How these came together through PruBono to help change the lives of young men with developmental disabilities.

By Kara Corridan

February 24, 2022


Editor’s Note: Prudential has always been driven by its purpose, and every day our people work to make a positive impact in society. This feature is a part of an ongoing series highlighting the many ways in which Prudential makes a difference through its business, its people and its partnerships.

If Matt Chaffin opens his bedroom door in the middle of the night, a motion sensor goes off to dimly light his path as he walks down the hallway.

If he opens his refrigerator, a screen next to the fridge kindly encourages him to choose a yogurt or a handful of peanuts instead.

If he decides to go outside and leave his home, a sensor would alert when the front door opens and a GPS would indicate that he’s taken a certain number of steps. That’s when a remote support professional — who has worked directly with the residents in their home — can aid immediately.

Chaffin, along with three other young men who have developmental disabilities, lives in a fully “smart home” outside of Cincinnati. (Watch the video above to see it in action.) It uses technology as the primary way to assist its residents and adds in-person caregivers as needed. More than 200 pieces of technology are collecting data nearly round the clock, including smart toothbrushes that track how long a user brushes their teeth and robots that dispense medication.

As a result, the need for in-person care has dropped by more than 100 hours per week. This fosters an invaluable sense of independence among Chaffin and his roommates, and allows the money saved to be invested elsewhere in the home.

This project is the brainchild of Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled, or LADD, an Ohio-based organization that empowers adults with disabilities to live, work and connect. Its board of directors is led by Prudential’s Kush Kotecha, vice president and actuary, U.S. Business Strategies and Initiatives, Financial Management.

Because of Kotecha’s connection, LADD was invited to apply for the 2021 PruBono Marathon, a two-day virtual event where employees volunteered to help build capacity for nonprofits led by, or serving communities aligned with, one of Prudential’s eight business resource groups. These are groups of employee volunteers who are members of eight distinct populations as well as the allies who support them. LADD was nominated by ADAPT, which supports the abled and differently abled and their allies.

Here’s how the partnership unfolded.

Pru’s ‘uniquely qualified’ team

LADD came to the marathon with a clear goal: to organize and analyze its never-ending stream of data so it could demonstrate the success and value of its smart home. “We need to prove to funders that this is a productive model, to show parents that their adult children can live safely and comfortably with more independence, and to help doctors understand that using our technology is a viable way to track health changes,” explains Brian Hart, LADD’s chief strategy officer. The ultimate goal is to build at least six more smart homes in the area and then thousands across the U.S.

LADD was paired with a five-member team from all corners of Prudential: Daniel Backman, project manager, marketing management, Marketing, who served as the team lead; Eleesa Smith, director, customer obsession, who uncovered each stakeholder’s unique needs; Jordan Lytle, director, talent analytics, Human Resources; Cory Decaria, director, project management, Global Technology; and Jennifer Zogg, vice president, Sales Enablement, Retail Advice and Solutions, who served as data analyst and led the discovery and development work.

“It felt like they were uniquely qualified for our exact problem,” noted Hart. He also appreciated the prep work the team did before their first meeting. “With other volunteer groups, we’ve spent the first three hours like, ‘So, what do you want to do?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you want to do?’ Our Prudential team asked questions and wanted reports ahead of time so we were ready to tackle the work right away.”

Backman sums up what he and his team brought to the table. “We were able to help organize LADD’s data by creating key performance indicators for their initiatives. We gave ideas on how to capture the data and turn it into something more comprehensible and helped create a plan for 2022,” he explains.

For Hart, the payoff was enormous: “The seven hours that we had together saved us months of work we would have had to do on our own.”

A true win-win

While the marathon was a two-day event involving eight nonprofits and 40 employees, more than 60 additional employees participate in PruBono’s Nonprofit Consulting Program throughout the year. In this program, run by Inclusive Solutions, Leadership & Development identifies employees with high leadership potential so they can use their skills and expertise to support nonprofits. Over the past six years, more than 650 employees have assisted 145 nonprofits and small businesses through PruBono.

This is how Pankaj Kandhari, director, process management, Enabling Solutions, came to co-lead a team of six employees working with the Newark Public Library in New Jersey over a period of three months last year.

The library’s executive director wanted to learn how to effectively communicate the organization’s impact, importance and vision to inspire staff, board members, city hall, and the public.

In other words, paraphrases Kandhari: “The library was struggling. We needed to get its clients back in. We essentially needed to improve its value proposition.”

For Kandhari and team, the first step was to prioritize the work. “There are probably a few dozen things we could actually do, but we only had 12 weeks.”

Ultimately, the team reviewed the library’s current messaging and recommended ways to improve buy-in and communicate its new vision to potential supporters, staff and the entire Newark community. This translated into pitch-deck initiatives that needed board approval, promotional material for the public as well as internal educational pieces that provided customer service training for staff.

Kandhari recommends the PruBono experience to others. “The time commitment is big, but it’s a great way to build your network and skills and expand your knowledge. You become a better leader and more well-rounded, because you encounter situations you typically don’t in your day-to-day role. For me, the best part was being able to give back to our community using my skills. It was very rewarding.”

‘There are no words’

Meanwhile, the efforts of LADD’s PruBono team are making it easier for the organization to change lives. “With the tools and the technical assistance we received, LADD is able to take this program beyond our first smart home. We can expand the pilot group to a much larger group and show how this can be scaled throughout the country,” says Hart.

Matt Chaffin’s mother, holding back tears, describes how she feels about her son’s new home — and new world. “We took a step into a future that we never imagined was possible. There are no words to describe what we see and how grateful we are for the opportunity.”

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