BY ERIC WOODS | PHOTOS BY TERRY FARMER
Country Lane Memory Care
Cari Claussen started Country Lane Memory Care in 2016. She always had a passion to create quality care for elderly individuals.
“This drive to make a difference began when I visited my grandmother in a nursing home when I was just a teenager. My grandmother had cancer and had lost her ability to speak. I would arrive at the nursing home to find her alone, frightened and sitting for hours on a soiled chair pad because the staff neglected to properly care for her,” said Claussen. “My heart broke as I witnessed the deplorable treatment, and I decided one day that I would be a strong voice for the elder population. My dream became a reality in 2015 when my father, Bruce Gillman, agreed to be my business partner as he, too, understood the importance of quality care for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We chose to build County Lane on a piece of family farm ground in Riverton, away from busy streets and noisy towns to provide a quiet country setting.”
Country Lane started with roughly 15 employees and the business has now grown to a staff of 35. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it takes a lot of hard-working employees at all hours, according to Claussen. “We provide 24-hour licensed nursing as well as all other daily operations including activities, housekeeping, dietary, maintenance and office staff,” she said.
According to Claussen, Country Lane is not just another assisted living facility, but a small community of people supporting residents with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as if they were family. “Country Lane cares about their residents,” said Kourtney Cox, human resources and business office manager. “We make sure that we work together to make our residents feel special and taken care of. Our employees work as a team to make this the best place to work.”
“Our goal is to take care of each resident as if they were our own family member,” said Claussen. “Most of our employees have personal experiences where their loved one suffered from Alzheimer’s. We get to have the best job of all and that is to make a difference in our residents’ lives.”
The company’s main goal for the future is to continue providing the best quality care for residents. “We strive to keep our families happy and for them to have peace of mind that their loved one is well taken care of,” said Claussen.
As the company continues to grow, so will the number of staff members. Claussen believes that a company is only as good as its employees, and it takes teamwork to be the best. She said that in the two years Country Lane has been open, it has received perfect scores from the state, which she attributes to the employees.
“My favorite part about working for this company is that everyone is so caring, and it feels like family. Our first priority every day is our residents,” said Cox. “We all make sure the residents have what they need, from meals, companionship, baths, medication, etc. Cari is very caring and makes sure her business is run properly.”
Sacred Heart-Griffin (SHG) has a proud history of providing a Catholic, secondary education for students. The school dates back to when the Springfield Dominican Sisters established Sacred Heart Academy in 1895. The Viatorian priests were asked by Bishop James Griffin to administer Cathedral Boys High School in 1930, which later became Griffin High School in 1959. In 1988, the schools merged to become Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, now in its 30th year, and continues to be sponsored by the Springfield Dominicans.
“Our tag line is ‘Academic Excellence in a Community of Faith.’ This is what makes SHG the best place to work,” said Sr. Katherine O’Connor, president of SHG. “Academic excellence doesn’t mean we only have ‘A’ students; it means they are working to be their best at whatever level they are. SHG encourages a culture of excellence among students, staff and faculty. Parents are very invested in the success of their students and are supportive of the school. Community of faith is evident by the care and concern that everyone at SHG shows for each other and for the larger community.”
“Sacred Heart-Griffin is more than a school or a place of business. We are a family. Our students and parents are extremely supportive, which makes what we do so enjoyable day-in and day-out,” said Kara Rapacz, SHG principal. “The culture of the building is what truly sets this place apart from anywhere else I have ever been. Walking into the building each and every day has never felt like work. All of us love what we do and support one another. It is a blessing to be part of this amazing faith-based community that we call SHG.”
Each school year, a diverse student population is welcomed as the school focuses on strengthening their academic, social and spiritual development to better prepare them for life’s challenges. “We combine a strong academic program with the latest technological advancements with the guidance of a dedicated faculty to produce some of Illinois’ top scholars,” said Jennifer Bettis, director of advancement at SHG. “Above all else, our students become disciplined, civic-minded adults who have had the benefit of annual retreat experiences, including the Kairos retreat, daily theology classes that stretch their minds and strengthen their beliefs, monthly all-school Masses, daily prayer and the many intangible gifts that mark the true value of a Catholic, Dominican education.”
SHG’s challenging curriculum includes nine advanced placement courses, 21 honor courses and eight dual credit courses. Over the last four years, SHG graduates enrolled in 124 different colleges and universities, including Columbia, Northwestern, Notre Dame and the U.S. Military Academy. Plus, during their four-year high school careers, the graduating class of 2018 performed over 30,000 hours of community service. Also, 98 percent of the students in the class are college-bound and were offered more than $12 million in merit-based scholarships.
“Sacred Heart-Griffin looks forward to providing a quality, Catholic, secondary education to many, many more generations of students,” said Bettis.
