Coming together as a community to celebrate and remember
A few passing showers couldn’t dampen our spirits as the SKILLS community came together for our annual picnic on August 30.
Staff and the people we support made the trip from St. Albans, Waterville, Skowhegan, Newport and the surrounding towns to the SKILLS Memorial Park at Pittsfield Community Supports.
A couple of new friends joined us this year. Lori Lefferts, Director of HR, brought her miniature horse Fregley along for everyone to meet. And DJ Johnny spun tunes for the crowd. DJ Johnny aka John Pierce is a staff member at Ervin Community Supports. When the leadership team learned that he DJ’s in his spare time, they invited him to share his talents at the picnic.
While some things change, others stay the same. Everyone enjoyed the food and the company. As usual, the dunk tank was a popular hit.
But the picnic is more than a chance to dunk the Executive Director, it’s also a chance to remember those we’ve lost over the past year.
In a re-imagining of a tradition, our balloon release was replaced with an environmentally friendly butterfly release. Crystal Temple, Senior Finance Specialist, had been taking care of the butterflies for the last 24-hours to keep them healthy until it was time for them to fly.
Before the release, Stephanie read the popular poem “I am Always With You.” She also read the names of the seven members of the SKILLS family who passed away this year:
Fredrick “Nicky” Nelson
Madeline “Maddie” Varnum
Belinda C. Coots
When the butterflies were released some leapt from their box. Others lingered to land on the friends and family gathered there.
Returning to the food and fun was all the better since we knew that those who had passed away were with us in spirit.
Two teams means twice the fun at the Special Olympics Maine Winter Games.
Twice a year, athletes from all over Maine come together to test their athletic prowess and compete for the gold at the Special Olympics Maine state games.
This year, SKILLS sent two teams of athletes to compete at Sugarloaf in three of the four available sporting events.
From the L.C. Dill Center in Skowhegan came the River Hawks. Their team of eight athletes competed in snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. From Ervin Community Supports in Waterville, came the Phoenix Flames. Their team of five competed in cross-country skiing, snow showing, and alpine skiing.
Events were held from Jan 28 to Jan 30.
Training for Special Olympics Maine Winter Games
In the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of January, Special Olympics athletes focus on training for their events. Two or three times each week they can be found outside practicing for such events as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
When the weather is bad, they practice indoors. Even if they can’t be on the snow, they can work on endurance and physical fitness. All this to prepare for the event of the season – the Special Olympics Winter games at Sugarloaf.
Though the the training season only lasts a couple of months, preparation never really stops. Athletes are athletes even when they’re not competing. Being a Special Olympics athlete means paying attention to your personal health and fitness, so you can do your best year after year.
Some of these athletes have been participating in the Special Olympics since childhood. Most participate in the Summer Games as well.
It’s well worth the effort they put in. Athletes get a lot more than a medal. They get a sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that they trained hard and did their best, and the opportunity to push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of.
While time trails and heats pit athletes against competitors, the real challenge is beating your own personal record.
A Brief History of the Special Olympics
The Special Olympics is a global network that provides a platform for adults and children with intellectual challenges to see themselves for their abilities not their disabilities.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded Special Olympics in 1968 to honor her sister Rosemary and others with similar challenges. What started as a day-long summer camp has become an international phenomenon with more than 5 million athletes and 1 million volunteers across 170 countries.
Eligible athletes are those with intellectual disabilities, cognitive delay, or a closely related developmental disability. But on the field they’re all athletes, striving to do their best.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
– Special Olympics Athlete Oath
Special Olympics events are held at the area, state, national and international level. SKILLS falls into the Somerset and Upper Kennebec County Area. Normally, time trials are held about two weeks before the main event.
The whole state comes together near the end of January for the Special Olympics Maine Winter Games at Sugarloaf.
When the leadership at SKILLS asked program participants what SKILLS could do to better support them, one big idea rose to the forefront. They wanted a self-advocacy group.
The first meeting was held on May 17, 2017. At that meeting, the group set an ambitious goal: to change the world. They’re doing that by speaking up for themselves and others, making their own decisions and asking for support when they need it.
Anybody who participates at SKILLS is eligible to join the group. While it’s modeled loosely after groups like Speaking Up for Us (SUFU), participants voted to remain an independent group. They named it Standing Together.
the self-advocacy group is learning by doing
This group is an experiment. Everyone is learning as they go. For example, meetings were originally in the evenings but people had trouble getting there. When the group moved meetings to the daytime, they saw a jump in attendance.
