This Can’t Be the New Normal

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

It’s difficult to observe the recent spate of violence in our country and not be shaken.  Last week, we watched law enforcement track down someone who mailed bombs to people he never even met.  Thankfully, no one was hurt in these attempted assaults but that relief was short lived.  On Saturday, we learned that a bigot entered a synagogue in Pennsylvania and brutally murdered almost a dozen people who were simply there to embrace their religion.  To call this attack horrific is to engage in gross understatement.  In the past few years we have been forced to watch in horror as people in our country are killed at concerts and at schools and in offices.  While the people who perpetrate this violence are responsible for their actions, we too have a responsibility; we can’t let this become the new normal in our country.

The voice is a powerful tool.  It informs and expresses but it can also lead.  Those of us who have a voice are required to use it to improve things and not to make our situation worse.  For far too long, the daily discourse in this country has been driven not by respect and reason but by anger and abuse.  Whereas people once disagreed, they now just seethe.  It seems that disregard has replaced discussion and hatred has replaced tolerance.  There are countless people around us who need help and they may never get it so long as rancor defines so much of our conversation.  It is absolutely incumbent upon those with a voice to use that voice to ensure this doesn’t happen.

A return to civility is the only means by which we can recreate safe places where people can disagree and then compromise to advance the greater good.  Our society has devolved to a place where too many people have decided that someone with a different perspective is wrong and dangerous.  Sadly, many of these people are in powerful positions in state and national government.  It is absolutely necessary for anyone who leads to role model the importance of acceptance and inclusion so that our future is better than our present.  People have the right to be safe when expressing their views and when disagreeing with someone who sees things differently.  It remains concerning that what was once such a tenet of basic freedom is now so endangered.

Lastly, vitriol must be rejected at every turn now.  This anger drives too much of our dialogue and it makes everything worse.  It causes people to react instead of listen and dangerously inflames too many conflicts that don’t need to be conflicts at all.  We must all beware of agenda-driven commentary and grating, thinly-veiled rhetoric that blames victims for what happened to them.  The violence we see unfolding around us is not an opportunity for one side to prevail against another.  Instead, it is a dark reminder that we have created a climate where people who have differing ideas, beliefs, or even just opinions are enemies of each other.  If this is in fact the new normal, the future is much bleaker than it needs to be.  Let everyone be committed to using a voice and speaking up to make that future as bright as it should be.

ANCOR Advocacy Week

This week is Advocacy Week at ANCOR, our national trade association that represents more than 1,400 community providers of services to people with disabilities.  We are joining them in bringing much-needed attention to the issues that are facing the human services industry today – most notably, the workforce crisis in disability supports.

It is important to us to highlight the good work being done by the professionals in our industry every day – yet high turnover rate is destabilizing critical supports for individuals with disabilities.  Recruitment and retention challenges are leaving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities vulnerable to losing support in the most important aspects of their lives – work, home and health.

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are the lifeline of the industry.  They are frontline staff who are providing emotional support, facilitating recreational opportunities, teaching essential life skills, administering medical interventions, communicating with healthcare providers and families, and offering the support required for folks with disabilities to live as independently as possible.  These professionals, funded primarily through Medicaid, help people live life like everyone else.  They accomplish this through job coaching, supporting daily activities like grocery shopping or transportation, and by offering critical care for behavioral needs such as helping someone through an anxiety attack.

Despite all this, difficulties attracting and retaining DSPs have reached a crisis level:

  • The national DSP turnover rate is 45%
  • 55% of DSPs who leave their positions do so within their first year on the job
  • Low wages and minimal benefits caused by fixed Medicaid rates are significant reasons for this turnover, although there are many other contributing factors

Lacking a stable workforce not only harms individuals with disabilities and their families, but also can lead to increased institutionalization and high costs to states and federal government.  Support from Direct Support Professionals helps people with disabilities live independently or with their families or peers rather than in costlier state-run institutions.

Join in the advocacy efforts by reaching out to your members of Congress!

For more information about ANCOR, click here.

