Share This Post

Celebrating Distinction in Illinois with Ray Graham Association

By Kristen Baughman, CQL Quality Enhancement Specialist

A long time partner of CQL, Ray Graham Association (RGA) has been a great group of people to work with and visit. I am Kristen Baughman and I was the lead Quality Enhancement Specialist during their recent accreditation. The theme throughout their entire accreditation process has been “celebration”; even kicking off our visit with a pep rally! We wanted to continue with that theme and their CQL Accreditation with Distinction by sharing more about who they are as an organization, along with their accreditation process. Because they have contributed so much about their journey in preparation for this article, I am going to turn it over to them so they can take the reins from here. Congratulations Ray Graham on this incredible achievement!

About Ray Graham Association

Ray Graham Association, located in Lisle, Illinois, was founded in 1950 to empower people, and those who care for them, to reach their potential, grow their future, and achieve their goals. They are meeting the unique needs, goals, and dreams of the nearly 2,000 people with disabilities. They have been accredited by CQL since 1997 and have always striven for quality and consistency in their programs.

They provide a wide range of services including residential, life skills, recreation, employment, and family support. Person-Centeredness is a key mission for Ray Graham Association, and that plays a part in all of their programs through personalized goals, plans, and services to meet those unique needs of the people they serve.

Ray Graham Association Logo: A monarch butterfly in flight next to the text: Ray Graham Association Empowering people with disabilities to reach, grow, and achieve.

Ray Graham Association recently achieved their accreditation in Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation, with Distinction. We asked Sharon Anderson, RGA Director of Quality and Strategic Initiatives, a series of questions about who they are as an organization, along with their experience with the CQL Accreditation process.

What are some notable changes in your organization over the last several years?

Ray Graham Association has significantly transformed in recent years. One strategic transition involved closing the Iona Glos Specialized Living Center (an ICFDD) that was licensed to serve 100 people. This facility was built from the ground up in 1980 and was home to hundreds of people over the years. Although a thoughtful and person-centered plan to close the location was initiated, no one could have predicted that within three months the entire world would be in the middle of a pandemic. The RGA team pivoted many times but continued to take deliberate steps forward with great creativity and diligence. Today, everyone is settled into their new homes and enjoying being a part of their new neighborhoods and communities. 

Recognizing that there was great opportunity to strengthen our organizational culture, in 2018, we launched an Effective Communication Series. Believing that our team is our most critical resource, we created this forum to discuss real issues that, if left unaddressed, could affect quality services, team morale, disengagement and culture. By committing to a “OneRGA Team Strong” mantra, this series continues to support the continuous creation of a positive culture.

“OneRGA” is now common terminology both for the team and people supported. We seek WIN-WIN solutions, and that impact is felt all through our organization and with all our stakeholders. 

With the support of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities and Rush University, RGA created a Health Resume that has been integrated with the Health Risk Screening Tool (HRST) allowing statewide access to the document. This tool helps improve communication between people and their healthcare providers and has proven to be effective when people enter the hospital or a rehab setting.  The continued and expanded use of this tool is expected to support better health care outcomes for people, improve communication between the person, the family, the supporting organization, and the healthcare professionals as well as reduce costs through better health outcomes.

In 2022, we launched the Emerge Behavioral Health Clinic. These services assist people in productively responding to various situations and aspirations. Our certified counselors reinforce positive behaviors and offer ways to overcome negative feelings and interactions. These services also fill a huge gap and need for mental health services for people with I/DD.

Supporting people to enhance and engage in personal and system advocacy is one of our top priorities and most rewarding efforts. People report (and Personal Outcome Measures® data supports) that they are supported to learn about their rights, identify and define what is important to them regarding their rights, and challenge the organization as well as the system to ensure rights are upheld and maintained. Our formal self-advocacy group, The RGA Council, is empowered to speak up and speak out; and, as a result, have become a very well-informed cohort of people that hold us accountable for what truly matters. People are involved in every aspect of our services and priorities, are listened to and learned from.

What are your goals as an organization?

