Benchmark Blog

Third Quarter Thrive – July, 2020

Jul 09, 2020
Benchmark Blog

Welcome to the electronic edition of Thrive, the Benchmark employee newsletter. Enjoy, and please share any stories you would like to include in a future issue with Courtney Heiser or Simon May!

Benchmark Forms Diversity Committee

As the Black Lives Matter movement arose as a powerful agent of change after years of struggle to be recognized, it added fuel to a fire that has been burning within Benchmark. We are home to an incredibly diverse group of employees supporting an equally diverse group of individuals. While we have been working on incorporating meaningful diversity awareness training and incorporating a diversity plan for our leadership team, it felt like it was just plodding along. The current movement meant it was time to make it happen and stop planning on making it happen.

As I talked with people who I thought would be the right leaders for this effort, I was called out by one of the members for speaking from the perspective of “white privilege”. There are many ways to respond to feedback like that, but I chose to listen, as I know I grew up in a system that never acknowledged that privilege existed. So, I am proudly sponsoring the group that will be leading our diversity efforts, because my voice is not the one that needs to drive this. Instead, it is all of you. I ask that all of you take the time to listen, appreciate, and understand the wide variety of perspectives in an agency that stretches across so many states.

I want to be sure diversity awareness is part of who we are, and not just something we talk about. Likewise, I want to be sure we do not have elements of systemic oppression and privilege incorporated into our structures. The reward in responding to this challenge will be immense. I am looking forward to supporting this effort and encourage all of you to join me.

Doug Beebe
Benchmark President

Meet the Committee

Antoinette Thornton, LCSW, CCTP, CSAC, CSOTP, CCTP, MAC – Committee Chair
LCSW, Georgia

I identify as an African American female. My spiritual foundation is through the lens of United Methodist Church and Baptist Christian principles. Born and raised in a two-parent household, Columbus Ohio. I self-identify as a child of God, daughter, sister, wife, mother grandmother. Since my personal values are rooted on four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Courage, I believe working in solidarity with those fighting racism is my calling. To explore social justice lens inward to open the door to frank conversations about, race, privilege, social economic status, and disability is the plight I desire to serve as a vehicle to forge equity and inclusion for everyone.

Additionally, as a licensed Clinical Social Worker I walk in the premise to “promote social justice, and social change with and on behalf of clients” According to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, “social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity, and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice.” Therefore, based on my foundational values, educational knowledge and life experience, being an active member of the cultural diversity committee allows me to walk in my Gods Gifts while cultivating the mission of Benchmark and implementing organizational change. I am honored to be a valued member of the cultural diversity committee.

Howard Smith
Director, System Point of Entry, MO

I’ve had the pleasure of working for Benchmark for 11 years as one of the Directors for MO SPOE (Early Intervention) here in St. Louis and I’m proud to be part of the Benchmark Diversity Committee. As a people-first company, I feel that it is important to address our cultural competency and to be mindful of the various types of diversity represented among our employees in addition to the individuals we have the honor to serve.

This is a conversation that is important for all of us to have in order to share our perspectives, grow together as a community, and learn from the variety of experiences we bring to the work we do. To me, the existence of this workgroup is further evidence of Benchmark’s mission to high quality service for all. I look forward to learning how I can best support our company mission to include the various perspectives that represent all of us. 

Karen Shollenberger
Vice President

You may know me as a Vice President of Benchmark, but I am also a white, gay, older, woman who is a wife, as well as a mother to a 20 year old transracial, transnational, adopted daughter. I am also an aunt to a biracial niece, and a sister-in-law to a Sierra Leone, West African immigrant. It is not very often that I write or speak so openly about aspects of my life because when I started my career over 30 years ago it wasn’t acceptable to be gay and have professional aspirations. I worked hard to keep aspects of myself private and I compartmentalized my work life from my private life. Over time people figured it out (duh!), but even then I wouldn’t share much and most people did not feel comfortable asking anything about my life. For those who didn’t know me well, I am sure I came across as sort of one dimensional.

