After 24 years as a corporate executive at Medtronic, Jodi Harpstead was hungry for something new. She found it in the nonprofit sector, joining Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in 2004. She has served as its chief executive since 2011. LSS, with revenue of $123 million, provides housing to adults with disabilities, in-home services to the elderly, shelter and help for homeless women and kids, financial counseling and other assistance through a variety of programs.

Q: What were you doing at Medtronic and why did you leave to join LSS?

A: I grew up in sales and marketing management at Medtronic. I was there as the company grew from $200 million to $6 billion in sales when I left. I loved the work and the mission. I closed out 96 quarters in a row, most of them successfully. I was thinking about the second half of my career. I managed pretty well but I was starting to go on autopilot. It was time to do something different. I switched to the nonprofit sector [with LSS in 2004]. I was elected CEO in 2011, and I haven’t looked back.

Q: Was 2015 a good year and why?

A: It was a strong year. We are clearly coming out of the recession, and there are more resources available for services in the community, both public and private. We were able to move forward our “accountable care organization” for people with disabilities, all but complete our [capital] campaign in Duluth and exceed our goals for our 150th anniversary [fundraising] gala.

Q: The Star Tribune recently published a series about moving more people with developmental disabilities out of sheltered workshops and group homes and into the mainstream. Please describe LSS’s role in that business, where you’re headed and where state policy should go?

A: Sixty percent of our work is services for people with disabilities across Minnesota. We have been changing our services for the past 10 years. We don’t run sheltered workshops. We do house people. Forty-three percent of the people we served in 2005 were in four-person group homes. Now the number is 23 percent. Others are in apartments, host homes or their families’ homes. LSS has been working intensively for five years to help those who can and want more independent living — with families, roommates or independently. Providers in Minnesota need to accelerate this shift. We also scanned the statewide data and found that perhaps two-thirds of people with “waivered services” — who need more assistance — will not be able to live or work independently. We all need to figure out the best way to support them and give everyone choice in how they work and live. Some people need intensive services, including group-residential living. We can’t close all of the group homes right now.

Q: What are your other priorities for 2016 and beyond?

A: We are at the leading edge of a workforce shortage in Minnesota. We are learning techniques to deal with it, but we also need more resources to recruit and retain a quality workforce. That includes training and employing more people with disabilities. Business also needs to address this. We also are working to integrate health care and community services for older adults to help them remain independent in the community. We don’t own nursing homes Everything we do is to help keep seniors independent. Part of that is the help of our “senior companion” volunteers at LSS. Minnesota has the largest group of senior companions of any LSS agency in the country. And we continue to work toward ending homelessness for youth. In 2016, we will break ground and build the Center for Changing Lives for Youth in Duluth.

Q: What’s the rewarding part of your job?

A: Seeing the daily triumph of the human spirit as brave and resilient neighbors change their own lives for the better with support.

Q: What’s the frustrating part of your job?

A: That the quiet, unassuming, much-loved service we’ve done for 70 years since World War II called “refugee resettlement” has some Americans suddenly outraged in 2015 [thanks to Donald Trump and other politicians]. That’s a strange new reality.

 

Q: What is a big challenge ahead for LSS?

A: As we care for the aging baby boom, professional-paid services will be stretched. We will need all of the “great neighbors” we can get to serve neighbors through adoption, foster care, host homes … so we can save our paid services for those who need intense or professional support.