The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How to Position Your Organization to Thrive in Unprecedented Times“
June 22, 2020
Intro: Imagine being the CEO of a 180-employee children’s home in Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet they are not just surviving, they are thriving. How? Well, listen in as my colleague Cary Humphries talks with their CEO. He’s grateful, he’s a learner, and he’s a world-class trust builder. Listen in, now.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button, and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
Cary Humphries: Well, I’m Cary Humphries, regional director for the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, filling in for Al Lopus. I’m delighted to have as our guest Kevin Hewitt, president and CEO of Christian Children’s Home of Ohio.
Welcome, Kevin, to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Kevin Hewitt: Thanks for the invite, Cary. I am honored to be a guest today, and we are grateful for you and Best Christian Workplaces Institute and your help in moving us toward a flourishing culture at CCHO and our family of ministries.
Cary: Thank you for that. For our listeners, here’s a stark reality you need to know. In 2018, more than 16,000 boys and girls entered foster care in Ohio, an increase of 28 percent since 2013. Nearly 65 percent of those children were removed from their home because of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and/or alcohol or drug abuse by their guardians. Here’s where Christian Children’s Home of Ohio comes in. Right, Kevin?
Kevin: You are correct, Cary. Through our CCHO residential Encourage Foster Care and Encompass Christian Counseling programs, we currently serve over fifteen hundred active clients. Our purpose at Christian Children’s Home of Ohio is to help more people experience their worth in Christ. We feel that our purpose is radically important for kids and adults who have experienced trauma, such as the abuse you just mentioned. We work very hard to help kids and adults realize that they are so much more than what has happened to them. We constantly remind ourselves that every person that we lock eyes with, now and until eternity, was worth enough for Jesus to die for.
Along with that purpose, our vision is to be the partner of choice that provides services that transforms lives, families, and communities. Our desire is to partner with churches, donors, volunteers, schools, and staff to help break the cycles of abuse, which for many families is multi-generational, because we know that if we can help one child break that cycle, we’re not just helping that child but also helping that child’s future spouse or future children, grandchildren, literally remapping that family’s history, and, thus, impacting communities as well.
We also believe, and this is kind of a cool aspect of our purpose, that it’s very important in relation to our staff as well. We want our staff to fully experience their worth in Christ. Our desire is to provide a workplace to allow staff members to grow spiritually, personally, and professionally.
Cary: That’s awesome. And it makes me think, as we move through this podcast today, there’ll be leaders listening today—business leaders in the HVAC industry or the transportation industry or the lumber industry; there are going to be church leaders, pastors, executive pastors, H.R. directors, campus leaders; there’s going to be mission-sending organizations, K through 12 schools, Christian colleges and universities—and all of them receive through our culture the product of ministries like yours, children who have grown up in vulnerable spots with a hard, painful background. And so we’re with you in this, and there is no separation between the work of BCWI across multiple sectors and the kinds of things that you all do to care for the precious, and as you said, those worth enough for Jesus to die for.
Your organization is doing fantastic work. At the same time, leading a children’s home has to be one of the toughest jobs during something like this COVID-19 pandemic. What’s been the hardest challenges that your team of professionals face? I mean, typically they find life quite intense to begin with; then, you add COVID-19 to that.
Kevin: You are correct, Cary. With the acuity level of the needs of the kids we work with continues to rise, I have simply been amazed at the response of our staff during this pandemic. I have tremendous respect for our first responders—police officers, firefighters, paramedics, medical professionals, all those other first responders. Those professionals display tremendous courage in these unusual times. But I would consider that our staff, particularly our treatment-care specialists, our foster parents, our therapists that are working directly with the kids, as much as first responders and the courage displayed by them each day as they continue to show up on campus and fight for the highest good of those that they serve. We have continued to accept placements during this pandemic because the children need a place where they can understand how loved they are by God and by our staff and where they are safe. Can you imagine, in the midst of where we’re at right now, the courage it takes to accept a child that you might not know a great deal about if you are asked to foster in April of this year? And our foster parents are saying, yes, bring them on. We want to help.
