Pam Hackett, founder and managing partner of Pediatric Therapeutic Services.
In addition to her job as co-founder and CEO of Conshohocken-based Pediatric Therapeutic Services, a therapy staffing agency serving special needs kids in local schools, Pam recently traveled to Mysore, India as a volunteer to train counselors at a new school for special needs children (the first of its kind in this rather remote Indian city). I thought it would be interesting for your listeners to learn about what motivates her to work with special needs kids, how this trip opened her eyes to the needs of autistic and disabled children worldwide, and how she balances these charitable works with running one of America's fastest growing small businesses (according to Inc Magazine, 2007, 2008).
Marilyn Russell: Pam Hackett…Woman of the Week…co-founder and CEO of Conshohocken-based Pediatric Therapeutic Services. This is a therapy-staffing agency serving special needs kids in local schools. Pam, we have much to talk about…welcome.
Pam Hackett: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
Marilyn Russell: So nice to meet you. Why did you decide to go into this field in the first place?
Pam Hackett: I always wanted to be in medicine, but I wanted to have a life balance between having a family and my career. And I thought therapy would probably be a better choice than becoming a doctor, although that had originally been my plan.
Marilyn Russell: And, apparently, you have just returned from India. Tell us a little bit about that. Am I jumping the gun? I’m just dying to hear.
Pam Hackett: No, no, not at all. It was such an amazing trip. The way it worked out was that my business partner Diana Fongheiser was at her Church, and she was literally praying, and asking God what we could do with our business to help change the world. And within minutes she met this guy who runs a school for children with disabilities in Mysore, India. And he and his Indian wife had moved there from the States to begin this school, and they had no therapy services, and very little, even, general Special Education background with which to start the school. So the three of us had lunch, and an hour and a half later I was promising to get on a plane to India. So I actually ended up flying there by myself to stay with somebody I had met over a lunch. (laughter)
Marilyn Russell: That’s extraordinary! Wait a minute…Mysore? Is that near Bombay?
Pam Hackett: It’s near Bangalore, so I wasn’t actually close to where the Terror Attacks were, but I was still glad to be at home, and not there at that time.
Marilyn Russell: Yeah, because that’s fairly recently, and that was a terrible situation, obviously.
Pam Hackett: Yeah, it was days after I got home.
Marilyn Russell: Well, I don’t know how to respond to that. I’m sure you were deeply affected by it because you were just there.
Pam Hackett: Of course…
Marilyn Russell: That’s crazy! So tell me how you helped out? What is the name of this school in India?
Pam Hackett: It’s called the Beautiful Gate Special School in Mysore, India. You can Google it. I think it’s BeautifulGateIndia.org is their website. And they take in children from all different religious backgrounds. They’ve got the children from a Muslim background, a Hindu background, a Christian background, all at the same school. And there is no special schooling for children with disabilities in that city. So before the kids had to stay home. The schools told them they weren’t wanted.
Marilyn Russell: Oh, jeez!
Pam Hackett: So it’s staffed by missionary teachers with very little equipment and very little means, and it was such a blessing to be able to go and teach them how to help these children; to teach them what autism is all about. I also was able to work with the parents of a lot of the children, particularly the parents of the autistic students, and teach them how to help manage some of the behaviors that were causing problems. And how to give and receive love from children with autism, because they speak a different ‘love language’ than we do.
Marilyn Russell: Pam Hackett is my guest. She is co-founder and CEO of Pediatric Therapeutic Services, a staffing agency serving special need kids in local schools, and of course now it’s internationally famous, because she’s just returned from India. (laughter) ‘Special Needs’ is a fairly broad term. You’ve mentioned autism. What else?
Pam Hackett: Kids that have Downs Syndrome….just rare neurological syndromes that are undiagnosed because of a lack of general medical care there….quite a bit of Cerebral Palsy. I got one little girl up walking who they didn’t even realize could walk without the support, which was really exciting, to be able to do hands-on work with the kids. And just lots and lots of teaching about ideas of how to help kids, which is a lot of what the company does. We do provide staffing. We provide physical, occupational, and speech therapy services in local schools, but that’s not really enough. Because 30 minutes of a therapist with a kid a week doesn’t accomplish goals and make real progress, so we’re all about empowering teachers with the techniques they need in the classroom to help the kids. And certainly parents as well. So it’s a big part…I’m very familiar with teaching these things to educators.
Marilyn Russell: And what areas do you service…do you guys service here?
Pam Hackett: Pretty much the Delaware Valley, five-county area…although we do go down into Wilmington as well. So we’re out to Harrisburg, and then the whole five country area around Philadelphia.
Marilyn Russell: And yet there’s only like, what, six people on your staff? (laughter) What do guys work pretty much 24/7?
Pam Hackett: Pretty much. We have a corporate staff of eight people, with three directors who go out and do a lot of the hands-on support of the therapists. Our philosophy about the company is that it really needs to be a positive experience for everybody who touches it, and that includes the 140 therapists that work with the business. They need support…somebody to talk to…somebody to problem-solve with…and we really are a lot about building communities. So we try and build communities even within our client base in terms of getting therapists, and families, and teachers to communicate and work together. And then within the company building community so therapists can share and learn from each other. Because when you work in isolation, it’s never as good.
