in their own apartments or homes, family support services for children and adults still living with their families and day services for adults. The Herald sat down with Potts to discuss her organization’s mission and her leadership role.
Q: What got you into this business? Tell us how it started.
A: I grew up on a farm north of Bismarck and a mile down the road from my grandparents. I have two uncles with developmental disabilities who were a big part of my life. Growing up they were always at my grandparents’ house, along with my other aunts, uncles, cousins, so it was a very familiar experience for me being around my uncles, Donny and Doug. They had a different way of moving through the world than my other family members. During this time, respect, advocacy and a high level of care was demonstrated for me by my family, especially from my grandparents who were their biggest champions. This experience had a great impact on me and helped form how I interact with, not only people with disabilities, but with everyone. In 2007, my husband accepted a job at Polar Communications in Park River, so that moved us to this area of the state. At that time, I decided to finish my undergraduate degree in business management and international business by taking online classes. When we first moved, I worked at Marvin Windows in Grafton. But in August 2008, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer, so I was fortunate to be able to move back to Bismarck to spend time with him. He passed in February 2009 at 47 years old. He was the one who encouraged me to go into business and management. He would tell me, “You get a degree in business, and you can work just about anywhere.” I was 24 at the time and he passed 11 days before my husband and I were married, so that was a really hard time in my life. I pressed on, continuing my online classes and I started working directly with people with disabilities in July 2009 after I had moved back to Grafton. I had never worked with people with disabilities as a job before, but it felt comfortable immediately.
Q: Are there any hurdles or stereotypes that you had to overcome due to gender?
A: I have definitely run into many hurdles and stereotypes as a woman. One of the biggest ones being that what I say holds less value than what a male says at times. I’ve had situations where I thank male colleagues for what they have said during meetings, and their response is, “I said exactly what you said.” And I say, “I know, but thank you for saying it, too.” There’s been other situations where individuals come into meetings with me or want me to conduct business in a certain way, so they’ll try to direct me in our business dealings together because, I think, they think I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll navigate those situations by asking a lot of questions and even though I know what will be best for LISTEN or I know what the legality of a situation is, if they start to be really persistent with me, I’ll tell them that I just don’t know enough about the situation to make a decision and I need to contact our attorney or another professional and get back to them. Usually when I say attorney, people back off.
Q: What has been your biggest joy as a woman business leader?
A: My biggest joy is the opportunity to build up other people’s confidence in their jobs and lives. I have a great responsibility to the staff who choose to work for LISTEN and part of that responsibility is to show them respect and love and opportunities for growth. Whatever they want for themselves, that’s what I want for them. I want to lead them with respect andfairness so that they can lead and support people with disabilities with respect and fairness. That’s another great joy, having an interaction with an employee where you were able to show a lot of grace and learning and then seeing that employee reframe their interactions with others to show the same care.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to become executives or entrepreneurs?
A: Keep your eye out for the things that look exciting – and also a little scary – and then find a way to do them. I keep finding that the more I reach for opportunities that feel too big or too far out of my comfort zone, the more I look back and say ‘I’m really glad I did that.’
Q: Are there any hurdles or stereotypes that you had to overcome due to gender?
A: I don’t know that I would say obstacles related to gender specifically – at least not that I’ve felt. I think in this business – or maybe in any business – having to get over your Q: Do you have advice for young women who want to become executives or entrepreneurs? A: My advice is to be open to reframing the way you think about things and be flexible in the way you reach your goals. Things will never work out exactly the way you plan, but sometimes we get caught up in the details and something happens that makes us think it won’t work. But, if you are persistent, most of the time you can make something work. Also, being very forwardthinking will help you to reach your goals.
Q: As for being a business leader: Knowing what you know now, would you do things the exact same way? If so, why? And if not, what would you change?
A: I would change the way I did some things because every day is an opportunity to learn and grow. I spent a lot of time in my 20s giving people the benefit of the doubt and what that looked like was that I didn’t document interactions or agreements. One thing I would have changed is to follow up conversations with an email. I’ve always figured out a way to get things done, but by doing that, I would have been able to make progress faster earlier in my career. When we’re young, we might feel like we need to be really nice to our colleagues and leaders and trust them to follow through on things or pass information on, but you’re not being unkind by following up with an email, so it’s documented. You are more efficient at your job when you do that. You can then forward that email and add on to it for the next interaction. Shutterstock own mental hurdle is a challenge. There’s always this fear of failure, rejection or people just not liking you, and that’s OK. Getting to a point where you feel good about what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it, and knowing that the right people are going to gravitate toward that is important.