Illinois Real Estate Title Center
The Illinois Real Estate Title Center opened in November of 2002 and is one of several affiliate-owned title agencies throughout the Eastern and Midwest corridors of the United States managed and underwritten by Investors Title. “One of the highest-grossing agencies in the Investors Title agency program, the hallmark of the Title Center’s success, is their strong focus on superior customer service and operational efficiencies,” said Dana Lyons, vice president and agency manager.
The Title Center is made up of team members whose main focus is to provide exceptional service to their customers. “Not only is it important for our staff to provide a positive experience to our customers, but we are also quick to brag on one another,” said Lyons. “Although title insurance as a line of work may be considered somewhat serious, the work culture at the Title Center is fun and interesting.” When it comes to meeting customer needs, Lyons says the team is accessible and solution-driven. They also work together to address challenges and manage change, and they thrive in an environment that not just productive, but also supportive and fun.
Lyons loves working for the company and appreciates that the Title Center allows for forward-thinking and creativity. “The ideas and opinions of all of our employees are not only appreciated, but expected. When anyone sees a problem, the team is encouraged to work together to solve it,” she said. “Over the years, our employees have identified underserved markets, and we have been able to expand in these markets mainly by building relationships with the local realtors and other customers and working to meet their needs. These efforts over the past 16 years have allowed us to grow from one office to six and from three employees to 24. Collaboration has been the key to our growth and success.”
Employees of the Title Center are vocal about their fondness of the company as well. “I have been given the amazing opportunity to grow as an employee and grow as a person. They took a chance on me as I had never had a serious full-time job before, and I have been given so many opportunities to advance,” said Sydney Garcia, who has been employed by the Title Center for two years. “I am so thankful to be working for Dana and the Title Center; it helps that my co-workers are like my family now, too.”
“My co-workers and management are always so understanding, encouraging and positive. Someone is always willing to explain and teach; I am always learning,” said Kasey VanderMeersch. “Work isn’t always easy, but it makes it easier when you enjoy your company. We all have the same goal, and that is to give the best customer service we can to our clients, and I think that shows.”
The Title Center’s goal for the future is strategic growth that enhances the ability to provide best-in-class service to more customers throughout the state of Illinois. “As part of our growth strategy, the Title Center is finalizing the acquisition of a Central Illinois title company, First Community Title (FCT). Merging FCT into the Title Center will add three branch offices and 11 talented and experienced employees to our team,” said Lyons.
America Ambulance Services
America Ambulance Services is a locally-owned and operated company since 1967, the oldest ambulance service in the Central Illinois area. In 2008, Susan Zappa purchased the company from the original owners, Terry and Faye Kirk. Zappa has a background in nursing and when she saw the opportunity to purchase the company, she felt it would be the perfect fit for her. “I bought this company with the hopes of making a positive impact on the lives of those we serve, and I feel that in the past 10 years we have certainly done that,” said Zappa.
The mission of America Ambulance is to be the best health care transport team in Central Illinois by providing multi-faceted, all-inclusive care to their patients. The company utilizes 10 ambulances, and all are staffed with at least one licensed paramedic and one licensed E.M.T. basic.
“Our goal at America Ambulance is to continue our commitment to making a difference in our patients’ lives,” said Zappa. “From our training, our participation in local events, our associations with local hospitals and EMS agencies and our specialized transport teams, America Ambulance is invested in what we feel is the most important reason for our industry: the welfare of the community and its citizens.”
The company also works with various institutions to help resolve issues caused by the national shortage of EMS personnel.
“We want to ensure that the great services we provide our communities are not jeopardized in the future due to lack of EMS personnel,” said Zappa. “We are developing mentoring and recruitment programs that are geared towards exposing the younger generations to careers in emergency medical services.”
Zappa feels that in addition to providing the best care for their patients, it is just as important to provide for those she employs.
“It takes the dedication of our staff to be able to provide the excellent care that we do for our community, which has given us the reputation of being a professional, progressive, competent leader in emergency health care services,” she said. “As dedicated as our employees are to those we serve, we at America take great pride in being just as dedicated to our employees. We strive to provide an atmosphere that provides opportunity for continued growth.”
Some of the benefits offered by America Ambulance include tuition assistance and bonus programs. Employees are encouraged to continue their education, and the company provides flexible scheduling options that make it feasible to do so.
Zappa said, “We have some of the best people in the industry. In this line of work we have good days and bad, and during those bad days the person next to you can make all the difference in the world. We spend a lot of time together as we often work 24-hour shifts together. The people you work with here at America become your second family. We at America pride ourselves on providing a family like culture, it is part of who we are and one of the things that we feel sets us apart from other EMS companies.”