Now What?

President & CEOs Remarks to the MODC AGM, July 24, 2018

andria spindel, president and CEOI delivered the following a few days ago to our senior staff and board members, and would like to share my thoughts as I prepare to transition to retirement after 37+ years at March of Dimes.

Its my pleasure to once again bring forward a review of the prior fiscal year, and my own reflections on how we as a corporation have performed, how our team at the top has performed, and to provide some comments on the next fiscal year. Generally, it’s my opportunity to personally acknowledge many who have contributed to our successes, shed light on any significant issues, say a few words of inspiration about the year to come and our ongoing vision of creating a society that is inclusive of people with disabilities.

This year’s AGM however, is a special and significant one for me; it’s my last as MODC’s senior staff person, my last in what has been a dream job with an incredible agency, the culmination of my role as leader of, and partner with, an incredibly talented and collegial team, the moment in time to consider what I have failed to accomplish and to acknowledge what is yet undone. I can’t any more pledge to make it all happen or give assurances but I do feel that I am in a position to share some observations as I begin the transition process.

Let me begin by acknowledging the tremendous support I have had over my 37+ years, from the Board, local volunteers, program volunteers, fundraising volunteers, and many dozens of committee members. March of Dimes has attracted some of the best people to carry our message, to inspire donors and friends, and to deliver many aspects of our services. Board members have always served us well and with honorable intentions, being aligned with our vision and mission. There have certainly been challenges, and challenging directors, but none without good intentions, none without some merit and I have learned and thrived in the main from the talented members of our two boards.

I cannot say enough about our wonderful, talented and dedicated staff. From the first 183 staff when I came in 1981 to our over 2000 staff now, I am proud of everyone. It’s been my goal to create a learning environment, providing opportunities for individuals to thrive and grow, and to define personally how best to give to the people we serve. Staff innovate and create programs, they imagine the impossible and make it possible, the staff at March of Dimes and our Non Profit Housing Corporation, are never without resource challenges, time constraints and complex and competing demands, but somehow it all gets done and the best is done for our consumers. The data on consumer satisfaction supports what I am saying. We are enhancing lives, creating opportunities and solutions for independence!

I wish I had time to name all of the people who have contributed to my joy on a daily basis, coming to work has made me happy. My children, all now young adults, understand that as CEO of March of Dimes, I have been fully dedicated to our purpose while also being fully devoted to them and there have been times, when they might have doubted that as children but today, as my daughter begins her career in an NGO, my eldest finishes his certification as an American Sign Language Interpreter and my middle son demonstrates the caring and compassion of a mature man, I see that March of Dimes has touched their hearts too.

Well, it has been another challenging, exciting, fruitful year for March of Dimes, thanks to all people mentioned above and thousands more – our donors and funders, and here are just some of the highlights:

March of Dimes grew by another 4.6% overall gross revenue and exceeded the budgeted net of $1M by $1.68M or more than double.

New offices opened in Winnipeg and Victoria, new services also began in North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN area, and continues to expand.

Our agency engaged in a new and radical venture, we purchased a private rehab company to expand our employment and ABI services into BC and establish March of Dimes Canada as a provider of record, positioning our agency in that province in such a way that we can bid on more such contracts.

Both Employment Services and Independent Living Services demonstrated that we have definitely addressed the goal of diversifying our revenues as established in the last 2 strategic plans. They both produced high net revenues from proprietary or fee based sources.

March of Dimes transformed a collaborative relationship with Stroke Recovery Association of BC into a full blown alliance and provided both governance and back office supports, and also new program development support, funding additional staff in the Vancouver office which now houses both our organizations.

The third year of our accessible mobile technology project has opened the vista for us no how technology can improve lives, without huge costs.

March of Dimes Canada Non Profit Housing Corporation began a series of construction projects after more than a decade without growth. Winning bids for grants in Sarnia, Sudbury and Hamilton has enabled this expansion and put our full spectrum of independent living in supportive housing front and center in these communities where we serve the most severely disabled people within the community.

Community Engagement, Integration, Inclusion are great concepts and at March of Dimes we make them ways of living, by offering an array of services to support people, by being a strong advocacy voice, and by communicating at all levels in the public sphere. Every day we are making people aware of the needs and rights of people with disabilities, and we are encouraging and training people with such lived experience to speak out, to demonstrate and demand their essential rights. Whether it’s through our Life Skills program, Conductive Education, Recreation or Government Relations and Advocacy, March of Dimes is helping people achieve their personal goals and then moving the goal post, reaching ever further to find successful tools and interventions to enable the dreams of children and adults with disabilities.

This evening you will hear about an important area that has expanded dramatically within our agency, as we re-entered the field of research, focusing on applied research designed at helping us to understand the best ways to achieve the best outcomes. With the appointment of Dr. Emily Nalder as March of Dimes Canada Paul J.J. Martin Professor, we have completed studies on the outcomes of our own services, attracted student and faculty research projects alike, partnered in several research projects, and served as advisors on external projects. Dr. Nalder will highlight the work of the last 3 ½ years of her 5 year appointment, and I trust get everyone excited about how research can inform our practice and further policies that benefit people with disabilities.

While, there have been some struggles to achieve our goals, the results have not been without learning, without sincerity, nor without accomplishment in forgoing new relationships. Challenges are but opportunities and at March of Dimes we accept and even encourage challenges.

We have become part of several international communities of academics and researchers, primarily through our role in the Bridging, Aging and Disability International Network, the International Centre for Disability Research at University of Toronto and the International Initiative on Disability Leadership. Over the past few years, I have travelled abroad for March of Dimes, speaking about our work and seeking collaborations with peers in other jurisdictions, and have fostered this same approach among other staff, so that we are finding the best of the best practices to inform our work.

I would truly be remiss if I didn’t also speak of both the challenges and successes of our Fund Development, Marketing and Communications Department which every year has to reinvent itself to address all the new ways that people in society are communicating and responding to human needs. We are operating on many social media platforms, delivering content in all formats, and searching out partners, sponsors and funders at all levels of government and across communities. The Department has significantly stretched to support non profit housing also, and leads the capital campaigns where we are building new supportive living accommodation. Often ahead of the rest of the organization, the department finds local business partners to deliver content, organize events, attract media, and develop March of Dimes Canada volunteer committees at the local level. Despite competitive markets, which are increasing with new charities being formed every year, the staff have managed year over year to grow the net for our community-based services.

We fundraise in all provinces now and while not physically in the Northern territories, we do have specialized services for Inuit from Nunuvat whose lives have been significantly impacted by an acquired brain injury. These services are unique, and designed in conjunction with the government of the territories to provide a safe supportive environment for these Canadians to experience the best opportunities for independent living.

I could go on and on about our accomplishments, and would, but you will be presented with the full story by Jerry Lucas later tonight within the Board meeting, at which time the actual numbers will be presented as to the revenue and expense allocation to programs, and the numbers of people served. All of this is possible, because years ago, we put in place the tools, policies and procedures for accountability and transparency; taught staff to plan and to measure what they do, to have informed clients, to have a consumer oriented approach to service, to adhere to administrative processes, financial controls, HR legislation and more, BUT above all, to think creatively and have good judgement. We seek compliance with a host of procedures AND we also seek to foster integrity; its not a matter of “but”, but “both”, that makes our team so successful – strong direction and individual action.

A word about the challenges unfulfilled. I cannot leave March of Dimes without acknowledging that I may not have accomplished all that I or the Board would have wished. Some of these wishes include – launching and delivering a national service that covers Canada coast to coast, is fully funded and brings together the wrap around services MODC offers to keep people in the community. We have began this in launching an “After Stroke” website, but there is much more to be done.

