Howard Center’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative
The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Cabinet forms a vital part of the Howard Center’s organizational structure; existing to improve the diversity, equity and inclusion performance of Howard Center through effective governance. Howard Center CEO, Bob Bick, has put forth an inspiring vision: “We are committed to becoming a model culture and community leader around issues of diversity, inclusion, and corporate values and responsibility. We want to ensure a welcoming, inclusive, equitable, and diverse environment for our staff, the people we serve, our partners, and community. In doing this, we must face old patterns, and in a respectful and positive way break though barriers and stereotypes, and have courageous conversations that will allow us to grow, expand, and more fully live our values and mission.”
The Origins of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Howard Center
Howard Center established the Diversity Coordinator position in 2003. In 2015, Howard Center contracted with Abundant Sun to help collect and analyze demographic data. The same year, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) was integrated into the overall Strategic Plan and became accountable to the Board of Directors. In 2017, DEI was formally recognized as a department.
Today, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department implements key initiatives both within and beyond the Howard Center community:
- three Employee Affinity Networks (i.e. the Disability Network, the LGBTQIA+ Network, and the Multicultural Network)
- monthly Roundtable discussions open to all Howard Center employees
- staff training on unconscious bias, inclusive language, and racial and cultural competence
- contributions to our free and open to the public Community Education Series
- participation in the local Pride Parade and regional conferences
Throughout our 150-year history of helping individuals, adults, and families, we have seen our community grow and become more diverse. We have responded to those changes by providing programs and services that meet the wide-ranging needs of our clients. These are just a few:
- For those who may not speak English, we have in-person and video translation options.
- For individuals with limited hearing and speaking abilities, our staff may rely on American Sign Language or technology to assist with communication.
- For clients who seek counseling, we offer individual and group options that focus on a broad array of client interests, needs, and goals, including groups for men and women with autism and a Pride group which is open to people of all gender identities and expressions.
Our goal is to create an organization that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion by remaining responsive to the needs of our constantly changing community. Our clients are at the focus of all we do, and our staff continues to develop best practice guidelines in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Condemning Racism as a Public Health Crisis
On July 16, 2020, Howard Center joined Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and more than 30 Chittenden County organizations to announce a community declaration of racism as a public health emergency. As part of the declaration, all participants also announced: 1) a commitment to the sustained and deep work of eradicating racism within their organizations; 2) immediate and specific actions that they are taking to address the emergency in the work that they do; and 3) a commitment to participate in ongoing joint action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism in Chittenden County. Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and State Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis also announced the State of Vermont’s intention to support and collaborate in this regional public health effort.
Vermont Business Magazine: City, Chittenden County organizations declare racism a public health emergency
Los Angeles Times: Vermont’s largest city declares racism a health emergency
U.S. News & World Report: Vermont City, groups declare racism a health emergency
Howard Center joined more than 30 community partners in signing the declaration that systemic racism is a health emergency.
We commit to the following action steps as an anti-racist organization:
- Create a data dashboard system to identify health disparities and inform practice change within our agency’s clinical practice and recruitment plan.
- Advance recruitment strategies to racially diversify the Board of Trustees and senior leadership at Howard Center.
- Enhance training and support to address racist actions by those we serve (clients, students, patients).
- Demonstrate support for Black Lives Matter through an agency action initiative.
- Offer educational sessions on racism related to mental health, substance use, and developmental disabilities as part of our free and open to the public Community Education Series.
“We are committed to a world without racism. With roots in social justice, Howard Center staff work each day to serve our community and strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion in our organizational culture and system of care. We look forward to joining together with our community partners to strategically and fully eradicate systemic racism throughout our community.”
–Catherine Simonson, LICSW, Chief Client Services Officer