Employer of Choice

We are pleased to announce that Venture has been selected as an Employer of Choice by the Employers Association of the North East.  Only two awards were given out this year from an applicant pool of companies and agencies based in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  We were chosen based upon our employee recognition program that has been instrumental in motivating and connecting our more than 700 employees.  Also noted on our award selection was our Wellness Works program, educational resources, unique benefits and overall investment in our employees.

Over the past few years, Venture has re-energized its commitment to employee appreciation and well-being with many different initiatives.  We have worked to make Venture a fun, employee-friendly place to work with our newly remodeled break rooms, employee appreciation days, flexible work schedules, creative benefit options, tuition remission program, training opportunities, annual merit bonuses, staff barbecues, and more.  Our annual employee satisfaction survey is also used to make sure each staff member has an opportunity to share their thoughts, allowing us to better focus our efforts.

To view our video, click here.  Many thanks to EANE for this honor and for producing such a great video for us!

To learn more about employment opportunities with Venture, click here.

Let’s Move Forward

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

The tumultuous election is finally over and a long night of watching is behind us.  What does that mean?  It doesn’t simply mean an election has come and gone.  It means we need to move forward with the business of our country.  For places like Venture and all similar agencies, that business is making sure that people who need help can get it.

The rancor of our political differences has reached an all-time high in the United States and the great danger in that is the lack of compromise between parties.  Certainly one area that we should all be able to agree upon is the need to support people through innovative and efficient programs.  Those living with developmental and intellectual disabilities, autism, major mental illness, and other needs must not be left behind under a new administration and a new Congress.  Over the past 40 years, this country has seen tremendous progress in the treatment and acceptance of those with disabilities.  This is especially true here in Massachusetts, where a series of administrations over the years has kept promises to honor the work done by human services agencies.  It’s important that this trend continue and that it be copied at the national level.

It is our responsibility to provide historically disenfranchised populations with opportunities that they have not previously experienced; and in many cases opportunities that they have been actively denied.  This includes access to the community, fair housing, jobs, recreational activities, and peer groups.  It also includes opportunities to grow in individual ways.  In lockstep with this mandate is an equally important responsibility to support the professionals who provide services to all of these groups.  This means funding that finally supports a genuine livable wage, access to affordable educational programs that enhance skills, affordable healthcare and recognition on a national level of the importance of the work being done and of the professionalism of those who do it.

The services provided by community-based agencies have ultimately replaced work that was once done in institutions and with far better results.  The positive economic impact of this has been staggering!  Hundreds of millions of dollars are saved annually by the provision of care through community-based agencies as opposed to facility-based care for those capable of thriving in local neighborhoods.  It’s time that we re-invest in these programs so that the people getting and giving support can keep moving forward with the rest of the country.

12th Annual Wine & Beer Festival

Thank you to everyone who made our 12th Annual Wine & Beer Festival a huge success, especially our co-host, Ted’s of Charlton.  Almost 200 guests enjoyed a variety of wine, beer, whiskey, cider, and mixed drinks from our vendors.  Many thanks to Hardwick Vineyard & Winery, Horizon Beverage, Commonwealth Wine & Spirits, Quality Beverage, MS Walker, and Atlas Distributing for offering excellent drinks and a friendly atmosphere to all our guests!

Attendees enjoyed free games, raffle prizes, a photo booth sponsored by Chloe Wines, and delicious food stations from Old Sturbridge Village, The Publick House, Ted’s of Charlton, and Cabot Cheese.  Live music by Andy DaRos and Laura Folker entertained guests while they browsed our silent auction, which featured many fall-themed gift baskets.

We are grateful for the support of local businesses, community partners, and individuals who contribute to the success of our fundraising events.  The proceeds from these fundraisers allow us to enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and other challenges in our community.  With many new projects on the way, these funds help us to expand our services and fill in funding gaps to provide the individuals we support with what they need to live fulfilling, independent lives.  We would especially like to thank our major sponsors for their generous contributions to this event: Starkweather & Shepley, TD Bank, Fallon Health, Forensic Risk Alliance, MDG Associates, Southbridge Savings Bank, and Dunkin Donuts.

Be sure to check out our Flickr page for photos of the event!  We hope to see everyone next year for the 13th Annual Wine & Beer Festival.

