UNIVERSAL MIND AT SPRING TENURE EVENT
Spirits were up and everyone was dancing to the excellent music by Universal Mind at the annual spring tenure event, held at Mackenna on May 19. The break was well earned after many successful job placements and over 800,000 bottles and cans sorted at Empties for Empower, which celebrated it’s one year anniversary in April. Here’s to another year of accomplishment and excellence by this wonderful division!
ANGELA GANTT PROFILED IN VIDEO
Kim Kiely nominated Angela Gantt for excellence in the Living the Values employee nomination program for ensuring the renewal of the Family Services Program grant. This required adding personal outcome measure interviews and tracking measures to ensure the program is helping participants, who are individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, improve their social and advocacy skills.
OUTLET MALL SIGNS ON AS EMPTIES CUSTOMER
When the Outlet Mall learned about Empties for Empower, they saw an opportunity to promote recycling while also being a good neighbor to a worthy cause. Recycling containers labelled Empties for Empower were put in the food court and in 11 store break rooms of the Outlet Mall, one of the area’s biggest destinations. All returns from bottles and cans that are collected will be donated to Empower. So far, 15 bags have been delivered. Many thanks to John at the Outlet Mall for his commitment and support.
Special Needs Trusts and Guardianship Information Session Held
Anthony Restaino and Neil Reddein from the Restaino Reddein law firm presented information on special needs trusts and guardianship to parents on April 4th.
A special needs trusts allows an individual with a disability to receive public benefits, but still have funds to supplement those benefits, enhance their quality of life and improve their situation. Families of people with disabilities make special provisions to ensure their loved ones are cared for after their death and that the money stays in the family.
Guardianship is a legal process done through the court that appoints someone to make decisions on behalf of an individual who has been declared legally disabled because of an inability to make competent decisions about their finances, health care or daily living.
The event was well attended, and attendees found the information presented to be helpful.
2 New MSCs Join the Team
Annette Pierce and Kayla Briggs recently joined the Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC) team. Annette began in January and comes with over ten years of experience as an MSC. Kayla was promoted to MSC and worked previously as a direct service professional at one of the agency’s residences for five years.
Self-Direction Services Available
Self-direction is an OPWDD program administered by the MSC division that enables people with disabilities and their families to create highly individualized services and supports to meet their specific needs. Individuals can have the authority to choose, hire, train and employ their own staff to work on goals and skills that are most important to them. If interested, please contact Karen Korn at (717) 297-0798, ext. 303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ART SHOW RETURNS
On May 18, family and friends gathered to admire the wonderful creations made by Children’s Academy students. Each class focused on different styles and subjects for inspiration. The result was an eclectic mix of self expression that also represents growth and learning.
MOMS ARE THE BEST
A cold and stormy spring here in Western New York may be delaying the arrival of daffodils and tulips, but in Ms. Shaila’s class, students’ hard work and love made their personalized heart shaped flowers bloom with vigor for their moms. Like flowers, each heart blossom was unique, with the child’s picture surrounded by their thumb prints. Moms’ hearts must have melted when they received these wonderful keepsakes.
SUPERHERO OPEN HOUSE
Batman, Wonder Woman and Super Boy welcomed prospective students and their families at the first annual Children’s Academy open house, held on Monday, April 24. Visitors were invited to come dressed as their favorite super hero, and received a Lego superhero book. Families met staff, took tours and learned about the school’s standout offerings including the newly renovated sensory room, integrated learning options and low student to teacher ratios. The goal of this event is to expand the experience of learning alongside all abilities to more children who are typically developing.
SUMMER SESSION DATES
July 10 through August 18
Half Day Hours: 8:40 – 11:10 a.m., 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.
Full Day Classes: 9:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
2017-18 SCHOOL YEAR
September 6, 2017 Through June 21, 2018
Half Day Hours: 8:40 – 11:10 a.m., 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.
Full Day Classes: 9:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Before- and After-School Options from 8:00 a.m.- 5 p.m.
