NEW LONDON – Good leadership is a multiplier – of strengths, resources, and values. This Friday (Nov. 30) the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce will honor a distinguished local visionary when Sound Community Services’ Gino DeMaio accepts the award for Executive Director of the Year at the 2018 Eastern CT Social Service Awards.
Since taking the helm at Sound in 2014, first as Interim Director and then formally appointed Chief Executive Officer three years later, DeMaio has worked to recreate the culture at the multi-faceted agency, which helps people coping with mental health and substance use disorders.
Sound helps local residents reclaim their lives through individual psychotherapy and group counseling, life skills training, medication management, support and social groups, and supportive and supervised housing. DeMaio has long been a pioneer in advocacy. Over a two-decade career with the State of Connecticut, he was instrumental in creating and implementing a forensic services division that permanently changed the way agencies work in collaboration to influence change. More notably, this division changed how individuals with developmental disabilities were handled when they encountered the judicial, probate and mental health systems. These legal and clinical efforts reduced the recidivism rate and changed many lives.
At Sound, DeMaio has worked to create a climate of accountability, transparency, and opportunity. “Culture is contagious,” he says, explaining that the workplace environment comes full circle.
“The work we do is hard, it’s messy,” he says, “and people need to be able to acknowledge that. We have to take care of ourselves so that we can help others. Every single person is part of the mission.”
Having held a wide variety of positions in human services, DeMaio keenly understands the importance of each role. He describes the work as “an incredible opportunity. You possess the ability to create social change.”
The organization’s role in the community is both compelling and measurable, he stresses. “We focus on outcomes for delivery of service. Our benchmarks for quality and progress are higher than
the state benchmarks,” he notes.
The data collected also helps Sound identify needs in the community, and respond with programs that offer guidance and solutions, like the Opioid Awareness Group instituted last year for family and friends of those with that addiction. In the time ahead, DeMaio wants to see Sound become a provider of choice for a broader demographic. The agency’s reputation for crisis intervention is well known, but clinicians are also available to assist people dealing with more universal issues, like bereavement.
In his off hours, DeMaio is a photographer. He also teaches courses through Leadership Greater Hartford.
“Leading has nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with being a person,” he observes.
A person helping people seems like an oversimplification for the dynamic role that DeMaio inhabits. But watching others reach their potential “is the thing that feeds my soul,” he says.
“We have nowhere to go but up.”