Welcome to the Terminal Value Podcast
Dec. 28, 2020

#16 Running a Mission Driven Convent and School with Sister Adelle Marie

#16 Running a Mission Driven Convent and School with Sister Adelle Marie

Doug talks with Sister Adele Marie Altenhofen from the Sisters of Saint Mary in Oregon. The organization runs a convent, a school spanning from pre-school up through high school, and a senior care center.

Doug and Sister Adelle Marie discuss the dynamics of running a mission-driven organization and the challenges that have been overcome during COVID as the guidelines constantly changed.

Doug's business specializes in partnering with companies and non-profits to create value and capture cost savings without layoffs to fund growth and strengthen financial results. 

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Welcome to the terminal value Podcast where each episode provides in depth insight about the long term value of companies and ideas in our current world. Your host for this podcast is Doug Utberg, the founder and principal consultant for Business of Life, LLC.

Doug: Welcome to the terminal value podcast. I have Sister Adelle Marie with me from the Sisters of Saint Mary. The campus in Beaverton Oregon which incidentally is where both of my kids go to school. My daughter Jada and my son Nolan. I won't say their ages but if you know me you probably know how old they are. They are both enrolled at the Sisters of Saint Mary's school. However, there are also some other ministries that go on as there as well which is they have a convent which is where Sister Adelle Marie lives with. Was it 49 other nuns?

Sister Adelle: Approximately yes.

Doug: Approximately yes. There's 42 there are 49 other nuns and they also run a senior care home called Maryville. In addition to having housing for retired clergy and Sister Adelle Marie she is actually the financial director. So she has quite a bit on her plate and she's graciously decided to come and talk to us just about the mission and the and then the resiliency they've shown in trying to figure out how to adapt to the covid reality and it's actually very timely conversation because as of the time of this recording the governor of the state of Oregon put a new set of restrictions on reopening schools. So you know, they the sisters are saying all right well that's okay we didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anyway. We’re just gonna be in meetings all the time. So Sister Adelle please welcome and yeah please tell us a little bit about your ministry over at the campus.

Sister Adelle: Certainly. So I am what we call my role is called the President of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Oregon Ministries Corporation and as noted we have several ministries on our campus. The school was founded clear back in the early 1900s we were known then as Saint Mary's and then it changed the St. Mary's Institute and then it became at some point in the line Saint Mary of The Valley Academy and then changed to Valley Catholic. So Valley Catholic school on our campus actually serves babies as young as six to eight weeks all the way up through our seniors in high School and we have about a thousand students on our campus. So usually, usually they're all on our campus right now they've been doing digital learning as was noted. Then we have Maryville Nursing facility. It has residents up to a capacity of 165 residents there and then another 15 in our memory care unit as well.

Doug: That’s quite a bit of capacity.

Sister Adelle: Exactly. So right there at Maryville, we have you know another 100 up to about 180, 81 residents that can be served on campus and as with our mother house is there. We are about 50 sisters living in the mother house. We have a few small houses on the campus also where some other sisters reside in small group living units and as noted at the other end of the campus we have our retired clergy. Those who have chosen to come living in a duplex style arrangement about up to 15 of them can stay there as well. So it's a hopping place when we're all there. It's even hopping when we're not there as we just said with Doug the governor announced within the last few hours that the protocols and the regulations are shifting again. God bless the poor principles and presence of schools in our areas that are all going to be swamped with trying to shift gears once again. I just have to hand it to all of them. Whether it's the nursing staff or it's those teachers that are having to figure out how to shift gears. You know everybody on campus and I hesitate to name because I'll probably leave people off but, you know whether you're talking the cafeteria staff or the caregivers that are in the memory care or either you're talking about the finance people or you're talking about HR anything. Whatever you say everybody's having to kind of take a deep breath pause and roll up their sleeves and get after it and.

Doug: Exactly.

Sister Adelle: God Bless.

Doug: Exactly this. Yeah much, much prayer is needed and appreciated in the current environment. But yeah I'd love to hear just about how you've gone about adapting to all of this? because you know when, you know when covid came through and you had to do the shutdown orders and because I remember during the summer there was a pretty elaborate plan that was put together to reopen under the state guidelines but then Beaverton which is the city where the campus is located was put into a work from home order so you had to wrap those ad up and throw it away. And then and then yeah I think now there's been another reopening plan which you have to wrap that up and throw it away and start over. And that's just I. That's impressed me just the level of resiliency especially given that you have these other ministries. You know one of which of course is the mother house where not I'm sorry not the mother house is Maryville where you have a lot of people who are you know at very high risk if they if covid infection comes through. So you've had to tiptoe very very what is it  you've had to put quite a bit of deliberate effort in. And yes you, you're either very good at hiding your anxiety or you're very good at dealing with it because, because that would be a lot to try to handle.

