Luana Vaetoe of Santa Rosa’s Becoming Independent wins North Bay Women in Business award
Luana Vaetoe says revenue diversification is her organization’s biggest challenge. She is a 2020 North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Awards winner.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Southern New Hampshire University; graduate of the University of Delaware’s National Leadership Institute on Developmental Disabilities
Tell us about yourself and your company: Becoming Independent is a social impact organization founded in Sonoma County three years ago by a group of parents seeking community options and alternatives to institutionalization for their adult children with disabilities. Today we serve over 1,000 individuals supported by 240 dedicated staff with an annual operating budget of $14 million.
I am of Samoan and German descent and a Niner faithful through and through!
I am a proud mom of three children and married my high school sweetheart 21 years ago! Our oldest son is stationed at Travis Airforce Base and our two youngest attend Hidden Valley Elementary.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?
We like to believe that we are good at embracing change at Becoming Independent, and like every other business navigating the Spring of 2020, our assumptions were put to the test.
Happily, the adaptive skills that we’d developed were tested and proven to be strong as we responded to the need to deliver services in entirely new ways due to the pandemic and the associated shelter-in-place orders.
By quickly implementing recommended personal safety protocols for staff and individuals served at the outset of the shelter-in-place order, there has been no disruption to the BI services that allow people to live independently in homes of their own.
Because of these supports close to 200 people, many of whom have significant underlying health issues, have been able to avoid placing additional burdens on community resources such as hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
BI’s Employment Services have also continued uninterrupted, allowing those who work in critical industries such as grocery to receive the support they require in order to successfully navigate safety protocols and succeed in their jobs.
In addition, throughout the shelter-in-place we have continued to serve hundreds of people by pivoting from in-person services to a virtual Day Program.
By June, we had already provided approximately 340 events that allowed the people we serve to remain engaged and active in their communities and social circles. A robust array of events are being provided, including everything from book clubs to cooking classes to virtual dance parties.
At the same time, mindful of the need to be prepared for our future, we have continued to provide professional development opportunities for our staff, who have completed over a 1,000 hours of training, and counting.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
During my time as Becoming Independent’s CEO, I’m most proud of leading a team that has launched new and creative approaches that will enable the agency to effectively address the needs of an underserved and often overlooked population - adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
To a large extent, our efforts have revolved around the need to diversify and increase revenue streams. This pivot is big, and has required a major shift in mindset and approach.
First, we had to recognize that our heavy reliance on governmental revenue had to be significantly supplemented with private sector contributions as well as revenue that we ourselves generate through social enterprises.
As we embraced the notion of far greater economic self-reliance, allies rallied and we discovered that we could, in fact, play a far stronger role in fueling our vision for services.
Thanks to investments from local foundations, businesses, and individuals, in 2015 we launched a specialized program targeted specifically to ensuring that adults on the autism spectrum develop the social and vocational skills required to be engaged and productive citizens.
Inspired by this success, we then went on to significantly expand a modest social enterprise - drop off document shredding - and turned it into a game changing Social Enterprise Division.
Today, BI’s Social Enterprise Division continues to grow and flourish, creating job training and employment opportunities where people with disabilities work shoulder-to-shoulder with other community members while gaining valuable experience, income, and skills.
Meanwhile, BI’s social enterprises are expanding visibility for the agency and, most importantly, and the people we support. As we continue to grow enterprises that meet unmet business needs in the community, we are simultaneously generating stable sources of earned income to underwrite BI’s programs.