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Giving the Gift of Flexible Schedules

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I've had jobs where if you're there at 8:05, you're going to be written up," Courtney Kasinger recalls. Her current job--as communications director of Choices, Inc., a management support organization that serves youth in Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, and Washington, DC--is not one of those. In fact, Choices has a very flexible scheduling policy. Salaried employees get a block of paid time off (PTO) that can be used at their discretion as sick time, vacation time, or personal time. "Some employees might blow through that rather quickly, some employees save it up and take 3 or 4 weeks off at a time," Kasinger says. "It just depends on each individual's needs."

Knute Rotto, Choices CEO and founder.

Choices offices do close for some holidays. "In the beginning we didn't have very many office closings [but] we've added a few over the years," Kasinger explains. Part-time, hourly employees must use PTO on these days unless their supervisor gives them permission to work, she continues, and some salaried employees choose to work less established holidays even if the office is technically closed.

"People are pleased with the benefit time," says Knute Rotto, Choices CEO and founder, even though he admits it's an adjustment for most people. "I don't think they quite get it until they get into it." The arrangement requires employees to be more organized with their time, which for some is challenging. But once they get used to the policy, they take advantage of it in ways that work for them. Rotto has two sons, who are in middle school and high school. "I take days off for school holidays," he says. But Kasinger takes a different approach. "My kids are younger than Knute's; I tend to want to take a week off," she says. She also notes the ease of saving up PTO to use during the holidays for visiting with family who live far away. "I can't imagine my life without that kind of flexibility."

The flexibility is what Rotto was imagining when he started Choices 13 years ago. "Flex time" hadn't really entered corporate lingo at that point, but he wanted to create an organization that was family-friendly in its policies. "I was really trying to create an environment that was flexible for the staff and make it be a perk."

Kasinger says because Choices has a younger workforce, it's not obvious to some from the beginning that the scheduling is a perk. "They're learning as they go that this is a really great benefit," she explains, adding that she hears from former employees who miss the system. "People who have left didn't realize how good they had it."

Jamie Spencer of Choices, Inc. A 2010 employee survey rated paid time off 4.12 on a scale of 1 to 5.

One potential challenge multisite agencies could face in implementing a similar program is the differences in laws about employee leave depending on each jurisdiction. Choices has mostly avoided these concerns, since its locations have similar laws, Rotto says, except for Washington, DC. "It is more of an employee-friendly governance as far as laws go," he says, and it's been a process to learn the nuances of legislation.

Additionally, due to the nature of working with children and families, there are sometimes emergencies that happen when an employee has planned to use PTO. "Say they had designated a week off--but they are also expected to be on call for those kids if things are popping," Rotto explains. "If they get a call late in the evening, they'll be compensated by not having to take that time off as they had planned." He also notes that if a worker is planning to be totally out of touch, they create a "youth crisis plan" before leaving. Often, these plans have a supervisor as the backup contact for a child who may need help. Kasinger points out that Choices staff are only part of a team around their youth. "We work with a really diverse provider network," she says. Youth "have access to a lot of different adults in their lives."

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children's Voice.

80 Years of Athletics

This year, CWLA member agency Maryville Academy has been celebrating 80 years of its Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), founded to provide an alternative to gang life: athletics. The CYO sponsors organized programs throughout the year, including basketball, cross country, track and field, and cheerleading. About 2,000 youth ages 8-19 in the Chicago area participate annually. While run on behalf of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the programs are open to youth of all faiths. This year, the CYO's summer basketball league expanded with competition among 26 teams thanks to a grant from World Sport Chicago.

Kudos to Kansas Agencies

Two CWLA members, the Kansas Children's Service League (KCSL) and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), are part of a group being recognized by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome in early November. The National Center will present the state of Kansas an award for outstanding child abuse prevention efforts, implementation of the Period of PURPLE Crying(R), and dedication to the prevention of abusive head trauma during the 34th annual Governor's Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect in Wichita. The PURPLE Crying program offers education about and prevention of shaken baby syndrome.

Antiques and Roaders Show

Sweetser, a CWLA member in Maine, planned a new event in September--a Family Day and Cruise-In. In addition to family favorite activities like mini golf, face painting, and arts and crafts, the event featured a display of antique and specialty cars. The event also offered appraisals of household antiques, with a $5 donation to Sweetser for each item. The appraisals are being done by Mark Bryant, a local antiques dealer whose expertise includes art, coins, watches and clocks, and Civil War era documents. A Sweetser board member helped connect Bryant with the agency.

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