For the winners of this year's most meaningful and most ethical awards, the honor comes as an affirmation of their core missions.
Both organizations -- Therapeutic Early Intervention Services, whose employees rated it tops in Meaningfulness, and Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, whose employees rated their organization as having the strongest values and ethics -- serve clinical populations. TEIS provides various early intervention therapies for children under age 3 in Allegheny County, while Emmaus operates eight homes in the greater Pittsburgh area for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Leaders of both organizations say their employees have entered the helping professions to find fulfillment -- so both organizations' ethics and meaning emanate from the bottom up, not vice versa.
"It's a tough job," said MiRan Surh, director of development at Emmaus. "But our staff feels that it is not just a job. It is our mission and our goal. So when you think of an organization as your own and your family, you cannot do anything unethical."
Barbara Mitchell, office manager at TEIS, concurred with this sentiment, adding that therapists at her agency are bound to find purpose in their work when, often, their intervention is crucial in a child's development.
"Therapists go into homes where children don't eat properly and help them eat. A lot of kids have behavioral issues, and so the therapists help them and make it easier on their families," she said. "They find it very meaningful work."
Still, leaders at both agencies said they try not to take their employees' virtue for granted.
At TEIS, Ms. Mitchell said the office staff works hard to ensure that therapists, who mostly work in the field and rarely come to the office, feel appreciated and like they are a part of the team.
"We make sure they're not an island," she explained.
Every other week, the itinerant staff comes in for a meeting where therapists share tips for difficult family situations, and Ms. Mitchell hands out kudos to therapists who receive high praise in a client satisfaction survey.
The staff at Emmaus uses a similar strategy: Every so often, the "community" -- residents and staff from their eight homes as well as some volunteers and friends -- gather, pray and work on a craft activity.
Both agencies also send out regular newsletters featuring shout-outs and, in the case of Emmaus, journal-style entries. One resident at an Emmaus-operated home even contributes recipes for the community to enjoy.
Finally, leaders at both organizations stressed the importance of de-emphasizing hierarchy and allowing employees to focus on their individual strengths.
At TEIS, a mentorship program allows all therapists, both new and seasoned, to gain a different perspective on their style. And, Ms. Mitchell added, "We make sure that the therapists realize that they don't have to be good at paperwork -- we help them with that."
Most of all, Ms. Surh says, maintaining an organization's integrity requires expecting it at all levels. "In management as much as in direct care," she says. "At. All. Levels."
First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM