Ecumen’s Velocity Leadership Program Graduates Class of 2016

The Ecumen Velocity class of 2016 has just graduated from the year-long program focused on building leadership skills and developing innovative approaches to aging services.

VELOCITY 2016 CLASS & MENTORS: (Left to Right) Front row: Melissa Gillette, Nicki Rehnelt, Brenda Podratz, Bethany Delvas, Margo Paplow. Second row: Christy Johnson, Christine Stewart, Mandy Filter, Jennifer Turek, Barbara Garrity Axness, John Oliver. Third row: Wendy Traffie, Jadie Winters, Sandy Dougherty, Sonya DeSmith.

The Ecumen Velocity class of 2016 has just graduated from the year-long program focused on building leadership skills and developing innovative approaches to aging services.

The 12 members of the graduating class wrapped up with a July 20 closing ceremony at Hamline University, where they presented their action-learning projects to the company’s senior leaders and Velocity alumni.

The Velocity program, now in its seventh year, focuses on building leadership skills with emphasis on encouraging broader thinking, exploring innovative approaches, and developing each individual’s authentic personal leadership style. To practically apply the course work, the class has an action-learning project that addresses real issues facing Ecumen and the aging services industry.

“Velocity is tied very closely to who we are as a company,” said Carolyn Perron, Ecumen Vice President of Organizational Development, who leads Velocity. “This is a home-grown program to help our leaders put our company’s aspirations into action.”

The program emphasizes collaborative problem-solving that incorporates different approaches and perspectives. Participants come from all parts of the company, and graduates cite exposure to the diverse thinking of their colleagues as a key benefit of the experience, along with the strong bonds that form with colleagues.

“I think one of the most important aspects of Velocity are the relationships that you build with other people in the program,” said Sandy Dougherty, Clinical Director of Home Care at Ecumen of Litchfield. “It’s nice knowing that you are not alone on the journey. We have a whole group of people that we can use as resources and also call friends.”

Graduates describe the program as a journey of self-discovery — as much about personal growth as professional growth. 

“Velocity helped us understand our strengths and weaknesses by providing us with many different tools to use both at work and in our personal life,” said Bethany Delvas, Director of Nursing at Ecumen Scenic Shores in Two Harbors, Minn.  “Velocity turned out to be quite a wonderful fulfilling journey not only professionally but personally as well.”

Additionally, graduates praised the program for the practical skills they learned. “The action learning project was definitely the most important learning for me personally,” said Melissa Gillette, Admissions/Health Information Coordinator at Ecumen Detroit Lakes. “We were the first class to actually pilot our projects, and the entire process gave me so many new skills that I will be able to put into practice every day.”

In addition to teaching skills, Velocity also imparted confidence, said Brenda Podratz, Ecumen Benefits Manager.  “We were given so many challenges over the past 10 months that is so easy to question yourself as a leader,” she said. “Not only did I gain confidence, but I am equipped with the tools to help me do my job even better.”

Each year in September, the incoming Velocity class members do self-assessments and get feedback from coworkers to inform the emotional intelligence and authenticity segment of the program, which marks the start of the process.  Participants spend 10 to 15 hours a month on Velocity program activities.  Four times during the year, the group gathers for a two-day session that includes in-depth discussions, readings and conversations. In January they begin working on their action-learning project, designed to address major issues and challenges Ecumen and the aging services industry is facing. 

The program is built around Ecumen’s brand promise of “Innovate, Empower, Honor.” For inspiration, Velocity participants go on site visits outside the organization to see these values in action. The 2016 class went for innovation to 3M; for empowerment to Interact Theater, which challenges perceptions of disabilities; and for honor to WATCH, which works to make the justice system more responsive to crimes of violence against women and children.

Perron and Carol Kvidt, Ecumen Senior Regional Director of Operations, co-facilitate Velocity, and mentors from Ecumen senior leadership work closely with participants.  In 2016, the mentors were John Oliver, IT Project Manager; Margo Paplow, Quality Improvement Nurse; and Christy Johnson, Recreation Therapy Director at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes.

Following is a listing of the Velocity 2016 graduating class:

  • Bethany Delvas, Director of Nursing, Ecumen Scenic Shores
  • Sonya DeSmith, Quality Improvement Nurse, Awakenings
  • Sandy Dougherty, Clinical Director Home Care, Ecumen of Litchfield
  • Mandy Filter, Housing Director, Ecumen Le Center
  • Barbara Garrity Axness, Executive Director, Pelican Valley Care Center
  • Melissa Gillette, TCU Admissions/ Health Care Coordinator, Ecumen Detroit Lakes
  • Brenda Podratz, Benefits Manager, Ecumen Home Office
  • Nicki Rehnelt, Housing Director, Ecumen Sand Prairie and Prairie Hill
  • Christine Stewart, Licensed Practical Nurse, Ecumen Mapleton
  • Wendy Traffie, Regional Director of Operations, Ecumen Home Office
  • Jennifer Turek, Resident Services Coordinator, Ecumen Centennial House
  • Jadie Winters, RN Home Care Manager, Ecumen Evergreens Moorhead

Selection of the 2017 class is now underway.