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!

Disability-Friendly Vacations

With summer just around the corner, now is the time for everyone to be planning their vacations and fun day trips!  When a family member has a developmental or physical disability, it can often add stress and uncertainty to this usually fun and exciting time.  There may be extra planning involved – is the hotel room accessible?  Will the amusement park be too over stimulating for someone with autism?  How will I roll my wheelchair at the beach?  The good news is, many destinations, travel agencies, and attractions have listened to the concerns of the disability community and have made many adaptations to create a more inclusive environment.  This week, we’d like to share with you some awesome travel destinations and other resources for people with all different types of disabilities.

  1. Autism on the Seas – This organization works with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean to accommodate children and adults with special needs.  Although the focus originated from the needs of people with autism, they work with individuals with a variety of disabilities.  The organization provides trained staff to various cruise lines to work with travelers and assist them with accessing all the amenities of the ship, as well as excursions.  They also have a financial assistance program!  Click here to view an awesome informational video.
  2. National Ability Center – These programs are for the adventurous at heart!  The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah is an incredible adaptive recreation program that offers activities like kayaking, skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and much more for people with physical and developmental disabilities.  This organization is the holy grail of adaptive sports equipment, providing opportunities for people with spinal cord injuries, amputations, intellectual disabilities, blindness, and beyond.  Their employees are highly trained professionals, many of whom have disabilities themselves.  Families are also encouraged to participate, creating a more inclusionary environment.  The program is proud to be able to keep its program fees quite low, and scholarships are also available.  Click here to visit their Facebook page.
  3. Disney World – The most magical place on Earth has an excellent reputation for accommodating guests with disabilities.  They’ve even developed a Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder which includes detailed information about what to expect on each ride at the park, such as loud noises, flashing lights, water, darkness, or bumps.  Break areas, companion restrooms, wheelchair rentals, and more are also available.
  4. Trips Inc. – This organization has been providing all-inclusive vacation packages for adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities for almost 25 years.  Trips include New York City, Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, Hawaii, Iceland, Las Vegas and more.  Their certifications as a professional travel company, reasonable prices, and exceptional accommodations have won the praise of many individuals with disabilities.  Click here to read testimonials from travelers and their families and also be sure to check out their informational video about their program and the dignity of risk.
  5. Smugglers’ Notch – Located in Cambridge, Vermont, this family-friendly resort offers activities for every season.  The summer season boasts pools, waterslides, camps, and more.  The best part?  An adaptive recreation program with activities like horseback riding, hiking, and swimming that excels at inclusion.  Adaptive skiing is available in the winter seasons as well.  Click here for more information.

Advancing Autism Services

Venture was proud join Bridgewell as a sponsor of their annual autism conference in Framingham yesterday.  The focus of this year’s event, Conquering the Cliff: Autism’s Journey into Adulthood, provided a great opportunity for us to prepare for our new autism outreach center in Uxbridge.  At Venture, we believe it is our responsibility to address the needs of the disability community in a meaningful way and this conference provided a helpful step in our process of building innovative programs and services for children with autism and their families.  We were able to talk to parents who are working to prepare their children for a bright future.  Many wonder how their kids will receive job training, or where they might live.  Many parents worry about who will advocate for their adult children when they are no longer able to do so.  Some are concerned about the lack of social and recreational opportunities in a safe and understanding environment.  The keynote speaker, Susan Senator, touched on some of these subjects.  She has three sons, the oldest of whom has autism.  She is an author, blogger, and frequent guest speaker on autism parenthood.  Visit her web site for articles, resources, blog, and more.

Our visit to the conference has further inspired us to reach out the autism community all around us.  Please check back soon for news about our upcoming open house and forum, when we hope to hear from families of children and young adults with autism in the Blackstone Valley region and in Worcester County.  Our center will offer in-home Applied Behavior Analysis, center-based social skills programs, family outreach, pre-vocational training and more.  We want to provide the best possible support – which means we want to hear from you!  For more information, please contact Kevin Hughes, Vice President of Day Services, at khughes@venturecs.org.  Also, don’t forget to check out our Pinterest board with lots of useful autism information and resources.

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Direct Support Professionals Week 2015

September 13 – 19, 2015 is Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week! Direct support professionals are people who work directly with individuals who have an intellectual, social, or physical disability and assist them with many different areas of their lives, including activities of daily living, jobs, volunteering, community involvement, social skills, recreation, self-expression, relationships, and more.   With this week of appreciation upon us, we would like to call on our supporters to recognize the value of the direct support professional – that they are just that, a trained professional that provides vital services to people in our communities. Many DSPs come to us with backgrounds in psychology, nursing, education, behavioral health, early childhood development, and more. They are teachers, military veterans, parents, college students – the list goes on. So this week, we are asking our supporters, families, friends, and guardians to say “thank you” to an exceptional Direct Support Professional.

At Venture Community Services, we believe the opportunity to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities has great personal rewards. However, we know how important it is to recognize the accomplishments and talent of our direct support professionals. These employees are the face of our agency – without them, we would never be able to realize our goals or offer the high quality of support services we provide. We are very proud of our incredible work force. If you would like to join the professional, highly-trained team of direct support professionals at Venture, click here for current job opportunities.

If you know a Direct Support Professional who excels at their job, nominate them for the 2016 Direct Support Professional Recognition Award through the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR). ANCOR’s National Advocacy Campaign advocates for the resources necessary to recruit, train, and retain a healthy, sustainable direct support workforce. Their issues include the promotion of awareness, professionalization, and fair wages for direct support professionals.

To learn more about DSPs, visit the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals.

Thanks to all our Volunteers, Participants, and Supporters!

We would like to take this opportunity to welcome everyone to our brand new website, developed in part as acelebration of our new name and 40th anniversary.You have probably heard about our rebranding, but we wanted to tell our supporters a little bit about the process.

Together with the management team and the Board of Directors, we worked with the Sturbridge-based branding firm Smith & Jones Idea Agency to develop an image that represents our commitment to the people we support, our workforce and the community. We began by identifying what was important to us and what guides our work. These tenets became our core values – honesty, respect, integrity, innovation and compassion. These values are what inspire our work every day, whether it’s with our program participants, our donors or among employees. These ideals guided the development of every aspect of our new brand. We worked through many different ideas, but we decided on a name that represented our commitment to innovation and our investment in the future.

Venture represents a project, an endeavor, a journey. It evokes a feeling of new beginnings and fresh ideas.  Once we reached a decision about our new name, Smith & Jones then helped us explore complimentary logos, colors, tag lines, and designs.We are especially proud of our logo, which incorporates the feeling of movement and thinking ahead. We have found that our special icon looks different to everyone – what do you see?

We are very excited our new image and brand, and we are happy to share this with our supporters through our new web site. Remember that our social media presence has also been updated – look for Venture Community Services on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and check back often for new blogs every month!