471 Hartland Road, St. Albans, ME 04971 info@skillsinc.net 207.938.4615

Secrets of the SKILLS Maintenance Team

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
week.

“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.”

Skills Maintenance Team
Paul, Scott and Shawn pose with the ramp they built to help people access the stage during the L.C. Dill Center Talent Show.

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.”

Talent Show 2017 – A Great Time for Talent

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.”

2017 Dill Center Talent Show Packed GymTammy 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.

Shadow crashes the 2017 Dill Center Talent Show

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.

2017 Dill Center Talent Show finale

DSPs Garner Praise from Senate

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.

It was led in part by Maine Senator Susan Collins and co-sponsored, in part, by Maine Senator Angus King.

Quilt Raffle

Win this beautiful, handmade King-sized quilt.

All proceeds benefit Pittsfield Community Supports.

$1 for 1 ticket or 6 for $5
Drawing to be held Friday, Dec 15, 2017. You need not be present to win.

Two ways to donate:
Purchase on-site at

  • Pittsfield Community Supports, 460 Hartland Road, Pittsfield (487-2788)
  • Main Office, 461 Hartland Road, St. Albans (938-0205

Or via PayPal

  •  sjohnson@skillsinc.net
  • In the notes section: write PCS Quilt Raffle and your name and address so we can mail the tickets.

Your payment will appear as SKILLS, Inc. on your statement.

Meet Our Friend Reverend Mark Tanner

Twenty-two years ago, then Team Leader Cary Kelly called the pastor of Skowhegan Federated Church to ask if he could lead a memorial service honoring one of the people that we supported.

Reverend Mark Tanner came out to the facility in Pittsfield and never really left. He’s been giving his time, his talent, and his friendship to the SKILLS family ever since.

“The first time I went to visit with him we knew he was the one,” said Cary Kelly. “He relates so well with people.”

Mark took the time to learn about the person they were remembering and he helped SKILLS do something they’d never done before. They had the funeral home bring the casket into the facility. They had an open-casket celebration of life. It was a cathartic experience for staff and participants alike.

Since then, Mark has done about 22 services for members of the SKILLS family, and he has presided over events like the Annual Memorial Picnic for years.

He donates his time and his talent. He says that in return SKILLS has helped him grow as a person and as a pastor.

“You come here and you truly see beyond yourself. You go in and you do these services for all these people and after a while you develop a relationship.” Mark said.

“The relationship that I have with Cary Kelly is way beyond the program,” Mark says. “It’s a friendship. I have relationships with lots of the folks here.”

That’s easy to see. It’s impossible to talk to Mark without someone coming over to say hello, shake his hand, or give him a hug. He’s clearly happy to be here and the SKILLS family is happy to have him.

“I love the program, I love the people here. How can you not feel good coming in here?”

SKILLS Annual Memorial Picnic 2017

The Skills Memorial Picnic is like a family reunion. There are many faces you recognize and a few you don’t. There’s music and games and, of course, food. Lots and lots of food.

In the SKILLS Memorial Park behind Pittsfield Community Supports, people and greet each other with smiles and hugs. Sandra Witham, Lillian Haynes and Janet Brousseau, who regularly volunteer at PCS Music Jams, entertain the crowd with music. A few people even get up and sing along with them.

Recognizing those who give

As much fun as all of this is, the picnic is more than an opportunity to bring the family together. It’s a time of recognition and remembrance. Executive Director Stephanie Johnson thanked staff for their hard work in organizing the picnic and supporting the SKILLS community all year round.

Reverend Mark Tanner, who has served the SKILLS family for more than 20 years, spoke to the group: “The passion that you bring to
your work is so important and you are making a difference in the lives of the people that you work with on a day to day basis,” he
said.

“You need to be congratulated for the time, for the talent, for the love that you bring.”

To the people SKILLS supports he said, “Thank you for the difference that you make in the communities in which you live.”

Stephanie recognized Mark as an official member of the SKILLS family with a SKILLS baseball cap and thanked him for all his years of service with a plaque.

“This will hang in my office as a reminder every day of the love and appreciation I have for all of you,” Mark said.

Remembering those we have lost

The picnic is also a time to remember those we have lost. Mark read the names of those who had passed on since the last picnic.