I come to this committee with all that I am — every single thing. I realize that I have the ability to keep aspects about myself private, while racial minorities don’t have that privilege. I am honored to serve on the diversity committee and dive deeper into what we can do beyond having a diversity plan. I want our work environment to be as supportive as possible of all employees and create an environment that dissolves the barriers, processes, or practices that get in the way of being our best authentic selves.

Eric Weeks
Vice President of Human Resources

I’ve learned a lot about people during my 27 year professional career. One of the most important lessons is the value of differences. While we all have biases, understanding and appreciating individuality regardless of sex, religion, age, race, sexual orientation or any other personal trait are requirements for us to work, play, and live together in our communities. My goal for the committee is to broaden that belief across our workforce at Benchmark and affiliates.

Juanita Watson
Director, New Mexico

I am excited to be part of the Diversity Committee as I believe that diversity brings along different perspectives to many different cultures we serve. We are a small agency in New Mexico and I think this provides us an opportunity to have important discussions on what this means to employees, individuals we serve, and the community at large.

Tyra Poindexter
Program Coordinator, Fort Wayne, IN Supported Living

I am a Program Coordinator with Benchmark and have worked for the company for 11 wonderful years. I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana and I am a mother to three daughters who all graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I’m proud to be a member of the Diversity Committee. I am truly honored and very excited to get to work. I look forward to participating and contributing on the committee because of the impact it will have on many individuals’ lives.

Courtney Heiser
Director of Communications

I grew up in small town in rural Pennsylvania where diversity was scarce or hidden. My parents raised me to be inclusive, and I’m grateful for that. My family includes my sister, a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and her partner, a Columbian immigrant. Together they share three sons, two of whom are Afro-Latino. I also have a nephew who is transgender, so issues of diversity and equality are incredibly important to me and to the people I love. I’m honored to serve on the Diversity Committee, and to listen to the voices of minorities within our organization to understand what is needed to make Benchmark a place where every single employee and person served feels respected and heard.

From the Front Lines – Continued Care in Unprecedented Times

By John Guercio, Ph.D.

Throughout this current health crisis, we have heard a great deal of information about those who are on the frontlines. Many times, this is interpreted as hospital workers such as doctors, nurses, and those working in similar settings. Shifts in our awareness of what it means to be a frontline worker or an essential employee have changed with respect to the inclusion of direct support staff in settings where an enhanced level of care and face to face contact is necessary. Individuals served depend on these staff to meet day-to-day needs, not only for physical supports, but emotional as well.

Many of the direct consequences of COVID-19 have been physical in nature. The medical risks of this disease are quite pervasive. As we get deeper into quarantine measures that have been put in place, the disease is also taking an emotional and behavioral toll on many of the people we serve. Their limited capacities to understand the dangers associated with community access, eating out, and engaging in so many of the things they love has caused extreme behavioral struggles. It is at these times that behavioral supports are the most needed and the most crucial.

The behavioral team in Missouri has come through like champions. Though Teleheath options have been offered by the State to provide behavioral services remotely, the team has continued to safely provide these services face-to -face. This means being in homes daily with both staff and individuals who have tested positive for virus at some of these sites. Our behavioral team has been unwavering in their commitment to providing essential services when the risks were at their greatest. That is what quality care looks like and is the essence of the Benchmark mission.

Meet the Benchmark Veterans!

While COVID-19 may have sidelined much of the celebration of Benchmark’s 60th Anniversary, we want to take some time to acknowledge those who have been with the company the longest. We have interviewed Benchmark’s 10 longest term employees and will feature five in this issue of Thrive and five in the October issue. Look for these profiles with some historical pictures on Facebook and Instagram!

Bill Swiss, Senior Corporate Adviser
Original Position: CEO
Years with Benchmark: 35

What has kept you around so long? For several decades I woke up every morning thinking “I have the greatest job in the world” – no seriously.

What is one way you have seen the climate for people with disabilities change? It may sound odd today, but the concept of community integration was barely heard of when I started.

Spirit Animal? Well I guess it would be the chipmunk as they are relentlessly upbeat.

