LSA Blog

What happens when the Disability Network gets together?

Blog Date: 
Friday, August 28, 2015
by Sarah Meek, LSA-DN Director of Policy and Advocacy
LSA-DN 2015 Summer Meeting
From left to right: Julie Swanson, LFS of VA President & CEO and Convener of LSA-DN and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA

The LSA Disability Network (LSA-DN) is a nationwide association of Lutheran social ministry organizations, faith-based organizations and Lutheran professionals who support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To date, LSA-DN includes 25 member organizations that provide support to more than 150,000 individuals, in 32 states and the Virgin Islands. 

As a group, we represent collective action toward a shared goal. We work together to advocate for policies and programs that center around the people that are served, and improving long-term services and support. As part of our work, we gather several times a year to learn from each other and move the work of LSA-DN forward.

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to meet with forty representatives from 20+ LSA-DN member organizations in Chicago at the ELCA headquarters for the Summer 2015 meeting. As with all of our meetings, we learned from each other about triumphs and challenges at member organizations and heard from several expert speakers about emerging trends in supports for people with disabilities.

One of the most fascinating speakers was George Klauser, Executive Director of the Altair accountable care organization (ACO) from Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, a member of LSA-DN and LSA. George shared best practices and lessons learned from the project's initial implementation.  Altair is comprised of six of Minnesota's leading social service providers, including fellow LSA-DN member Mount Olivet Rolling Acres, and a health care practice specializing in care to individuals with disabilities. Altair serves as the mechanism to manage collaboration across organizations and services and create quality measurement and data sharing tools to track outcomes and share best practices. Altair is believed to be the first ACO of its kind endeavors to support people with disabilities in a holistic and person-centered manner while attempting to control costs. I'm truly excited to watch the progress of Altair and see how it may be replicated in other areas.

Dr. David Mank, Director of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University, spoke to new research and pilot programs to increase competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Furthermore, Dr. Mank outlined the federal government's current efforts to encourage employment for people with disabilities through the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities. Dr. Mank is the chair of this committee. In speaking to our group, Dr. Mank mentioned his person connection to Lutheran social ministry. While in graduate school, he worked as a direct support professional at Good Shepherd Lutheran Services in Washington state. Good Shepherd is now a part of Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a member of LSA and LSA-DN.

Ilsa Flanagan, Director of the Reframing Initiative at the National Human Services Assembly (NHSA), explained the results and lessons learning from NHSA's extensive research into public conceptions of social services. Working through concrete examples, Ilsa discussed how current messages could be reworked to better build public support for the services provided by LSA-DN members. Ilsa will be returning to our February meeting to conduct a half-day workshop for DN members who are interested in more in-depth work on this topic. This topic is incredibly exciting as it has the possibility to make a real impact on fundraising and advocacy communications. I cannot wait to see what incredible results will be gained from this partnership.

In addition, 15+ representatives attended an innovation tour of Evanston's Center for Independent Futures (CIF). CIF is a unique model of completely person-centered support in the community for people with disabilities that is primarily driven by families. LSA-DN members met with staff from every program area at CIF and then toured multiple homes to meet with supported individuals.

The network also celebrated the upcoming retirements of both Cindy Schroeder from Mosaic and Bill Nolan from KenCrest. Bill and Cindy have been the backbone of LSA-DN for many years and will be truly missed! However, I've heard from both of them that we may not have seen the last of them. Phew!

Thank you to the ELCA and LSS of Illinois for their hospitality and assistance with meeting planning! Looking forward to seeing you all again at our Winter 2016 meeting in Carefree, Arizona!

To read more about the work of the LSA Disability Network and what we believe, visit:

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