Autism Service Family Forum

Venture Community Services is hosting their first autism services parent and family forum at our Uxbridge Day Program (670 Douglas Street, Uxbridge) on Thursday, February 22nd at 5:30 pm.  We are interested in your input and suggestions!

Venture is looking to determine the needs of the children with autism and their families in the Blackstone Valley region in the areas of clinical support, social and recreational opportunities, life skills development, and vocational options.  We believe that families are our best indication of how we can help – and we would really like to hear from you.  We will be joined by Mike Hyland, President and CEO; Kevin Hughes, Vice President of Day Services and BCBA/LABA; and Kyle Murray, Vice President of Quality Assurance and Clinical Services.

Please RSVP to Paige at pmador@venturecs.org or 774-922-1135 to indicate that you will be attending.  We are also able to provide supervision for your child by a trained staff member while you participate in the meeting, so please include that in your email if you are interested.

We look forward to hearing about how we can help serve your community.

A New Year Has Arrived

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

Another year has passed and a new one is now beginning.  This annual event always provides us with two opportunities: to look back or to look ahead.  Looking back can be exhausting, so let’s spend a couple of minutes looking ahead.  Each new year begins only once and this is the time to wonder what 2018 can be.  I believe it can be a year of hope.

Let’s hope this will be the year when the incredibly dedicated direct-care staff who choose to work with people with developmental disabilities and other needs are recognized as the talented professionals they are.  That everyone finally realizes the value these amazing people bring to our society every day and the critical importance of their profession.  Without them, people with disabilities would still be living in facilities that remove them from the community rather than in nice homes that allow them to be a vibrant part of it.  Worse yet, many people who need help simply would not have it.  The men and women who encompass the human services profession deserve to be paid an appropriate wage commensurate with the challenging and meaningful work they do every day.

Let’s hope 2018 will be the year when people with disabilities are no longer stigmatized.  That it will be a year where everyone with a disability is treated with respect and dignity at school, at work, and in the neighborhood.  This can be the year we all acknowledge that people with disabilities are still abused at a much higher rate than those without disabilities.  They are bullied and dismissed and taken advantage of at an alarming rate and every leader needs to stand up and say that this is a national problem that needs immediate attention.  Now is a time to hope that failures to adequately address the issue in previous years can be erased by sweeping action.

Let’s hope this is the year that our society sees a seismic turn back toward civility.  That we can look back in 2019 and say that the old year was when people remembered what it is like to work together on behalf of others, to create resources that allow everyone to thrive, and to finally ensure that those who need help are never left behind again.  2018 can be a time when the nation returns to acceptance in place of derision and where discussion replaces argument.  For too long now we have allowed leaders and people in power to treat those who disagree with them as enemies rather than as people with a different point of view.  Those who need help are usually caught in the middle of this divide and we should all hope that the people who have put them there realize they’re part of the problem.

Finally, let’s hope that the New Year will be one where everyone can agree that those who need help should get it and that a society is strengthened when it takes care of them.  People don’t ask to be born with a disability or to be homeless or to hear voices.  Creating programs that help these people to achieve maximum independence is not merely compassionate, it is cost-effective.  There is no shame in needing help to move forward, or at least there shouldn’t be.  Let’s hope we can look back on 2018 someday and point to it as the year when we all agreed that people who needed assistance were able to find it and those who provided it were finally identified as the gifted professionals they have always been.

Giving Tree on #GivingTuesday

We are excited to be hosting our Fourth Annual Giving Tree to provide gifts to the people we support.  Everyone deserves to have something special under the tree that was selected just for them.  We hope you will join us as we get into the holiday spirit this #GivingTuesday by purchasing a gift from our Amazon Wish List or making a donation to the Giving Tree Program here.

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

  • Visit the Venture Amazon Wish List
  • 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.
  • If you don’t want to shop online, you can still purchase a gift – just email Paige Mador to let us know what you bought.
  • 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 15th so we have time to wrap and deliver.
  • No time to shop? Just click here to make a donation.

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

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.