Janice Hill, seated, is the new executive director of the Life Skills Training Center. Libby Peters is the centre’s new commercial director. Both bring a wealth of experience to their roles and a love for customers.
THE MARS — The Mars Life Skills Training Center has a new two-position leadership within the center.
Janice Hill, the new Executive Director, joined Life Skills in September 2021, while Libby Peters, the Centre’s new Commercial Director, started on November 29, 2021.
“They do a terrific job and they’re up and running right away,” said Shelly Thomson, Life Skills Marketing Development Coordinator.
Hill grew up in Sergeant Bluff, then left the area for 30 years, returning to care for his parents, while working part-time.
She is a social worker at the master’s level and has held leadership positions.
“I really like the field of developmental disabilities and mental health, and I have a strong background in it,” she said.
When she came to Life Skills for an interview, she said, “It was a no-brainer.” She took the job.
She dug into it and admits she has a lot of what she calls “heavy brain days”.
This includes maintaining center accreditation, ensuring policies and procedures are where they need to be, and ensuring staffing levels remain stable.
“It’s a delicate balance. You have to treat your people well to be able to keep them,” she said.
Then there are the customers who work in the centre’s laundry every day.
“When I go back there in the morning, it’s like an episode of ‘Cheers’, where everyone calls ‘Janice’. I can’t imagine working anywhere else,” she said.
For Hill and the rest of the staff, spending time with these customers offers a kind of intangible compensation, she said.
“I’ve always been a social worker/teacher, and those are two career fields that you never see the financial compensation that other fields might offer, but I’m telling you, there are elements in those jobs that are simply priceless,” she said.
She admits the job was a huge challenge.
“Coming here after having a director who has worked here most of his life is a challenge. She knew so much,” Hill said of Rose Nicoson.
But she learns and gets things done.
“My goal is to make this a community-integrated business, where the people of Le Mars know who we are and what we do and the mere mention of Life Skills makes them smile. I want us to be progressive. I want to be forward-thinking. I want us to grow. I see so many opportunities for them to grow and serve more people. I’m very excited about what we’re doing,” she said.
Hill is grateful for a very supportive board and for former manager Don Nore to serve on the board.
“He helped nudge me, let me know where the information might be,” she said. “There’s just a treasure trove of information he or Rose had gathered.”
Hill went on to say that the community is very supportive of Life Skills with donations.
“We have to be very respectful of their trust and their generosity and how we use their money,” Hill said.
Supporting the community is also important.
“If we can get it locally, that’s what we want to do, support our neighbors and friends on Mars,” she said.
“One of the most important things I would love to do is help people learn life skills and appreciate the clients we serve and be willing to seek employment here and share their hearts and talents with us here,” she said.
She added that her job is to build good staff who can solve problems and make decisions independently, giving them some personal professional freedom to give them a say in what happens in the organization. .
Hill’s family includes his daughter and son-in-law and nearly 2-year-old grandson who live near Hastings, Nebraska.
When Peters came on the team, she had some catching up to do.
Hill calls Peters a “gift from the Lord.”
“She knows her stuff and knows the area very well. She has a lot of contacts,” Hill said.
“In the first 90 days of her employment, the things she accomplished, sorted, sifted through and figured out were amazing. She’s a sensible woman who knows what she’s doing,” Hill continued.
Peters is originally from Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
She lived in Sioux Falls for several years before moving to Sioux City and getting married. She has worked as an accountant and/or business manager for several companies, as well as for non-profit organizations.
Stepping into the position of Commercial Director towards the end of the year presented Peters with some challenges as she handled the commercial side from October to December.
“For me, I was able, without training, to go back and look at the system and then move forward. It was challenging and what I was looking for, due to my experience working with non-profit organizations. I received the challenge. I’ve been here for three months and passed the budget, and I’ve been caught up with the year-end reports,” she said.
She, too, appreciates the board, which will now meet monthly to help with staff changes.
She points out that the past two years have been a challenge for the center, with COVID not allowing customers to come to work and staff taking on the challenge of doing laundry, strategizing to make things run more smoothly and relieve staff stress.
Some of those changes have included implementing direct deposit for paychecks and changing the way supplies are ordered to ensure they stay stocked and ready to go.
“Based on everything that’s happened for our organization, a lot of ups and downs with COVID and all the things that have happened, we’re doing good,” she said.
Customers, she says, are a joy.
“I don’t know how else to put it. When you walk around there they are so happy to see you. They are always in a good mood, always ready to work and they will tell you about their siblings, nieces and nephews. I like the atmosphere.
“The staff here, everyone is supportive, there is a lot of camaraderie. It’s a close family,” Peters continued. “With Janice and I coming in, they’re so open about everything and trying to help us be aware of things we may not be aware of. The Mars supports us so much and we love that too.
Peters and her husband, Jon, who grew up in Merrill, live in Merrill with two dogs.
They love fishing and hunting.
“I like Iowa, it’s a good state. If you had told me 15 years ago that I was going to move to Iowa and live there the rest of your life, I would have said you were crazy. But I like it,” she said.
Thomson said having Hill and Peters at Life Skills is a great addition.
“Janice and Libby have been a breath of fresh air here,” Thomson said. “Sometimes when you bring new people into your organization it brings new ideas and highlights some areas of stagnation, so we work very hard to augment new ideas, procedures and new thoughts here.”