Cary: Yeah. Kevin, that’s bold leadership in a trying time.
Talk to me a bit about your leadership philosophy at CCHO. I know you’re a well-read guy, a guy who likes to continue to grow as a leader. How has COVID-19 tested that for you?
Kevin: There’s definitely been, I think, no training to prepare us for the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe a couple of the toughest challenges during this pandemic has been the fact that there’s no defined end date. You know, I think that the majority of people, we can get through a lot of difficulties if we know there’s going to be an end. It actually makes it very difficult to plan for what things will look like on the other side of a pandemic. In our state of Ohio, the governor has already looked at 20 percent budget cuts in each department in the state, so that’s going to definitely affect us at some point. So it’s hard to look at what is on the other side of the pandemic. But I also get excited because the opportunity to have to shape what things look like on the other side. So, while it’s a challenge, there’s also an opportunity.
But the second challenge that comes to my mind is trying to engage staff who might be on the opposite emotional end of the spectrum concerning the pandemic. You know, we have a wide range of responses on our 180-plus staff, from people having difficulty leaving their own homes to others who think this pandemic has been a man-made conspiracy. So trying to appease both ends of that spectrum is difficult. I guess my best definition of love comes into play here because I really do think that we’re hoping to choose love as we appease both those ends of that spectrum. But also, the definition of love is also a primary leadership principle here at CCHO, is that we fight for the highest good of those we lead or serve. So, what a great example Jesus was at fighting for the highest good for salvation. And that principle actually comes from some GiANT leadership work by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram that we are utilizing with our staff and with those we serve.
Cary: That’s awesome. I love the work of James C. Hunter, who’s written the book The Servant, and also the book The Culture. And he talks about leadership as meeting the legitimate needs of those you serve, a little bit of that same principle of fighting for the highest good. That’s great.
Given this spring’s challenges, what’s been the most rewarding thing you and your team have seen as you served children in need all the love, support, and guidance you can offer?
Kevin: That’s a good question, and several examples come to mind. But the one I guess I have to say is the most rewarding is that we’ve had two socially distancing-appropriate baptisms during the pandemic. And while, Cary, all baptisms are special, there is just an extra level of special when a child who’s experienced extensive trauma in their life comes to an understanding of the amazing grace and salvation offered through Jesus. And even at the baptism, even though we have people spaced six feet apart, it’s such a perfect picture of our kids, even though so many of them haven’t defined about what’s happened to them, that our kids are just normal kids. They’re excited to see their cottage mate get baptized, and that, just seeing them, they’re not what’s happened to them. They’re just kids that need passion and life and purpose, and they’re getting that here at CCHO.
Cary: Life transformation.
Cary: Wow, that’s exciting.
Kevin, everyone listening to our conversation values the necessity of a healthy workplace culture. I know you do. When fellow leaders ask you, “Why did you turn to BCWI to survey your people?” what do you say?
Kevin: That’s another good question. I guess I’d look at a little bit of our history at CCHO and our employee satisfaction surveys that we started and when we turned to BCWI. So, in my first nine to ten years, we conducted an annual employee satisfaction survey through various avenues that began with a local H.R.-type agency, and then we went to a local university. And while we gained a lot of information, a lot of data, there seemed to be a disconnect with the integration of our Christian values into the satisfaction survey and even how the survey was interpreted. We began looking for a survey that would have a much clearer spiritual and professional integration. I believe I had read or heard about BCWI just prior to being privileged to attend the Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes Conference in Dallas several years ago. And I actually had signed up to participate in a seminar that was conducted by Al Lopus, and what Al described with the FLOURISH model fit so perfectly into what we are hoping for at CCHO. Since then, we have conducted the BCWI survey annually and have literally learned new things each year, particularly as our culture evolves.
Cary: That’s great. And a shout out to Tami Heim and the team at CLA. The COVID crisis landed right as they were getting ready to do their April Outcomes Conference this year. And they took it online, they’re now registering for 2021, and it’s our prayer that they will come back strong. It’s a great venue for growing leaders. And hopefully, some of our listeners will be aware of that, excited about them coming back in the spring, and continuing to use their online content until then.
