Happiness House and CP Rochester have shared a similar mission, to provide services to people with developmental disabilities, and now the organizations will share a president as well.
At the end of May, the president of Happiness House, Mary Walsh Boatfield, took over as president of CP Rochester as the organizations develop a more formal partnership.
The partnership has been in consideration for a little more than a year, said Joyce Weir, chairwoman of CP Rochester. The agencies have worked together and are part of the New York State Cerebral Palsy Association, a group of 23 independent providers.
Their relationship had a chance to deepen last fall when the president of CP Rochester, Brian Klafehn, announced his retirement.
"We started a search process, and as we got into that, we kept returning to the idea that this could be a really good opportunity to partner with another agency and share some of those administrative services," Weir said.
At the same time, the leadership in the state Cerebral Palsy Association was encouraging CP Rochester to look for a partner, she added. Happiness House, formally known as Finger Lakes Cerebral Palsy Association, immediately stood out as the candidate.
"We had worked together in some clinical services, so we had something of a relationship with them and thought we should look more into it," Weir said. "So we contacted Mary Boatfield of Happiness House and spoke to her about it, and she was excited at the concept."
From there board members representing both organizations met and discussed the agencies and their cultures. They decided Boatfield would serve as president of both organizations while the two looked for more ways to cooperate, signing an executive staffing agreement with Happiness House to provide leadership.
For now the organizations will operate as individual entities, each with its own board, but will continue looking for opportunities to share services, Boatfield said. The goal is to grow closer, with some kind of merger likely.
"We're in the process of exploring that more permanent relationship, a merger between the organizations," Boatfield said, and the process is likely to take a year or two.
Together the organizations have more than 550 employees serving 3,500 people, Boatfield said.
The organizations are putting together a committee of board members from each agency to explore ways to deepen the relationship, Boatfield said. She believes many opportunities will be available in the near future.
Part of this change will result from a shift in funding by the state, Boatfield noted. Funds for programs serving people with disabilities are increasingly focused on keeping them in community settings.
"We will continue to enhance services for people with disabilities in the Finger Lakes and Rochester communities," Boatfield said. "We're looking at expanding into autism and preschool services in Rochester and for unique housing options for people with disabilities."
Each organization has aspects that will be shared with the other. Happiness House, which opened in 1969 as a child care center operating in a home in Geneva, Ontario County, completed a $3.8 million building project in 2009 for a 2,300-square-foot preschool and brain injury program in Canandaigua. The organization also expanded its site in Geneva by 4,500 square feet and started a foundation to fund future expansion and programs.
CP Rochester has a dental clinic that can serve more people in the Finger Lakes region, Boatfield noted. It also can take advantage of its affiliation with the Al Sigl Community of Agencies to open up new service opportunities.
"Just the sharing of technology services and clinicians will be a huge help, the sharing of information back and forth between the two organizations," Boatfield said. "There are a number of different opportunities I think we can realize even while we're going through this."
Managers in the two organizations, those running the clinics and overseeing adult services programs, have met with their counterparts to share ideas and best practices. The informal talks have yielded several possibilities for furthering the collaboration, Weir said.
"They are talking about ideas and how they can learn from each other," she said.
Though the organizations are being deliberate in the steps they take, there is urgency in the process. Funding for programs serving people with developmental disabilities has declined in recent years, so organizations must seek out new funding opportunities and partnerships to continue offering the same level of services, Boatfield said.
For CP Rochester and Happiness House, she said, the new partnership will help overcome these difficulties.
"This will allow us to continue to have the flexibility to do the things we do well," Boatfield said. "It will help us to be more cost-effective in the future and to continue the high-quality services we've been able to offer."
It is a step more organizations likely will consider in the future, Weir added.
"It's the beginning of an exciting time," she said. "This is probably the direction all agencies in this field will need to be going into."
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