Holland native heads top-ranked companyJune 18, 2021
By CANDY NEAL
Andrea Schwartz is dedicated to helping people live fulfillng lives on their own terms.
The Holland native is chief executive officer of Opportunities for Positive Growth, an agency based in Fishers that works with people who have intellectual and developmental challenges.
“We keep the person at the center of every decision we make,” Schwartz said.
USA Today recognized Opportunities for Positive Growth Inc. as one of the top workplaces in Central Indiana according to the employees. Of the mid-sized businesses, the company ranked #4. And Schwartz was named the top leader out all of the organizations included. The survey was conducted in December 2020, which was in the middle of the pandemic. Opportunities also received culture awards in five different categories and an additional 12 cultural awards regionally.
“To get high accolades from our employees, nine months into the pandemic, I was just very touched by that," Schwartz said.
The daughter of Jim and Tonya Heim, Schwartz graduated from Southridge High School and has a degree in finance and economics from Indiana University-Kokomo. After graduation, she started working at Roche Diagnostics, a global health care company with its U.S. diagnostics headquarters in Indianapolis. She was there for 17 years in different business and leadership roles.
“I had various analytical and leadership roles as my full-time job,” she said, “but I really wanted to do more.”
In the last few years there, Schwartz became a founding member of the Roche Diagnostics Women's Leadership Initiative. She also joined the board of another organization focused on women’s leadership called Integrating Women Leaders. “I really found this passion for wanting to help an organization move things forward that made a difference for people, and for women,” she said.
Schwartz met Gail Kahl, a founder of Opportunities, and she invited Schwartz to become a member of the organization’s board of directors, which she did in 2014.
Schwartz joined Opportunities for Positive Growth in 2016 as a chief strategy officer and became the chief executive officer of the company in 2019, when founders Gail and Dan Kahl retired.
“It’s funny,” she said. “I moved out a small town in Indiana, and ended up in small town, Indiana.”
She and her husband of 23 years, Chad, have two sons: Drew, 18, and Carter, 16.
Opportunities for Positive Growth offers an array of services and support for clients. “We call it self-directed living support. People choose where we provide support,” Schwartz said. “They live in their own homes. They choose who they live with. But we provide staff that goes in and helps them in their daily life and working on their goals.”
The company also offers behavior support services. Behavior consultants work with clients and their families and friends to help clients work on goals. The consultants are master-degree-level clinicians, with many of them being licensed social workers. The company also provides music therapy, the second largest program in the state, with board-certified music therapists.
And there is employment services, with job coaches helping clients find employment in their community that, “hopefully is aligned to their dreams and gives them a living wage,” Schwartz said.
“The history of disability supports includes people working in sheltered workshops, earning $2 for a whole week of work. We think that's not the way the world should be, not what people deserve,” she said. “[We] want to help support them to find what is meaningful for them so that they can earn a living for themselves.”
Opportunities, which has more than 200 employees, has recently added occupational therapy services as well to help clients.
The company is accredited by the Council on Quality and Leadership and was the second company in the world to receive CQL’s highest level of accreditation on person-centered distinction.
Opportunities is 100% employee owned, serving about 1,200 clients. “We don't do any fundraising at all,” Schwartz said. “We find a way to make it work with the funding that we receive. We think that employee ownership brings about a different level of engagement with our employees. When they own a piece of the company, they want the best for the people we support and for themselves When they do well, we do well, and it all works in harmony.”
Schwartz is based at the main office in Fishers. But there are also offices in Lafayette and Kokomo. As CEO, she does some of everything.
“I’ll work a shift when I need to work a shift,” Schwartz said. “I like variety. That's a really good thing. I talk about our five-plus-years strategy. And I'm also president of the board now, so we discuss working on board-level strategies and things with our employee stock ownership plan, and long term strategies for that. And I deal with things with our facilities. We've had employees say that they’re not going to be able to pay their electric bill, and we help out those employees. It's a wide variety of what I deal with every day.”
Schwartz emphasized that Opportunites supports the idea that each person should be able to choose how they want to live their lives.
“It’s about people's basic rights,” she said, “their rights to choose where they live, their rights to choose their housemate. A person should be able to choose how they want to live, how they want to spend their own money. They're entitled to as full of a life as we are.
“We're 20-plus years out of where institutions were the primary answer for people with disabilities; that's not that far in our history.”
Schwartz believes that people are trying to help take care of their loved one who deals with the disability.
“Our tendency is to want to be more cautious with people and do for them and make sure they are taken care of,” she said. “But in that, you remove their dignity of being able to choose how they live their life, and what risks that they want to take.”
Schwartz is happy with her life, though she is in a similar-sized area. But she knew that she had to move elsewhere to establish herself.
“I wanted to go somewhere to make a name for myself, to just be known by me, not just Tonya Heim’s daughter,” she said. “She is a pretty big deal there.”
And now that Schwartz has done that, she is thankful for the strong influence her parents played in her upbringing.
“My mother is my closest mentor, and I'm so proud that I'm a lot like her in a lot of ways,” Schwartz said. “But we also have very different personalities. “She's an excellent mentor, and has been that and more for me my whole life. I'm really grateful for that.”
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