Joy of the Season

We would like to extend a great big “thank you” to everyone in the community as well as our many dedicated employees who donated gifts and funds to support Venture’s Annual Giving Tree Program.  Thanks to the generosity of community members like you, we were able to provide individualized holiday gifts to 205 individuals!

This time of year, we are especially grateful for our supporters who are committed to helping us improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.  The gifts you donated were specifically requested items for individuals in our residential programs, and you can be certain that you brightened the holiday for each and every one of them.

Many of our administrative staff members enjoyed turning our training room into Santa’s Workshop for the day, where we wrapped and sorted all the gifts.  Our program directors will also be playing Santa this week when they make their deliveries to our programs throughout the state.

Thank you again for your support, and happy holidays from Venture Community Services!

Assistive Technology and Me

The following article was written by Andrew with help from the manager of his program.  Andrew lives in a Venture residence in Worcester County and wanted to share his experience with using assistive technology.

Every day, I rely on assistive technology.  I use an overhead barrier-free lift system to get out of bed in the morning.  I then use my customized wheelchair to successfully complete my morning routines before leaving for work.  To get to work, I ride in a customized van.  The van lifts me off the ground and into the van with staff assistance.   When I was younger, all of these things – getting out of bed, getting into my wheelchair, and getting into any mode of transportation – were done by people lifting me.  When people lift you, it can be really scary and sometimes I was injured.  I have not gotten injured since I started using mechanical lifts and I feel much more comfortable.

In April 2017, I wanted to begin doing some races, but wasn’t sure I would be able to.  However, I did not realize that specialized running wheelchairs are available.  The first time I saw the running chair, I was a bit nervous.  I thought, “It doesn’t look like any other chair I have ever used.”  It only has three wheels – two in the back and one in the front.

I was very lucky to meet the team of individuals who designed and built these running chairs, and they explained aerodynamics to me.  Until that moment, I had never realized the importance of science in assistive technology.

When I participate in races with the assistance of Team Hoyt New England runners, I am sitting in an aerodynamically correct position for both my physical needs and for the person who is pushing me – amazing!  Later this summer, I will be learning to sail on a sailboat that has been fitted with assistive lifts to get in and out of the boat, and a rudder that has been adapted for me to use.  I can’t wait… And I am no longer scared of trying any new assistive technology!

A New Threat Looms

by Mike Hyland, Venture President & CEO

People living with disabilities already face a multitude of challenges including chronic illness, access to medical care, bullying, discrimination, adequate education, access to the community, and meaningful opportunities for employment.  They also encounter all too often the stigma that is still attached to living with a disability.  Now a new threat looms: a potentially major shift in Medicaid.

In 1965, the Medicaid program was created to provide assistance to low income and disabled persons who could not otherwise afford it.  It also provides matching funds to states that participate and meet certain requirements set forth by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  In Massachusetts, these funds are absolutely crucial for the development of programming that allows people with disabilities to live in the community with the supports that ensure dignity, safety, and opportunity.  Currently, there is discussion within the Trump administration about eliminating these matching funds and moving the Medicaid program to a Block Grant funding system.  Such a move has the potential for devastating consequences for the people who rely on community-based services.

Under a Block Grant system, Massachusetts and all other states would receive a lump payment rather than matching funds now received for needs based service delivery.  A lump sum would be a one-time annual payment, and once the payment is exhausted, states would be on their own to pay for programs that support people in the community.  Typically this would require states to spend money they simply don’t have, and in that case, people who rely on supports to survive, could be left without vital services.  This jeopardizes their independence and their safety as well as eliminating any chance for growth.  To put it mildly, that’s an indefensible burden to put upon people who already have to overcome significant struggles on a daily basis.

