HR Excellence 2019 Good Works winner: Laura O'Toole, area human resource manager, National Church Residences/First Community Village

Assisting senior citizens is a calling for many, but Laura O'Toole counts herself fortunate because it's her career, too.

O'Toole has worked as the area HR resource manager for National Church Residences for 11 years, responsible for five locations in Central Ohio and two in Florida. With 340 facilities in 26 states and Puerto Rico, National Church Residences is the country's largest nonprofit provider of senior housing and services.

She leads initiatives on diversity and inclusion, policy administration, employee relations and code of conduct implementation, and creates training courses for in-person and remote use.

“National Church Residences is truly honored that Laura is being recognized by Columbus CEO,” says Danielle Willis, senior vice president of human resources. “She impacts our mission in such an amazing way to make us better in the way we serve others and for those who actually do the serving.”

And while O'Toole's employers have glowing compliments for her, the HR professional's recognition for Good Works is due to her years of volunteering with Employment for Seniors, a nonprofit organization that assists local residents age 50 and over in finding employment.

She has served as a board member of the organization for 14 years, in that time working as president, vice president and secretary. Employment for Seniors has been serving seniors for 47 years, helping more than 11,500 clients find employment, says director Carol Ventresca.

Ventresca says O'Toole has served on numerous committees with the organization over the years, chaired various fundraising events and served on the executive committee. “However, the most important role she has played is the expert on human resources needed by any organization,” Ventresca says.

That expertise has assisted Employment for Seniors in updating position descriptions, reviewing office procedures, training job counselors, internal hiring and assisting clients seeking employment through informational interviews and networking.

O'Toole says she developed a passion for helping seniors at a young age.

“I have a true love for our older generations,” she says. “As a teen I volunteered at a small nursing home playing piano, mowed lawns for elderly neighbors and worked at a local pharmacy where many of our customers were the elderly residents in our town. So when I was approached 14 years ago to be a part of the Employment for Seniors board, I thought I was merely fostering a new opportunity that fit with my lifelong values.”

Along with leveraging her administrative experience to benefit the nonprofit, O'Toole has been responsible for expanding its annual senior career expo, supporting the Trick or Treat Family Festival and 5K and organizing featured employer hiring events.

In the past decade, Employment for Seniors has seen a 100 percent funding increase, higher numbers of clients reporting employment, an expansion of its job search workshop program and more fundraising events.

“Laura is our voice of reason and strategic thinker,” Ventresca says. “Her ability to quickly focus on an issue and then think outside the box for solutions is critical to a small organization.” She says O'Toole is also aware that to meet the demands of older job seekers, Employment for Seniors needs the proper resources— and she steps up to discover all possible options to reach their goals.

“Laura is not afraid to suggest change or create and implement the hardest transformation,” Ventresca says. “She is a shining example of the value an individual can bring to a workplace as well as to a volunteer position.”

She's also been working to instill that same passion in her children and those around her. O'Toole says her teen daughters often volunteer with her both at work and at Employment for Seniors, helping residents with outings, working at fundraising events, calling bingo and singing at holiday parties. “Watching the joy in the interactions between the residents and the younger generations and specifically watching my children grow and develop a desire to give back makes it all worthwhile as far as I'm concerned.” O'Toole says.

Good Works honors notable commitment to the community achieved through charitable, philanthropic, volunteer or other efforts to engage a workforce for HR purposes.

Lin Rice is a freelance writer.

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