After 27 years of serving as the president/CEO of Diverse Options, Inc., Al Schraeder will work his final day there Friday.
It was announced in late January by the board of directors for Diverse Options that Schraeder had accepted a different job.
Diverse Options, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit organization that serves the vocational and independent living needs of individuals with varying abilities in east-central Wisconsin. Diverse Options exists to support, educate and empower individuals to reach their highest level of independence in their lives.
“For 27 years, Diverse Options was Al’s baby,” Board President Bill Boutwell said. “While it is hard to imagine the organization without him, the work that he and his team have done over the years have created a strong organization with a strong mission, values and beliefs. Diverse Options is positioned for ongoing success for the people and communities we serve. We will miss his leadership and his involvement in the community very much.”
The Commonwealth caught up with Schraeder to let him reflect on his time at Diverse Options.
Here is the conversation:
Q. What drew you to Diverse Options back in 1996?
A. When I learned about the opportunity in 1996 regarding the position of president/CEO of the then Ripon Area Service Center, I talked with my wife and we both thought “Well, apply for the position and see what happens.”
I had worked construction in the Fond du Lac area for two summers when I was in college and was familiar with the area. The more I learned about the company, the more I was interested — the group homes, the Add Your Touch woodworking business, the packaging contract with Admanco and the new building being constructed on Fenton Street, etc. Also, the organization had hired an interim president and CEO that I knew quite well who had agreed to stay on as a consultant for three months after a new leader was hired.
The thing that impressed me the most was my final interview with the board of directors. They all were so welcoming and dedicated to the mission of the organization. It was that point that I knew if I was fortunate enough to be offered the position, I would take it. When the Interim CEO and consultant called me with the news and the job offer, I was elated.
Q. Would you ever have imagined spending the past 27 years there?
A. Did I think I would stay in this position for the past 27 years? No. I had been offered several other positions with companies over the years but just could not leave our organization. I consider myself very blessed to have spent the last 27 years with Diverse Options, Inc.
Q. What has your job entailed over the years?
A. From the beginning, my overall duties have involved working with the people of the organization to fulfill our mission daily in a manner that results in success in the lives of the people we serve.
My role as CEO has been to insure the financial and operational stability of the organization through oversight, planning and working with my colleagues in the company to keep moving the organization forward.
I have been very blessed to work with very talented and amazing teammates here for the last 27 years.
Q. What has been rewarding about your time as president and CEO of Diverse Options?
A. Every day, I have gotten to see firsthand the people we serve enjoy success in their lives; whatever that means to them. Whether it is looking at their paychecks on payday with them, talking with them about their community job, participating with them in activities in our day programs, covering a shift in the group homes, driving a bus in the morning or afternoon, or having fun with them at a picnic or event, I saw the happiness, joy and a love of life that they have from being a part of the Diverse Options family.
Those experiences served as a prime source of motivation for me to do my job to the very best of my abilities day in and day out.
Q. What has been challenging about your time as president and CEO of Diverse Options?
A. Any job will have challenges on given days. For the most part, I have been able to work with our team members to overcome those challenges.
The COVID pandemic was a perfect example of working together as an organization to insure the overall health, safety and welfare of all of the people of our organization, despite the many challenges the pandemic threw at us. Many people worked very hard to get the people of our organization through the worst of COVID.
We cannot thank them enough for all of their efforts.
The biggest challenge facing many organizations like ours has to do with the level of funding we receive from local, state and federal government sources. While costs for services rise annually, the funding provided has not kept pace with those rising costs. That shortfall in funding has required that organization’s get very creative in meeting financial challenges as a result.
Fortunately, we have faced our financial struggles in this area head on and continue to look for ways to increase revenues from sources outside of governmental entities. There is only so much money that state and federal governments have for services and programs for the people we serve. We have to understand that and overcome that challenge moving forward by searching for and securing alternative sources of funding.
Q. How has Diverse Options grown since you took over in 1996? What is the history of the organization?
A. The organization actually started around 1975 by a group of people from the Ripon community who had children that needed assistance when they left the school district. The organization has changed greatly since that time and over the past 27 years in serving more people in different ways.
Probably the biggest change and growth took place in 2000, when we expanded our operations to serve people in Marquette, Waushara and Green Lake counties. That expansion required a name change as we began serving folks from a much larger geographic region. The name change itself [from Ripon Area Service Center to Diverse Options] was a huge area of growth for us and so many people contributed in so many ways throughout that year-long process.
The name change and service region expansion also required us to operate on a much larger scale and we had to grow and adjust our policies, procedures, processes and protocols as a result. Our organization is used to change; in fact, one of our values and beliefs states that we seek change as an opportunity to improve our products and services to all of the people in our organization. Change is inevitable and part of any growing organization.
Q. What is one fond memory you may have from your time with Diverse Options?
A. I have countless fond memories in my tenure with Diverse Options, Inc. The one thing I loved to do is on occasion, take the time to just sit and talk with the people we serve both in Ripon and Montello; whether it was on a break, at the end of the day or at an activity or event. Talking with them, listening to their stories, having them tell me about their lives and just hanging out with them were great days and days I will truly miss.
Q. What’s going through your mind as you enter your final days working with Diverse Options?
A. The biggest thing that I continually think about over the last few weeks involves leaving the people we serve, the people I work with and the overall organization in a good position to continue to fulfill our important mission.
After 27 years, there is so much information that needs to be transferred to someone else. I have worked hard to organize, educate and transfer all types of information to others in the company and provide them with the information necessary for them to take over my responsibilities and duties.
I am comforted in the fact that I got to work with very talented, capable and dedicated people in our organization.I also know that Diverse Options is much bigger than one person. I just hope I have given them all the tools they need going forward.
Q. What company are you going to work for and what will your position entail?
A. I will be the vice president of Mission Services for Opportunities, Inc. The organization has operations and divisions in Beaver Dam, Fort Atkinson, Oconomowoc, Jefferson, Watertown and Janesville. My job will involve working with my colleagues in those various locations to provide services to individuals for the purpose of maximizing their success and enhancing their abilities to be independent, contributing members of the community.
Q. Do you have anything to add?
A. The only thing I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been honored, privileged and very blessed to work with outstanding board members, community members and partners, staff, and most importantly, the people we serve and their families in my entire tenure with the company. I am confident the organization is well-positioned to continue to fulfill its important mission.
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