REMEMBERING TRACEY BYRD
Tracey Byrd, who worked in Empower’s Community Housing division for almost twenty years, passed away suddenly in March. Tracey had a radiant smile and loving demeanor that put everyone she encountered instantly at ease. Watching her interact with residents, it was clear Tracey loved them and they loved her because she took the time to get to know them and supported them in attaining what was most important to them. In this way, Tracy embodied Empower’s core values of dignity, excellence, leadership, accountability and collaboration.
Tracey’s family held a balloon launch in April to remember her.
CELEBRATING AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH WITH FUNDRAISER
In recognition of Autism Awareness Month and to raise funds for Empower’s autism programming, Robin Stevens held an event at Niagara Active Hose on Saturday, April 22. The event consisted of a vendor fair, basket auction and food truck. Further, throughout April, the Village Bakeshop in Lewiston sold a special cookie iced in blue to denote autism and $1 of each cookie sold was donated back to Empower. Over $500 was raised. Many thanks to those who came out!
ERIC CIRRITO PROFILED IN LIVING THE VALUES NOMINEE VIDEO
In February, Eric Cirrito, a direct service professional at the Ward Rd. residence, was nominated for the value of accountability as part of the Living the Values monthly staff nomination program. Eric ensures the individuals he supports have what they need to live their best lives. Congratulations, Eric!
IMPROVEMENTS COMPLETE AT MAPLETON AND STEELE CIRCLE
Mapleton got a beautiful new walk-in shower which makes bathing easier while protecting the floors in other parts of the house.
Steele Circle got all new flooring throughout, ensuring residents have pleasant looking surroundings.
EMPOWER RECEIVES $24,719 GRANT FROM THE KEYBANK FOUNDATION
Thanks to a $24,719 grant from the KeyBank Foundation, Empower will expand its Community Prevocational program (operated under New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities) to include scanning and shredding services open to local households, small businesses and nonprofits. Similar to Empties to Empower and located in the same building, individuals with disabilities will receive job training in an integrated setting, gaining confidence, social skills and valuable work experience that will prepare them for competitive employment.
Empower is looking for volunteers to help out in the Children’s Academy. Helpers are needed to organize rooms, prepare crafts and read to students. If interested, please complete this form.
Snowflake Basket Auction A Huge Success
Almost $16,000 was raised at the 8th annual Snowflake Basket Auction, which took place on March 24 and 25 at the Volare Lodge. Hot items this year included a big screen tv, hand-made stained glass art, and, of course, a plethora of themed baskets and gift certificates.
More Big Ticket Raffle prizes were offered including a diamond necklace and Confer Bistro Set.
Proceeds will be used to send individuals to Camp Happiness, which is a summer camp for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Additionally, the Medicaid Service Coordination department will purchase food, back-to-school supplies and holiday gifts for families who receive their services. Finally, Community Housing will use funds to buy and plant a tree at one of the residences.
Empower would like to thank everyone whose support helped to make this year’s event so successful. Special thanks to our event sponsors: Disney, Randy’s Smoke Shop, Smokin Joes, and Wegmans.
- Senate switchboard – (518) 455 – 2800 – and ask for your Senator. You can find your Senator at http://www.nysenate.gov/ Urge your Senator to BFair2DirectCare and fund the $45 million .
- Assembly switchboard (518) 455-4100 – and ask for your Assemblymember. You can find your Assemblymember at http://assembly.state.ny.us/ Urge your Assemblymember to BFair2DirectCare and fund the $45 million .
Empower belongs to three alliances of developmental disability organizations: Coalition of Provider Associations, Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (CP of NYS) and Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York (DDAWNY.) One of the reasons for these collaboratives is to ensure the interests of individuals with developmental disabilities are heard by government so that when it comes time to approve the New York State budget, sufficient money has been allocated to fulfill these interests.
Direct service professionals (DSPs) work directly with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, ensuring their well-being, safety and health. Despite this high-level of responsibility, pay is low and not enough to live on, resulting in high turnover and vacancy rates (Empower’s 10% vacancy rate is half New York State’s 20% vacancy rate.) Agencies like Empower are working together to ensure compensation is reflective of the high level of decision-making and responsibility DSPs undertake, but we need your help. Please contact your legislators and let them know that DSPs deserve a living wage.
