One of the best parts of my job is when I get to meet a new teammate and say, “Welcome to Team AZA!” I began my career in this field as a direct care provider for children with autism, and once I discovered that passion I never looked back. Today I spend every day thinking about how we can improve the lives of children and families living with autism in our community, and make the work experience for our unbelievably talented and dedicated staff the best it can possibly be.
As founder and CEO of AZA United, I’ve had the chance to see the organization evolve since the very beginning. When we started, there were very few resources available. The main thing that was driving us was a mission to help as many families as possible, and to build an organization with a culture that is inclusive, innovative, inspirational, and a lot of fun. We did some things differently from other autism agencies – we formed as a nonprofit, we asked parents to serve on the board, and we focused more on accessibility than profitability. We were committed to filling gaps and unmet needs for families who were too often left behind. Today we are seeing a wave of big corporate acquisitions with autism provider agencies as more funding has become available, and we realize that our role as a nonprofit is more important than ever. Every community deserves to have an organization whose sole focus is to meet the needs of those children, youth, teens and adults living with autism who are struggling. That will always be the most important function of Arizona Autism United.
It has now been over a decade since we opened our doors, and we are growing! The need for services has increased dramatically, and fortunately many funding systems have supported the growth of organizations like ours to hire more teammates and help more families. Today, we offer a wide range of evidence-based services and supports, and are recognized as a leading autism organization in the state of Arizona. The secret to our success, in my opinion, is the organizational culture we have developed. We believe in keeping our team connected, empowered, educated and excited. Positive reinforcement is the key to helping children with autism thrive; we apply the same philosophy with our staff. We strive for no less than to make every employee feel that theirs is the best job ever!
As the organization has grown, we’ve taken time to reflect on who we have become and what we’re all about. An important exercise in this process was to define our core values, which are as follows:
1. Grow with Purpose
Too many companies get too big, too fast. We never want to lose sight of our mission, or get too distracted with financial opportunities to remember why we’re here in the first place. We believe in making thoughtful decisions that are consistent with everything else we are trying to accomplish on behalf of our families and teammates. Not only should the organization grow with purpose, but also each staff member who has their own individual goals and aspirations. We prioritize work/life balance, continuing education, competitive compensation, and excellent benefits for everyone. Our goal is to make sure everyone is supported and valued to achieve their personal goals and contribute to the bigger picture goals we all share.
2. Stay Informed
We are living in the information age, and it is perhaps more difficult than ever to keep up with the constant stream of knowledge that is available at our fingertips. At the same time, we have more opportunity than ever to disseminate information, collect feedback, and communicate with the people who are most invested in our mission. We live this value by assessing what we need to know before making any major decision, collecting input and feedback from anyone that is affected, communicating changes and opportunities frequently and openly, and being honest when we don’t know things and need to learn. We also invest heavily in training, support, and professional development for all employees so that they can stay informed and be as successful as possible in their chosen career path. One final example is a recent change we’ve made, in which every staff member knows exactly what their position pay range is, when they will receive their next pay raise (which is every 6 months for most positions), and exactly how much that raise will be. We know that a person’s job is a key driver for their life decisions, and we want everyone to feel comfortable making informed decisions for themselves and their families.
3. Be of Service
As a mission-based nonprofit organization, it is inherent in our organizational DNA that we be of service. Unlike for-profit companies which by definition exist to generate profit, charitable nonprofits exist to make the world better by serving the underserved and helping those in need. The key for us is to apply this value beyond the families that we help every day. We have a responsibility to be of service to each one of our employees, to help them with whatever they need to be successful with their work and professional passions. This happens by being responsive to feedback, creating user-friendly systems and sensible policies, and making time to give each teammate individual attention and support.
4. Bring People Together
We are a community organization. That means that we not only serve a community, but we build community. We are more than just a service provider agency. We are a hub of community support, learning, and livelihood. This value involves connecting families with each other, giving kids the opportunity to make new friends, engaging our donors and supporters in building a shared vision of the future, and celebrating our successes together with the most important part of the organization – our teammates.
Thank you for considering Arizona Autism United as a future home for your career. We look forward to meeting you, and hopefully soon I will be able to shake your hand and say, “Welcome to Team AZA!”
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