Friday, August 22, 2014

Seniors Fundraiser Takes Flight

Jack Driscoll (left), 89, and Ted Hall (right), 77, paid tribute to the Greatest Generation who served the US during the Second World War by presenting a donation of $171 from The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's Open Roads Seniors Program to the National Warplane Museum.  The money helped to pay for fuel in the "Return to Normandy Project," which launched May 15th in Geneseo, and reached the skies over the Normandy region of France 16 days later.

The successful mission of the Return to Normandy Project was to return the museum's flagship Douglas C-47 to France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The "Whiskey 7," affectionately known by her distinctive squadron marking, was the lead ship of the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron, dropping elements of the 82nd Airborne Division near St. Mere Eglise, France in the early hours of June 6th, 1944.

Seventy years later, Whiskey 7 participated in the anniversary commemorations by dropping members of the Liberty Jump Team over the original D-Day drop zones.  Ted says that it was an honor for Seniors to play a small part in an event to honor World War II veterans.

"There is a lot of rich history in this area, and the National Warplane Museum is one example," he explains.  "It serves as a reminder of the brave people who have fought over the years to preserve our freedom.  We owe a lot to them, and we are glad to give back in our own small way." 

The Seniors group raised its contribution through an ice cream social held at various Arc locations on Tuesday, May 6th.  In total, 57 bowls of ice cream were consumed at a cost of $3 per bowl in their one-of-a-kind “ice cream for fuel” effort.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Visit The Arc This Week At Pike Fair

"From Pioneer Ways to Modern Days" is the theme of this year's Wyoming County Fair, underway now through Saturday, August 16th in the heart of Pike, NY.  Be sure to visit The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's all-new booth in the Commercial Building during our regular Fair hours, 11:00am through 10:00pm daily.  Get acquainted with the outstanding people and services that have helped grow and shape The Arc through the years into the area's largest organization for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families.  The Arc booth features giveaways, on-the-spot membership sign-up, fun for kids, video, information for families, and more!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

David France: Hilltop All-Star

One of baseball's greatest shortstops, Derek Jeter, is leaving the lineup at the end of this season.  Hilltop Industries worker David France can often be found sporting a Yankees shirt emblazoned with Jeter’s iconic No. 2.  He cites the All-Star a role model, and says that the 20-year veteran's words have served as a source of strength:

"There may be people who have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

For David, a Dansville native, Hilltop contracts for janitorial services aren't just jobs; they are a daily relief from the pain of a rare genetic disorder that affects movement in his legs.

"I have to push myself," says David, who suffers from Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP).  "Movement is really the only thing that makes my legs feel a whole lot better.  At work, when I'm getting fewer hours in a week, my legs will really start to hurt.  If I can put in a couple of extra hours a week doing cleaning jobs, that's when the benefit kicks in."

HSP is a group of inherited diseases whose main feature is progressive stiffness and contraction in the lower limbs as a result of damage to or dysfunction of the nerves.  It is not a form of cerebral palsy, but manifests itself in similar ways, such as difficult, painful walking.

David's condition is classified as a "rare disease" by the National Institutes of Health, which means that the disorder affects fewer than 200,000 people in the US population.  No specific treatment is known that would prevent, slow, or reverse it, and individual prognoses vary in severity.  David is hopeful, but understandably cautious after witnessing his late mother, uncle and grandfather struggle with HSP's debilitating effects.

"I started feeling it pretty bad in late 2002, but I didn't get it looked at until 2012," admits David, who walks with a noticeably abnormal gait.  "At that point, I had a series of MRIs, where doctors diagnosed my HSP and also removed a bad disc in my back. The doctor who performed my surgery said that my HSP might not progress beyond what it is right now, or -- on the other hand -- it might land me in a wheelchair someday."

Shortly after his surgery, David enrolled at Hilltop.  David, who also has a diagnosed learning disability, had held various jobs throughout his life, but "nothing big time," he says.  But janitorial work was in his blood; both his mother and father had held cleaning jobs, his father at SUNY Geneseo and his mother at local homes, doctor's offices, and businesses.

After demonstrating his work ethic as part of a Hilltop enclave at a local print shop, David soon began taking on NYSID contracts, with a determination to continue a family tradition of high-quality janitorial work.

"I like the challenge of my job," David says.  "I like trying to meet the needs of what has to be done, and trying to improve each time.  I have a pickiness about cleaning.  I want the places that I clean to look like a five star hotel."

Today, David's cleaning skills are in high demand, and he is able to earn a living wage at it thanks to the NYSID Preferred Source Program. He typically juggles multiple community cleaning jobs, including NYSID contracts at the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT)/Livingston County site and the Finger Lakes DDSO Dogwood Day Services location. Hilltop also entrusts David with its in-house cleaning, and to clean at KidStart, its sister children's services program.

"Because we are a highway building, it tends to get very dirty," explains Melody Whitaker, office manager at the DOT.  "There is a lot of dust, dirt, the guys track in tons of mud, and sometimes it's like there ought to be a hazmat sign on the guy's bathroom.  David does a fantastic job.  You don't have to stand over him; he just knows what to do, and he does it right the first time."

