|Tori Mannes, CEO of ChildCareGroup|
Katy: So Tori, tell me a little bit about your background.
Tori: I come from a corporate background; I used to manage corporate philanthropy at JP Morgan Chase and was Director of Marketing for Thompson & Knight. I’ve always been interested in creating partnerships between businesses and nonprofits, and engaging employees and promoting leadership through service to others. My professional and personal lives have always involved community service in one capacity or another.
Katy: How did you first become involved with CCG?
Tori: I was actually on the CCG board of directors for six years and was board chair in 2000, so I knew the organization well. It was definitely a homecoming for me to return in 2011 as the CEO. ChildCareGroup’s mission (To promote, deliver, and expand the best child care services available outside the home) has always resonated with me deeply because I have always been a working mom myself (my eldest is 22 years old now) and I know what it’s like to balance work and family. I was lucky that I always had access to quality care for my children. Sadly, that’s not the case for so many parents in our community who are living at or below the poverty line. For them, access to safe, affordable, quality child care is a daily struggle.
Katy: Tell me more about the organization.
Tori: Sure – ChildCareGroup‘s work is focused in three key areas:
1) Early care and school readiness education - we serve 595 children every day through our seven centers throughout Dallas County;
2) Child Care Assistance - We subsidize the cost of care for more than 12,000 children from low-income families every day;
3) Training and Community Outreach - We provide early childhood training and education to over 3,000 child care providers and parents in North Texas annually.
Our staff includes 240 employees here in Dallas and a small team in Beaumont, Texas. CCG celebrated its 110th anniversary last fall and we recognized over 40 staff members who’ve been with the organization for fifteen years or longer. This employee loyalty is a wonderful endorsement of our work and our employees’ sense of mission and purpose.
CCG was started in 1901 by a group of civic leaders to provide a way to care for the children of women who worked in Dallas’ cotton mills. We then began a nutrition program to feed these children, and the organization has evolved since then. I am so proud of our history of service and I feel a profound responsibility to help continue that legacy.
Katy: What was the theme of your recent staff development day?
Tori: The theme for our Staff Development Day this year was “The Power of One.” To illustrate this theme, I told the parable of the starfish:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and gently threw it back into the surf.
Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
Sometimes, our work can be overwhelming because the pipeline of people needing assistance never stops – there are always parents in the workforce and there are babies are being born every day who will need to be cared for while their parents work.
We place a great emphasis on teamwork, but I used “The Power of One” as our theme to emphasize the fact that each staff person at CCG has an important role to play, whether they’re answering the phone, teaching at one of our child care centers or entering donors in the database. I want every employee to know that they make a difference - sometimes for a moment or a day, and sometimes for a lifetime.
Katy: Tell me about your leadership style.
Tori: I like to think of myself as a servant leader. I work to elevate our mission so that every employee focuses on what we do and why we do it. By focusing on our common vision, we build consensus and teamwork. I try to promote a culture that encourages shared information and creative input, so that people feel empowered to bring forward their best ideas and effort.
One of my favorite examples was during our recent staff development day. Our training manager had run back to the office wearing her CCG t-shirt to get something when she ran into a woman who had come by to submit her paperwork so that she could sign up her children for childcare. Our training manager explained that the office was closed, but the woman said she had taken the day off work and wouldn’t be able to take the time to come back. Even though it wasn’t her area of responsibility, our training manager felt empowered enough to help this new client with what she needed and therefore kept her from having to return the next day. That was her “Power of One” moment.
Katy: What leadership tips do you have to share?
Tori: There is so much to be learned from just talking to people and hearing their stories! I have been inspired by people I have met throughout my life who demonstrate leadership in so many different ways. One example is my children’s former caregiver, who in addition to raising her own kids, also cared for neglected children in her neighborhood. She demonstrated such leadership and compassion, and has always been an inspiration to me.
I am fortunate to have had many wonderful mentors: bosses, colleagues, friends, community contacts, who have had a great impact on me personally and professionally. One of my mentors once advised me that everyone should try to build a network of at least ten mentors, both inside and outside their own profession. These are people who will be invested in you and will help you as you progress through your career. I have found that to be great advice, and I would also add that it is important to take the good advice and mentoring you receive and pay it forward! It’s important to help others along, just as you have been helped.
Katy: How do you share stories at CCG?
Tori: We like to use stories in our internal newsletters to help encourage and motivate others. Again, it’s the stories that come from everyone around our organization that I find so inspiring! Every morning our HR manager sends an e-mail blast that includes a featured staff spotlight. That helps us get to know our colleagues and some special things about them. For external stakeholders we like to use Facebook and Twitter to post stories. We even have stories posted on our wall from people whose lives we’ve touched. Those are the definitely the best ones, because they are the personal ‘success stories’ that let us know that we are truly making a difference.
Katy: What do you do in the way of staff and volunteer appreciation?
Tori: There are certain times, like Teacher Appreciation Week, when we try to do special things and give gift cards to buy classroom supplies. On Staff Development Day we did little giveaways like a certificate for a “jeans day”, or half a day of vacation. A donor gave us some massage gift certificates, which of course was very popular!
I think it’s important to remember that staff appreciation doesn’t have to be a “thing.” A compliment will always go a long way, as will being open to new ideas and the willingness to lend a listening ear. It keeps us going if we feel that someone notices and appreciates us.
One of my favorite things to do that connects me to the mission is to visit our child care centers. I love walking into a classroom and seeing the children learning and playing. I always get lots of smiles and leg-hugs, and I leave feeling so grateful that “this is my job”!
Katy: Do you have any reading recommendations to tie in with the “Power of One” theme?
Tori: I highly recommend Jantzen’s Gift by Pam Cope. She lives in the Dallas area and was the keynote speaker for our Staff Development Day. After the death of her son, she and her husband created a foundation called "Touch A Life," which helps rescue trafficked and neglected children in places like Vietnam and Africa. The book is about turning life-changing personal tragedy into something positive, and is a truly wonderful read. I have the greatest admiration for Pam – she really exemplifies the idea of the “Power of One.”
Katy: Thank you, Tori!Katy Spicer, CNM Director of Sales and Marketing, in conversation with Tori Mannes, CEO of ChildCareGroup.