New Riverside Industries executive works to reinstate staff and bring disabled customers back in person

EASTHAMPTON — With plans to expand its services, President and CEO Lynn Ostrowski-Ireland says the future of Riverside Industries looks bright.

Since taking over as head of Char Gentes, who retired from the nonprofit in December after nearly 40 years, Ostrowski-Ireland says she knew she had found a place where she wanted to be.

” It was great. The team here is phenomenal. The community has been incredibly supportive and welcoming,” she said. “What we do every day really matters and makes such a difference in people’s lives that I can’t really imagine being any better.”

The search for a new President and CEO began in February 2021 and included screening many candidates and narrowing them down to a pool of four finalists. After interviews and further selection, the search committee unanimously chose Ostrowski-Ireland to lead the organization.

Ostrowski-Ireland holds a Ph.D. in Psychology with a concentration in Health Behavior from Capella University in Minneapolis and a Masters in Wellness Management in Health Promotion from Springfield College. She most recently served as Chief Operating Officer for Sisters for Providence Ministry Corp., based in Holyoke, where she oversaw programs focused on helping the elderly and the underprivileged.

Prior to that, she served as Chief Operating Officer for Viability Inc., headquartered in Northampton, where she helped the company achieve a 99.8% CARF Accreditation score. . She also worked at Health New England as Director of Corporate Responsibility and Government Affairs.

Although Ostrowski-Ireland describes the atmosphere at Riverside as very positive, the job is not without its challenges, especially amid an ongoing pandemic. Although many businesses and nonprofits have shifted to a post-pandemic approach to health policy, she said Riverside is treating the circumstances as “rampant” at this point.

Currently, the non-profit – which helps people with disabilities develop life skills and find jobs – is operating at around 65% capacity, strictly due to staffing issues. There is currently a waiting list that has built up over the past two years that includes former clients and those who started aging out of school looking for help.

Although the agency provides services through Zoom, these services can also be isolating.

“While every industry knows the workforce crisis, we in social services have always had workforce issues. And the pandemic has exacerbated or highlighted those challenges significantly” Ostrowski-Ireland said, “I really think social service organizations, like we do with people with developmental disabilities, have been disproportionately affected by staffing.”

At full capacity, Ostrowski-Ireland said, Riverside had just under 200 full-time employees. Now there are about 125.

Riverside receives the majority of its funding from the state Department of Developmental Services and MassHealth.

“We can’t compete with Target, which starts people at $24 an hour, or Amazon, which pays $18 an hour and offers sign-in bonuses,” she said. “And because our funding comes mostly from the state, we can’t raise salaries to be competitive… We’re not able to do the work that we want to be able to do and that the people we serve really deserve. .”

Ostrowski-Ireland said Riverside is working with a number of supplier organizations as part of state legislative efforts to try to raise wages to a more competitive level.

With the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and as an added precaution, Riverside staff and customers also continue to wear masks during program hours.

In addition to working to fully staff the organization and bring all of its clients back to the facility for in-person services, Riverside is also looking to expand its Pre-Employment Transition Services, also known as Pre-ETS. . Under this program, staff members travel to a secondary school to help students aged 14 to 22 with intellectual or developmental disabilities explore educational and employment opportunities as they prepare to life after high school. The agency has contracts with four high schools, including Easthampton and Northampton.

Ostrowski-Ireland also aims to provide autism-specific programs in the future.

Moving forward, Ostrowski-Ireland said she feels very positive about the future of Riverside Industries. The organization’s annual auction, held last week, raised more than $113,000.

“Riverside will survive and thrive and a big part of that is the hard work of the board, the support of this community and the incredible dedication of the team here at Riverside,” she said.

Emily Thurlow can be contacted at [email protected]

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