Lucy Lund: From OPG to PhD

Executive Director of Self-Directed Services, Lucy Lund, joined OPG seven years ago. Recently graduating with a PhD in Public Policy, I sat down with the now Dr. Lund to discuss the journey from college student to doctorate, and her vision for the future.

In both academia and her career in developmental disabilities, Lucy’s path is traced back to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Earning both a bachelor’s degree, along with a master’s in Public Administration, Lucy found her first job in the field within the student newspaper.

“I fell in love with the people, I fell in love with the field.”

“I thought the job would be at an office,” she recalls. “I got an address to go to this person’s house […] I walk in and some manager said “go give these two guys a shower, and you gotta make breakfast.”” Finishing her first shift at 9pm, Lucy was sure it would be her last. Six years later, Lucy was still working at that same group home. “I fell in love with the people, I fell in love with the field.”

As time went on, Lucy’s education and experience within the field lead her to OPG, where she became the equivalent of a Quality Enhancement Specialist, overseeing others working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While her passion for academia had been a life-long partnership, the desire to acquire her PhD developed later down the road.

Dr. Lucy Lund – Executive Director of Self-Directed Services

“I didn’t initially plan to get my PhD, but as soon as I started working towards my master’s, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Meanwhile within OPG, Lucy had become the Executive Director of Self-Directed Services – ensuring the company continues to meet state standards while “making sure we go above and beyond.” When the timing was right, Lucy began her quest to reach the highest level of academia through Walden University.

In applying her studies to Public Policy, Lucy was able to focus on ways of interaction that develop policy relating to students with intellectual disabilities transitioning from an individual education plan (IEP), to waiver support services. “There’s often no left hand talking to the right,” she states in regards to current policy. “Students are going through their educational experience with two separate development plans. I looked at how collaboration could really impact that.”


“I knew if I got my PhD I would be ingrained within academics for the rest of my life.”

After the completion of one of her master’s degrees, Lucy decided to take three months off, humorously describing that time as “very hard”. So, when the PhD epiphany struck, it wasn’t much of a decision. “I love education and I knew if I got my PhD I would be ingrained within academics for the rest of my life.”

While juggling both a full-time job alongside a PhD, another ball found itself thrown into the mix: Motherhood. “When we found out we were having a baby, I sadly looked at my graduation date,” she comically remembers. It was a big change, and an even bigger challenge, though one that culminated in both the birth of her son, and the donning of a graduation cap. “I hope I can teach my son that education is everything.”

​Reaching her graduation in July 2017, was a humbling experience, and one that won’t soon be forgotten. Being surrounded by her parents, sister, and best friend, alongside her husband and newborn son, made every second worthwhile. “They made it all happen, so I hope they felt just as much of an accomplishment as I did, because they helped me get there.”


Lucy and her son, Blaise, at graduation

Lucy and her son, Blaise, at graduation.

Transitioning to thoughts regarding the future, Lucy foresees the PhD greatly impacting her role at OPG. “[OPG] will be at the forefront, and have firsthand information of what’s going on,” she states. “Eventually perhaps we can do some research studies […] it meshes well with collaborating with people across the country that we never did before.”“OPG is always at the forefront. There’s a lot of providers playing catch-up.”

Most significantly, Lucy sees her PhD helping both OPG and other organizations grow through improved collaboration. With the important work being done by OPG’s Self-Reliance Committee, as well as ongoing conversations between fellow out-of-state providers, Lucy hopes to keep OPG the vanguard for intellectual disability support. “OPG is always at the forefront. There’s a lot of providers playing catch-up.”

Speaking personally about reaching this milestone, and her continued journey going forward, Lucy envisions herself staying tied to academics in one way or another. “I hope to teach and stayed tied to disability support policy and being at the cutting edge,” she explains.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes throughout disability support’s history, and I want to ensure that there are opportunities for people we support at OPG and across the country to keep moving forward in being less restrictive, more open and more natural.”

As our time wraps up, it’s clear that Lucy’s academic and professional achievements speak for themselves. Yet with “PhD” now sitting next to her name, Lucy assures me that she won’t be insisting on everyone referring to her as Dr. Lund from now on. “Well, maybe a select few,” she laughs.

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Music Therapy Matters

Though Music Therapy is relatively young within the health care field, music has been used as a form of healing dating back to the writings of Plato and Aristotle. In today’s modern society, Music Therapy interventions are now used to accomplish individualized goals for a vast array of conditions.

At OPG we utilize Music Therapy as a therapeutic tool to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. While we understand the importance of therapy and the difference it makes in the lives of the people we support, it isn’t just limited to supporting intellectual disabilities.