Sister Adelle: Well there are so many blessings. First of all you know the campus and you probably recognize that as you drive your children onto campus, I think we have a campus that's permeated with a sense of peace and that's brought on because of that prayer you which you spoke about. I think that gives us a grounding in what's essential and helps us keep a focus that is not just on the things of this world but otherworldly too but that the best is still yet to come and then we'll deal with what we have here. And you take a deep breath and and you figure it out and whatever administrator is on campus working with these things I have great confidence that they're professionals and what they're doing and they you know. It hits you like a ton of bricks when these things happen but then everybody regroups and figures it out. They're really solution seekers and all of them have put that capacity or that talent to the test and into action and as you noted yes you kind of throw it up out and wadded up and throw that plant away. Some pieces obviously stick and you've got to keep them but, you know our campus is so unique. Nobody else is quite like us. Again one is that the youngest of the valiant all the way to the seniors in high school but then as you know with the nursing facility with mother house with the centralized services. Business things of  HR and finance so you have a nine to five Monday through Friday work week you have a 24/7 work week. You've got a school schedule that's off in the summers. So we have a little bit of everything going on. And each entity informs the other. It can be challenging too but, the things about IT that a school has to be driven by having more quick flexibility to bring on the new learning apps or the different things that has helped Maryville to be at the front of its game as far as bringing apps.

Doug: Yeah.

Sister Adelle: Or different things that has helped Maryville to be at the front of its game as far as bringing apps or different things to computers into the Maryville the facility. Maryville's awareness of all things health care driven has informed us at the mother house about how we can do the best provision of care for our sisters as they age.

Doug: Okay.

Sister Adelle: The same token as covid hits. Maryville is going to be the one that's got the front line information about how to use PPE and how we're going to be addressing our different needs and what are the different quarantine and isolation rules or what about this vaccine as it becomes available.

Doug: Yeah.

Sister Adelle: So all of those pieces inform one another. It can be challenging but I think because we're so close to Maryville I think the schools benefit with that piece as well.

Doug: Yeah.

Sister Adelle: The medical side. I think you know for the residents being around the children that's also helpful and brings their spirits up even as the early learning school got back in session. The little tiny ones were running over and having little scavenger hunts for gingerbread men in the lawn outside the Maryville windows and so the residents wheeled their wheelchairs up and got to watch that and.

Doug: That's sweet.

Sister Adelle: You know. It's a, it feeds itself I guess in a hopefully symbiotic way that's.

Doug: Well, well it's I was gonna say go yeah you know. It's  nice to have some heartwarming stories because you know they seem to be in short supply lately. So it's you. got you gotta save them when they come.

Sister Adelle: Indeed, indeed that is absolutely true.

Doug: But you know, but yeah I mean I think it's just think it's amazing you know. The you know the work that's being done and I just love to get your thoughts on just you know how the you know how mission driven organizations have been adapting. You know, because you know especially like you know say a lot of the colleges and universities. A lot of the, you know private particularly parochial schools have been struggling lately and covid has just made it all that much more hard and so I think you're keeping these mission-driven organizations going. It's required a lot of creativity. You know, I'd love to hear a little more about  just about some of the some of the ways that you've been creatively solving problems. 

Sister Adelle: Well I think lots of meetings we come together. I always am very very impressed where your answers come from. I treasure the fact that I have an executive management team where all the presidents on campus, all the heads of the main departments that serve the entities whether it's IT  facilities grounds, maintenance, HR we're all sitting around a table something comes up and somebody who may not be in that particular industry has insights perhaps because they're a step away from it. Has insights that can then inform all the rest of us to do better or to think about it from a different perspective.

Doug: Yeah.

Sister Adelle: And I think those things have helped us to be resilient as well. You know sometimes your IT guys the best guy to have given you something about how to consider what you might do on a nursing answer I mean. Who knew that they have iPod that have an app now that you can hold up to a wound and it records from hours to days. How fast that wound is healing and the IT guy who doesn't really like you know the blood and things he's the one who had the insight to be able to help us get that. So I think because we have that variety of input and different perspectives that's helped us. I think as I noted before because you have a hopefully you're grounded in something that keeps us respectful and honoring. What is most important I think in life and after life. I think that has given us maybe a leg up and other mission centered or mission driven places as well and then folks have been so generous and so very open. They have brought in I think maybe this year as even we did a kind of a different collection for Valley Catholic giving, helping out those who are in need and need extra meals or extra things to help their families at this time. I heard and saw some pictures that the cafeteria was overflowing with food baskets and gifts and cards and you know to use at stores and it was out of the cafeteria and down the hall and maybe.

