Posted Wednesday, February 14, 2024 by Laura Haffield

Stories from the Heart: Reflecting on Our Impact in Human Services

Ask anyone at Northwoods what has made us successful for the last twenty years and they’ll say it’s our mission-driven people who love nothing more than making an impact. We truly do love partnering with our customers throughout their change journey, and seeing our shared hard work make positive changes for workers, supervisors, administrators, and ultimately the people they serve. That focus on mission and love of witnessing transformation is our secret sauce.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I wanted to share some stories from those at Northwoods who work with our partner agencies every day. I asked our teams to share in their own words times they have felt they made an impact or were really proud of the work we accomplished with our customers.

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02-14-24 DKBDavid K Bush, Ed.D., Change Management Consultant:

I have been lucky over my years working with customers to witness many change journeys and to develop deep relationships with our agencies over the course of their projects.

One that stands out was a project in a small rural county in North Carolina last year. When we first arrived, there was some level of skepticism—which of course we've seen before. Over the course of the planning meetings that week though you could see the walls come down and the folks involved started to believe in us. They started to trust us, which is so important for the success of the project.

At our last onsite meeting, the agency lead was sharing some final words with her team and ours. She became emotional, I think just from recognizing how far they have come and all the work that goes into making a big organizational change. That delivery of vision was powerful for her. The bone-crushing hug goodbye she gave me was quite telling of the impact made. It's forming relationships like those that are most meaningful to me.

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Ron Parker, Project Manager:

I’ve been providing in-person training and support for a county in North Carolina. This project is with the entire agency: child welfare, adult services, economic services, and child support. I made a comment to my colleague that I felt somewhat like a celebrity when I walked into the Health Department building yesterday to hear comments like “The Traverse guy is here!” and to see heads stick out with the look of excitement because they see hope of some question that's standing in their way now being answered. I had lots of those moments this week and it sure has been a reminder that we're making a very positive difference. 

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Brittany Traylor, NorthwoodsBrittany Traylor, Industry Advocate:

My child welfare experience in California has helped me connect with our customers better when providing demonstrations of our products, creating an environment of comfort and familiarity while they're being introduced to something new.

The “home-feel” appreciation has also been shown during on-site customer visits, where a county was grateful for my ability to offer subject matter expertise.

To me, ensuring that a customer feels like they are getting more than just technology, but also a partner who has direct child welfare experience, makes a significant impact along their journey and building trust moving forward. 

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Lindsay Drerup, MSW, LISW-S, Change Management Consultant:

Last year I was able to work with a small team at Northwoods to develop a training workshop for a worker conference in Ohio around the ethics of technology in social work. Getting to create and provide that training—and bring that clinical knowledge and value to all our Ohio partner agencies—was a time I really felt I was making an impact.  

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Amy Drapcho, Fiscal Advocate:

As the Fiscal Advocate at Northwoods, I get to interact with counties when they need help finding funding for their modernization project or for their contract renewal. I like being a resource for the sales and customer success teams, so they can call on me when they’re talking to a county that may need help. I especially like if I can provide advice or resources that contribute to a county’s success. 

One example in 2023 was when I was brought in to collaborate with a county working on a SNAP Technology Improvement grant opportunity from the US Department of Agriculture. When I saw the questions being asked, I was able to send the county’s grant-writer some key verbiage to justify their project, including messaging for administrators, return on investment, and the cost of doing nothing. It was easy for me to pull these pieces of content that we had already developed internally, and the county was very grateful to receive these narratives.  

I felt good about saving them the time and hassle of coming up with their own wording from scratch.  Best of all, the county was successful and was awarded funding and is now in the process of implementing Northwoods technology to improve their administration of benefits.  

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Kaden Welch, NorthwoodsKaden Welch, Business Development Representative:

We had the opportunity to meet with an Ohio agency to discuss Case Aide Services in late 2023. We were about 15 minutes into the conversation when we opened up the floor for questions.

The assistant director chimed in right away and said, “What’s the catch?” It was kind of a funny question and we all laughed, but it really opened my eyes to how unbelievable of a service this could be to agencies in need.

Northwoods has always been at the forefront of helping workers help families, but this just proves that we are taking this a step further and providing a tool that can change the way agencies operate. We are helping workers on a personal level so they can take their sights off the administrative work and use that time where it’s better served. 

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Molly Cull, MSW, LISW-S, Case Aide Specialist:

Being a Case Aide has reminded me of what it was like when I was a child welfare caseworker and how intense and overwhelming the daily work can be. I love what I do and have a greater appreciation for it because I know that all the little tasks I assist with can truly make a big impact on their workload and ultimately the families they serve.

An example of a time when I felt especially helpful is when a caseworker called me in a panic around 4pm on a Friday afternoon—the “witching hour” as they’ve jokingly referred to it. She was in need of an emergency placement for a group of siblings and had the children with her at the office. I was able to assist in locating a relative to take kinship placement of the children and complete the lengthy packets required for each child. This in turn gave the caseworker the ability to focus on and comfort the children, get them in fresh clothing, and ensure everyone was out of the office/safe at home before it got dark.

All of this is so incredibly important for both the children, who are often scared and confused, as well as the worker, who is exhausted and skipping lunch/meals because they often prioritize their client's basic needs before their own. 

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John Irvin Hauser, NorthwoodsJohn Irvin Hauser, LSW, MBA, Senior Customer Success Manager:

I have experience as a child welfare worker in Ohio. One thing that I felt I had no control over was the fact that it took a long time to link a family with services. When an agency becomes involved with a family, it is extremely stressful. So, the more time a family is waiting to be helped the more stress it placed on the family, sometimes worsening the problem.

