Thriving In The Storm

“I made a promise to my team.” – Cindy Bray

Nobody prepares for a worldwide pandemic. Ever since the middle of March 2020, the entire country has been trying to navigate through the challenges of COVID-19, causing individuals and organizations to face unexpected hurdles. Unemployment has skyrocketed nationwide as businesses and organizations adapt to shutdowns, supply-chain closures, and other trickle-down effects.

Hope Services takes pride in being Florida’s premier vocational service provider for people living with disabilities. Their clients come by way of referral from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a federal/state program that contracts with providers like Hope Services to help people who live with physical or mental disabilities find gainful employment. At the end of March, VR scaled back their operations, closed their offices, and had their employees work from home for the foreseeable future. This resulted in a severe cutback on the number of clients and services they provided to organizations like Hope Services.

With the overall state economy grinding to a virtual halt, Hope Services faced a significant hit to their operational cash flow. They had dramatic decisions to make about programs and personnel. Fortunately, many years prior, they had planned for potential work stoppages like this. Their strategic business plan called for a cash reserve of six months of revenue. This reflected their core values of compassion, trust, and professionalism. They have always understood that their resources – from finances to people – are gifts that they are stewarding. Cindy reflected, “When I hire people, I am making a commitment to them. I made a promise to my team.” The result? Hope Services did not furlough a single team member – and even hired for a new position at the end of March!


Thriving in the Storm

Cindy’s dedication to the well-being of her staff was rewarded with passion and creativity from them in return. Even with the obvious restrictions of stay-at-home orders, team members continued to serve their clients with outside-the-box thinking. One of the solutions that emerged was turning one of their training courses into a virtual experience.

Pre-placement Training is designed specifically for those living with disabilities to become more self-sufficient with things like:

– Becoming more aware of their personal strengths
– Making good decisions for themselves
– Setting goals and following through with them
– Getting along with other people
– Job-search and interview skills

From this training, trainees can transition to more career-based opportunities. Hope Services became the first partner of Vocational Rehabilitation to offer this course in an online format, and it became an immediate success!

“We’ve barely scratched the surface” – Cindy Bray

There were many such examples of this creativity.  One team member, knowing her clients were craving distraction and purpose, even encouraged a small scavenger hunt through their newly launched website, offering a small prize for the first three people who found the items.  The staff showed their compassion to each other as well as to their clients.  One team member, a counselor, wrote the rest of the team an email that encouraged mental and emotional health during a time of crisis accompanied by resource links. 


Thriving Forward

At the time of this writing, there is still plenty of uncertainty ahead. Nothing is back to “normal” yet. But Cindy is excited about the future. Her staff are secure and confident in their livelihood, and their clients continue to make progress in their job goals. Instead of having to pause or even retreat, Hope Services has been able to move forward with innovation – and even with joy.

On the horizon, Cindy still envisions a full-service training center that will offer even more options for persons living with disabilities to become contributors to their employers and their communities. In the meantime, Cindy has also launched a brand new podcast, “A Potpourri of People: Transforming The Way We Think About Disabilities.” The podcast engages parents and guardians of those living with disabilities to provide encouragement, practical wisdom, and a renewed mindset for how to rise above the challenges that they might be facing.

As Hope Services continues to grow and serve, the organization is even catching the attention of influencers and leaders around the Tampa Bay and Florida community – many of whom are expressing interest in helping the organization maximize its potential.

“We’ve barely scratched the surface,” Cindy says with a smile on her face.


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