"Even with his disability, he can outwork most people," adds Hilltop Supported Employment Manager Diane Parker, who supervises David.  "It's like he can see dirt a mile away.  He'll just look at something and know that it needs dusting.  David takes great pride in his work."

David typically works as part of a team of 2-4 Hilltop workers, cleaning offices, bathrooms, hallways, and emptying trash receptacles.  As the de facto leader of his team, David's friendly demeanor and eye for quality set a positive example for his peers.

"I try to offer advice to the other workers," David says.  "When I first was suggesting things to one of my coworkers, I wasn't sure how much she appreciated it.  But before I knew it, she was trying to keep up with me, and I was getting compliments about her work.  She ended up getting a $12 per hour job.  It was inspiring to help somebody else get ahead."

David is frugal with his own earnings, using his paychecks mostly for food, rent, and medicine needed to manage his HSP.  He shares a modest apartment with his brother, located above David's doctor's office.  Family means a lot to David, so he puts extra money in the bank whenever he can, hoping to use it to visit out-of-state relatives.

Equal to the dedication that David shows at work is his passion for helping others.  Over the years, he has cared for frail family members and friends.  Presently, David often spends his day off with an elderly uncle who has taken up residence at the Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation on Murray Hill in Mount Morris.

"I like to do it, and the fact that it is on a steep hill helps with my Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia," David says.  "I walk as much as I can when I'm up there."

David continues to face life's challenges with positivity and good humor.  Last summer, while on a short walk from Hilltop to a neighboring restaurant, David took a fall.  The resulting injury kept him from his job for close to two months.

"I couldn't stand it," David says, reflecting on his medical leave from work.  "I sat still for three days, and then I couldn't take anymore.  Before you knew it, I was going all over town in a wheelchair.  People were asking, 'What's this fool doing?'  But I can't just stand to sit still.  I’m a stubborn person; let's put it that way."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

There's No Place Like Home: Supportive IRAs Offer Independence, Advocacy

Three Geneseo women are able to fully experience the joys and challenges of community life with assistance from the newest offering at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming: Supportive IRAs.

Program participants Laura Olyer (left)
and Becky Nilsson
IRA stands for Individualized Residential Alternative. A Supportive IRA is an independent residence, such as an apartment, where a person lives on his or her own with assistance from The Arc to balance aspects of their life such as money management, self-advocacy, or accessing support. They live, work and socialize in fulfilling and productive ways by making their own choices with the advocacy of Arc staff by their side.

“I love shopping, going out to eat, and doing crafts,” says Laura Olyer, one of the program participants. “(With the Supportive IRA program), I get to do those things on my own, and sometimes with other members of the program. A staff person also comes by to help me keep the apartment looking nice.”

Laura, Becky Nilsson, and Judy Gardner are the first participants in the Supportive IRA program. Each of the ladies lives in her own apartment in a different part of town. They share common interests, and can often be found together, spending a Saturday afternoon at a street festival or farmers’ market. But the supports that they receive from the program are unique and person centered, according to Residential Services Director Deborah Tuckerman.

Laura Olyer outside her Supportive IRA
“We customize our services based on what the participant needs in terms of their level of support,” she says. “It really is an individualized service. We have staff on-call 24 hours a day to help out in urgent situations, which is a nice safety net for individuals. We also have weekly nursing support to help ensure health and safety needs are met.”

The Supportive IRA program officially launched on June 1st, after months of behind-the-scenes work by the Residential Services team. Overseeing the program are Residential Services Manager Amanda Hamler, Site Supervisor Maureen Kingston, and Direct Support Professional who meets with each participant 2-3 times per week at home and in the community.

Wanda Krautwust,

Program eligibility for each individual is determined by New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) following recommendation by The Arc. To qualify, individuals must have at least some basic cooking skills, must be able to administer their own medications, and must have solid fire safety skills.

The program is unique among The Arc’s Residential Services in that individuals lease the apartments in which they live, and then The Arc brings in its services. Apartments must go through a certification process by OPWDD to ensure that safety standards are met.

Organizers say that Supportive IRAs fill a gap in The Arc’s spectrum of Residential Services.

“It’s a nice stepping stone between our 24 hour supervised residences where intensive skill building activities occur, and independent living with more minimal supports,” Deborah says. “Our goal in the Supportive IRAs is to help people live a self-determined life in as independent a fashion as possible.”

With initial success under its belt, Residential Services has plans to expand the program throughout Livingston and Wyoming Counties.

“We do have a waiting list for our group homes,” Amanda says. “On the other hand, the Supportive IRA program is an area we are being told by the state that we can grow. So an area of focus for us will be looking at who is in our group homes that could benefit from this new program, adjusting them into Supportive IRAs where appropriate, and getting other people into the traditional group homes who are in need of more intensive levels of care.”

“The most rewarding part of the program has just been seeing the ladies together, and especially how they have already bonded,” she adds. “Knowing that this program is going to grow, I just think of how many more friendships they’re going to receive out of it and how much they’re really going to be able to take advantage of everything that the community has to offer. There’s a great big world right in their back yards, and we are able to help them to discover it.”