As a customer success manager at Northwoods, I get the chance to meet with our customers on a quarterly basis to discuss their successes and challenges, collect product feedback, and show them updated features within our solutions.

There is not a particular instance that stands out, but rather when a new product feature aligns with the team’s “why” that I can tangibly see the impact we make. Human services work is already extremely challenging, and then you have technical obstacles that stand in the way of achieving your goals. When I can see in their eyes how a new feature will help them get their work done, I know that families will be triaged more quickly and can receive services promptly. This makes me feel good about the work we do.

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Chawn Walker, Manager of Solution Delivery:

In my position, I don't always get to work directly with customers day-to-day. I either work with my team to talk about projects or I work at a state level and do not get to see the work on the ground. I did however recently work on a Solution Optimization project, where we help the agency reevaluate their software and processes, for a county in New York.

There were multiple times that you could see the flash in their eyes that something we said was going to make an impact—the “aha” moment. I used to see that on a daily basis and took it for granted. Now that I do not see it as often, it makes seeing it again all the more gratifying.

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Michael Kington, Customer Success Manager:

I’ve been working with a county in Minnesota that’s been a customer for a long time. It has been really cool to see them work to use our portal, Traverse Connect, to the level they are! They are using all of the different functionality really well and have been so happy with how it has changed their business processes. I love the opportunity to be part of that change.

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02-14-24 Jessica BowersJessica Bowers, MSW, LSW, Manager of Solution Delivery:

The forms team received an email from a county after we had delivered all their Traverse forms and the workers had begun to use them.

One line stood out that I always go back to when I need encouragement: “Thank you so much as this brings us closer to protecting children and helping families more efficiently. We are changing the world together.” Another time a super excited worker said in a meeting: “I don’t have to worry about having all the forms in my on-call box in my trunk? They will all live in Traverse?” 

I love knowing that because of Traverse and forms workers now have less on their mental to do list and can focus on the important work with the people they are serving. 

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Ethan Burch, Customer Support Specialist:

A child support agency in Ohio reported an issue, and it turns out that a simple update to the case number on the backend would resolve the issue and the worker could view the documents as needed. After the ticket was closed, we received the following comment from the survey response from the agency’s technical point of contact: “Hands down the best help desk to have to deal with. I cannot say enough good things about Northwoods and their help desk technicians.” This made me feel good to be a part of a team that cares about helping those who are helping others. Receiving that kind of feedback encouraged me that the work our team does at Northwoods really matters.

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David Tagtmeier, Project Manager:

Last year I had the opportunity to work with a county in North Carolina on a Traverse project. During the training I met a gentleman who was having major anxiety about the move to Traverse. He was a new worker and was already having major issues with learning their existing system. He told me he was thinking about going back to teaching because of the stress of using the technology, and now having to learn another new system.

I agreed to go with him on a client visit. He picked me up and away we went. On the ride over to the client's home he gave me a brief update on what the visit was about and who would be there, including three people who were going to join in remotely, two from the county. We put together a plan on how I could help him without being a distraction. During the visit, a case plan was being created and was shared between this worker and his supervisor who was not onsite with us. This sharing included both parties taking control of the form to add to it. The visit lasted nearly two hours. After the visit the worker and I sat in his car, and he created his case note using Traverse and its transcription functionality. It was finished while still in the client’s driveway and took under five minutes.

The next day the case plan was completed in the office. The worker told me that he was no longer stressed about the change to Traverse and that he has no plans on leaving the agency. He met with the agency director and shared the same sentiment. This experience showed me how valuable our solutions are in supporting social workers who are stressed about documenting their work. The solution is making a difference not only in the lives of our end users, but also in the lives the of the clients that they serve.

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Mike Randall, NorthwoodsMike Randall, Senior Solution Architect:

Over the years, I have seen Northwoods’ software provide an incredible amount of impact to our wonderful customers.

My favorite memories are being part of the implementation phase where we get to meet the staff and work with them from the beginning until the end of a project. I have seen my fair share of staff who would rather not be part of the change—but those are honestly the best success stories as they often become power users in just a few weeks.

The profound impact our software has on the dedicated individuals in their often-thankless roles is deeply fulfilling. Seeing the staff smile once they realize how much time is being saved makes my job worth every second that I put in it. Whether it's participating in onsite appreciation lunches, being asked to stay indefinitely, receiving heartfelt cards, or building positive relationships, the unmistakable radiance of our positive impact is truly undeniable!

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When reading these stories, I am filled with pride and admiration for my colleagues. For myself, some of my favorite conversations are the ones in the very beginning when we are first learning from a potential partner agency about what they struggle with, and what they want to work toward in the future. It's so exciting to be able to tell them they're not alone—many of their sister agencies across the country struggle with the same things—and we can HELP. Getting to meet and know the people doing the hard work of human services, all across the country, is something that truly fills up my cup (and the cups of all of us at Northwoods!).

The busy day-to-day can sometimes get in the way of us taking a step back to reflect on why we do what we do, and yet doing so is incredibly important for our well-being. I invite you all to take a moment and remind yourself of the impact you make in your work. Write it down so you can go back to it. Remember why it is you were called to the work, even when it is challenging. Remind each other of the impacts you see those around you making, too. Give yourselves some love!

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Laura Haffield began her career as a social worker in public child welfare. She earned a master’s in social work from University of Wisconsin – Madison as a Title IV-E Public Child Welfare Trainee. As director of advocacy, Laura is the bridge between Northwoods’ internal and external audiences. She ensures the social worker is the most important person in every decision, from what we build, to how we implement, to how we support our partners along the way.

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