Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How to learn from each other

By: Torey Richardson, Health Support Professional

 Working at HCS has put numerous things into perspective, but most importantly made me realize how blessed I truly am. Often times we take the simplest things for granted without giving it much thought. Imagine not being able to verbally communicate your wants and needs -- and imagine the communication barrier that can create.
While many people are fortunate to have friends or family call and visit or even go home for the holidays, others for various reasons are not as fortunate. This is why forming relationships with the people who choose our services, and also helping foster relationships is crucial. By making these connections we are able to better support individuals by not only learning how they communicate, but also teaching others how to communicate with them. This results in limitless possibilities. Individuals are able to join groups within their communities, socialize with their neighbors, and much more. I believe it is our responsibility to change the stigma that ignorantly implies that if a person cannot verbally communicate, then they cannot communicate at all. There is so much that we can learn from each other, if we know how and if we are willing to try.
For people recently hired and for people interested in getting to know someone who communicates differently, there are many options to help you be successful:

·         Find out what the person likes. It is always easy to engage someone in a conversation about common interests.

·         Learn American Sign Language or other ways of communicating. (Heritage Christian offers classes that teach staff how to use sign language.)

·         Ask senior staff. They were once in the position that you may be in, finding it difficult to communicate with someone. They may have useful tips that can help.

·         AND GIVE IT TIME! A lot of the individuals that we support see many different staff members come and go. The person may just be shy so give it time and eventually they may come around.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to find direction

By Marisa Geitner, President and C.E.O.

We might say that the first step to citizenship is to have control over our own life, but the second is to give that life direction. - Simon Duffy
Control without direction can be a risky combination. We have all found ourselves there from time to time as we work hard to gain authority over our own decisions and life, only to find we aren't quite certain what direction we'd like to head. We are just certain that we don't want others deciding for us. That's when we take a breath and remind ourselves that understanding our goals and purpose is a journey not a destination. It’s the discovery along the way that makes life so interesting.

When it comes to contemplating purpose or direction, I find perspective means everything. A healthy balance of what was and what will be should be considered. Sounds simple enough. Although you know, it's likely we spend too much time looking backward -- consuming so much of our energy on what was, retrospectively turning over our experiences time and time again in order to shape our direction, our next step. While that is an essential ingredient in healthy self-awareness it doesn't alone get us where we need to go.

To shift to a prospective view we need to ask questions. Where have we been? What have we learned? What would we do differently? What outcome do we hope to see?  What is the next step?

Purpose is like any other innovative process, it doesn't follow a straight line and it's rarely predictable. It ebbs and flows with the twists and turns of the dynamic world we live in. And yes, I know where those twist and turns take us can be very disorienting. We all get lost from time to time. That's where perspective again saves the day, just ask the questions.

As our purpose and direction take shape, we need to exercise our leadership skills as well. Why? Because we don't succeed alone. We need to encourage others, those close to us, to come along with us. We need to take hold and lead others in the direction that nurtures and respects our unique purpose and contribution, while also being thoughtful of theirs. We need the support of our natural networks to enhance our discovery along the way. Those we share time with are influential on our journey.

Balance experience of the past with hope for the future. Welcome others into your direction and aspirations. Enjoy the journey as your purpose is revealed!  Happy travels.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A focus on friendships

By Marisa Geitner, President & C.E.O.
A recent study published in the Psychology Bulletin suggests that the older we get the fewer and fewer friends we have. They go on to explain that while our social circles generally expand into adulthood, friendships actually peak and begin to decrease as early as our 20s! In addition, sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst found that we tend to lose half of our closest friends every seven years and replace them with new relationships.

I guess it stands to reason with life changes in adulthood like heading off to college, changing jobs, moving, beginning a family, etc. that our friendships frequently drift apart, even when we work hard to make them a priority.

Despite this somewhat grim realization, friendships and allies remain an essential ingredient in successfully navigating the adult world, so how do adults make new friends?  How do we build professional networks of allies? Well, adult lives can get a bit routine, so first we need to hop out of the proverbial box. We need to step out of our day-to-day routine and places of comfort and put ourselves in a position to cross paths with new and different people from time to time. If we do this we will have plenty of choice and likely connect with others who are the best match for us.

Next, we have to adjust our time. Notice I didn't say make time. Without being able to add another minute to the day, often where we need to focus is in adjusting how we are spending our time in order to better include others. I have begun inviting a friend along as I run errands; company and conversation certainly make that trip much more fun.  I also exchange help with tasks that are daunting alone; asking a colleague to help me finish up a big project by its due date, knowing that I will make myself available to assist them with their next big task.  It never hurts to invite others. Don't be afraid to ask and don't assume they are too busy! Just ask.

So why am I taking your time and attention to speak of friendship?  It’s essential in our personal lives and in our business success.  Our friends help us navigate adult decisions.  Allies, when welcomed into our conversation, help us achieve the collective impact we are hoping to have.  We are serving in transformative times alongside a very transformative organization- Heritage Christian Services.  It is our relationships and the experiences we have together as a result of those relationships that make this organization different.  We welcome others to help us achieve great results! 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Citizenship: The opportunity to serve a greater purpose

For the last few years, Heritage Christian has focused on the idea of citizenship -- the idea of honoring and respecting the rights and responsibilities that we all have. We've invited Anna Skinner, associate director of day programs in the Buffalo area, to share her thoughts. Anna...