Q: As for being a business leader: Knowing what you know now, would you do things the exact same way? If so, why? And if not, what would you change?
A: I think all I would have changed, knowing what I know now, is that I should have done it sooner. I really enjoy getting to work one on- one with people, and do work that’s catered to them. It feels impactful and can make a difference in the course of their lives.
Grand Forks, ND—The LISTEN Center will hold a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Grand Opening celebration June 9 and 10 at its new location, 2100 S Washington St.
The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony will be Thursday, June 9 at 4 p.m. Mudbucket will play 2-5 p.m. in the main entry of the building, and there will be a variety of food vendors in the parking lot.
LISTEN purchased the property in March 2020 and has worked closely with Widseth for design of the building and Community Contractors to provide project management and construction of the site. The new LISTEN building has enough square footage to house all of LISTEN’s program under one roof, with additional space on the second floor available for one or more tenants.
“LISTEN for Everyone!” said Bret Roth, a client supported by LISTEN Day and Family Support Services.
“We are so excited to show off our new space to the community. The Board of Directors, LISTEN staff and people we support have all been vital to designing this building. Our goal has always been to have a more accessible and user-friendly space for everyone who chooses our services and everyone who works for us. Our new building raises the bar on accessibility and disability services and spaces in our community,” said Christy Potts, Executive Director.
“We belong side by side with everyone else,” said Carla Tice, director of LISTEN Drop In, which has operated for more than two decades in a separate facility. “The New LISTEN will provide our community with opportunity to do many things as one.”
“On behalf of myself and the Board of Directors, I just want to say that we are so proud to be part of this special day and want to thank all of the Listen Drop In, Program, and Gaming employees for their tireless efforts in all they do for our clients. This has been a vision of our past Executive Director, Charlie Bremseth, and is now a reality,” said Russ Prochko, President of the LISTEN Board of Directors.
LISTEN will also host food trucks, live music and tours on Friday, June 10th. The community is invited to tour the building 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, June 10. Downtown Horns will play 5-9 p.m. for the first Friday night LISTEN Drop In dance in the new building.
All members of the community are encouraged to stop by to grab something to eat, enjoy live music, and tour the new building both days. All ages are welcome.
LISTEN Drop In has operated for more than three decades out of its location at 624 N Washington. LISTEN has listed for sale that property and an adjoining playground, and also, separately, an adjacent house owned by LISTEN, with Dakota Commercial. For more information, contact Curtis Regan, 701.772.3101, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Programming for those with developmental disabilities
By Todd Morgan
GRAFTON—LISTEN is a new provider in the Grafton area that provides services to people with developmental disabilities. While new to Walsh County, LISTEN has been helping people improve their lives in Grand Forks since 1970. Listen provides a whole realm of services for people with developmental disabilities whether it’s day services or residential services. According to Executive Director Christy Potts, LISTEN provides residential services and operates a community center.
“We are a community provider in Grand Forks and Walsh counties,” she said. “We provide day services for adults with developmental disabilities and also residential services.” Potts said by residential services LISTEN supports both individuals with developmental disabilities living in their own apartments and family support services for those families caring for a loved one at home. “The family support services are for children or adults living within the family home,” Potts said. LISTEN has a site in Grafton on Lessard Avenue for their day services.
“We have been transporting six individuals from Grafton to Grand Forks for day services during the week,” she said.
According to program director Jennifer Contreras, LISTEN day services provides individuals more opportunities within the community whether it’s through voluntarism, jobs or relationships. “In Grafton it’s a smaller community so there are only so many jobs,” she said. “In a lot of those facilities you go to work with the same people you live with in many cases. With LISTEN they can continue to live where they’re at and still come to our day programs.” According to Contreras, individuals can choose to come one day a week or or as many days as they want. “There is no transportation fee,” she said. “It provides the individuals the opportunity to choose their days and services.” According to Potts, LISTEN has been a local non-profit independent entity in Grand Forks for more than 50 years providing services to developmentally disabled individuals. Just over a year ago LISTEN began branching out into the Grafton area. They recently broke ground on a new $6.4 million community center near Grand Cities Mall on South Washington Street. The facility is expected to be open to the public sometime this June.
“We support people who also use Developmental Homes here in Grand Forks, REM in Grand Forks and Grafton and CHI in Grafton,” Potts said. “They have those companies as their residential provider and in many cases have chosen us for their day provider.” “It’s an opportunity for individuals to further build relationships outside of their home communities,” Contreras said. “Everyone who is able to come here loves it,” Potts said. “The guardians are very satisfied also and bring a lot of encouragement and recognition to our staff.”