#bfair2directcare is an joint advocacy effort spearheaded by CP of NYS and DDAWNY to lobby for $45 million to be added to the state budget for the next five years to support a living wage for direct care workers, teacher aides and other staff. Empower has been doing its part, contacting Governor Cuomo, Assemblymember Morinello and Senator Ortt to remind them about individuals with developmental disabilities, direct care workers and the need for increased funding for wages. This momentum will be kept up until the final budget is approved in April.
We value every Empower employee for upholding our mission: empowering those we serve to live their best lives. Throughout this issue are examples of how Empower staff worked extra hard to make the holidays a special time for our individuals. Every day, from Halloween through Christmas, people went above and beyond, promoting areas of need and answering that call through the delivery of gifts and good cheer. Regardless of the budget outcome, we will prevail in being there for our workers and the individuals all of us are lucky enough to serve. It is what we do, and as this issue illustrates, we do it well.
Sensory Room Renovations Complete
The popular bubble columns are once again captivating Children’s Academy students thanks to a renovation of the sensory room. Additional improvements include replacement of the mat around the columns, replacement of the fiber optic cascade and mat, and installation of new projection equipment and images.
The sensory room is an integral part of occupation therapy. It helps to calm or awaken Children’s Academy students and enables them to return to the classroom refreshed and better able to learn.
This renovation was made possible thanks to a small grant from the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, and a donation from Charles Dieteman, a student at Lewiston-Porter Middle School who has cerebral palsy and who raises awareness and funds for cerebral palsy each year at home with help from the Builder’s Club.
Once again, Empower offered Children’s Academy students and families of children with special needs one-on-one, quiet time with Santa. Some children with disabilities, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder, are more sensitive to and are unable to process bright lights, loud noises or crowded areas that go along with this popular tradition. Sensitive Santa ensures that every child gets the chance to visit Santa, to share what they most want for the holidays and to preserve the memory by having a photo taken. Families appreciated having this fun, anxiety-free option.
Halloween Parade and Haunted Hallway
Everyone had a frightfully good time on October 31 when Children’s Academy teachers, students and parents paraded throughout the building in imaginative costumes for treats. Bravery was required to enter the Haunted Hallway. Students and even staff proceeded with caution, daring to enter the darkened hall between school wings in order to receive goodies from witchy teachers peering out from creepy classrooms.
Students Celebrate the Seasons
- The Arts Services Initiative of Western New York agreed to continue funding the program in 2017 with a $1,500 grant. However, this is $1,400 less than was provided in 2016 to cover the acting instructor stipend and supplies/materials. Empower is seeking this amount for these expenses in 2017.
- An additional $2,900 is needed to cover the cost of a second acting instructor stipend. Given the program’s success, we expect enrollment to grow. We would like to accept up to 20 students per cohort, but based on what was learned in 2016, if the student to instuctor ratio exceeds 3 instructors per 8-9 students, key program benefits (individualized attention and positive reinforcement of desired social skills) will be compromised. A second acting instructor, additional volunteers and another older student with autism to mentor students and to assist during classes and final performances are needed to maintain and expand program benefits to students.
- The provision of a larger space in which to hold dress rehearsals and final performances. In 2016, these events were held in the Empower’s Children’s Academy teacher’s lounge and gross motor room. Over 50 people attended both final performances; the room was overcrowded, and hot and stuffy. Further, depending on where attendees sat, the view may have been obstructed due to a room divider that needed to be partially closed for set changes and for students’ comfort. Empower is hoping that a nearby school will offer up its auditorium at no charge for two dress rehearsals and two final performances that will take place in late summer and late fall of 2017. Meeting at the larger space prior to the final performance will allow students who are more sensitive to change due to their autism diagnosis time to adapt to the new space. Further, larger accommodations will increase attendees’ comfort during final performances.
If you are interested in donating to the Spectrum Theater Program, or in offering up performance space, please contact Elizabeth Cardamone at (716) 297-0798, ext. 173 or email@example.com. Online donations also are accepted by clicking here.