How did you feel when The Birchtree Center was named one of the Coolest Companies for Young Professionals?
Thrilled—and surprised! We’re proud of our nonprofit and the work we do to help students with autism and their families. We think that The Birchtree Center is a very cool place to work. But there were plenty of outstanding organizations nominated.
What is The Birchtree Center doing to attract and retain young professionals?
In spite of our nonprofit’s tight budget, we offer some excellent employee benefits. All our full-time staff members receive fully paid health and dental insurance, five paid weeks of vacation, and one paid day per year to volunteer at another nonprofit. Our staff members also enjoy some unusual perks, such as a free fitness “boot camp” offered for employees by employees after work.
But it takes more than perks to attract and retain outstanding young professionals. We enjoy working with friendly, team-oriented colleagues in a flexible and fun work environment. And Birchtree staff members at all levels have a voice in policies and how things are run, thanks to an active Employee Focus Group and a responsive management team.
Of course, the most powerful benefit we get here at Birchtree is the chance to see our hard work pay off when Birchtree’s students succeed at home, at school, and in the community. It’s very motivating to all our staff—and to young professionals in particular—to see the difference we can make in the lives of students with autism and their families.
What makes the program offered at The Birchtree Center the only program of its kind in New Hampshire?
Our special-educational day school in Newington is the only such program in our state approved by the N.H. Bureau of Special Education that exclusively enrolls students with autism. In contrast to typical public-school programs, our school operates year-round and provides one-on-one instruction from college-educated instructors—because students with autism need this intensive, individualized support. Twenty-three public school districts in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts send students to attend our day school. Birchtree’s autism experts also travel more than 20,000 miles per year to serve students, their families, and their instructors in homes, public schools, and other community settings throughout northern New England. We’re experts in providing data-driven programs based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Every hour of every school day, our staff records detailed data of student progress. We know when students are reaching their individual goals and when we need to modify student programs to suit changing needs. The unusually high number of Board Certified Behavior Analysts on our staff also makes Birchtree unique among nonprofit organizations in our state.
In your opinion, what is it that attracts potential employees to want to work at The Birchtree Center?
The Birchtree Center has become increasingly well-known among New Hampshire educators for providing high-quality autism programs. This reputation helps us attract talented, motivated, and experienced educators who want to contribute to our nonprofit’s mission. And once these well-qualified applicants come in for an interview, they see just how fun and satisfying it can be to work on our team! Our rewarding, flexible, and supportive work environment makes The Birchtree Center a very cool place to work. Instructors teach students not only in the classroom but also during regular trips into the community and during home visits. Instructors can use their creativity to foster a fun working environment at Birchtree. For example, staff members often come up with school-wide events and classroom celebrations, from “Shark Week,” to apple-picking field trips, to our first-ever school prom.
Is there anything about The Birchtree Center you would like to share or promote that may not be commonly known?
It’s not enough for The Birchtree Center’s instructors to teach social, communication, self-regulation, and academic skills to students in the classroom. Students with autism must learn to use their skills where it matters most—in the community and with their families. That’s why The Birchtree Center’s instructors help students to practice shopping at grocery stores, dining at restaurants, attending movies, and using local fitness centers. It helps students prepare to maximize their independence as adults. And it allows our families to enjoy spending time together—whether it’s going out for pizza, watching a movie, or exercising as a family. Members of the public can support our students’ learning by contributing towards our annual “Gift Cards for Independence” campaign. People can make a cash contribution to our nonprofit organization or mail us a gift card, and we’ll use it to provide our students with hands-on lessons in the community. We welcome gift cards for gas, groceries, restaurants, and more: information is at www.birchtreecenter.org/giftcards.
Jessica Files Squier joined The Birchtree Center’s staff as Director of Development & Community Relations in 2007. She has worked at nonprofits throughout the northeast including Strawbery Banke Museum, the Newport (R.I.) Historical Society, Mystic Seaport, Plimoth Plantation, and the Chester County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society. She has an MA in history with certification in museum studies.