It’s run by group members, not by staff. So far they haven’t decided if they want to elect officials for the group, but the idea is on the table.
One of the original staff advisors, Cary Kelly, is retiring, so Patrick Bagley from the Dill Center has stepped in to help Cindy Shaw facilitate. While Cindy and Patrick are there to answer questions and help line up guest speakers, it’s up to the group members to run their meetings and set their agenda.
“It’s their job to make this work,” says Cindy. “This is what Standing Together is all about.”
The group discusses such topics as guardianship, personal relationships, communicating with your doctor, staying safe and dealing with the R-word.
the self-advocacy group is making a difference
Less than a year old, Standing Together is already making a difference. They led the R-word pledge at the annual Dill Center Talent Show and are discussing fundraising for causes they care about.
Their meetings are held monthly at different sites within the SKILLS network. All members of the SKILLS community are welcome to attend.
They deliver meals to about 40 people along the Skowhegan and Norridgewock routes. A staff member drives the van, but the people we support are the ones who knock on the door and deliver the food.
It’s hard to tell who enjoys it more, the volunteers or the homeowners and their pets who get food for the week.
“They are very appreciative and the guys love to talk to the people,” says SKILLS staff member Randie.
Meals on Wheels isn’t the only way SKILLS helps feed the hungry. Ervin Community Supports brings a group to the Brown Methodist Church in Clinton to support their community luncheon. Members of the community are invited to come in and share a hot meal. The people that we support help prepare the food, serve food and clean up afterward.
SKILLS volunteers are caring for our furry (and feathered) friends
Supporting people in need is important, but we like to make sure that pets are taken care of as well. The Dill Center helps support the
animal shelter by delivering donated blankets that might not be suitable for sale at the thrift store. The dogs and cats love their cozy blankets, and the people we support enjoy visiting with the animals.
A group from Dill Center also helps care for the pet birds at Cedar Ridge Nursing home. The birds make the nursing home environment a little more pleasant for the people who live there.
SKILLS volunteers are making things better everywhere we go
At the Waterville Public Library a group from Ervin Community Supports helps dust and keep the books in order. It makes a better experience for everyone who visits.
That’s always our goal, to make things better. And that’s why we volunteer.
Every year, SKILLS participates in the Good Will-Hinckley festival of trees. Our theme this year is Jingle Bells, submitted by Crystal Temple of the SKILLS finance department.
In keeping with the theme, people we support decorated bells and created a beautiful display with the help of staff members. About 35 people from the day programs as well as House in Shawmut, and Petra House decorated bells for the event. They used pictures from Pinterest and magazines for inspiration or created their own original designs. A few staff members made bells too.
A group from Ervin Community Supports went out to Good Will-Hinckley just before Thanksgiving to decorate the tree and get it ready for the event.
New this year, SKILLS decorated two trees. The large tree is there for everyone to enjoy. The smaller tree will be raffled off as a fundraiser for Good Will-Hinckley.
Join us at the Festival of Trees December 8 to the 16th at the Prescott Building on the Good Will-Hinckley campus.
Maintaining 36 facilities in 11 towns scattered across Central Maine might sound like an impossible task, but that’s exactly what Shawn Gross and his team do every day.
Meet the team
For about five months, Shawn was the only full-time member of the maintenance team. His teammate, Paul, worked just a day or two a
“I like working with my hands,” Paul says. “I’m not stuck in just one place.” Paul had been working with the maintenance department for seven years when Shawn came onboard. He says Shawn’s leadership has made a big difference. “He’s a great boss. I’ve learned a lot from him,” Paul says. “Shawn will say “what can you do differently to fix this problem?” It helps us learn from our mistakes and own up to them as well.”
But two sets of hands just weren’t enough. After some trial and error, Shawn found Scott Martin to fill the open full-time position. Scott had been working as a DSP at SKILLS for more than a year, but his background was in the building trades. He was happy to return to his roots by joining the maintenance team.
“It definitely makes it easier with two folks on,” Shawn said. “Scott can go one way and I can go the other.”
They also had lawn care help this summer from Ryan Jackson. “I’d like him to come back next summer,” Shawn says. “He proved himself a good guy,
a good worker.”
Understand the Challenge
Because most of the facilities are in rural areas, an unexpected trip to the hardware store can cost the team hours.
They try to keep themselves organized with the maintenance list. Any team leader, manager or supervisor can add to the list. And yet, Shawn estimates that about 70 percent of what they do never makes it onto the maintenance list.
