Most people go through life wondering whether they have made a difference in the world.
Christopher Long, president of Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. and the organization’s 1,800 team members make a difference every day in the lives of the individuals they serve who have intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental illness, and traumatic brain injury. The evidence of their impact is in the tens of thousands of lives they have touched over the past four decades.
Founded in 1977, Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. or FREE, as it is commonly referred to, has been among the foremost organizations in the nonprofit world that deals with health and human services. The organization, which serves approximately 4,000 individuals each year, is in the business of expanding horizons by helping individuals overcome challenges and reach their full potential.
With the motto “Reach High, Achieve More,” FREE is where care meets innovation. With more than a dozen programs that empower individuals of all ages and abilities, FREE has been able to help advance the interests and benefit the lives of this vulnerable community.
Long took over the reins as president in 2010, and has spent the past 12 years helping the organization — along with the individuals they support — reach new heights. His leadership methodology is rooted in the understanding of learning about and meeting the goals that have the greatest impact.
“Anytime I am asked what motivates me, I am reminded of the quote: ‘If you are unwilling to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you,’” Long says. “As a trained educator and passionate leader, I am committed to being a lifelong learner and always seek to improve and build upon my current knowledge. In this rapidly changing world, existing knowledge quickly becomes obsolete, especially in this line of work.”
“I believe it is important to expand the definition of learning to create new knowledge, as it has afforded me the opportunity to focus on creative solutions and innovation, and cultivates the passion of the explorer within me,” he adds.
Warren Bennis, the renowned American author and expert on leadership studies, once said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” By this metric, Long is certainly worthy of respect and applause.
When Long joined the team at FREE, he was no stranger to the world of nonprofits nor was he unfamiliar with the organization’s mission. Earlier in his career he held several executive level management positions at well-respected nonprofits, and at health and human service organizations. He was named the 2005 winner of the Zella Bronfman Butler Award for outstanding contributions in the field of special education and human services, and, more recently, was named to Long Island Business News’ Executive Circle for his commitment to community service and diversity. It is evident, though, that the awards and recognitions for Long are an acknowledgement of the more impactful strides made in the lives of those he serves.
As FREE continues to grow in size and scope, it remains committed to removing the stigma and promoting a culture of inclusion for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. FREE is constantly in search of new ways to empower, embrace, and advance the natural support network of differently abled people with particular emphasis on the strides made by individuals and the unique abilities of the population they serve.
“We believe that all people — our team members and the people we serve — contribute to our mission,” says Long. “We just all contribute differently to this high energy and dynamic effort to help individuals reach their full potential.”
As one of the largest service providers in New York’s downstate region, FREE is well positioned to continue its commendable success in helping others with their core values of: integrity, diversity, responsiveness, stewardship, interdependence, quality, and innovation. The goals are simple, and embraced by all those employed within the organization, to uncover creative solutions that meet challenges, while fostering appreciation of, and respect for, the differences among us all.
For those with intellectual and developmental disabilities or mental illness, each stride is a tremendous accomplishment. This is why, for Long, it is easy to remain inspired.
“Throughout my time at FREE our team has harnessed millions of dollars in funding to expand services for those we are honored to support. We have developed a strategic plan specifically designed to serve individuals with co-occurring disorders.”
“FREE’s strategic plan specifically targets workforce development and has launched a number of initiatives to address the workforce challenges,” Long says.
These programs include outreach and advertising campaigns to raise awareness; education, credentialing programs and career advancement opportunities; and even higher-education programs through partnerships with local colleges.
“One of the most fulfilling moments at FREE was when I led efforts to create a collaborative graduate degree program in partnership with Stony Brook University for employees of human service agencies to participate and obtain advanced degrees. I have also developed a continuum of education and youth services providing support to adolescents who benefit from employment readiness training,” Long continues.
Long has set commendable goals for the next five years, to reach more people and impact more lives. These goals include expanding services to accommodate the ever-changing needs of the community they support.
More specifically, Long is actively working at expanding telemedicine and virtual care options, increasing utilization of adaptive technology, revolutionizing the technology infrastructure of the agency, and innovating new and improved workforce initiatives that help improve retention of highly qualified employees.
Simultaneously while leading this organization, Long is also leading a family, with his husband, Freddy, and their five children, all of whom they adopted from foster care.
Long says that work-life balance, coupled with equal passion, is part of the recipe for success.
“Work-life balance is something most people crave and it is not easy to accomplish; however, I make an exerted effort to allocate equal passion to my family and friends,” Long says. “This requires me to prioritize well, collaborate, build capacity within my work team, and always ensure my children, husband, and the rest of my family are aware that they are an equal priority; they give me the fuel to make magic happen in my professional and personal endeavors. Spending time together, celebrating milestones, and sharing an open, transparent and honest relationship are the most important things for myself and my family.”
Long and FREE are far from finished, and so many outstanding things are just around the corner. More information can be learned about FREE at FamilyRes.org.