Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Act of Service: Arc Recreation Participants Reunite Soldier with Family

Three local men with disabilities began their Memorial Day weekend by reuniting a US Army soldier with his North Hornell mom.

Andy Hint, Nick Kelly, and Chris Clark were Pvt. First Class Shawn Hughes' personal welcoming committee when he arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Friday afternoon, May 25th.  PFC Hughes, who is stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, was returning to the area to see mom Paula Dieter before a tour of duty that will take him to Kuwait and Afghanistan.

When Andy, Nick, and Chris heard that transportation from Buffalo would not be immediately available for PFC Hughes, the trio intervened with the help of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Recreation Department.

"Especially with it being Memorial Day, we felt it was wrong to leave a soldier at the airport," says Arc Recreation's Gary Buchanan, who secured an Arc van and escorted the trio on their patriotic journey.  " PFC Hughes is only home for so many days.  We felt that he should be able to spend as much time as possible with his family."

Gary is one of two full-time Recreation Department employees at The Arc, a private not-for-profit agency that serves community members with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome and Autism.  About 100 people take part in Arc Recreation, where typical activities include baseball games, hockey, dances, and bowling.

According to Andy, the group's Memorial Day weekend trip on behalf of PFC Hughes stands out as a Recreation outing like no other.  He considers it a special act of service.

"Because of my disability, I can't serve in the military, so I find other ways to be patriotic," says Andy, who lives in Nunda with his mother.  "Just drive by my house and you'll see all of the flags that I put out myself.  Honoring servicemen makes me proud."

Chris and Nick have strong family connections to the military.  Chris' father served in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart.  Nick's dad was an Army Sergeant in World War II, and his sister is a Marine.

"I feel that helping out PFC Hughes is important," Chris explains.  "It's a good deed for a soldier when he had no one else to do it for him."

PFC Hughes' mom couldn't agree more.

"Because of the guys from Arc Recreation, I was able to spend a little bit more time with my son," Paula says.  "As any mother of a serviceman will tell you, there is nothing more precious than that."
Paula Dieter, reunited with her son, PFC Shawn Hughes

L-R: Andy Hint, Mark Clark & Nick Kelly hold welcome home signs created by the Open Roads Day Habilitation program of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leadership Livingston Visits Arc's Center Street Home

Representatives of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Livingston program visited The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's IRA (Individualized Residential Alternative) at 62 Center Street in Geneseo on Saturday, May 19th to help residents and staff prepare gardens and plant annuals.

According to Chamber Executive Director Cynthia Oswald, the group had an especially strong bond with Carlene and Mary, who live at the house.

"We had great help from Carlene, and Mary was supervisor," Cynthia says. "A highlight was working on Mary's garden, which is in memory of her mother. The leaders have decided this will be an annual partnership! Thanks for the opportunity."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Days of Their LIVES: Disabilities are No Obstacle for These SUNY Geneseo Grads

When college seniors Hannah Brown, Justine DeLuca, Kaleb King, and Tom Ruf walk across the Wadsworth Auditorium stage as part of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education Convocation on Friday, May 11th, they will look back on their college years as the time of their LIVES.

"We're excited because we've been working for this for the past four years, but we're nervous because we are leaving behind part of ourselves," explains Kaleb, who will earn a place in SUNY Geneseo history as a member of the first graduating class of the LIVES Program.

Tom, Justine, Hannah and Kaleb
LIVES, which stands for Learning Independence, Vocational, and Educational Skills, allows a close-knit group of students with disabilities to experience the academic and social aspects of university life while preparing for careers that fit their interests and skill sets.

Since entering the LIVES Program as freshmen, Hannah, Justine, Kaleb, and Tom have blossomed under the guidance of LIVES Teacher Danielle Everts and Life Skills Assistant Sue Sullivan, discovering and working toward career goals—and finding out that their aspirations aren't so different from their non-disabled counterparts.  Kaleb is pursuing a career as a graphic designer, Hannah will work at a school, Justine will enter the world of retail, and Tom aspires to work in a restaurant.