Celebrating Those Who Provide Care

Happy Direct Support Professionals Week!  The following was submitted by a member of Venture’s management staff in honor of our many direct care staff members who fulfill our mission every day:

What is compassion, and do we innately possess this most altruistic of characteristics?  Sympathy is our ability to identify and feel sorry for another’s misfortune.  Empathy occurs when we understand and share that person’s feeling.  Compassion is not only identifying with another’s misfortune but also acting on it to alleviate it.  Compassion is a learned attribute that involves overcoming social awkwardness, fear, and the unknown.  Yes, we are most likely equipped intrinsically with a sensitivity chip that allows us the ability for compassion –unfortunately, few of us act upon it.  What makes some of us more inclined to reach out and lend a hand when needed, often at times to a complete stranger?  Helping a friend or family member is certainly easier and almost expected due to connection and relationship, but a stranger or someone we share little or no connection with at all?  The fear of consequence, of doing something wrong, of ridicule, or potential liability gnaws at us.  Genuine compassion takes courage and an irresistible draw to help regardless of consequence.  Nowhere have I seen the evidence of this more frequently than in those who work as caregivers in our field.  Caring for another is a difficult job – one that many cannot do.  I am always amazed at the perseverance that exists during times when life and job become overwhelming and stressful for our staff – they are the direct support professionals that give of themselves every day.  Many have placed the needs of those we serve above their own.  I asked one day after observing a quiet moment between one of our staff and a gentleman we serve, “What makes you respond the way you do to his needs? He doesn’t speak yet you seem to understand him.”  The staff member told me he left his family in Kenya about five years prior.  It was the most difficult decision he ever made.  “In my culture,” he said, “the family unit is strong, and we are taught from a young age that it is our duty to care for our elders.”  He nodded toward the gentleman who sat quietly rocking, listening. “It’s our responsibility to see he’s cared for.”

Compassion flows from the core of human caring.  Our collective human experience binds us together regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.  American-Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön believes compassion to be an aggregate equalizer:  “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals…”

Those who provide the care are the leaders of our organization.  They are truly the ones who represent Venture’s core values through their work every day.

I am humbled by our agency’s direct support professionals, or whatever title is used to describe their work throughout the field.  Any description of their position will surely pale in comparison to the job they do.  No words do justice or measure the impact they have on the lives in our care.  On behalf of everyone at Venture, I’d like to thank every direct support professional for their commitment.  The care we provide wouldn’t be possible without your dedication and compassion.

Venture’s Wellness Initiative

By Jennifer Petraitis, Human Resource Generalist and Kim Busha, Human Resources Staffing & Wellness Coordinator

Venture’s Wellness Works Program is a benefit to all employees to help them achieve their health goals, create a sense of community, and provide resources for wellness. All of these great benefits are available to employees through this program:

  • Monthly award given to an employee who has been nominated by a co-worker for making a healthy change in their life – employees can a win certificate and gift card
  • Fruity Friday or Tasty Tuesday – providing fruit and healthy snacks to all employees in the main office
  • Lunch and Learn workshops throughout the year on topics such as stress management, making healthy food choices, financial health and chair yoga
  • Wellness Challenges are offered several times a year, including the Walk for Wellness Challenge, Venture’s Biggest Loser Challenge, Healthy Hydration Challenge and Sleep Challenge. These challenges educate employees on the benefits of the activity and equip participants with the tools to help them complete the challenge. Everyone that completes the challenge is entered into drawings for great prizes like Fitbit activity trackers and gift cards.
  • Free chair massage days with chiropractic information
  • Information on healthy recipes, hiking trails and farmer’s market locations
  • Free Venture Wellness t-shirt and entry fee reimbursement for participation in a road race, walk or run.
  • Monthly wellness topic information co-sponsored by the Nursing Team, including Go Red for Heart Health Awareness in February and Autism Awareness in April. During both of these months the committee challenges employees to show their support by wearing red in February and Blue in April.
  • Annual Winter Pot Luck Luncheon for all employees – anyone who brings a healthy dish with the recipe is entered to win a prize
  • Free massage chair available in the main office
  • Annual Wellness Fair with great vendors like local hospitals, health food stores, fitness instructors, and more. Employees also enjoy free giveaways, raffle prizes, and snacks.
  • Blood pressure screenings and seasonal flu shots

If you are a Venture employee and have noticed a fellow coworker making a positive change in their life to promote their health and wellness, email Kim Busha to let the Wellness Works Team know and the nominee will be entered to win a prize in the monthly drawing!