A big part of the programming at LISTEN involves social activities, whether its monthly celebrations or music and animal therapy. “The fire department comes once a year and goes over fire safety and everyone can see the truck,” Potts said. “The police department comes in once a year. We go to movies, go to Turtle River State Park, go to Fargo to the air museum, the Wahpeton Zoo, Bonanzaville, craft shows, the ag show at the Alerus Center, the library, we help with the Salvation Army bell ringing, we help out at the thrift stores and many more places.”
While there are six people from Grafton utilizing day services provided by LISTEN there is opportunity for many people to participate in what is going on through LISTEN. “Families or guardians can reach out to us and let us know they are interested in our services,” Potts said. “Services LISTEN offers is Medicaid funded.” Anyone interested in learning more about LISTEN can reach them at 701-746-7840 or by reaching out to Potts at Christy@listencenter.org.
The goal of LISTEN day services is to help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to become as independent and self-sufficient as possible. The programming, according to Potts is personal and individualized. It is a safe and secure environment, nationally accredited and funded by North Dakota Department of Human Services.
“Once a year we put on a play at the Empire Theatre in downtown Grand Forks and we have dances every Friday night at the community center that are open to everyone,” Potts said. There is also a plan for a big celebration for the grand opening of their new facility in June to keep an eye out for. “We are glad to be able to reach out to the Grafton area and provide services that we believe really enhance and improve the lives of people,” Potts said. “We encourage anyone who has any questions to reach out to us. We would be happy to answer any questions.”
The L.I.S.T.E.N. Center (LISTEN Center) is preparing to make joy more accessible to the community with the opening of a new larger building, including an updated, more-accessible Drop-In community center in 2022. LISTEN Center is a nonprofit organization in North Dakota that strives to provide opportunities for all people. Their mission is to provide quality services for people with intellectual disabilities which will help them live as independently as possible. In addition to their Drop-In community center, the organization provides community-based day and residential services, hosts gaming sites, a festival of trees, community theater productions, and more.
“Our community center is what makes us stand out and remain visible in the community,” Executive Director Christy Potts said. “Our organization works to widen everyone’s world for opportunities to find joy, make choices, and take on responsibilities, and I think people see that most clearly when they think about the community center.”
The new building will feature a more-accessible, all-on-one-level space for the organization featuring ceiling lifts to better work with folks with physical disabilities, wide automatic doors, and wider hallways. The opening of the new building could serve as a metaphor for how Potts has approached running the organization since starting as Executive Director in 2018.
“I saw becoming ED at LISTEN Center as such a unique opportunity — I was so excited to be at an organization with such a strong history and community ties, and it was exciting for me to see all the opportunities we had to grow and change for the future,” Potts said.
As is common in the nonprofit sector, even more so in the past few years, Potts took over for an Executive Director who had been with the organization for multiple decades. In this case, 40 years.
Once she was in the role, she knew she needed support in updating staff policies, planning for growth, and building a working relationship with her board. With the support of her board chair, she reached out to Propel’s Strategic Services consultants.
Propel engages with nonprofits as a mutual and trusted partner using a three-step approach: assessing where your board is currently at, coming to an agreement on where you need to be (and how you want to be together), and then establishing an action plan to move forward toward your mission, together. Potts and her board chair have worked with Propel to define what steps need to be taken to move toward durability.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without Propel,” Potts said. “The team has been patient and thoughtful as we build out a plan for where I need to grow, and what I need from my board, and vice-versa, in order to create a stronger and more resilient organization.”
That included creating new policies, updating procedures, and continuing to be flexible and responsive during the pandemic.
“We are a 50-year-old organization, and I want us to be around in another 50 years,” she said. She sees the strong foundation of the organization and is excited to help cultivate the structure it needs to grow and continue to be what the community needs.
“I am so excited about where we are at,” Potts said. “We are growing in the right direction, not only literally with the opening of the new building, but figurately, too. I can tell how this work with the board will impact the whole organization.”
As she prepares for the opening of the new center, Potts sees it as a place where not only more clients can be welcomed, but a place for staff to feel supported as well.
“My colleague has said I move at the speed of light, but I think everything takes time, as long as you keep working on it, we’ll get there together,” she said.
Article by Propel Nonprofits
“Our doors are made open to all!” Thank you to everyone who joined us at our Groundbreaking Ceremony!
Check out the ceremony on Facebook Live…or view images from the ceremony below.
After more than half a century, the LISTEN Center will launch a new era when it hosts a groundbreaking ceremony for its first-ever new building. The groundbreaking is set for Thursday, June 10, 4 p.m. at 2100 S. Washington St. in Grand Forks. The public is invited.
