Ecumen Education Grants Help Move Careers Forward

Generous Ecumen employees assist coworkers in funding more education and bettering their careers as part of Ecumen’s Family Helping Family (FHF) program. Three grant recipients share their experience.


 Education Grant recipients (left to right) Ashley Sutherland, Lori Zastrow, Lori Schmidt

Over the past eight years, Ashley Sutherland’s career has progressed from dietary worker to nursing assistant to LPN to RN.  Now she is a nurse manager at Ecumen Bethany Community in Alexandria, Minn., and is grateful for the Ecumen Education Grants that have helped fund the education allowing her to advance.

“This is an awesome program,” Ashley says.  “It’s such a benefit!”

The education grants are part of Ecumen’s Family Helping Family (FHF) program, which is funded by employee contributions to the Ecumen Giving Campaign each year.  Generous Ecumen employees assist coworkers in funding more education and bettering their careers.

The program is especially popular at Ecumen Bethany Community, where two of Ashley’s coworkers also shared their positive experiences.

Lori Schmidt has been at Ecumen Bethany for 36 years — 30 of those years as an LPN.  In May, she will have her RN, which she started working on two and half years ago with financing help from the FHF Education Grants.

“This is a great program,” Lori said.  “Any financial help is beneficial.  It doesn’t cover the whole cost, but it has reduced the loan amount I need to pay for my education.” 

Lori Zastrow, a Health Information Coordinator, has worked at Ecumen Bethany for 30 years.  She used education grants to become more adept at medical records coding.   In her case, she took courses to learn more about a job she already had

 “This is a wonderful thing,” Lori said.  “I might do it again.” 

The grants cover tuition and fees for books for full or part-time employees working more than 40 hours per two-week pay period.  Employees using the program pay their costs upfront and are then reimbursed for 50 percent of their expenses when they document completion of a course.  Courses must enhance skills or knowledge in a current Ecumen job or prepare an employee for a future Ecumen job.  Often employees use the grants for courses to gain licensure or certification. 

All the program requirements and details are available in the application packet at this link on the Ecumen intranet HR site.  Participants applaud the application process for being simple and straightforward.

Over the past three years FHF Education Grant disbursements have averaged about $7,000 annually, according to Brenda Podratz, Ecumen Benefits Manager, with about a dozen employees using the program each year.

“We would like to see more employees taking advantage of the education grants,” Brenda said.  “Everybody wins.  Individual employees advance their education.  Ecumen has a better trained workforce. And employees who donated to the program have the satisfaction of knowing they have contributed to a program that benefits both coworkers and residents.”