If you are a member of the community and would like to help as a vendor at this year’s Wellness Fair on Thursday, October 13th, please contact Kim Busha at kbusha@venturecs.org or 774-922-1139.

Resources for Adaptive Equipment & Assistive Technology

Adaptive equipment and assistive technology are essential to improving the quality of life and level of independence for people with disabilities. Examples of such equipment might be wheelchairs, lifts, swings, tricycles, communication devices, tablets, computer software, shower chairs, specialty eating or writing utensils and much more. These items can help individuals with mobility, communication, sensory, recreational, or social needs. Too often, cost or availability can be a major barrier to someone in need of such equipment. Here is a list of valuable resources that can help people access adaptive equipment and assistive technology:

  1. The UCP Elsie S. Bellows Fund – This fund, administered by United Cerebral Palsy, provides grants for the purchase or repair of assistive technology devices and adaptive equipment to individuals with disabilities who show financial need. Examples of eligible equipment include wheelchairs, lifts, and computer equipment. To apply, contact your local chapter of UCP. Visit the affiliate search web page to find the contact information for your area.
  2. MassMATCH – Each state has a unique program for helping people access assistive technology. In Massachusetts, MassMATCH defines their mission as “promoting the use of assistive technology and assistive technology services to enhance the independence of people with disabilities, enabling equal participation in all of life’s activities”. Their various programs offer regional centers where individuals can go to test out different types of gear, a low-interest loan program to purchase needed items and free refurbished medical and adaptive equipment. These items can help people with disabilities be more successful in the workforce, travel independently, communicate, and so much more.
  3. Great Bike Giveaway – Every year, this organization aims to provide 600 free adaptive bicycles to children with special needs from all over the country. To find out how to register for this contest, subscribe to their mailing list. Also be sure to check out Friendship Circle’s resource list for other sources of adaptive bicycles.
  4. Challenged Athletes Foundation – This organization offers a grants for athletes with physical disabilities to help them access adaptive sports equipment. Their Access for Athletes program provides the opportunity to receive a grant for specialty wheelchairs, adaptive bicycles, sports prosthetics, and more depending on the need of the individual and their sport.
  5. Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism – The Allison Keller Education Technology Program helps schools and other organizations access valuable assistive technology equipment for children with autism and other disabilities. Eligible items include computers, tablets, smart boards, and applicable training. Although this program is not for individuals, it could be greatly beneficial to your child or family member in the classroom setting.

Also, be sure to check out Venture’s Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technology boards on Pinterest for more inspiration!

Working Together for Employment Opportunities

When it comes to identifying and developing career opportunities for individuals with disabilities in our communities, our industry recognizes the need for a group effort. Cooperation among businesses, human service agencies, families, and individuals is the key to providing meaningful and inclusive employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services has called for “a vibrant and large network of employment providers with strong community ties who have effectively and successfully assisted many individuals with intellectual disability to enter the workforce”. For more information about their initiative, be sure to check out their Blueprint for Success report.

There are many benefits for the whole community when disabled employees are supported in the workplace. According to an article by disability staffing company founder Judy Owen in Forbes, employers who hired people with disabilities reported regular attendance and low turnover rates, in addition to improved overall staff morale and increased workplace diversity. Not to mention that providing workplace accommodations are nowhere near as costly as how employers have imagined. The author goes on to describe how employing people with disabilities addresses an important social issue – the fact that government resources are limited and society needs to support people to become as independent as possible.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor has pledged to do its part to help provide states with the funds necessary to develop education and training programs for people with disabilities. For more information, check out the recent article from Disability Scoop.

If you are an employer interested in diversifying your work force by hiring individuals with disabilities, be sure to check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s publication Building an Inclusive Workforce for more information. Additionally, Venture’s Supported Employment Program would be happy to work with you. If your business is would like to hire someone from the program, please contact Kevin Hughes at 774-922-1143 or khughes@venturecs.org.