Any plan that reshapes Medicaid into a system that is not directly tied to individual service needs is nothing short of a betrayal to the thousands of people currently receiving help in the Commonwealth.  It’s also dangerous.  A recent posting from the Association of Disabilities Providers notes in an analysis that “without the guarantee of matching funds, states will not be able to sustain existing services-much less expand them to meet the tremendous unmet need in the disability community”.  The reduction in services would undoubtedly be the first step on the road to eventually eliminating some services and would surely put people with disabilities, particularly older people, at genuine risk of being re-institutionalized in facilities and nursing homes.  Society has kind of already been there and done that and it was an epic fail.  To create a system that could put people back into situations that shutter them further from society is not misguided; it is unconscionable.

We must be mindful that people who are already disadvantaged cannot be left behind yet again.  It is most important that their voices be heard through advocates in society and on Capitol Hill. The new administration needs to hear that a Block Grant program will harm elders and people with disabilities.  Doing anything that knowingly puts that population front and center in harm’s way and cuts at the heart of the progress made in society over 40 + years, would be nothing short of a national disgrace.

We Could Use A Little Less Anger

by Mike Hyland, Venture President & CEO

The country is once again moving toward a new beginning, as is inevitable every four to eight years when a new presidential administration is peacefully installed.  Though often chaotic, this transfer of power is the most basic tenet of our democracy and should not pass unnoticed.  There is a great deal of work to be done and it is more necessary than ever that people set aside disagreements and get on with the task of ensuring that people who need help can get it.  In short, we could use a little less anger these days.

One of the great tragedies in government is the erosion over time of simple cooperation between people.  The very notion of moving forward requires overcoming disagreements and finding compromise for the sake of a greater good.  Unfortunately, in too many cases this requirement is completely lost.  Instead of compromise, our system has devolved into something where disagreement has become animosity and cooperation has become forbidden.  The sad and predictable result is that people who need help are at constant risk of being left behind because important issues that help them stay safe are used as tools by competing interests rather than as building blocks for growth.  These people too are victims of the anger that dominates national discussion now.

It is inevitable that change accompanies any transition of leadership and that old practices and policies are replaced by new ones.  What must be kept sacred are the safety nets that allow people supported by human services agencies to live and thrive in the least restrictive environment.  This means continued access to programs that provide opportunities for community inclusion, employment, education, and recreation.  There also needs to be a renewed commitment on a national level to initiatives that enhance our workforce.  It is crucial that we have an actual plan to create a genuine living wage for all direct support professionals as well as a recognition that professionals who do this work are a major economic force in this country.  And as always, there must be a united effort from all of the leaders in this country to finally and legitimately remove all stigma and abuses that people with disabilities still face.  Adults and children with disabilities are still victims of crime and abuse at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities.  It’s time that people with power publicly acknowledge this and take immediate steps to address it.

There should be no debating the idea that people who need help are entitled to receive it in a safe and dignified way.  It should also not be debatable to suggest that those who provide support must be paid and respected in a meaningful way.  There shouldn’t be anything political about these issues and prioritizing them certainly should not be cause for anger on anyone’s part.  To quote our outgoing president, “ultimately we’re all on the same team”.  We need to finally behave that way for the sake of the people who tend to be dismissed far too easily.

 

Giving Tree Success

We would like to extend a great big “thank you” to everyone in the community as well as our many dedicated employees who donated gifts and funds to support Venture’s Annual Giving Tree Program.  Thanks to your generosity, nearly 120 people will be receiving holiday gifts!  We are grateful for community members like who are committed to helping us improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and promote independence and opportunity.

The gifts you donated were specifically requested items for individuals in our residential programs, and you can be certain that you brightened the holiday for the recipient.  While many of the people in our programs have the support of their families, many do not.  Please know you have truly made a difference in their lives.

In addition to making spirits bright for the individuals we support, many of our administrative staff members enjoyed turning our conference room into Santa’s Workshop to wrap and sort all the presents!  Our program directors will also be playing Santa this week when they deliver the gifts to our programs all over the state.

Thank you again, and happy holidays from Venture Community Services!

2016 Holiday Wish List

This year, Venture is hosting its Third Annual Giving Tree to provide gifts to the people we support that may be in need or otherwise not receiving a gift this holiday season.  The only difference is….this year, we have gone virtual with Amazon.