The LIVES Program is made up of students who are diagnosed with developmental or intellectual disabilities, such as Down Syndrome or Autism.  Upon acceptance into the program, each student participates in an individualized diagnostic assessment. Based on these assessments, and information from students regarding their individual goals and needs, a plan of study is developed.  At the end of a successful four-year term, students are awarded a Certificate of Completion at commencement.

LIVES students are routinely found auditing traditional classes, participating in tests and homework assignments, and partaking in placements that are similar to internships.  According to Justine, they live pretty typical college lives, with experiences that mirror those of their non-disabled peers.

"I was a very shy person when I first started college," she explains.  "I would have trouble talking to even one person. Now I've learned that it's okay to share how I feel.  Music really helped me to get out of my shell."

Justine's breakthrough came when she audited a dance/yoga class, where she felt comfortable expressing her creativity.  Soon, she was actively participating in all types of group presentations with her LIVES peers.  Justine's increased confidence led to a placement in the SUNY Geneseo mailroom, where she found her groove sorting and delivering mail throughout campus.

Upon graduation, Justine will put those skills to work as a clerk at Finders Keepers, a Mount Morris thrift store operated by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit agency that provides services for individuals with disabilities.

Hannah will also find employment at a branch of The Arc, as a helper at KidStart, the agency's children's services program.  She will work there part-time after graduation while pursuing her GED and earning First Aid certifications.  At the end of the 15-month GED program, she hopes to secure a full-time job as a KidStart aide.

The LIVES Program enabled Hannah to gain experience in her chosen field through placements in the School of Education and a practicum at Geneseo Central School.  Hannah cites Geneseo Professor Annmarie Urso's Classroom Management class as an inspiration for her career pursuits.

"This is an upper division undergraduate class on how to manage a classroom," Dr. Urso explains.  "Hannah participated eagerly, was a good cooperative partner on in-class activities, and added to our class. Having a GED will open up several opportunities for her."

At 55 years old, Tom is among SUNY Geneseo's oldest graduating students.  While he aspires to work in the field of food service, the LIVES experience itself was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"Tom's goal since I started working with him was always to go back to school," says Kathy Grant, who supervises an Arc-operated group home in Avon where Tom lives.  "Even though Tom is a non-traditional student in terms of age, he has been a committed participant these past four years.  Tom rarely misses a day of school, and he looks forward to going each and every day. I believe that being on the campus keeps his mind and body sharp."

At graduation, Tom will receive the Ella Cline Shear Hero Award, the highest award given out by SUNY Geneseo's School of Education.

Kaleb entered the LIVES Program with an aptitude for art, which he was able to refine by mastering Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and other computer design tools.  Since joining the LIVES Program, he has illustrated political cartoons for SUNY Geneseo's student newspaper, The Lamron; his art has been displayed at the College Union Gallery; and he designed the logo that represents the LIVES Program.  His immediate post-college design ambitions include freelance work for Rochester-based Rhino's Pizzeria.

"My advice to the future LIVES students is to be true to yourself, never question the things that matter to you, and always be flexible when it comes to change," Kaleb says.

The LIVES Program strives to admit 8-10 new students each year.  The program is funded through a collaborative partnership with the college, The Arc, Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (GVEP),  and Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Services Office.  It was conceived by SUNY Geneseo Assistant Dean for Disability Services Tabitha Buggie-Hunt and Professor Elizabeth Hall, who are optimistic for the future of the program and its quartet of 2012 graduates.

"While the program is still a work in progress as I suppose all programs are, I am very pleased with the strides our students have made in the areas of academics, socialization and independence," Dr. Buggie-Hunt says.  "I am, however, most gratified and surprised by the way each student has really blossomed in his or her ability to self-advocate and make career decisions.  All of our graduates will be pursuing work that suits their interests and abilities, and we could not ask for anything better than that."