Ellipsis board member Jill Smith is a connector, professionally and personally. When she thinks of the work being done between what is and what’s possible, Smith knows there is a wealth of potential ahead for central Iowa kids, families and their futures — and she’s ready to tell their stories. 

How long have you served on the Ellipsis board (to include times with YESS or YHMA boards)?

I joined the Youth Homes of Mid-America board in 2019. Originally, I was asked by a friend to think of people in my professional network who might bring diversity and nontraditional backgrounds to the YHMA board. As a professional in sales and recruiting, I knew quite a few connections who might fit the bill. But, as I worked with [current Ellipsis CEO] Chris Koepplin on these goals, I became very interested in the board role myself.

Chris’ ability to share the YHMA story and what it means for kids and families is captivating. When I joined the board in 2019, I knew I was working on behalf of an organization that does genuinely good work in our state. There is a strong leadership team in place [at Ellipsis] performing great things each and every day.

Do you have a specific role or expertise field on the board, and if so, what is that?

As a board, we share our expertise through committees. Right now, I’m on the internal affairs committee. I feel like through my professional life, I’m able to contribute knowledge and insight related to employee recruiting and retention — two very hot topics right now for all employers. A small piece of what I can contribute is perspective in hiring trends, retention strategies and what employees are looking for in a job. Ellipsis’ ability to hire and keep caring, dedicated employees means even better outcomes for children and families.

Describe one or two goals you have as an Ellipsis board member.

My biggest goal is helping to tell the story of Ellipsis and all the different services they provide as Iowa’s “no wrong door” solution. My other goal is to provide input and direction to guide the organization’s mission forward.

If applicable, how has your own life intertwined with the mission and work of Ellipsis?

Before I was introduced to Chris, I didn’t know much about YHMA. Then, I watched a video of a speech she gave at a fundraising event and knew this was an organization that could make a big impact with the people who needed it most. I was hooked!

What would be some common misconceptions people have about a program like Ellipsis? How do you dispel that?

It’s not so much a misconception, but a lack of knowing about Ellipsis and the great work happening through their programming. With the merger of YESS and YHMA, we have the opportunity to tell our story to an even greater audience and share the important connections being made between kids, families, and their futures. We have a duty to educate the public about Ellipsis. I personally want more people to know the scope of services and really, the individual care behind the decisions made.

The Ellipsis staff and leadership do so much for children and families in our communities. As a board member, I need to be sharing that story wherever I go. 

Why is it important to have residential programs in communities and qualified people working in them?

The need for safe places to help people get back on their feet is rising. However, though the demand is higher than ever before, we see fewer places able to accommodate the need because of extreme workforce shortages. This comes in the form of available beds and crisis care, among other things. Essentially, to continue to provide the excellent care we offer at Ellipsis, we need to put our employees first. The individuals working on the front lines, day and night, are not only critical to the organization’s success, but really to the families and kids to help them move forward in their lives.

With growing need from the Iowa community, what does the future look like for Ellipsis? What will it take to ensure the coming years are successful?

It starts with staffing, recruitment and retention. Our frontline workers, such as the youth care workers, are the lifeblood of the organization. Several people have been there a long time, and we need to continue to honor their experience, give them a voice in the direction of the organization and help them feel empowered to forward the mission of Ellipsis. Working in residential care or crisis settings for youth and families can be stressful work, and often, these aren’t positions that are paid top dollar. Yet, we see Ellipsis — as an employer — using “employee voice” and a variety of benefits to recruit and retain high-quality people.

The synergy between YESS and YHMA was apparent — and together, as Ellipsis, the future is much brighter for children and families in central Iowa. Each organization brought unique strengths to the merger to really provide that continuum of care for those who need it most, regardless of their background or situation.