I would have liked to see Conductive Education embedded in our social and health services funding framework, and as part of the early childhood education offerings. We have made significant strides, but its imperative that more be done if this unique, holistic, cost effective program is to continue to be available in Canada.

We have just begun to explore new technologies for people with disabilities, while still working very successfully on low tech solutions through DesignAbility. In the immediate future, I would hope that March of Dimes will consider expanding the latter and investing in the former, presumably through major partnerships with universities, colleges and technical institutions.

Our first national study of significance was funded through the National Center of Excellence, called AGEWELL. It provides clear recommendations for a Canada in which there is equitable access to Assistive Devices/Technology for those with any functional impairment. I have hopes that it will serve as the basis for policy advocacy and education – perhaps giving March of Dimes a lead position in regards to provincial, federal and territorial deliberations. And of course, we have been active on the federal level as collaborators and consultants on the new Accessible Canada Act. I think my dream of an accessible, inclusive Canada is one step closer to reality, and we played no small part in getting it here.

I must stay I have no regrets. If I could have done more, been more astute, more sensitive, more enlightened, I do apologize.

For any missed opportunity, I apologize, and hope the champions within March of Dimes will grab the next opportunities; and continue to make a difference.

The question we have asked in this year’s AGM and Annual report is “Now What?” Its begun already to be a year of change with the recent departure of 3 senior staff, with the addition of our vibrant new Chief External Affairs Officer and talented Director of IT and Information Systems, and it will continue to be a year of change when I leave, and our COO begins his own transition. Neither Jerry Lucas nor I probably ever imagined we would get to these days. So for me, now what? I envision several things for myself: more time with my 3 millennial aged children and first grandson, Ezra, born May 29th. I hope to enjoy some R&R doing things I love, such as gardening, biking, reading and my return to needle craft. But, I am also taking on a new challenge and I decided to share it with you. In our fast paced, cyber connected, over populated world, there is a growing menace called anti-semitism, hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel. I have been increasingly engaged in attempts to confront and combat this unspeakable evil and thus “now what?” for me, means doing more to educate people whose desire to hurt or eliminate my community is paramount. So, I am starting here – tonight. For Canada, to be truly inclusive, it means accepting diversity, eliminating hatred, combating ignorance and bigotry, defending freedom of religion and expression, and the values that thousands of Canadians previously died to defend. I hope I can make some small contribution.

Once again, thanks for a great 37 years!





About modcpresident
I grew up in Calgary, where I completed a BA at the University of Calgary, then travelled and taught in Kenya and the Canadian Arctic during the heyday of Trudeaumania, hippie travel and social experimentation. I settled in Vancouver to complete a Master of Social Work degree at the University of British Columbia, and stayed another 8 years. After graduating I was a Social Planner and eventually became the Executive Director of the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. Ontario March of Dimes recruited me in 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons and the 30th anniversary of the agency. It has grown from a budget of $5m in '81 to $100m in 2010. Services have expanded drafmatically. We incorporated a non profit housing corporation in 1992 and a national charity in 2001, and since 2006 the latter has operated as March of Dimes Canada. We own and operate several properties that provide accommodation and independent living services to 77 people in 4 municipalities and will add another property this year. Two other exciting non profit entities have been incorporated in my 30 years (yes, it has been 30 years!) and we expect to hold our first fundraiser in the US this year and to initiate our first service south of the border also. My role as President and CEO continues to be that of creating a vision, fulfilling the mission and developing strategic plans to meet an increasing demand for services from people with disabilities and their caregivers. This is achieved through direct service, advocacy and peer programs. On a personal note, I live with my 17 year old daughter and two cats, and enjoy their company a lot. My two adult sons are doing interesting exploration in their own lives and I am intrigued with how they are progressing. In my spare time, I have various volunteer roles on several non profit boards and committees, and enjoy creating programs for building awareness of diversity and disability. I think it has become true for me that youth is, while not "wasted on the young," something that I appreciate more with age. Adventures are physically more challenging for me now, so they have to occur in new dimensions.

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