I’d like for you to share with our listeners, Kevin, why the surveys made a difference. So, that’s how you came to us. But why has it made a difference? In the most recent survey, you saw your results increase by another handsome margin. Your culture was already healthy, and now it’s on the cusp of being flourishing, what we call the upper quadrant of the full range of data from the some 350 organizations we survey annually. First, just how does that make you feel as a president and CEO to know that you’re nearing that top quartile?
Kevin: Cary, I am very humbled and grateful that God would allow me to serve Him in a ministry like CCHO. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside so many people who are relentlessly committed to fulfilling our purpose. Makes me feel proud of our staff that kindly and selflessly serve. I work with some of the finest individuals I have ever known. Their compassion for the people we serve and each other is off the charts. I do know that the way my personality type is, I have a rough time settling if we still have places to grow, and I need to do a better job of celebrating our healthy culture. My personality type tends to always be looking for ways to be better, and I’m grateful that God’s opening my eyes to also be able to celebrate where we’re at as well. So sharing that healthy tension between pulling to get better and also celebrating how far we’ve come.
Cary: That’s great.
So as you think about the ministry impact to this culture journey—you’ve been on a five-year journey from approaching health to healthy, now near flourishing—what do you feel like has been the biggest impact in the outcomes? I know our listeners want to know the “so what?” of paying attention to culture. What would you say there?
Kevin: Well, I think two things come to mind right away, Cary. After our first BCWI survey, and this was an eye-opener for me personally, but we realized that we had trust issues between our leadership and the rest of the staff. And with your help, Cary, we actually asked our staff for trust-fracturing events in their career at CCHO, and really listened to the answers and tried to make right any situation that we could, apologize when needed—sometimes for unawareness, sometimes for our lack of empathy.
But I think one of the things that another principle that definitely working on is not everyone is normal like me. And I think that that’s a leader’s trap that we fall into a lot, that we think that everybody comes to a situation with the same perspective as we do. And it really takes work to be able to admit at times, I didn’t have all the perspective necessary in situation, and we probably did end up hurting some trust. And so then, I’m also a huge advocate of, How do we react after those trust have been broken or there’s some trust that is fractured? And I think that’s a key thing that has come from our BCWI work.
The second that was really spurred on by BCWI, too, a practical step, was our creation of the Diamond Leadership Institute, and we have intentionally given each staff member the opportunity to develop themselves as leaders. We recognized really quickly that when you work with kids that come from unhealthy spaces, the last thing we needed was to have unhealthy staff plus unhealthy kids. That equation doesn’t add up to a real good answer. And so we knew that we wanted to get our staff as healthy as possible. And so the Diamond Leadership Institute, we invest time and resources into our staff through small groups, leadership conferences, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.. Our latest Diamond Leadership Institute is centered on the 5 Voices from the GiANT leadership that I mentioned earlier, and we have nearly 45 percent of our staff enrolled.
One of the things we’re really excited about that, Cary, is it gives us a leadership language that we can roll out to our whole staff so that when we’re talking about situations and even how we react as leaders or how we react or communicate, that we can understand ourselves better and the fact that, then, our people that we lead can understand us better as well. So we are really excited about— we’re just on the cusp of it. We’re working with our executive team right now to kind of start it and then roll it out. We’re super, super excited of where it’s going.
Cary: That’s neat. And think about that as our listeners. Some are larger than you. You mentioned 180 staff. Some are smaller than you. But 45 percent of your staff enrolled in the 5 Voices and your Diamond Leadership Institute, that’s 80 people or so. You’re a training organization, and I love that idea that you mentioned—the opportunity to develop themselves as leaders, that shared ownership for development. It’s not something you do to your staff; it’s something you do with your staff. No doubt some of our listeners will want to look at GiANT’s 5 Voices. That’s exciting.
Your culture has really improved in the area of sustainable strategy—we have five questions around strategy and particularly in the goal-achievement area—up nearly 30 points, which is quite a move, sea change, I would even say, in our survey. Was there something particular that improved clarity of focus for you, which is often a challenge for ministry organizations?
