For entire feature from Crain’s Detroit Business, visit: www.crainsdetroit.com/awards/lenora-hardy-foster
Lenora Hardy-Foster has brought a passion for service and more than 40 years of nonprofit experience to the Judson Center, a multi-purpose organization that focuses on helping people with behavioral health problems, autism treatment, disabilities, foster care and adoption.
Originally from Selma, Ala., Hardy-Foster moved to metro Detroit in 1978 to live with relatives and finish high school. She graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy in 1988 with a business degree, then earned her MBA there in 1996. Last summer, she also studied at the Harvard Business School Strategic Perspectives for Non-Profit Management.
While studying at Detroit Mercy, she planned to be a corporate accountant, with a dreams of working at Ford Motor Co.’s corporate headquarters. But after undergraduate studies she took a job as accounts manager at Southwest Community Mental Health Services, which later became Southwest Solutions, and fell in love with the nonprofit world.
“I learned about being a service provider, touching people’s lives. I wanted to do that as my career,” she said.
After multiple promotions through the accounting and finance departments, she eventually became executive director in 2000 under longtime CEO John Van Camp, who retired in 2018.
“I learned a lot from John. He was one of the greatest visionary leaders I have ever met. He knows how to think about where you are today but where you need to be in five years,” Hardy-Foster said. “The other thing he knew was how to surround himself with talent. … With line staff, we had turnover as they had other opportunities. But there was very little turnover at the executive level.”
Founded in 1924 by Baptist ministers, the Judson Center has four core programs it offers the community. The largest is its foster care, adoption and family reunification program, which accounts for 51 percent of its $26 million budget. It also has been expanding its behavioral health services and autism services, accounting for 26 percent and 15 percent of budget, respectively. Disability and vocational services account for about 10 percent of budget.
Hardy-Foster doesn’t have a favorite service, but Judson’s Autism Connections program has grown the fastest in the past several years as Michigan in 2012 mandated insurance coverage for autism services and began to expand counseling services for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Judson expects to serve at least 331 children this year for autism services, up from 245 in 2018 and 235 in 2017. Judson’s comprehensive approach includes family counseling, parent training, occupational therapy and speech services.
“We have been facing significant challenges with credentialed staff,” especially analysts trained in Applied Behavior Analysis, a specialized treatment used for autism, Hardy-Foster said. “The last four to six months, we have been needing more behavior technicians to work one-on-one after school hours.”
In 2018, Judson introduced “Bridges to Success,” a non-residential program on the Royal Oak campus using ABA therapy to help teens with autism develop relationship, independent living and pre-vocational skills to prepare them for adulthood.
“We are very excited about this program that uses ABA therapy to work with teens with autism and prepare them for what happens when they turn 18 or 19,” Hardy-Foster said. “They are getting to that age where they might live independently. Do they have the skills to move forward?”
In a home-like setting, teachers show teens how to master laundry, cooking, grocery shopping and money management. But with 14 participants, many of whom need regular treatment, the program has a waiting list.
Judson’s disability support services help dozens of people who are disabled and are seeking employment. “They could stay at home, but to achieve their lifelong dream, we work with those individuals and negotiate with employers, grocery stores, hotels, to give them a chance,” she said. “Not everyone reaches the level of employment, but our job trainers help them develop skills.”
Hardy-Foster is also leading Judson’s efforts to solve a supply-and-demand problem in the foster care system. In Michigan, more than 13,000 children are part of the state’s foster care program, with 3,000 on the waiting list to be adopted.
“The biggest challenge we face is recruiting foster care parents,” she said. “Children want to feel loved, and we are always trying to expand the number of parents.”
One of Hardy-Foster’s largest recent projects is a partnership with MedNetOne, a Rochester-based physician organization headed up by Ewa Matuszewski (also a 2019 Health Care Hero). Their mutual goal is to create a coordinated care clinic that serves both body and mind.
In March, they opened the Judson Center Family Health Clinic in Warren, a one-stop clinic with primary care provided by MedNetOne and behavioral health services provided by Judson.
“We have offered behavioral health counseling services since 1996 and annually serve about 1,100 children and adults in individual and group therapy services,” Hardy-Foster said. “We have long wanted to add primary care because the statistics out there show that someone diagnosed with mental illness lives 25 years less on average than those without a diagnosis.”
Hardy-Foster said volume has been slow in the first month, but the clinic already has seen 35 people, mostly to receive primary care. “We are starting to see some additional volume. It will come once the word gets out,” she said. “We are very excited about the possibilities.”