The people we support know that RGA’s primary goal is to help them identify and realize their potential and lead fulfilling lives. We have identified several strategic priorities for the near future:

  • Secure long-term financial stability and freedom.
  • Champion team member growth, development, and retention.
  • Strengthen our portfolio of innovative, people-centered services and opportunities.
  • Empower people served and the team through tools and technology. 
  • Modernize and set leading standards for homes and locations.
  • Grow our collective voice at the family, community, and state levels.

These plans will offer innovative person-centered services to the people we serve and their support systems and empower our dedicated team members, partners, and advocates with the financial freedom, knowledge, and opportunities they need to impact their communities.

In preparation for the Stakeholder Day of our accreditation review week, we focused on how our strategic priorities aligned with CQL’s Person Centered Excellence 8 Factors. Because they aligned very well, we organized our approach for the day requesting that Stakeholders present assist us to further identify, define and organize our approach to achieving strategic priorities (that were voted on by the group).

A man with disability wearing a bright red shirt and a backwards hat leaning on the hood of a vehicle, standing in front of AutoZone, where he works.

“People should not just be welcome and heard, they should be truly listened to and respected at the highest level. Our leadership at RGA is accountable to the people we support; it is the expectation we have built and defend.”

Kim Zoeller, Ray Graham Association President and CEO

As a result, we identified 3 goals that meet the intended outcome of the PCE Stakeholder Day and align perfectly with our Strategic Priorities that our Board, team, families, people we support, and key stakeholders were already familiar with. These goals are:

  • Champion team member growth, development and retention and empower team members through technology. (Comes from the CQL priority indicator Workforce)
  • Strengthen portfolio of innovative, people centered services and opportunities and empower people we serve through tools and technology (Comes from the CQL priority indicators Person-Centered Assessment and Discovery, Person-Centered Planning, Supports and Services, Community Connection, and Emerging Practices.)
  • Grow RGA’s voice at the family, community & State level (Comes from the CQL priority indicator Governance)

What organizational values or practices are you most proud of?

It is our mission to create opportunities that empower people with disabilities to reach, grow, and achieve. But, it is our Values that keep us focused on our Mission every day…

  • Leadership:  It always has been, and it always will be, about quality.  At Ray Graham Association, we listen to and learn from people with disabilities and their families.  We lead by offering services that align with the most promising of practices.  When those practices do not exist, we believe it’s our responsibility to create them.
  • Advocacy: Advancing public policy to benefit children and adults with disabilities is a priority.  We advocate for services and supports that are customized, promote independence, and produce relevant and meaningful outcomes, such as employment, good health, relationships, and overall life satisfaction.
  • Team: We believe in having a team of people from different backgrounds, with distinct experiences, and unique points of view.  Our differences are our greatest strength.  We invest in our team members to advance their professional and personal growth.  We celebrate the successes of our team members, as it is their efforts that make a positive impact on the lives of the people we serve.
  • Community Partnership: Our community is the place we all live, learn, and grow.  We facilitate partnerships to create communities that promote a culture of inclusion and social justice.  These relationships serve as a foundation to advance collaboration and mutually beneficial community partnerships. 

Finally, we believe wholeheartedly that the people we support are experts in their own life. Supporting people to find their voice and not just take charge of their own future, but also be a driving for change for the organization is a foundational value.

How do you measure quality at your organization?

RGA measures quality using strict, data-driven criteria and CQL’s industry-setting standards. We have created a Quality Monitoring system that proactively incorporates and integrates:

  • Agency systems, committees, and efforts to assure that people are healthy, safe and secure 
  • Ensures that efforts are goal oriented, are measured and evaluated by the impact they have on peoples’ lives and how they support people to obtain desired outcomes in their lives
  • Evaluates the presence of Basic Assurances®  
  • Compares RGA specific Personal Outcome Measure®  (POM) data to the national POM data published by The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL)
  • Integrates progress on current Person-Centered Excellence (PCE) goals
  • Analyzes data to identify opportunities for internal improvement and external system change
  • Reflects mechanisms to ensure the participation of people supported and their families in planning, development, delivery, and evaluation of services.
  • Guides efforts to include and share data and progress with key stakeholders

Both quantitative and qualitative feedback keeps our focus on real-life results. At RGA, quality is more than meeting benchmarks. It is about providing opportunities, the exploration and discovery of interests as well as peoples’ physical, emotional, and social well-being.

