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Success coaches help workers with problems outside the workplace. That helps their employers, too

 Destiny R.
Max Schulte
Destiny Roque and Lydia Sellers show off an art project they worked on at the Webster Day Habilitation program run by Heritage Christian Services. Roque works with individuals who attend the program.

Destiny Roque loves her job at Heritage Christian Services, where she supports people with disabilities.

“Mostly I love working with individuals," she said. "I guess it's just my calling. I look at them as individuals that can be my relatives.”

She has worked for the agency serving people in their day programs and in the residential homes since the early days of the pandemic. It was there she witnessed how people are affected when support is inconsistent.

“A lot of them were down, and it was hard,” Roque said. She saw a lot of anxiety, and an uptick in depression.

Things became tougher for Roque when her live-in boyfriend became violent, affecting her home life and ability to work. She found herself in need of support and reached out to her manager.

“I went in, and I told her ... I need help,” Roque said.

Roque knew that Heritage Christian Services, through a partnership with the Employer Resource Network, provided “success coaches” for their staff. The coaches work as in-house social workers, helping employees with myriad issues, including food insecurity, child care and budgeting. They also provide assistance with emergencies, like the one Roque had.

That support benefits both employee and employer.

“It’s a model of increasing retention of an organization, by providing staff support to its employees,” said Marianne Durrant, executive director of the network’s Rochester branch.

Durrant said the agency brought the initiative to Rochester in 2019 to help address the many reasons employees leave – reasons that go far beyond poor work performance.

“It could be because they were missing a lot of work, or they were coming in late. And when you dig into that, a lot of times, there's reasons behind that,” Durrant said. “Things like their day care lady didn't show up on time.”

Direct support professionals like Roque work in the agency’s day programs and at 65 residential homes. And those positions have the highest percentage of vacancies for Heritage Christian Services. In April, of the 97 open direct support positions in Rochester, 46% of them were at residential facilities.

“It helped me grow as a person, it helped me grow as a mother, as an individual and as an employee.”
Destiny Roque

Outside of raising its base pay to $15 per hour, the agency said the Employer Resource Network has been an incentive for recruiting and retaining staff for these roles.

With a 15-year track record, the supportive model has been proven to work for other organizations. It started in Michigan, and now services 200 employers across 11 states. In New York, businesses pay about $15,000 per year for the service and have reported, on average, a return on investment of over 200%.

The confidential service is offered to all employees. Heritage Christian Services accounts for over 30% of employees using the service in the Rochester network. The network reports retention rates of over 90% for employees who have accessed the service.

The majority of requests are from direct support professionals or residential managers who reach out to intervene on behalf of their staff.

“They are looking for strategies or tools to better support themselves, also to support the employee,” said Chanel Terrell, one of three success coaches serving the Rochester region.

There are some limitations, though. Terrell said she does her best, but she can’t fulfill every request.

For example, many support professionals work at homes in areas outside the Rochester Transit System bus line and transportation continues to be a major barrier. Terrell said there are no programs she can refer people to for transportation assistance.

“We walk away very sad that we can't help everybody, but that is the reality, you can’t support everybody,” Terrell said.

Heritage 3.jpg
Max Schulte
Destiny Roque gives Lydia Sellers dandelions while on a field trip to the Powder Mills Park during the Webster Day Habilitation program run by Heritage Christian Services. Roque works with individuals who attend the program.

But there are many success stories.

Terrell was able to help Roque and her two children access housing assistance so they could escape domestic violence.

Terrell coordinated the transition while Roque secured a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend. Heritage Christian Services paid for her hotel room and provided Roque with a security guard for two weeks.

Roque has used the success coach services multiple times and said she encourages her co-workers to do the same.

“She could relate to me on many levels,” Roque said of Terrell. “It helped me grow as a person, it helped me grow as a mother, as an individual and as an employee.”


This story was produced through the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations and universities dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about successful responses to social problems. The group is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.

The collaborative’s first series, Invisible Army: Caregivers on the Front Lines, focuses on potential solutions to challenges facing caregivers of older adults.

Corrected: June 7, 2022 at 4:27 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that more than 40% of residential direct support positions were vacant at Heritage Christian Services. The rate is approximately 10%.

Also, three success coaches serve the Rochester region. An earlier version reported there were four.
April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.