Lutheran Family Services reorganizing

John Burns
John Burns

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In Greensboro, immigration and refugee resettlement represent the biggest practice for Raleigh-based Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas.

Now, LFS Carolinas is talking to two other local groups that provide similar services about sharing space, talks that have led to preliminary discussions about whether the Raleigh agency also might provide back-office services to the other groups at a lower cost than they now pay, or even share staff.

“In our business, if we can help one another, we’re helping the people we’re trying to serve,” says John Burns, executive vice president and chief operating officer for LFS Carolinas.

The talks with the two Greensboro groups are part of a new business model for the agency, which provides a broad range of services, mainly in the Triad, Charlotte and Raleigh areas of North Carolina, and in Columbia, S.C.

Offering programs for children, adults, families, communities and religious congregations, LFS Carolinas in the past has assigned different individuals in each community to head each particular line of service there, such as foster care.

But no single executive has been responsible for overseeing all services within each community.

Under the new business model, LFS Carolinas is creating what will be akin to a local agency serving each of the four communities.

An executive director will head each local agency, with the corporate office in Raleigh providing all four agencies with support services such as purchasing, human resources, finance, fundraising, communications and information technology.

Founded in 1977, LFS Carolinas operates with a $15 million annual budget and 345 employees, and serves 14,000 clients a year.

Burns says the reorganization reflects an effort to better serve the most vulnerable populations and best cope with an expected decline in government funding by locating leaders in the communities it serves.

At meetings LFS Carolinas held in those communities in 2005, he says, hundreds of residents said they wanted the agency’s leaders to be part of their communities so they could be involved in creating the kinds of partnerships needed to address local problems.

“It became really clear that what folks in each community wanted was to have a leader there who was both empowered and supported to respond to the community’s needs for services,” Burns says.

So, with a three-year, $750,000 grant from The Duke Endowment in Charlotte, LFS Carolinas is creating the four local agencies, hiring executive directors for each, and also hiring a quality-assurance vice president and a director of partnership initiatives for the corporate office.

The number of LFS employees has totaled 105 in Raleigh, including 71 for local programs there plus 34 in its corporate office, as well as 54 in Charlotte, 69 in Columbia, S.C., and 49 in the Triad.

While LFS Carolinas has had fewer clients in the Triad than in the three other communities it serves, its Triad clientele likely will grow, says Burns, who is serving as interim director for the new Charlotte agency.

Michael Andrews, who previously was senior vice president for external affairs in the Charlotte office of LFS Carolinas, now heads the new Greensboro agency.

Ronnie Huffman, a former deputy director for the South Carolina Department of Social Services, has been named executive director of the local agency in Columbia, S.C., and Suzanne Gibson Wise, CEO of LFS Carolinas, is serving as interim director of the local agency in Raleigh.

Each local agency will employ an associate who will handle local fundraising and communications with support from the corporate fundraising and communications offices.

Each local agency also will work with a local advisory board, to include at least one local member from the LFS Carolinas board, and will assist with fundraising.

The reorganization also builds on a “Partnership Initiative” LFS Carolinas launched in 2003 with a three-year, $32,000 grant from The Duke Endowment.

The goal was to find ways to collaborate in local communities.

In Columbia, S.C., for example, LFS Carolinas teamed up with Reformation Lutheran Church to provide a summer program for refugees, and in Greenwood, S.C., it teamed up with Immanuel Lutheran Church to create the agency’s first group home for homeless veterans.

Based on those kinds of initiatives, Burns says, “it became clearer and clearer that every community we work in wants us to be responsive to the needs of that area.”

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