Kevin: Yeah, that’s another good question. I’m hesitating a little bit here because as a guest on this show, I feel this pressure to have these profound statements on these great questions. But in this case, I believe that my growth has actually been one of the big factors in improving clarity. And by my growth, I mean I have learned the importance of being the chief repeating officer when you’re a leader, and I think that Patrick Lencioni calls that the chief repeating officer.
But I believe that my rather healthy ego has operated for a long time under the impression that if I said it once, that should be enough. I, of course, was extremely wrong with that practice. Repetition definitely brings clarity. And as a leader, I need to constantly remind myself that I’ve been thinking about things much longer and deeper than those I’m communicating with, and so I have to do a much better job. And that doesn’t actually mean I have to say the same thing over and over again. But I have to work hard to be able to say the same message over and over again, maybe different methods, but the same message over and over again.
And then regarding strategy, we do use Patrick Lencioni’s thematic-goal concept that’s outlined in his book, The Advantage. And I make sure that our staff is aware of the current thematic goal, and then repeat, repeat, and repeat to bring clarity.
For example, this past year, which was a really interesting thematic)goal in light of what’s occurred with the COVID-19 pandemic, but our thematic goal was to help more people experience their worth in Christ, financial sustainability. And then a task we took on underneath that was to show each staff member the importance of their position in helping us attain financial sustainability so we can continue to help even more people experience their worth in Christ.
We were blessed to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary last year. And we really want to set up the foundation for the next 50 years that we can continue to help more people, more kids, more adults experience who they are in the eyes of our Creator and their worth that’s given because of Jesus.
Cary: Thank you for that, Kevin.
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
Female: As your employees are returning to work, we’d like to help you get a jumpstart on fully reengaging them and help you leverage your organization’s impact with this special offer. Conduct our Employee Engagement Survey by June 30 and we will provide a pulse survey in six months absolutely free. BCWI’s 16-question pulse survey takes less than five minutes to complete. Do you want the fuel to propel your organization to a rapid recovery? Just take our Employee Engagement Survey by June 30 and a pulse survey is yours at no charge. Act now and let us help you take your workplace culture to the next level. Sign up at bcwinstitute.org.
Al: And now, back to today’s guest.
Cary: It’s been gratifying to see your results stronger on some of our most highly correlated questions to staff engagement. So not every question’s created equal; some have higher correlation to staff engagement than others. Four that I took note of in your survey that significantly improved: I would prefer to remain with CCHO. It’s the “how hard would it be for me to leave?” question. Significantly higher. High levels of trust between leaders and staff. CCHO is well managed. And the question over the past year we’ve changed for the better, which is a momentum question, all of those were up more than 20 points this most recent survey cycle, a significant and positive impact. In what ways does it feel different for you as a leader in this new reality?
Kevin: That’s an interesting question, Cary, because I have to be real. When we took the survey this year, I found myself actually anxious, as in I almost wanted to wait for a better time—and I know that’s probably not a great thing to say to our surveyor—because we had made some difficult decisions in the previous year. We had, or I really should correctly say, I had allowed a person to remain in a position they were clearly not the best option. But looking back, my loyalty to that person really has stemmed from that person’s loyalty to the ministry years ago, when they stepped into a position that we really had nobody to do it at that point. And so, unfortunately, while I could see it over a period of years, it took a long time before we were able to pull the trigger and make the change, and that actually occurred in the midst of a hectic season. And yet I was so pleasantly excited by the responses in the BCWI service that I think it reflected the trust that our staff now understood that we would be willing to make the tough and right decisions no matter the cost. And so I think, in my mind, while it created anxiety, I think it even strengthened the trust more than it hurt it.
Cary: Yeah. It’s interesting.
It’s fascinating how—and we talk about this a lot of times during debriefs—our consulting team, the five of us that walk alongside of businesses and ministry partners, will often remark that in a high-trust environment, people make up a positive story. They hear something they don’t understand, and they believe the best because trust is high. And then in a low-trust environment, they go to a bad place, as you do what you’ve done, which is to build high trust, and you can make some of those calls that the courageous calls, like you talked about above, that the ministry needs, and people will believe in you even when they don’t have all the information they need.