Summer Break Ideas

The end of the school year leaves many parents wondering what their kids will do all summer long. Attend summer camp? Hang with a babysitter? Stay home with Mom or Dad? Whatever it is, most parents want to make sure that their kids are well entertained and build upon everything they learned over the school year – especially children with special needs. Here are some resources to keep your kids busy this summer:

  1. DIY Sensory Activities – water, beans, sand, grass, shaving cream… So many basic household items can be turned into a quick, easy, and inexpensive sensory activity! Check out 10 Summer Fun Sensory DIY Sensory Games for Kids at Autism Speaks. Also be sure to visit Venture’s Sensory Processing board on Pinterest for more information and activities.
  2. Sensory-Friendly Movies – An afternoon at the movies is the perfect antidote for rainy-day boredom. Many movie theater chains are now offering special show times for people on the autism spectrum and with other sensory processing disorders so they can enjoy films in a safe and inclusionary environment. Movie theaters leave the lights on, lower the sound, and bringing in your own snacks is encouraged. Viewers are also invited to move around as much as they’d like. For more information about sensory-friendly viewings at local cinemas, check out Cinemagic and AMC Theatres.
  3. Inclusive Summer Camps – New England boasts many fun summer camps that offer accommodations for children with special needs, including adaptive activities, specially trained staff, and most importantly, an inclusive environment. For more information about programs in the area, visit SPED Child and Teen’s summer camp listing on their web site. Also check out this recent article from Bay State Parent about choosing your child’s summer camp.
  4. Adaptive Recreation – Be sure to check out the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Universal Access Program, which provides adaptive outdoor recreational opportunities including kayaking, hiking, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding (in partnership with Windrush Farm), and much more.

Adaptive Yoga

Yoga has been shown to offer tremendous benefits to those who practice it, including stress management, alleviation of pain, improved physical fitness, increased flexibility and balance, enhanced mood, blood pressure regulation, and more. According to an article from Psychology Today, studies have shown that yoga practice helps to balance and regulate cortisol, a hormone that controls blood sugar, metabolism, and inflammation. According another study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can also help alleviate chronic lower back pain.

Recently, yoga has become popular for its accessibility – with a few modifications, the benefits of yoga are available to almost everyone, regardless of age or ability level. Adaptive yoga practice has recently earned recognition as a complementary therapy for individuals with developmental disabilities and autism. For more information, check out this article by Yoga International.

All of this developing research has led to the creation of adaptive yoga programs for people with disabilities. Last year, Venture honored one of the best programs in the area, Shri Service Corps, with their Community Contribution Award. Shri has launched their Adaptive Yoga Pilot Project, which offers their unique curriculum of adaptive yoga to individuals with developmental disabilities. For more information, visit their web site or check out their inspiring informational video.

For a list of other adaptive yoga instructors in Massachusetts, click here.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a great time for everyone, regardless of any mental health disorder, to step back and take stock of their mental health. As we know, this topic has been receiving more attention over the past several years – in fact, 18% of the adult population of the United States is living with a mental illness according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This equals roughly 57 million Americans – obviously a number that deserves our attention. What’s important to recognize is that mental health is not just about the mental illness. Like making preventive measures to protect our physical health, we must take care of ourselves emotionally as well. There are so many ways to manage your mental health:

  1. Exercise – Exercise is a great way to deal with stress and anxiety. According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, physical activity has positive effects on the mood in both the short and long term. A 2007 study of adults with depression revealed that patients on an exercise plan had the same level of relief as those taking an antidepressant medication. For more tips, check out this article from the Huffington Post.
  2. Meditation – Meditation is more accessible today than it has ever been. No longer just for monks or yogis, it is being recognized as an effective coping strategy for every day stress. Although it may sound intimidating, there are many easily-accessible guided meditation programs that make the practice available to almost anyone. For more information, check out this blog post from Harvard Health. Many people find yoga incredibly beneficial as well – here is an interesting article from Psychology Today about the mental health benefits of yoga.
  3. Eat well – Correlations between diet and mental health have only just begun being researched, but some studies have shown that whole, nutrient-dense foods have a positive effect on your mental and emotional well-being. Research has shown that poor diet results in concentration and memory issues. Check out this interesting article from the Washington Post.
  4. Talk to someone – Whether it’s a trusted friend, a family member, a licensed therapist, or a support group – talk about it! Years of research have shown us that getting things off our chests can help us to cope better with life’s stressors. Journaling can also be helpful. Check out this article from the Huffington Post about why counseling is beneficial for everyone.
  5. Get enough sleep – A good night’s sleep is essential for stress management and mental health. Our brains need time to reset! For more information, check out this article from Harvard Health.