Dating back to World War II, Music Therapy has been used to treat anything from depression and speech delays, to schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. With the inception of the National Association for Music Therapy in 1950, to the modern American Music Therapy Association in 1998, the rise has been dramatic – with OPG’s growth of a single Music Therapist back in 2004, expanding to 18 board-certified therapists in 2017 exemplifying this.

Music Therapy matters as it’s able to help in ways traditional medicine cannot. As music stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, Music Therapy is able to address cognitive, emotional, motor, and social skills within individuals – often far more effectively than alternative forms of therapy. It provides an outlet, one which demonstrates a heightened level of interest and meaningful response.

“Music Therapy helps people gain skills and accomplish their dreams. The people who receive Music Therapy from OPG consistently rate that they are extremely satisfied with the therapy and that is likely because they are making progress while participating in musical experiences that were created based on their specific musical preferences.”

– Lindsey Wright, Executive Director of Music Therapy

​Music is a malleable medium, able to reach each person in its own unique way. It’s because of this that evidence has shown people with intellectual disabilities respond extremely well to individualized Music Therapy. That malleable nature goes hand-in-hand with the conditions it’s able to assist – both intellectual and physical.

Soon after his 18th birthday, Virginian teen Forrest Allen almost lost his life in a tragic snowboarding accident. He suffered traumatic brain injuries and was unable to speak for over two years. Ultimately, with the help of his Music Therapist, Tom Sweitzer, Forrest found his voice. Now 24-years-old, Forrest is living life to the fullest and will soon be featured in the upcoming documentary “Music Got Me Here”.

Music Therapists observe and adapt for each individual’s goals to foster growth. Utilizing finger movement on a keyboard, for example, can lend itself to the skill of using a computer keyboard. A person’s daily life can see significant improvement, even for those non-musically minded. Our bodies are hard-wired to keep a rhythm, with these rhythmic elements assisting at organizing sensory systems.

Music Therapy matters as it encourages active participation. Through music’s interactive qualities, therapists are able to explore personal feelings and bridge individuals within a non-threatening atmosphere. Real positive change in a person’s mood, emotional state, and communication levels are accomplished through research-based interventions conducted by a board-certified therapist.

Furthermore, active participation between individual and therapist supports turn-taking, listening, and responding – invaluable skills which can be applied across every avenue of life. Each of these elements add together to make a huge difference; boosting self-esteem and improving both relationships and motivation in the process.

Through therapy, people have gained skills in their life that they never thought they would have. Now rapidly expanding through the health care field, Music Therapy has an exciting future, one which is undoubtedly going to change more lives than ever before.

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Being a Direct Support Professional

The role of a Direct Support Professional (DSP) is complex, and demand for passionate DSPs has never been higher. A foundational position within the human services field, it is estimated that over a million new DSP positions will be required by 2022. The daily person-centered plans a DSP must create will present challenges, along with distinct opportunities to grow within the role.

Whether you’re starting straight out of high school, finding a job while studying at college, or any walk of life beyond, entering the sphere of direct support is one of the most rewarding career paths you can take. Each person supported’s unique context will allow you as a professional to adapt to a wide variety of fulfilling circumstances.

“I never had a dream job when I was growing up. Being a DSP made me realize that this would have been it.  I have always been someone who cares for others both physically and mentally and I love that being a DSP allows me to do both.”
                                                                         – Abigail Ivaldi, DSP 

What it Means to be a DSP

Being a DSP is a versatile position. While an ounce of stress can be expected, the benefits of working with and improving the life of another person is infinitely more distinguished. Making the position yours throughout a flexible schedule demands a creative mind; one that’s wholly involved, kind, and puts the needs of the people you support above all else. When you enter a home you’re not just staff, you’re an advocate for growth.

Professional Experience

If you’re at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma, becoming a DSP provides invaluable professional experience as well as career-launching training. Working in both residential and community settings comes with a variety of responsibilities that center around assisting individuals to lead a self-directed life. Being a natural caregiver does not require any formal experience, and as a DSP, you’ll be in one of the few entry-level positions where you’ll have the opportunity to work with individuals directly.

Meaningful Growth

Being at the forefront of intellectual support requires patience, compassion, and the utmost dedication. Here at OPG, we believe the ultimate goal is to develop independent skills through a fading plan – growing individuals’ independence over time. Developing this level of independence not only makes real positive change in the lives of people we support, but delivers a true sense of accomplishment for all.

Expect the Unexpected

While many jobs boast that no two days are the same, a DSP’s day-to-day is legitimately that. Each day comes with its own unique hurdles, and unique accomplishments. Person-centered plans mean adaptation is key. Furthermore, adventuring out into the community can provide a host of additional activities to enjoy and challenges to overcome.