“So much of it is, “oh, while you’re here…” says Scott.
One of their challenges is keeping everyone happy. Sometimes it’s a budget issue. Sometimes it’s a manpower issue. Sometimes it comes down to urgency. Client requests always take priority.
“We are here for the clients,” Shawn says. “These are their homes. When we go in if there’s an issue or they’re having a bad day, we come back. We’re a guest in their home. We’re here to make their homes as safe as possible,” Shawn says.
Both Shawn and Scott are certified DSP’s. Shawn is also CRMA and MANDT certified. “I used to like to say I was probably the only CRMA certified maintenance man in the state,” Shawn says.
Both men believe that those certifications have made them better at their jobs. “It is a tremendous asset to be in the homes and understand what goes on and working with the clients and also the stress that a DSP can be under at various times,” Scott says.
A team effort
Both men agree that the best thing about their job is the people. “I truly enjoy everybody I work with,” Shawn says.
He says team leaders and staff step up to do whatever maintenance they can safely do. It’s rare that he gets called out for things like lightbulbs or plunging toilets.
Shawn’s personal mission since he took over in February of 2016 has been to make the maintenance department a department to be proud of.
“It has definitely been a team effort to get where we are,” Shawn says. “When something goes right, or wrong, they know who to come to.”
If you missed the L.C. Dill Center Talent Show this year, you missed out on something great. Singers, musicians and comedians played to a packed house in the Dill Center gym. They brought us “Through the Years, a time traveling trip through music and comedy from the 1950s to today.”
Tammy Worth, Team Leader at the L.C. Dill Center opened the festivities by dedicating the show to staff member Kathy Roddin who has worked with the organization for 30 years, and has been involved with the talent show almost that long.
Ron R. kicked off the performances with his guitar and a rendition of Hound Dog that got the crowd jumping. Highlights included “Hakuna Matata” sung with the help of a paper mache lion and “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” amplified by giant boxing gloves. Perhaps the most spectacular performance was “Greased Lightning” with its period appropriate costumes, cardboard speedster, and polished choreography.
An unexpected guest showed up during Matt N.’s performance of “Love Potion #9.” Shadow, one of the two Dill Center cats, took a turn across the stage. Things got a little dicey when she decided to rest on the cardboard set.
Fearing the weight of the feline would bring the show crashing down, staff member Brandon and Maintenance Manager Shawn sprang into action. With the help of a ladder they removed Shadow from the set and the show went on.
Both the audience and the performers clearly had a great time. Everyone laughed, clapped and sang along, celebrating their talents and each other.
Standing Together, a group that meets monthly to discuss their rights and work on building healthy relationships, led the group in the R word pledge. The pledge acknowledges that using the word “retarded” to mean stupid hurts both people with disabilities and the people that love them. The crowd pledged not to use the R word in that way and to call out anyone who does so.
The R-Word Pledge
I pledge that I will not use the words “retard” or “retarded to mean “stupid.”
I understand that this is hurtful to people who have disabilities
and to people who love them, so I will be careful with my words.
I will also try to remember to pay attention when
other people use those words, and ask them to stop.
After the finale, which brought everyone back on stage, staff member Kathy presented the Landry Award to the performer chosen by a staff vote. That performer was Laurie B. who was thrilled to receive a plaque in recognition. Her name will also go on the roster that hangs in the Dill Center.
One performer requested the microphone to give the staff a special message, “I want to tell the staff how good they’ve been teaching us and everything,” Patty said. “They did a really good job.”
Tammy was also pleased with the way the event came together. “It was a wonderful turnout and I thank everybody who came to it,” she said.
There’s no doubt that next year will be even better.
State and national governments are recognizing the important role of Direct Support Providers. Senate Resolution 258 called for the U.S. Senate to formally recognize Direct Support Professionals Week in September.
It also called for better data collection on the DSP workforce with the goal of analyzing and evaluating Medicaid rate structures and policy decisions. Right now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps DSPs in under the heading of Personal Care Aides. Better data collection would help lawmakers see the real impact of DSPs.
Current Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the employment of DSPs and Personal Care Aides is projected to grow 26 percent by 2024. That’s compared to a projected 7 percent growth rate for other occupations during the same period.
Leaders in the government are recognizing that DSPs provide valuable support and should be paid accordingly.
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we work to ensure that these hard-working individuals have the income and emotional support they need and deserve,” the resolution stated.