Here’s how you can help make the holidays brighter for the people we support:

  • Visit the Venture Wish List by clicking the link – or you can visit Amazon.com and click the link for “Find a List or Registry” and enter the name Venture Community Services
  • Browse the list and select the item(s) you’d like to purchase
  • Check out as normal and select “Paige Mador, Director of Development Gift Registry Address” for the shipping address and the item(s) will be delivered directly to Venture’s Administrative Office. You’ll have the option to sign your name or the gift can remain anonymous.
  • We will wrap your gift and have it delivered directly to the recipient to open and enjoy just in time for the holiday.
  • Please purchase items to arrive no later than Friday, December 16th so we have time to wrap and deliver.

If you have any questions, please contact Paige Mador at pmador@venturecs.org.  Thank you for your generosity during the holiday season and your support of Venture Community Services all year round!

Welcome Home

Yesterday, Venture celebrated the opening of its 44th residential program with an open house at the agency’s brand-new home in Rutland.  The program’s five residents welcomed friends, family, Venture staff members, and community leaders into their new home and were excited to give tours of their new place, including their adaptive bikes, game room, and sensory room.

We were also happy to host Senator Anne Gobi (D – Spencer) and Representative Kimberly Ferguson (R – Holden) who were able to learn more about our program and services in their local communities.  A big thank you to Senator Gobi and Representative Ferguson for joining us!

We’d like to extend great big congratulations to the five incredible young adults who are exploring their independence for the first time and the outstanding staff team that have made this transition so successful.  Like many people in their early twenties, these folks are eager to start their lives independently of their parents and families, explore the world around them, make decisions about their own lives and discover who they are – and Venture will be there to help guide them every step of the way!

Thank you to everyone who joined us to celebrate.

The Nonprofit Role

Earlier this week, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette published an article about the city’s relationship with nonprofits. Below is the response from our President and CEO, Mike Hyland.

The September 18th Politics and the City article missed the point entirely because it’s simply misplaced: the work done by non-profit agencies in Worcester and other cities has nothing to do with politics at all.  Rather it is a matter of responsibility.  Human services agencies have a responsibility to support people who have been too often disenfranchised and left behind.  Meeting this responsibility comes with a myriad of challenges, not the least of which is financial.

Non-profit agencies are just not like other businesses.  They can’t unilaterally raise prices as other industries do in response to market conditions or even demand.  If the cost of oil goes up, a gas station raises prices.  If the cost of labor goes up, a restaurant can charge more.  When the Yankees are in town and demand increases, the Red Sox raise ticket prices.  Non-profits that rely on federal and state payments cannot do this.  When the cost of insurance goes up or when the price of fuel goes up or when the cost of advertising goes up, our prices stay the same.  When we have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime because there are more jobs than people to fill them, nobody gives us more money and we can’t send a bill to anyone.  Want proof?  In the past few years because of a law passed way back in 2008, human services providers were given mandated rate increases for the first time in 28 years.  I can’t think of another industry that has experienced this or could survive it.  The government allows agencies to fundraise because of these dynamics.  Frankly, donors will be far more reluctant to contribute if their donations are going toward taxes and not services. This isn’t a complaint but merely a fact in our business.

These agencies provide a service that the local governments cannot.  Helping the homeless, the developmentally disabled, the sexually abused teenagers, and other disadvantaged populations doesn’t happen without non-profit agencies and our ability to provide this support in a cost-effective manner which is enhanced by the ability to open homes in the most efficient way possible.  Changing the landscape now by requiring some sort of approval, or worse, trying to compel us to violate the rights of people we support by asking for permission to let them live in a safe neighborhood is an abdication of the greater responsibility we all have to improve our society.