Marilyn Russell: And I’m sure that with everybody you and your partner come across you can connect the dots in various communities…and connect parents to physicians and really straight across the board.
Pam Hackett: Absolutely.
Marilyn Russell: Pam Hackett is my guest, from Pediatric Therapeutic Services. Now you have a co-founder and a partner: Diana Fongheiser? Is that how you say her name?
Pam Hackett: Yes. And we actually bring some really interesting backgrounds together. She has a step-son who has a pretty significant disability, so she really brings that parent perspective. And then I actually had a cleft lip and palette when I was a little girl, so I got speech services. So I was actually a receiver of the services that we deliver now. So we really try and have tried to create structures and systems and supports that address those different points of view.
Marilyn Russell: How did you two meet?
Pam Hackett: We met through business. She actually hired me as a clinical supervisor after I left Children’s Hospital and had started my private practice. So we founded the company back in 1998, and really wanted to try to do something different, that was a lot more broad-reaching and more-comprehensive than just staffing because there’s so much more to do…there’s so much work to do beyond just providing people.
Marilyn Russell: Ten years later what are the changes? I mean you guys have really grown…
Pam Hackett: Yes.
Marilyn Russell: …to the point where you just got some crazy award for being, like, what, the fastest-growing business?
Pam Hackett: Yeah, we’re one of the fastest-growing businesses in the US. We’ve been making the Inc. 5000 list a couple of years in a row. And we also won the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence Award for Best Customer Service in the region.
Marilyn Russell: Congratulations!
Pam Hackett: So that was a really exciting one, because we put so much of our heart into doing what we do, and trying to do good, and seeing that recognized by clients and by the business community was such a privilege.
Marilyn Russell: How have things changed over the years? I would imagine that people are a little more accepting…a little more tolerant…
Pam Hackett: Yes.
Marilyn Russell: …since so much of this has come to the forefront.
Pam Hackett: People are a lot more tolerant, and I think that there’s a lot more knowledge about disabilities. I also think that the education community is being hit by the economic problems like every other one. And I think that because we’ve invested so much in technology, that helps us be fiscally accountable, that that’s been a real advantage for us in terms of helping us grow. We’ve invested heavily in just ways to track important information about programs so we can help directors really manage the resources that they have. And that’s important for taxpayers because people are struggling in the communities we serve.
Marilyn Russell: Pam Hackett is my guest, from Pediatric Therapeutic Services. I may say that a couple of times. Pam, tell me about Charter Schools. How do they fall into the grand scheme of things.
Pam Hackett: We do serve some charter schools…and we’ve also had to stop serving some charter schools. And they run the gamut. There are some outstanding charter schools that we work with that are really changing lives, and giving opportunities and choices to kids in areas that might not otherwise have them. So I think, at their best, charter schools are an amazing alternative to a public school. At their worst they are plagued by self-interest, poor financial management, and I think there’s a lot of people who get into the charter school business for the wrong reasons.
Marilyn Russell: You know my nieces went, and they had a good success.
Pam Hackett: Absolutely.
Marilyn Russell: My son went through the standard public schools, as did I, native Philadelphian. Pam Hackett is my guest, from the Conshohocken-based firm Pediatric Therapeutic Services. Are you guys doing an Open House? Can people come over and get some details? Get some information on what you’re all about?
Pam Hackett: Absolutely. Feel free to contact us. Our website is www.pts-inc.net and all our contact information is there. And if anyone would like to come meet with us…visit us at our office there…I’d be happy to have that set up through our staff.
Marilyn Russell: Do you have volunteers that work for the organization as well?
Pam Hackett: We do not. We do some student work with local students from the therapy programs in the area because we’d like to try and get more and more young therapists to go into pediatrics, because it’s a field that is plagued by shortages of skilled professionals. So the more we can show young people this is a great thing to do…and you might not make as much money as you would in other areas…(laughter)…but it’s still exciting and wonderful. So we try to expose as many students as we can.
Marilyn Russell: How rewarding to…
Pam Hackett: Absolutely.
Marilyn Russell: …be working with kids. Well Pam, I hope I get to meet your partner Diana at some point…
Pam Hackett: Oh, she’d love that!
Marilyn Russell: I’m sure she’s amazing as well. And thanks to Stacy Hymes for recommending you for ‘Woman of the Week.’ You’re an absolute joy, and all the work that you’re doing at PTS is pretty extraordinary. So what’s the website again?
Pam Hackett: It’s pts-inc.net and the office phone number is 610.941.7020.
Marilyn Russell: We’ll get a picture of Pam, maybe even with Diana, and of course a link to your website from our website ILikeBenFM.com
Pam Hackett: Absolutely. And if it’s okay, I’d like to also put the link for the school, if anybody would like to contribute or support them in any way. They have tremendous need, and they have to turn children away. So any way that our community can support them I know would be appreciated.
Marilyn Russell: Absolutely. And please let us know if you’re doing a fundraiser or if there is something coming up in ’09 and you think we can help. ‘Woman of the Week,’ you know, there’s a lot of women listening, and we really are so much more proactive. We are touched, in many ways, by some of the things we hear on the show. So I’m sure your story will resonate with a lot of people. Thank you again for coming in.
Pam Hackett: Thank you.