Dave Howe, Focus Area Manager, Industrial Operations
Original Position: Training Supervisor
Years with Benchmark: 34

What has kept you around so long? I’m waiting to pass Dr. Swiss for the record of longest employee with the most sick time. Actually, I’m waiting for us to open a workshop in Hawaii.

What is one way you have seen the climate for people with disabilities change? I have definitely seen a change for the better for our consumers over the years, better living conditions, more opportunities, and more dignity and respect.

Spirit Animal? My spirit animal would probably be a monkey because I like to monkey around and climb on things. I do try to avoid the poop slinging.

Karen Shollenberger, Vice President
Original Position: Group Home Director
Years with Benchmark: 32

What has kept you around so long? The mission of serving individuals in the best way possible has always been a priority. Professionally I have done so many different things over the years. Each year has been filled with a lifetime of memories and milestones for the people we serve.

What is one way you have seen the climate for people with disabilities change? Before I started here, I was a college summer staff for 1 summer at the Fort Wayne State Developmental Center. I had never been in an institution before and was shocked at the enormity and starkness of it all. I was a babysitter for a neighbor who had severe disabilities; and seeing the difference of an individual in a home environment vs. someone in an institution was shocking. The humanity just wasn’t present. We have come so far with community integration but we have more to do. I have always said you can have an institution of “1.” How you treat someone and how their home is cared for matters.

Spirit Animal? A horse because whenever I go to Camp Red Cedar and pet the horses, or watch them play or do therapy, I am at peace.

Margie Cantey, Financial Compliance Officer
Original Position: An ADL at the Covington group home, neither of which exist anymore
Years with Benchmark: 29

What has kept you around so long? This company and my various positions have continually evolved in ways that have kept me interested and inspired.

What is one way you have seen the climate for people with disabilities change? There have been tremendous changes to promote the independence and protections of the people we serve.

Spirit Animal? Dolphin, because I cheated and took one of those cheesy on-line quizzes – but I think it fits.

David Ross, Vice President
Original Position: Transition Services Director (systems change grant – helping schools ensure good planning and execution of services for kids in and leaving special education)
Years with Benchmark: 28

What has kept you around so long? Growth – entrepreneurial environment; strong mission-base; solid business models; great leaders.

What is one way you have seen the climate for people with disabilities change? People served and their families are far more informed and empowered. They have much higher expectations – and they should! In my opinion, increased choice and competition have driven/secured positive change as much or more than any social movement or legislative acts.

Spirit Animal? Sasquatch or Bigfoot

Camp Red Cedar – Riding to the Occasion

COVID-19 has caused a great deal of rethinking about how we safely deliver services. Many of our programs have found innovative ways to adapt and they are helping people thrive during this unprecedented time. Camp Red Cedar was hit particularly hard by the Coronavirus pandemic, causing them to rethink how to execute their mission during the 2020 camp season. Camp season is officially underway, but it looks a little different. “This camp season is unlike anything we have experienced before,” said Karen Shollenberger, Vice President. “With board and administrative support, the staff created a safe and thoughtful plan on how to implement camp while also reducing risk for both campers and staff. Seeing it implemented and work is amazing!”

The 2020 camp season includes reduced attendance of campers, fewer staff onsite (14 returning, seasoned counselors) to ensure social distancing capabilities. With an average of 20-30 campers a week, many of them needing 1:1 care, staff and counselors are able to offer a full camp experience on an more individualized and intimate basis, focusing on the needs and interests of each participant. Camp Red Cedar is accepting campers that are not in the high risk categories for COVID-19 this year.

Campers and parents alike are grateful for the opportunity to attend summer camp in a safe environment. One parent sent this note to the camp. “I got teary eyed when I dropped off Brody that first week. This is the first organization that has helped me as a working mom since mid-March. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it, especially those of us with special needs kids.”

Summer Sun on Social Media

You know, you don’t have to wait until Thrive comes out to see some great photos of the individuals we serve from all over the country! Follow us on social media, just search Benchmark Human Services on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Also, if you would like to share any photos you’ve taken of or with the individuals in your area on social media, please send them to Simon May!


