Serving Iowans through every step of life

Tray Wade, M.H.A.’08, and his colleagues reorganized and rebranded EveryStep under a common name to clarify and fulfill its mission.

Tray Wade led efforts to change his organization’s elevator speech from requiring “a 100-story building and pressing the button on every floor.”

In 1908, when a group of nurses in Des Moines saw the need for public health nursing, they answered that call by founding Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa. Over the next 100 years, the organization experienced many changes: combining with HCI Care Services (formerly Hospice of Central Iowa) in 2012; expanding to several areas across the state; adding to its services the well-known Amanda the Panda grief and loss support program; and growing to offer more than 30 health-focused programs serving individuals ranging from prenatal mothers and infants to refugees, hospice patients and grieving families. 

While the organization has always led the charge to address a wide variety of vital community health care and social service needs, it was known by several different names. That changed in October 2018, when the organization changed its name to EveryStep to demonstrate unity and establish a common connection across its many care and support services. 

DMU Magazine talked with Tray Wade, M.H.A.’08, president and CEO of EveryStep, about this transformation. Wade has been with the organization nearly 16 years, previously serving as chief operating officer. He received the Nonprofit Staff Leadership Award at the 2019 Iowa Nonprofit Summit for having a successful impact on community challenges. 

Q&A with trAy Wade

DMU: Give us some background on the organization. 

TW: Together, HCI Care Services and Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa offered many programs and services that were all part of one nonprofit organization. The problem was that many people didn’t know or understand that. I always said that sharing our elevator speech would require a 100-story building and pressing the button on every floor. 

We decided we needed to rebrand ourselves to tell a unified story. We also knew that if we wanted to stay relevant in the hospice and home care industry, we needed to diversify. 

DMU: What is EveryStep’s “story”? 

TW: Our diverse services all share a common goal: to offer care and support to people as they face life’s changes and challenges. Our programs offer a continuum of compassionate care and supportive services for vulnerable Iowans. We provide prenatal support and home visits to new and expecting moms, assistance to immigrants and refugees, wellness services to communities, hospice and home care services, and grief and loss support. Whether you’re a child who has experienced the death of a parent, a non-English-speaking refugee new to Iowa, a company that wants to offer its employees flu shots or a person with a terminal illness, we can help. 

EveryStep’s programs extend across the state. Last year, more than 65,500 Iowans were touched by EveryStep’s services. 

DMU: How did the organization change structurally? 

TW: Previously, our corporate structure had four parts – HCI Care Services, Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, an administrative umbrella organization serving both those program arms, and our foundation. Now we have two entities – EveryStep and the EveryStep Foundation. 

As EveryStep, we can provide all our programs with the administrative infrastructure they need and, when possible, support for their growth. 

DMU: Did the process involve any “takeover trauma”? 

TW: We are not a divide-and-conquer type of organization. We partner with many organizations and groups when it comes to offering our services and care programs. 

When we are contacted by an entity that wants to partner with us, we look at whether it fits our mission, whether a need for services exists and whether adding services will be sustainable. We’re a nonprofit with a $32 million annual budget, so we have to operate like a business, too. 

The biggest challenge was creating a common culture across all our programs. With that in mind, we’ve put a big focus on communication. Administratively, most of the team is in Des Moines, but we have 13 other EveryStep locations and some programs that touch every county of the state. I try to get out to all of our locations fairly often, not only to discuss any changes but also to ensure they continue to feel that they are part of the larger EveryStep family. 

Annually, we host a retreat for all our employees. We want everyone to be proud of their own team but also proud to be part of this larger organization. Every other week, we have a huddle conference call among our directors, but any employee can listen in. Additionally, every year we conduct a culture survey. Last year, 90 percent of our employees said they are proud to work with EveryStep, and 84 percent would recommend employment here to others. And thanks to our employees’ positive feedback to the Des Moines Register’s Top Workplace survey, EveryStep has been named to the annual list of Iowa’s top 150 employers seven times running. 

Two years ago, if someone had asked me whether our clients or our employees were more important, I would have said, “Of course it’s our clients.” Now I believe it’s both. If you take care of your staff and volunteers by creating an environment that’s positive to work in, then patients, clients and their families will get the services they need. We implemented a $15 minimum wage this past year. We have robust time-off policies, because this is stressful work. Our people are incredibly committed to providing services with compassion and integrity, and we’re grateful for our volunteers and donors who support us. 

DMU: What’s ahead for EveryStep? 

TW: We continue to evaluate how we’re doing on our strategic plan goals, which could relate to the number of people we serve, our budget and potential expansions in our services. We always look at gaps we could be filling. Kavanagh House on 56th Street, our hospice house in Des Moines, is 26 years old. It’s still an awesome building, but what do we need to do to continue providing patients and families with the best possible care and support? 

DMU: Given the complexities of the human condition, health care and health care funding and delivery, what do you like about your job? 

TW: I love working for an organization that has such a positive impact on people’s lives. I love the variety of what we do. We can do unique things that other organizations may not be able to do. 

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