December 16, 2020

Innovation Awards Recognize Challenges of 2020

2020 presented significant challenges to everyone – whether they were health related, personal, financial, political, social, professional or other, we all experienced upheaval this year. 

Because of these many changes, i2i felt it was important to acknowledge and highlight those in our service system who took on these challenges and were able to keep individuals engage, connected and cared for during these difficult months.  This year’s Innovation Awards 2020 Challenge winners did this and more and we are pleased to highlight them here for you!  You can also watch the Innovation Awards Presentation video from the Virtual Pinehurst Conference to learn more.

2020 Care Challenge – An organization(s) that implemented one or more service changes during COVID-19 that improve the quality of whole person care for individuals receiving services and that will be carried forth into a post COVID-19 world.  Winner:  sensABLE Snacks Food Truck.  sensABLE snacks food truck is the first of it’s kind, offering a unique employment program and a working business.  It is an inclusive training ground; helping adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) develop into successful, independent and competitively employed co-workers in the hospitality industry and beyond.  This is an innovative collaboration between Easterseals UCP and Trillium Health Resources which began in November 2019.  Pre-COVID, the food trucks traveled to communities in and around New Bern & Ahoskie, NC selling healthy, pre-packaged snacks. Employees trained in over 26 jobs through valuable, hands-on work.  Then, on March 15th business as usual came to a halt. 

During COVID-19, supporting the sensABLE snacks’ tagline and mission of “together, we’re healthy, willing and ABLE” was challenging but a strategy was developed to move forward – creating snack-o-grams.  Like many others, the team transitioned to working from home – packaging snack-o-grams!  The value of these packages is real:  when asked why someone might like to receive one, our employee answered, “It makes them happy!”  In fact, the popularity of this product translated into the highest sales they had ever seen!  Purposeful work is essential to self-worth, health & well-being and sensABLE snacks was able to adapt, overcome and continue their success in 2020.  To learn more, click on the awards video (sensABLE snacks starts at 2:34).  

2020 Awareness Challenge – A program or organization that has provided a voice for people to communicate, advocate and or inform other on the issues of racial equality and justice. 

Winner – Ashe Library 2020 – Talking About Race in Life and Literature.   During July and August, Ashe Library hosted online conversations, surrounding the journaling prompts in Layla Saad’s book:  Me & White Supremacy.  Following this they hosted a series of book talks, conversations and panel discussions surrounding the theme of racial equality, anti-racism and race & incarceration.  Through this program they have held ‘living room conversations’ outlined on North Carolina State University’s emerging issues website.  They have also provided space for patrons to share art, music, and written reflections in response to community reads such as Book of Little Axe by, Lauren Francis-Sharma and How I Shed My Skin by, Jim Grimsley.  Learn more at and watch Awards video (starts at 6:28).

2020 Social Determinants Challenge – A program or activity that was implemented in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 challenges focused on supplying food, housing or personal care needs for individuals and/or families in the service system.  Winner – Daymark Recovery Services.  Daymark Recovery Services made unselfish sacrifices and contributions to assure that individuals experiencing homelessness in Forsyth County that were COVID-19 positive, a known contact of someone positive, or pending a test result, had a place to isolate/quarantine. Very late one Friday night, Forsyth County Department of Public Health Assistant Health Director Denise Price reached out to Daymark CEO Billy West to see if he would consider offering his office space to transform into an alternative shelter.  While Public Health was  working on a broader plan to meet needs of the population, there was a COVID-19 positive individual that needed immediate placement, that hotels/motels were not willing to accept, and existing shelters could not safely provide housing.  The Daymark office was initially constructed as a Facility Based Crisis Center, and had a layout that would work nicely.  Billy responded, “I’m on my way to unlock the door. The individual is welcome to stay at our office.”  Within a week of this initial discussion, his Forsyth County outpatient operation had been transformed into a beautiful and inviting place for folks to stay. Daymark not only gave their space without an ask for anything in return (displacing all of their staff), they also, at their own expense, up-fitted the space with additional WiFi so guests could connect, reprogrammed their phones so every guest would have a phone in their room, and provided countless hours of staff time moving office furniture and troubleshooting, etc. They also provided an iPad so that services could be provided via telehealth where needed.  When the response of others was to shy away from serving individuals experiencing homelessness, and to shy away from serving individuals with COVID-19, Daymark was said, bring them to me.  When presented with a need, they fully committed to being a big part of a solution!  Watch awards video (starts at 14:55)

2020 Social Justice Challenge – An NC-based program or community activity seeking to increase social and economic equality for people who have been historically discriminated against because of their race.  Winner – Project OUTreach – Trillium Health Resources.  According to the Trevor Project, suicide is 2nd leading cause of death in ages 10 -24, LGBTQ youth are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide, and LGBTQ youth who comes from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth from families with no or little rejection. With this information in mind and knowing there have been multiple high profile youth suicides in our catchment area where LGBTQ issues were a causal factor, we developed Project OUTreach to:  improving health and mental health outcomes of LGTBQ youth in Eastern NC; Help ethnically and religiously diverse families and caregivers to decrease rejection and increase support for LGBTQ children, youth, and young adults; support the critical needs of youth in foster care related to LGBTQ health; and facilitate systems change to address needs by increasing awareness and support of LGBTQ youth. 

Prior to COVID, the project hosted 5 “What’s Up Breakfasts” in partnership with NC Families United in four counties.  When COVID-19 prevented face-to-face events, virtual events reached over 100 attendees.  The next phase of the program includes:  10 Trillium staff and 20 Foster Care Programs to become trainers of the All Children-All Families curriculum to be offered to anyone who works with children so that we can increase support and understanding of the special challenges faced by LGBTQ youth in the community.  Watch Awards Video (starts at 17:58)

2020 Connection Challenge – An organization(s) that was able to carry out a program or activity that resulted in an increase in social connectedness for individuals in the service system during the COVID-19.

Winner – Monarch Day Program.  As stay-at-home and limited gathering orders took effect this past spring, on-site services at Monarch’s day programs were temporarily suspended.  From the beginning, Monarch’s day program leadership was keenly aware that a sense of normalcy and connection was even more important during the pandemic.  They developed creative ways to help participants engage in daily activities with each other and with program staff.  At Monarch’s Creative Arts and Community Center (MCACC) day program in Southern Pines, the Monarch Voices choir hosted its practices virtually using video conference software.  Music therapist Rachel Shell led practices twice weekly and participants continued to share their love of music despite the distance.  At Monarch’s Health Drive day program in New Bern, the community engagement team leader, and her team hosted the program’s regularly scheduled bingo game virtually.  Staff at Stanly Industrial Systems (SIS) day program in Albemarle worked individually with program participant and Monarch group home resident, to produce face masks that were shared with people supported and Monarch staff (see video  Watch Awards Video (starts at 10:06)