Management Development Program Offers Opportunities for Advancement

Benchmark’s Corporate Principles state that the company’s greatest asset is its people, and therefore, recognizes the value in growing future leaders. In 2015, the organization created the Management Development Program (MDP), wherein members of the leadership team nominate employees within their department to participate in the program, which gives them a broad view of the company and enables them to develop skills to advance within the organization. Last year, three Benchmark employees participated. A snapshot of their experience follows.

Antoinette N. T. Thornton
Length of Employment with Benchmark: 7 years
Current Position: LCSW, Georgia

Why did you accept the MDP nomination? I have had the opportunity to hold positions within the mobile crisis program. Based on the wealth of experience I gained from one department, I was eager to learn how the organization operates from a corporate standpoint.

What did you learn by participating in the MDP? I learned the foundational principles and structure which guides the day to day operations of Benchmark.

What was the greatest challenge? My greatest challenge was wanting more time to learn and the distance of the corporate office from the state in which I reside.

Describe the project(s) that were assigned to you. How will the results benefit the company and those we serve? I developed an employee training on cultural diversity which employees will receive in orientation and annually. The training will help staff to understand their own cultural biases they bring to the job and how their cultural lens guides their behavior.

Describe your career aspirations? Complete my PhD; Utilize my knowledge, clinical experience, and leadership skills to earn a position as a Vice President within Benchmark and to continue to promote the mission and philosophy of the organization and fill the diversity gap.

On what game show do you want to be a player? Wheel of Fortune.

Tori Fuhrmann
Length of Employment with Benchmark: 8 years
Current Position: Day Services Program Coordinator Fort Wayne, IN

What did you learn by participating in the MDP? Having taken the time to really explore the shared and restricted drives, I realized we have tons of resources that many employees are unaware of.

How did the program further your professional development? During the program I gained an abundance of information about the day program. Utilizing the information I found I am able to better serve our individuals and train our staff.

Describe the project(s) that were assigned to you. How will the results benefit the company and those we serve? To create an online R drive Day Program Resource Guide. Having key information in one location for the company is important. This offers an organized location for information, especially if Benchmark is opening a new day program.

If you didn’t work in human services, what would be your job? Health and fitness. I enjoy helping others thrive to better their life through fitness and maintaining a reasonable healthy diet.

On what game show do you want to be a player? Big brother

Patrice Buchanan
Length of Employment with Benchmark: 7 years
Current Position: Program Coordinator, St. Louis, MO

How did the program further your professional development? The program furthered my professional development by providing me with a lot of information that I didn’t know prior. It helped me understand the company more.

Describe the project(s) that were assigned to you. How will the results benefit the company and those we serve? I developed a time entry training, which will provide staff members information on how to accurately enter their time and how to write sufficient daily notes on individuals served, leading to reporting accuracy and quality and consistency of care.

Describe your career aspirations? I want to continue to grow in the company, assuming a leadership position like regional director.

If you didn’t work in human services, what would be your job? I don’t see myself working in any other field. I choose the human services field because I enjoy working with people and assisting them with reaching their goals.

On what game show do you want to be a player? Family Feud

Tuition Reimbursement Doubles!

Benchmark recently made exciting changes to the Tuition Reimbursement program, effective September 2020. The reimbursement amount has doubled, so the company will now reimburse 50% of courses at accredited colleges and universities up to $3,000 per year. Reimbursement can apply to classes under any major or area of study. To be eligible for this great benefit, you must keep a working average of 20 hours per week or more and earn a C grade or better in the courses being reimbursed. Online degree programs also apply. For specific details, please check out the Tuition Reimbursement Policy under the Policy tab on the company Intranet.

Movin’ On Up!

Below is a list of employees who were promoted in April, May, and June and the position to which they were promoted. Congratulations to all!


