Service to others.
In a phrase, you’ve just met Rebecca (Hage) Thomley ’81 ’83, Twin Cities business leader and disaster relief volunteer.
Each year, millions of dollars flow to the 10 companies she leads, yet her go-to descriptor for the Orion Associates family of non-profit and for-profit businesses is “serving 10,000 people in six states.”
For example, Meridian Services, founded in 1980 in St. Cloud by Thomley’s mother, Marya (Owston) Hage ’71, provides a variety of licensed human services and supports.
Zenith Services develops vocational opportunities for people who need jobs and employment related training.
Two newer companies, Orion ISO and Morning Sun Financial Services help people receiving Medicaid dollars manage their own services and supports.
The companies are 42 times larger than when she took over her mother’s business in 2000. Thomley says success is rooted in the servant leadership model that she and four other executives embrace.
An ancient concept, servant leadership was revived in the 1970s by retired AT & T middle manager Robert Greenleaf, who wrote:
“It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”
Orion Associates’ commitment to servant leadership is exemplified by Headwaters Relief Organization, a volunteer collaborative of which Thomley was one of the founders.
The walls of the Orion Associates building in Golden Valley are lined with framed reminders of Headwaters’ worldwide response to natural disasters, refugee migrations and epidemics.
This fall, Headwaters teams deployed to hurricane-ravaged Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. In Cleveland, Texas, for example, a four-person clean-up team helped strip two homes to the studs. Gutting, hauling, mucking and debris removing are just a few of the jobs their teams worked on. They also participated in door-to-door checks to make sure people evacuated their homes safely if necessary; sorting and boxing donations; and even animal rescue.
As is the Headwaters’ custom, the clean-up team’s focus was on assisting the most vulnerable people, according to Angela Cavalier, an Orion Associates executive program administrator. Cavalier also coordinates employee volunteer engagement for Headwaters.
— Rebecca (Hage) Thomley ’81 ’83
Headwaters’ specialty is mental health support. It runs a free mental health resource center in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. And, it publishes books created for children by young volunteers. One such book is “When Haiti Shakes,” written by Madeleine Hage, 17. It teaches children what to do should an earthquake occur.
Powering these and other service efforts are employee and community volunteers.
Orion Associates offers paid time off to encourage employees to volunteer with service organizations of their choosing, including Headwaters Relief.
“I grew up in a family with a long tradition of volunteerism,” Thomley said. “It just was a part of our life. I remember as a child going out with my mom and doing different kinds of service.
“I have a picture of my grandmother, who was a nurse, volunteering with the Red Cross,” said Thomley, who has volunteered with the Red Cross for 25 years.
Thomley said, in summary: “Volunteerism comes from a commitment of the heart.”