The organizational data that can be obtained from POM interviews/the PORTAL data system is intertwined and vital to how we measure quality at RGA.  In order to reap the benefits of this information, we recognize that we need additional team members who can complete reliable POM interviews. We have dedicated resources to providing additional team members an opportunity for professional growth by taking the steps to become certified reliable POM interviewers. We are excited about having additional interviewers that, ultimately, will be able to collect reliable data upon which we measure individual and organizational quality.

Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation?

Since 1997, RGA has been accredited by CQL. Today, as it was nearly 30 years ago, we believe that CQL’s mission and values are most closely aligned with ours. Simply stating that you are a person-centered organization does not make it so. We want to be pushed; we want to be challenged to be the best we can for those we support.  We view CQL as the mountain climber, the gold standard for the most promising of practices and that is where we want to be. 

How did you prepare for your CQL Accreditation?

Preparing for the CQL Accreditation is not an event, it is a thorough process and on-going transformational effort that is embedded in our culture of quality. We have always said that “CQL is not something we do – it is everything we do.” 

We organized the opportunities that CQL identified during our last accreditation review into our Strategic Priorities and Quality Monitoring (Basic Assurances® Factor 10) processes. Aligning all our efforts into one transparent direction and dedicating ourselves to the continuous and consistent communication with all stakeholders (most notably our team), about this path, our progress, and challenges along the way is what positioned us for not only accreditation successes, but also cultural transformation.. 

Ray Graham CEO Kim Zoeller standing outside on a walkway in discussion with two people.

“This accreditation is not just a feather in our cap; it’s a testament to our culture of positivity and the relentless pursuit of excellence in supporting those we serve. Our journey doesn’t stop here. We continue to forge ahead, inspired by this recognition and fueled by our commitment to those we support.”

Kim Zoeller, Ray Graham Association President and CEO

Figuring out how to best integrate the Basic Assurances® Factor 10 expectations and Personal Outcome Measures® data into our Quality Monitoring processes was key.  As we identified what information (data) was important to us to measure, review, analyze and share with people supported, the team and other stakeholders set us on a path that naturally led us to being prepared for the accreditation review.

Certainly, the completion of the self-assessments took a great amount of collaborative time and effort from many team members.  It was the proactive effort of aligning our practices, clarifying our path and creating the culture of One Team RGA that made that effort a bit less stressful. 

We approached our accreditation preparation (and review) as ‘our time to shine’. We have learned that we need to be more vocal about our progress and successes as an organization.  

Spending the time it took to thoroughly complete each self- assessment probe/question, adding as much information about our efforts and attaching all relevant supporting documents and data was well worth the time and effort.

What is one specific aspect/area of your organization that has improved as a result of your accreditation? How has it improved?

Our long-time partnership with CQL and our most recent achievement of PCE Accreditation with Distinction continues to guide us to identify ‘what really matters’, challenges us as a team to be innovative in our approaches to supporting each person to reach, grow, and achieve and emphasizes the importance of celebrating and continuing to nurture our culture as an organization.

A specific area of improvement that can be attributed to our long-time relationship with CQL is the support we have provided to people to grow and exercise their advocacy skills. Efforts to ensure that people have opportunities to explore their interests and skills regarding all aspects of advocacy and engage in using those skills/their voice at the organizational level has propelled into opportunities both locally and statewide. During accreditation week, people that met with the CQL team informed them that they run the organization, feel that they have a voice in not only their services but also the direction the organization is heading and can voice opinions and suggestions without concern.

Achievements like this are the result of a positive culture in which our team experiences the same caring, supportive and collaborative environment.  We understand and are committed to the work that is needed to create and continually nurture a ‘One RGA Team’ experience for everyone.

What is the impact of accreditation on your organization as a whole?

The CQL Accreditation with Distinction dramatically improves our reputation and reach as a leader in the communities in which we serve and support people. It’s been and continues to be a catalyst for innovating and maintaining high standards. By leveraging CQL’s internationally recognized tools, we’ve refined our person-centered approach to care and community.