I continue to try and wrap my head around the definition of citizenship and how it applies to our everyday life. I’ve also stepped outside of looking at it from a personal perspective and have tried applying it to a person who may have an intellectual disability. My outcome...there is no difference.

Citizenship applies to all people: In my eyes the definition is very complex but at the same time can be looked at as very simple. This involves building connections with people who have a common purpose and interest. It's a give-and-take relationship and for most people being an engaged citizen provides a strong sense of self worth, belonging and contribution.

A big question is, "How do we welcome people as equals?" This too can be very complex or looked at with a very simple answer: Be the person that welcomes people with open arms. Provide your time, talent and treasures and allow people to share theirs as well.

Think back to when you were finally able to get a job. The thought of earning your own money and having the freedom to spend it on whatever you wanted was awesome! The scary part of this journey was not having the experience, which is what we face in every step that we take in life. Experience helps you gain knowledge and skills. When people have the opportunity to gain experience and are exposed to new things this will ultimately build up our community and provide others with the opportunity to serve a greater purpose in life.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Relationships: Our most important work

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

"The ultimate success of a service system depends upon its ability to help people maintain and develop positive, enduring, freely chosen relationships."- John O'Brien

To someone who is not familiar with companionship, loneliness can be the norm -- permanent and inevitable. Loneliness and a disconnectedness of relationship with others creates proven changes within our chemical make up as a human being, literally depriving our brain of the hormone that stimulates happiness. This isn't just an extreme phenomenon noted in those who live in isolation. Many who exist within the presence of others can still be absent connectedness and relationship. They can still be deprived of the happiness and fulfillment that comes only through meaningful interaction with others.

Loneliness hampers our day-to-day ability no matter our starting point. Think of a time when you faced a challenge and didn't have others around you whom you trusted for council, people of your choosing, not people chosen for you. Our world becomes even more disorienting when we can't seek direction through the support or challenge of others we trust. We might even find that faced with loneliness day in and day out we become anxious and depressed.

Within the human support industry we must be cautious, loneliness can still lurk in the halls of busy programs full of activity. As a matter of fact, loneliness could even be more prevalent in busy environments. Now consider those you may support: If they are shy or quiet, if they communicate in ways less traditional, if a physical limitation makes them a bit more dependent on others to initiate a social exchange, chances are they could be easily overlooked. We might zip around busying ourselves with other day-to-day supports but completely miss supporting the foundational need for connectedness and personal relationships. I know looking back, I have made that mistake time and time again.

Our most important work must be to offer and nurture personal relationships. Relationships that endure beyond shift change, weekends and staff turnover. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Making social media about social inclusion

By Debbie Hall, direct support professional

Which of these sites do you have an account for or have at least used recently? Now what about the individuals you support? 

My guess is, on average, that there is a difference. Why is that?

Whether you like it or not, social media is how we stay connected. We all use it on a daily basis in some shape or form. We keep updated on our friends and family by scrolling through pictures and status messages on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We “talk” to others via text on Google+, Messenger, or Yahoo. We discover new things we would like to try by searching Pinterest, YouTube or Vimeo. Communication, connection, and discovering new things that we like are how we stay and become included with others. We choose to use social media as one of the mediums to do this. So, why are we not utilizing this world with those we support?

But, what would this look like? Here are some ideas on what you can do to help those you support utilize social media platforms:

  • Help create a list of people that are important and help to keep in contact via email or messenger.
  • Help post pictures and status updates about what is going on in their lives to share while having important conversations about what might not be appropriate to let others know.
  • Make a list of hobbies and interests and help/show how to scroll through sites like YouTube and Pinterest to find ways to learn new skills or improve on them.
  • Most of all, be creative and individual! Don’t be afraid to use these tools!

“In Social Media the “squeaky wheel” gets the oil. You have to put yourself out there, to find people who will relate or even debate with you, depending on what you are looking for.” - Jessica Northey

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The importance of sharing ordinary places

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

"Without intentional activity people with disabilities are more likely to belong to a smaller world, engage in a smaller world, and be in devalued roles, more likely to have fewer choices."- John O'Brien

Great things come when we share ordinary places.

As disability support services have evolved, models have been created in a manner that separates individuals from the general community, making it necessary for support providers to consistently be seeking ways that help one gain experience "in the community."  This has also created an unintended consequence of members of the general community assuming that since individuals have paid support, they themselves need not be concerned about how to welcome those with disabilities into their community circles. They might also assume that those with support needs require separation from community in order to be successful.

Having a home within a community or attending a program within a community has been a wonderful step toward full inclusion. Our next step is simply to share ordinary places. That may mean establishing some patterns that are frequent enough it might allow for new relationships to develop. Some may join others at the town diner for the Friday night fish fry or volunteer consistently for events offered through their church or local fire department. How about connecting with a local walking club and developing relationships as you enjoy exercise and fresh air?  Do you enjoy coffee while people watching every Monday at the local coffee shop?  Ever thought about ushering at a local theater? 

Seek experiences you'll enjoy. And remember, predictability and frequency increase the likelihood that new relationships will develop by sharing time in ordinary places. It is true and lasting relationships that combat isolation and exclusion.

Find some time to extend yourself to enjoy the community that you are a part of today.