Beth Meyers, Developmental Therapist

Trecia Baldwin, CNA
Keyshada Roundtree, Behavior Technician
Breonna Williams, Behavior Technician
Andrea Freeman, Licensed Clinical Staff

New Jersey
Elliot Wyman, Team Leader
William Nichols, Team Leader

Vinceceria Duncan, Supported Living Supervisor
Darla Micheal, Supported Living Supervisor
Tashabany Logan, Supported Living Supervisor

Catherine Conner, ESN Behavior Technician
Daniel Linger, Team Leader
Vashenya Jackson, Residential Manager
Brittney Sharp, Residential Manager
Ildephonse Rupiya, Team Leader
Graciela Montalvo, RN
Karleigh Caldwell, Industrial Ops Team Lead
Cheryl Fullerton, Supported Living Supervisor
Ameka Harris, Team Leader
Aubrey Moore, Industrial Ops Team Lead
Corissa Creech, Industrial Ops Team Lead
Jean Kambela, RN


Thrive honors employee hire anniversaries for July, August, and September, celebrating those who have worked at Benchmark for five years and longer.


Anna Geething – 5
Annette Powers Kilburn – 5
Anthony Zephy – 5
Ashley King – 5
Ashley Siders – 5
Bionca Ball – 5
Brandy Fraiser Crawford – 5
Brenda Reynolds – 5
Consuelo Rojas – 5
Cynthia Doenges – 5
Emily Grohnke – 5
Genell Soulier – 5
Jakia Artis – 5
Jennifer Kerlegrand – 5
Jessie Bryant – 5
Joanna Gallagher – 5
Justin Williams – 5
Kameisha Johnson – 5
Kelly Kroeger – 5
Laura Kauffman – 5
Lisa Hendrix – 5
Margie McMillan – 5
Marie Fisher – 5
Miriam Sisay – 5
Renardo Gleenio – 5
Robertson Asamoah – 5
Rosena Roberts – 5
Samuel Hunt – 5
Sarah Bechtol – 5
Seola Dunbar – 5
Sharon Hill – 5
Shawna Bowser – 5
Sheila Tims McClendon – 5
Toia Williams – 5
Yu Jin Kang – 5
Alisa Pace – 6
Ameria Sheriff – 6
Ashley Lundquist – 6
Beth Weiss – 6
Brenda Aguilar – 6
Christina Norris – 6
Dennis Meyer – 6
Francie Carmain – 6
Jaime Rodon – 6
Janelle Jansson – 6
Jody Martin – 6
Jonathan Fox – 6
Justine Bedocs – 6
Leshan Dix – 6
Mandy McQueen – 6
Matthew Marshall – 6
Meagan Hemenway – 6
Mialetha Parks – 6
Paula Wynn – 6
Raheemat Adekanmbi – 6
Robin Horn – 6
Shadrack Mibeere – 6
Shannon Lucas – 6
Sonya Burnett – 6
Takudzwa Shumba – 6
Tamela Sizemore – 6
Alethia Bacon – 7
Alex Berrios – 7
Angel Ripoll – 7
Ann Wainaina – 7
Ashley Taper – 7
Benjamin Cruse – 7
Brenda Severns – 7
Christy Ware-Payne – 7
Dawn Brown – 7
Eucharia Okendu – 7
Imahn Wakefield – 7
Janet Brown – 7
JoAnn Taylor – 7
Joshua Rabold – 7
Julia Hooper – 7
Kacianne Sealy – 7
Kara Richlak – 7
Keyuna Thomas – 7
Kimba Brown – 7
Kristin Adkins – 7
Majorine Zinabara – 7
Marissa Spiess – 7