Doug: and then yeah.

Sister Adelle: you know and then with the fire too. They're down in the station area and a lot of the sisters' relatives are from that area and the response in days. I think we spent sent down to them over fifteen thousand dollars worth of goods and cards and monetary support so.

Doug: That's great. Well I mean and I think that's, that's especially good to hear. Just because I think in the you know, in the 24-hour news cycle. Twitter, social media era it's like just I think it's really easy to you know if you pay attention to the news to just think that everything's coming apart at the seams. You mean and there's a certain degree to which that may be the case but, I think it's you should also have to remember that there are a lot of really, really good people that are doing very helpful things and it's important to it's important to remember that. I know for me one of the things that I tried I'm trying to do is consume as little social media and mainstream news is humanly possible. Just because I don't really find that it improves my life in any particular way and so yeah I you know. I love you're hearing about these kind this kind of work that's being done and getting a chance to you know to meet people that are that are doing this are doing this work because I think that you know it's it's really easy to get mad that things are the way they are but you know somebody's gonna have to do something to make it better. It's and you know waiting for somebody else to to do it for you I think is generally not a great strategy. So I really I just, I really appreciate the work that's being done and  you know hats off. I especially, especially appreciated the idea of you know collaboration to you know, to address the problem. I  mean it sounds, it sounds deceptively simple. You'd say okay well you get a lot of people together and everybody comes up with ideas. You okay well that's really simple. Have you ever tried to get a lot of people together and have them come up with ideas that everybody agrees on? It's not so simple.

Sister Adelle: Exactly, exactly. Well then you know our campus we have about 500 employees.

Doug: Yeah. 

Sister Adelle: And so and as you have that diverse set of industries whether it's the healthcare versus the education versus the more typical office staff type of engagement, we're in the workforce. It's, it can be extremely challenging.

Doug: Yeah.

Sister Adelle: Because people can come at it from a maybe a little bit more siloed view. But I think we've worked really hard to open up those opportunities and cross-pollinate.

Doug: Well that's excellent. I mean and and I think that's actually the kind of thing that needs to happen right now is that you know I’m very hopeful that one of the things that will come out of you know just all of dealing with covid is that you know because I think that there's just sort of a culture that's evolved of everybody kind of trying to one-up everyone else. And I suppose there's a certain amount of that you're never going to get away from but I’m hoping that the some of the challenges that have had to be overcome or kind of getting people to have more of a you know I guess you'd say team first mission first mindset  and you know and and be able to at least put that on the shelf for a little while. You know at the end of the day if people are human and you know people are going to be who they are and.

Sister Adelle: Yes.

Doug: It's you know, it's really easy to point your finger and say oh look what a bad person that is but you know. People are human and I'm you know I'm reasonably certain actually no not no more I know for a certifiable fact that people could look at plenty of things I've said and done over the years and had reason to think that I could have made a better decision. So, so that I think that's just that's always going to be with us.

Sister Adelle: I know well you as you nailed it kind of there too. What have we learned and what we are finding is most essential now during this time of covid you know reaching out and giving somebody a hug. How long has it been since that's been the case? You know right now I'm in a kind of a strange situation. I had a, my mother took a tumble and so I’ve been staying at her home and I'm actually working remotely myself.

Doug: Yes.

Sister Adelle: But she. I hadn't seen her for probably  three months at all and that was only in her backyard on her birthday for an hour and we were masked up and until I was spent a couple days in the hospital with her overnight to.

Doug: Yeah.

Sister Adele: To assist with that you know. I haven't really had much up close and personal time with my mom for at least nine months and so you think about those things that we hold dear that maybe we took for granted and I hope we don't lose track of what we have learned from this. About what are those dear and precious things that we need to make sure we hold tight and don't lose sight of those. Even as we get back to normal whatever that is.

Doug: I think that's especially true because like one of the things that I keep thinking is that right you know with the lockdowns you basically kind of end up in sort of a digital isolation which in one way or another is kind of where social media is pushing a lot of people anyway. But the problem is it's like once you can take it to an extreme. To where you really are either not you can't leave your house but you're not supposed to leave your house and you're supposed to and you're dramatically limiting your interactions. It's really not that fun. It's you know it's just it's really not that fun and you know and you know and then it's like you're railing on Facebook doesn't make it any more fun frankly. 

Sister Adelle: Right, right. 

Doug: Yeah I’m really looking forward to being able to  re engage with people and you know just you know be able to have more human interactions...