One of our FLOURISH model factors—there’s eight factors in the FLOURISH model—life-giving work is one of the most important in driving staff engagement. Within that group of questions is the statement, “I have the decision-making authority I need to carry out my responsibilities effectively.” And I know this is a sticky question for many organizations, walking that balance between freedom to act and accountability or touching base. Yet you saw a big improvement from an already-high level. How have you cultivated, particularly in a—you’ve got legal issues to pay attention to, you’ve got state regulations, you’ve got all kinds of things, just stewardship for young lives, yet you saw a big improvement from an already-high level. What’s been the step that you’ve taken to cultivate a strong, delegated decision-making authority in your culture?
Kevin: Our desire is to have the right people in the right positions and then allow them to utilize the gifts that God has given them to flourish. We’re not perfect in this, but I believe that the lure to micromanage is a tension that each leader must face. I need to continually work on communicating clearly enough that my staff knows their freedom to make decisions. I also think it’s important that my staff knows I have their backs in those decisions. For me, that means I have to be okay with somebody doing something different than how I would’ve done it and even to maybe not the high expectations I would have. But I know that if I back that person and if I have a word of encouragement, that the next time they will do it better, and they will get better and better. I have found with our staff, the more freedom I give, the more ownership they take. And I really wish I would have learned this earlier in my career.
Cary: You’ve just described in a paragraph the definition of a high-trust culture—right people; right positions; who know about their freedom; know you have their backs; you’re willing to let the decision be different than something you might have done, within boundaries; and the idea that freedom breeds ownership. It’s a great explanation of what it looks like in a high-trust culture. It’s awesome.
I’d like to get your thoughts on performance reviews, development recognition. Those are three of the four pillars in our uplifting-growth factor, kind of an excellence-in-supervision, staff-care factor. And every question in that area for the CCHO is significantly above average. What’s behind this strength in your culture?
Kevin: Well, for us, we have been through several different performance appraisals and always trying to find the best way to give our employees, really, a good picture of where we see they’re at and where we’d like them to go. And we have kind of settled on this. First, we no longer conduct performance reviews, but we actually rather have development plans. And we had a couple reasons for doing this as we dissected what we were previously doing. We felt that any performance reviews were actually not timely. In other words, the majority of performance reviews, annual performance reviews, really centered on the last couple months that the supervisor remembered. So if the first nine months were horrible and the last three months were good, we really centered on those last three months. And a lot of times, in a 12-month period, we forgot a lot of things that happened in that 12-month period.
But also we wanted—our desire is that if a situation occurred, that they would talk about it then, that our supervision would be in the moment and not a year later. And so we would want to do this through Crucial Conversations, which as, just a plug, was actually part of our Diamond Leadership Institute, one of the books we read, and while we continue to work to get better at that. But also, then, our development plans really focus on what each staff member wants to do or develop into. Again, this fits into our fighting for the highest good of each of our staff members. You know, our desire is for each of our staff members to feel fulfillment and purpose in their jobs.
Cary: Thank you for that, Kevin.
As we wind down our time, when you think of the progress you all have made these past years, what two or three culture achievements are you most proud of?
Kevin: Ooh, most proud of. Well, the first thing comes to mind is very recent, and that’s our ministry’s response to this COVID-19 pandemic—from the courage of our staff to come each day to work with the kids; to the response for our donors to these unusual circumstances; to the ability of our professionals to pivot and begin providing such things as telemental mental health services, and they did that in less than two weeks; to our human resources and residential apartments. And this was a really crazy-cool thing: when a school’s shut down here in Ohio—also, we had a lot of staff that found themselves with school-aged children at home, yet had responsibilities here on campus—so in two days, our H.R. and residential apartments created a day-care program to support staff who found their children home. It was phenomenal. We were hoping to maybe have 10 to 15 kids. We ended up with 28 to 30 kids each day through the first two weeks. And what it did, it just gave peace of mind to our staff that, one, that we cared enough about them to be able to be that creative, but I also have to give a shout out to our community here where we live in Wayne County, Ohio. We had volunteers, and we paid them, but people volunteering to come and help with that daycare. So it was phenomenal.