Megan Tracy – 7
Mysti Joye – 7
Noelle Utley – 7
Patrice Buchanan – 7
Patti Greer – 7
Paul Kabutha – 7
Sandra Houston – 7
Sandra Moore – 7
Shannon Winston – 7
Sue Ellis – 7
Tonya Hill – 7
Tori McQueen – 7
Valencia Davidson – 7
Willie Gardner – 7
Andrea Walker – 8
Angela Couch – 8
Antonio Wilson – 8
Aurora Diaz – 8
Brandon Evans Knox – 8
Brenda Quintana – 8
Bryson Lowe – 8
Bueford McKinney – 8
Christa Smith – 8
Danielle Smith – 8
Derek Starling – 8
Diane Ressler – 8
Eureke Moorman – 8
Festus Bolarinde – 8
Gloria Baity – 8
Jason Frame – 8
Jennifer Ryan – 8
Karen Geiger – 8
Lakeisha Ross – 8
Lamont Johnson – 8
Mallory Leatherman – 8
Maryann Taylor – 8
Nicole Infante Forsythe – 8
Rodney Geis – 8
Selly War – 8
Sharon Jackson – 8
Tamera Pendarvis – 8
Anjali Joshi – 9
Antionette Godwin – 9
Antwan Byrd – 9
Army Burks – 9
Betty Holloway – 9
Charles Osei – 9
Christine Taylor – 9
Connie Walters – 9
Cynthia Driggers – 9
Denise Good – 9
Evelyn Wimbley – 9
Franklin Briggs – 9
Franklin Davis – 9
George Harris – 9
Ginger Sunbom – 9
Iris Varela – 9
Jayne Spitznogle – 9
Jeanne Warno – 9
Jerri Flowers – 9
John Sesay – 9
Joyce Johnson – 9
Katrena Gibson – 9
Kwabena Boaitey – 9
Ladoria Rankin – 9
LaShonda Thomas – 9
Litonlya Lester – 9
Marcia Fowlkes – 9
Mary Jessup – 9
Max Gilyan – 9
Peter Belsky – 9
Robert Ashlock – 9
Sharon Sanchez – 9
Teresa Salemi-Gumiran – 9
Thomas Foster – 9
William Hopkins – 9
Yvette Eccleston – 9
Barbara Brown – 10
Derrick McGraw – 10
Gladys Muchemi – 10
Jean Beausoleil – 10
John Guercio – 10
Kimberly Finn – 10

Leslie Armstrong – 10
Maritza Baden – 10
Minerva Coker – 10
Olasunkanmi Faturoti – 10
Tony Rainbolt – 10
Vicki Kennedy – 10
Beatrice Macharia – 11
Cassandra Clubb – 11
Cheryl Galbraith – 11
Christina Narasimhan – 11
Courtney Schaffner – 11
David Muthike – 11
Donna Ward – 11
Eileen Baker – 11
Elizabeth Reynolds – 11
Hazel Kuczmanski – 11
Heather Morelan – 11
Jodi Phillips – 11
Joella Wiggins – 11
Juliann Darlington – 11
Katie Flinner – 11
Kristen Gentilini – 11
May Listenberger – 11
Melody Bolka – 11
Nancy McClimans – 11
Peter Mbugguss – 11
Ruth Nothdurft – 11
Ryan Moyer – 11
Solomon Daniel – 11
Victoria Halbert – 11
Alice Pilarski – 12
Amanda Musser – 12
Amber Adams – 12
Deborah Cartwright – 12
Jeremy Njoroge – 12
Kristina Lambert – 12
Lucinda Kirkpatrick – 12
Maureen Wilder – 12
Tamara Nash – 12
Tamra Stauffer – 12
Dewayne Totten – 13
Ella Ayers – 13
Erma Wims – 13
Evelyn Brock – 13
Gladys Mushatt – 13
Janet Mullins – 13
Jayne Underwood – 13
Philip Boakye – 13
Robert Taylor – 13
Jeffry Harris – 14
Kerrie Miller – 14
Michelle Maio-Venezia – 14
Staci Wimes – 14
Elaine Armstrong – 15
Jason McCain – 15
Pascaline Ruhaya – 15
Rosa Sturgis – 15
Patty Chambers – 16
Lennie Singano – 17
Linda McClish – 17
Mbaso Katundu – 17
Margaret Davis – 18
Mary Martin-Lawrence – 18
Tammy Schmitt – 18
David Casebourn – 19
Angela Heller – 20
Melanie Dahms – 20
Wilma Gaustad – 20
Cynthia Graeber – 21
Lorraine Di Novo – 21
Mary Zumbaugh – 21
Wallace Lacy – 21
Holly Eykholt – 22
Joy Dennison – 22
Elaine Berning – 22
Brandy Patterson – 23
Michelle Desmonds – 23
Thomas Titus – 23
Paula Tucker – 25
Karen Lichtsinn – 26
Anne Titus – 28
Margaret Cantey – 29
Karen Shollenberger – 32

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