With construction expected to be completed in mid-2022, the new LISTEN building will have enough space to house all of LISTEN’s programs under one roof for the first time in years. There will also be additional space on the second floor for one or more tenants.
“LISTEN is excited to be a part of the continual growth, commercial renewal and development that is bringing value to our city,” said Christy Potts, LISTEN Executive Director. “This new building not only replaces an inaccessible old building that was on the property, but it will raise the standard for accessibility for everyone who uses our program services and our Drop In Community Center. Our goal is to build a space that is accessible and user-friendly for people choosing our services and our staff that help them.”
“With our programs growing and adding residential and in home support in the last 18 months to LISTEN services’ this building is opening a new future for us that is focused on the needs of the people we are supporting,” said Nancy McKay, Programs Services Director. “It pioneers our potential for growth in our program services. With the new building, the skies the limit on what else we may be able to add to benefit our community.”
“A dream is a wish your heart makes and the Listen Drop In Center has been a part of helping people make their dreams happen for the past 50 years,” said Carla Tice, Drop In Program Director. “With this new building more dreams for more people will be possible. With state-of-the-art technology, universal design, and a culture that supports one another, we will have 50 more years of dreams come true.”
LISTEN has partnered with Widseth and Community Contractors for design and construction of the building.
The LISTEN Center’s roots date back to 1970, when a program started in Grand Forks churches. It grew into S.M.I.LE. – St. Mary’s Is Love Exceptional – in 1972 and then combined with a Youth Arc program in 1974 to become Love Is Sharing the Exceptional Needs – L.I.S.T.E.N. LISTEN has evolved over the years, but its mission has remained the same: to provide quality services designed to help people with intellectual disabilities live as independently as possible.
Christina Potts, email@example.com
LISTEN Executive Director, Christina Potts Accepted to National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities
Grand Forks, ND – LISTEN, Inc. Executive Director Christy Potts is one of 32 selected nationwide to participate in the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities, Leadership Institute held at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware Jan. 12-17.
The National Leadership Consortium is a partnership of the 18 national disabilityorganizations dedicated to promoting citizenship, equality and access to high quality, individualized supports for people with disabilities.
Potts started her career supporting people with disabilities in 2009. She graduated from Minot State University with a B.S. in Business Management and International Business in 2011 while working full time as a Direct Support Professional. She continued working with people with disabilities while attending Minot State University to complete a M.S. in Management in 2014.
Potts, who joined LISTEN, Inc. as Executive Director in 2018, has held various roles in the field including Direct Support Professional, Case Management Assistant, Program Specialist, and Qualified Developmental Disabilities Professional.
LISTEN is a nonprofit organization in Grand Forks with a successful record of making a difference for people with disabilities and their loved ones. The organization provides residential and day services for adults with disabilities and runs the LISTEN Drop-In Community Center at 624 N Washington street to encourage relationship building and community sharing for all people. LISTEN holds the annual Festival of Trees fundraiser to help support opportunities for all people in the Greater Grand Forks area and to support local families around the holiday season.
National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities
Founded in 2006, the National Leadership Consortium works to assure that the next generation of leaders in the intellectual and developmental disabilities sector have the skills, values, knowledge and resources needed to continue a worldwide shift away from congregate service models that keep people with disabilities segregated and isolated, to individualized, person directed supports that ensure that people are meaningful members of their chosen communities. The goal of the Institute is to assist agencies that are committed to making significant and measurable change; infuse them with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to reduce reliance on congregate services and assist them to identify and overcome obstacles that stand in the way of accomplishing a transformed service model.
The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities also provides state specific Leadership Institutes across the U.S. in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas and internationally in central Europe, British Columbia, Ontario, and Israel. Participants have represented over 900 agencies, 50 states and 14 countries worldwide.
Nancy Weiss, Director of the National Leadership Consortium states, “The Leadership Institutes are intensive, exciting, and transformational. During the Institutes, participants learn from a faculty of renowned national experts about progressive supports for people with disabilities”. Weiss says, “It is always an amazing week. Participants often arrive unsure and even a bit skeptical; they leave better prepared to effect positive change within their organizations and for the ultimate benefit of people with disabilities and their families. Without exception, they leave the Leadership Institute with renewed energy and excited to put into practice the new ideas they’ve embraced. They go back to their home organizations with a network of colleagues who often become a lifelong circle of support as each participant begins the tough and exhilarating work needed to create stronger organizations, meaningful change, and better lives for the people they support.”