What is the impact of accreditation on your employees?

The CQL Accreditation is a source of pride and inspiration for our team. It acknowledges their dedication and sets clear benchmarks for quality. The entire accreditation process has helped create a culture of learning at RGA. Our team members expertly:

  • Respect people’s preferences, choices, and rights.
  • Develop trusting and respectful relationships with people and their families.
  • Use effective communication skills to listen, understand and respond to others.
  • Support people to explore employment opportunities and find their right job match 
  • Advocate for the person’s rights and interests 
  • Help people access, explore and choose resources and new opportunities.
  • Seek opportunities for ongoing training and education to enhance their professional and personal growth.
A Ray Graham residential employee preparing chocolate chip cookie dough on a tray. She is a black woman, smiling happily for the camera.

“Leading the Board of Directors at Ray Graham Association is a privilege with a profound sense of responsibility. Our role is to oversee RGA’s strategic direction and ensure that every decision we make reflects our core values. We are committed to fostering an environment where excellence is the norm, and every person we support can live their best life.”

David Farra, Chair of Board of Directors

What is the impact of accreditation on people you support?

People supported by RGA are true partners in everything we do. The RGA Council, a vital and active committee of self-advocates, provides input, feedback and constructive criticism about current supports, services, and ideas for the future.  The RGA Council members, as well as many other people we support, were involved throughout the entire accreditation review. They shared that they felt included and listened to. 

Because we view accreditation as ‘everything we do’ versus an event, people we support have been part of the on-going transformation of our services and culture as an organization. Being fully transparent with people about our progress and successes, as well as our challenges, has allowed us the opportunity to celebrate together as well as work together through the challenges. 

When we were informed that we achieved PCE with Distinction, everyone was thrilled and took pleasure in knowing that it was a complete team effort. 

The accreditation further reassures the people and families we work with that they can plan for a bright future with RGA. Accreditation also keeps us accountable to our team members, our community, and those we support. This distinction gives people with disabilities the confidence that together we can make a positive difference in their lives and is a clear demonstration that we challenge status quo by not settling to what is merely required or expected. We strive to go above and beyond.

How have the Personal Outcome Measures® (POM) affected person-centeredness at your organization?

The Personal Outcome Measures® have been instrumental in enhancing our person-centered approach. First, the POM offers a structured and consistent way to discover and meet the diverse goals and desired outcomes of each person we serve. Secondly, it is an instrumental way to support the team to understand what is truly important to each person and offers a process that ensures supports are maintained or created to achieve peoples’ desired outcomes. 

Using the POM and the PORTAL data system has provided us a means to measure, monitor and evaluate opportunities to enhance the quality of meaningful services that result in positive outcomes for people. 

How have the Basic Assurances® (BA) improved your systems and practices?

Implementing the Basic Assurances® has markedly improved our systems and practices. This tool guarantees that we meet (and exceed!) federal and state standards for health, safety, and human security. By incorporating the measurement of the presence of Basic Assurances® and POM into our Quality Monitoring Reporting system and Strategic Priority Reports, we are able to ensure one clear and transparent path for our organization, partners and stakeholders.

How are you using the PORTAL Data System to measure and improve quality?

The PORTAL Data System is critical in measuring and improving our service quality. It provides detailed, real-time data, enabling us to track the effectiveness of our individualized supports as well as strategic priorities related to social capital and social determinants of health. With the PORTAL Data System, we make informed decisions that align with our strategic goals.

How do you envision the future of your partnership with CQL?

We see our continued partnership with CQL as vital to our growth, development and future as an organization. We strive to be at the forefront of emerging practices and person-centered supports, continually defining, refining, and redefining what exceptional supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities looks like.

Ray Graham staff posing in a ballroom or cafeteria type space with blue letter balloons spelling out "RGA" for Ray Graham Association.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of our journey towards distinction has been seeing the real impact these standards have on people’s lives. Working with CQL has strengthened our dedication to the person-centered values of individuality, independence, self-direction, and accountability.”

Sharon Anderson, Ray Graham Association Director of Quality and Strategic Initiatives

Have questions about CQL Accreditation?

# # #

Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.