And then, when I think of what I’m most proud of, in the last several months, I heard of an exercise where you ask your major donors about the impact they have received from being part of your ministry organization. So you actually just would go to your major donor and say, “Hey, so tell me the impact.” And so as I thought about that exercise, I began to think, “How would I describe the impact of my working at CCHO and our family ministries, in 60 seconds or less?” And then I asked our executive that question: Describe the impact working at CCHO has had on you. And besides me, there are seven executive team members. It was amazing. We actually—it was through a Zoom call, as you can imagine these days—but I asked each them just take a chance to describe the impact. Each of them described some aspects of our culture in their answers, from never worked in a place where the staff was so highly valued, to the day-to-day kindness of those who work at CCHO, to enjoying to come to work each day. Each person independently expressed similar sentiments about the culture.
And I guess that proudness came from the fact that working on culture is worth it. And to see just people be happy to come to work makes—as BCWI, to be engaged at work—is exciting. And then finally, I see the hard work we put into establishing trust with our staff being reflected on the BCWI survey is extremely, extremely satisfying.
Cary: Well, you know, earlier you gave us a paragraph that described a high-trust culture, and you just gave us a paragraph that described what an engaged workforce looks like. When people feel like they can bring the best of who they are to work, they have fun at work, their mission and goals matter to them, they believe in their fellow workers, and just of our brief-but-thorough 56-question survey, so many of the questions were described by those comments from your executive team. Super fun to hear.
And I’ve enjoyed what we’ve learned, Kevin. One of the things that has impressed me is your gratefulness for the opportunity to serve in the position you’re in, that the Lord has called you to. But gratefulness for your staff, for your donors, for the kids who have come through trauma but are trying like the dickens to make a better life for themselves; some of them even coming to faith in Jesus Christ and being baptized. Socially distant baptism is a new term, just as you talked about. Telemental services, which our spell check is requiring new words to be entered every day. But grateful. I’ve heard compassion for the kids. You dug into trust-fracturing events. That’s hard work. But it allowed you to unearth some things and to get the necessary reconciliation to then move the culture forward with health. You talked about celebrating more than just knocking down the post and moving on to the next one, but to pause and celebrate and to invest in people. And then just very clearly defending your culture fiercely is very obviously a priority for you. I’m grateful for all that you’ve described.
And I just wonder, is there anything you’d like to add as we wrap up, anything we’ve talked about that you’d like to bring as a summary?
Kevin: Not to play on words what you just shared, which I’m grateful for, but I really am grateful for the opportunity that BCWI and the podcast has given to share a little bit about what God is doing at CCHO. But I’d definitely be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude to our board of directors as well. Their consistent support of culture development has been integral to our success. They almost—actually, I think every person on board values the fact that we work hard on our culture, and they all, a majority of them, are doing the same thing in the companies and the churches that they lead. So it’s so helpful to have a board of directors that supports our investment.
And then, I’m also extremely grateful for our executive team and their work on culture development. Each person displays a passion for God, those who lead and each other, that’s off the charts. And we, as you just mentioned, Cary, we consider it an honor and privilege to walk alongside children and adults as they work through their trauma, and recognize who they are in Christ.
Cary: Very good.
To put a bow on our interview, Kevin, what’s one final thought or encouragement you’d like to leave with our listeners?
Kevin: Investing in culture is worth it. You’re not always going to get it right, but you will grow and get better. It’s likely those times you don’t get it right are when you’re going to grow the fastest. And also, be super quick to give gratitude to those around you, and even quicker to admit mistakes, and to remember to fight for the highest good of those you lead and serve.
Cary: Well, Kevin Hewitt, president and CEO of Christian Children’s Home of Ohio, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories, and thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today.
Kevin: Cary, I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk with you today and grateful for your and BCWI’s support as we seek to have a flourishing culture at CCHO. And you’re one of those partners that we want to be a partner of choice, and we’re grateful for all you do at BCWI.
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