Simply put, being a DSP means you actively seek to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities. If you strive to realize a true positive impact on the world, there is no better place to start than becoming a Direct Support Professional.

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Interview with the CEO: Gail Kahl

For almost two decades, Opportunities for Positive Growth, Inc. has been providing services for individuals with intellectual disabilities throughout Central Indiana.  

Originally regarded as Consultation Services for Behavioral and Educational Growth by CEO Gail Kahl back in 1998 (changing name the following year), OPG has grown exponentially over the years – receiving numerous awards along the way.

I sat down with Gail to discuss the journey, both personally and as a company; achievements that have been made; and her vision for OPG going forward

Why OPG? What made you start the company?

When I began working with people with disabilities through Medicaid waiver services, what I was seeing happening from the time they got up in the morning until the time they went to bed at night, was that they were not being treated as I would want one of my loved ones to be treated.

I could either make a choice to ignore it, to complain about it, or I could make a choice to change it. So, I became certified, not only in behavioral supports, but to expand that service to include supported living services as well as music therapy.
I understand you started the company in your basement? Did you imagine then that OPG would grow to be what it is today?

Yes, in 1998. And no, that was never supposed to happen. It was supposed to be me and maybe one other behavior specialist. I hired that one other person and then I contracted an accountant to make sure my quarterly taxes were being paid. It was that simple, so no I never even had that thought.
When you first started out, what were your goals? What was your mission statement when you conceived the idea of OPG?

Gail Kahl, Chief Executive Officer

I started Opportunities for Positive Growth when my husband, Dan, joined me as my Chief Operating Officer. He said we can’t start anything until we write a business plan. Way before we even thought we would become an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), we knew that decisions that were made about the company had to be inclusive of the people that were in the company.
​Would you say that you’ve achieved everything you set out to do up until this point in OPG’s life?

I will never be satisfied that everything I set out to do has been accomplished. All I can hope for is that we as a society becoming more human-focused, and becoming more kind. So, if nothing else, we’re the model of the way to do it. Hopefully that will give us the edge so other providers are wondering maybe we should figure out what they’re doing too. 

You mentioned Dan – your first employee, so to speak – how do you balance that boss/husband and wife dynamic?

We have grown into understanding what that is. When we first became Opportunities for Positive Growth – and yes, I am his boss and continue to be his boss – we had times where we found that we were stumbling over each other. We realized we had to define our separate roles. 

We couldn’t work together in the basement, so that’s why I gave myself a “promotion” and gave myself the upstairs where I had a window. When we got an office, we made a rule that as soon as we step into the front door of our house, we are not allowed to talk about work until we get back to work the next morning. And we hold true to that. 
OPG recently received a Top Workplace award for 2017. When you began the company, was a core aim of yours to lift OPG above companies offering similar services? 

I’ve never been an athlete, but I’ve always been competitive. Being the middle child of nine siblings, I think that you have to be noticed somehow. It’s natural for me to try to be first, or be better than anybody else. I am so confident that we are getting it right that I don’t even think about competing with other providers; there’s nothing to compete with, we are just better. 

How do you ensure your employees look forward to come to work? Is an uplifting work atmosphere important to you?

It is extremely important. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for that; Dan is the one who gets credit. The way Dan acts at work is the way he acts with his friends, at home, and when he’s playing golf – what you see from Dan is what he genuinely is. 

So, with OPG winning Top Workplace for eight of the previous nine years, how does it feel being recognized once again this year?

To me it’s just unbelievable. I can’t even embrace it as I can’t even understand that that happens simply from survey questions that our employees actually cared enough about to open up the link to fill out the survey and submit it – which is what lead to us being recognized. What a privilege.
And there’s a further congratulation this year, as you’ve also been recognized with a Leadership award. What was your reaction when you found out?

I found out in the interview from the reporter through the Indy Star; he said “it can’t leave the room until it’s published, but I need to tell you that you have won the leadership extinguishment”. So, I ended up crying for the rest of the interview. I guess we got it right.
With all the awards OPG has received throughout its lifetime, it seems people enjoy working here. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of the job?

That we are living and breathing our mission. It is not just something on the wall. People have a relationship with me because of who I am, not because of my title.
There’s been a lot of reflection about the past, so to finish off, where do you see OPG 10 years from now?

Like it is today… so I guess I’m not ready to retire yet.

Here at OPG, we couldn’t be happier to have Gail leading the way! To read more about our distinguished awards from The Indianapolis Star, read the article here.

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