Do we all have a responsibility to be good neighbors in return for the exemption that allows us to open homes in neighborhoods?  Of course we do.  Agencies should be sensitive to the larger community and its culture and fabric.  This should apply to all new neighbors however, not just group homes.  Our goal is to be part of a neighborhood and not a pariah. Councilor Tony Economou struck an interesting cord when he noted “There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a call at 5:30 or 6 on a Friday evening from an organization letting you know that it has purchased a property and they intend to put some kind of program there”.  Really, nothing more frustrating?  I’d counter that telling a family that their son or daughter or brother will not be getting the help they need in a timely manner because he or she isn’t welcome, more frustrating.  That’s a call that families and guardians would certainly find more than just frustrating.

Adaptive Gardening

Gardening season is in full swing! With the advent of accessible equipment and a greater emphasis on the therapeutic nature of this valuable skill, gardening is becoming more available to people with disabilities. Whether it’s tending to the beauty of a flower garden or the resourcefulness of a vegetable garden, this hobby has remarkable rewards for all. In fact, many Venture residential programs have developed their own vegetable gardens and are enjoying the fresh produce! Our day habilitation programs also offer horticulture as an activity.

Horticultural therapy has been gaining recognition for its positive effects for individuals with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, physical limitations, dementia, brain injury, and more. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, this modality can improve cognitive abilities, enhance memory, develop social skills, and advance communication. Physically, gardening can assist with balance, coordination, endurance, and strength. Horticultural therapy is also an excellent source of sensory simulation, especially for those with autism. For more information about local resources, check out the Northeast Horticultural Therapy Network.

Another great local resource for therapeutic and accessible gardening is Tower Hill Botanic Garden located in Boylston, Massachusetts. Venture recently assisted them in an advising capacity as they developed their Garden Within Reach program, which offers an innovative and inclusive design for those of all ability levels and breaks down barriers for those with mobility issues.

For more resources, be sure to follow Venture’s Adaptive Gardening board on Pinterest and check back often for updates!

Successful Transitions

Imagine being told you’ll be leaving the home you’ve known to go live in a new house, in a new town, with people you’ve never met – and you might only have a few days to get used to this idea before your big move. That’s a pretty shocking adjustment! Now imagine that your memory isn’t what it used to be, or you have an intellectual disability that would make this transition more difficult to process. This is the experience of many adults with disabilities in our community. Although transition plans are put in place and people are counseled about the upcoming change, it’s a huge adjustment for just about anyone.

Recently, Venture welcomed a new resident into one of the agency’s 44 group homes and we wanted to highlight the hard work it takes by many people to welcome a program’s newest housemate. Mr. R. had been living with a shared living provider, but his changing medical conditions now require him to live in a group home setting. First, the house manager, program director, and nurse went to meet Mr. R. at the rehabilitation center he was staying at. He was a little confused, and thought he would be going home with them that day. They assured him that he’d be moving into his new home very soon.

For two weeks, different staff members from the program went to visit him at the rehab facility daily to get to know him before his big move.  The nursing department worked diligently with staff members, facilitating trainings necessary for the arrival of a new resident and teaching staff how to prepare his medications.  Residential staff members met with Mr. R’s guardian and previous shared living provider, giving them a tour of his new home, answering questions, and calming concerns and fears.  Staff also became an impromptu moving company!  They brought a van to Mr. R’s previous home and loaded up all of his belongings.  Upon their return, it was all hands on deck at the program, with the help of the Facilities Department, to unload the van and begin setting up and decorating Mr. R’s room so it would be ready for his arrival.  When the program director realized Mr. R. could use a bookshelf and dresser, the Facilities Department also located these items along with a matching night stand, and delivered them just in time.  The Quality Assurance department dropped everything to make sure an audit was completed and a safety plan was in place.  With the help of the Nursing Department, residential staff members were trained on how to handle Mr. R’s complex medical needs and prepared medications and equipment.  The next day, the house manager and nurse picked up Mr. R. and brought him to the program.  Later that day, when the program director visited to see how he was settling in, she walked in to find his sitting in his room unpacking his CDs.  He looked up, smiled, and said, “Home!”  And that’s what it’s all about.