People we supported:
Dorothy Benson Robert
“Bob” Guenette
Judy Poland
Mary Jane “MJ” Gourley
Colette Vaillancourt
Edith Baird Blake Peter
John Maginnis

Friends and Family:
Elaine Sinclair – Parent of a
person that we supported
Nancy Holt – KVCAP Volunteer
Ed Beaulieu – Former Employee

Then he led the group in a brief prayer before counting down to the release of nearly 250 balloons.

Reinforcing our connections

Lunch is served and the music starts again. This time Crystal Rae and her father Wes Hupper take the stage. The dunk tank is put to good use as the people we support line up to dunk staff members.

With so many facilities across central Maine, it’s rare that everyone gets together like this. Here, old friends meet and the newest staff members come to understand how big the SKILLS family really is.

“When everybody gets together, you realize how many people there are,” said Ann, a staff member who joined the team at Petra house in March.

Above all, the picnic is about celebrating relationships. “Many of the relationships we have do last a lifetime,” Stephanie said.

Shared Living for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Shared Living can host six adults with plenty of room for everyone to have their own space.

In one of those gorgeous rambling old farm houses on the top of a hill in St. Albans, six housemates share living space, chores and leisure time. The house is called Shared Living.

In addition to private bedrooms, Shared Living has a living room, a dining room, several bathrooms, a kitchen and a billiard room. The billiard room often hosts parties attended by residents of other homes in the SKILLS network.

Outdoors there’s a long porch perfect for relaxing on, horseshoe pits – the site of many friendly competitions, and a fire pit to sit around during those serene summer nights.

Meet the Shared Living Housemates

Mike outside the front door.
Housemate Mike poses outside his front door.

The housemates include Mike and his wife Susanna, who moved down in mid-May. Mike and Susanna are the first married couple ever to live at Shared Living.

The house has always been co-ed, so it’s not much different having a married couple in the group.

The couple did add to the general liveliness of the house by bringing their cats, Venus and Luke, to live with them.

Living, Working and Relaxing Together

“It’s a very busy place,” says team leader Tammy Waltman. “We try to have them be as independent as possible.”

In groups of two or three or more, the housemates do their groceries, visit the library, play pool and work together to accomplish chores. A few of them love yard sales, and go searching for great finds on the weekends.

Those who want to also attend Self Advocacy Meetings, where they get together with other people in the SKILLS network to brainstorm solutions and learn new skills.

“We stand up for ourselves, like if we have problems to help cope with it,” Mike says. “I think it’s a good idea.”

During the day, three of the residents go to Pittsfield Community Supports. Two go to other support programs outside of SKILLS.

In addition to the six residents, one or two staff members are always at the house. Living with so many people is a lot like living with an extended family. Everyone has their own space, but they come together for meals and chores.

It’s a situation that housemate Leslie knows well. He is the only boy from a family of 14 children.

Susie on the porch at Shared Living
Susie sits in her favorite spot on the porch of her house.

Susie (not to be confused with Mike’s wife Susanna) has been at Shared Living the longest — 17 years. Her room is decorated with Special Olympics trophies, yard sale finds, and enough pink to make any princess feel at home. She says she loves Shared Living.

“They’re all pretty independent, pretty self-sufficient,” says Tammy. “It’s more prompting than hands on. Everybody gets along rather well.”

And with a home like this – why wouldn’t they?

Physical Therapy in Motion: Central Maine Community Supports

participant doing a bead craftYou drive down a quiet side road in Hinckley and spot a building in the middle of an open green field. This is Central Maine Community Supports, SKILLS facility specializing in physical therapy.

The two wings of the building hug the corner of a small parking lot. It’s quiet. Peaceful. Serene.

And then you step inside.

Inside everything is in motion. Program participants rock in chairs, kneel on floor mats and gesture as they laugh and smile. Many of them are nonverbal, but Team Leader Shelly says it’s easy to tell what they want.

“They definitely let you know, but it’s subtle,” Shelly says.

She and other staff don’t need words to understand the wants and needs of the 22 people they support. They pay attention to vocalizations, body language and fleeting expressions.

About half of the participants come from Klearview Manor, a residential home outside the SKILLS network. Most others live at home and travel to CMCS for a few hours each day Monday through Friday.

Creating Personal Success

The major draw for most participants is physical therapy. CMCS is the only local facility with the equipment these participants need.participant using a physical therapy device

They have supine standers, standing boxes, sit to stand equipment and more.

“Our goal is to help them succeed,” says staff member Tara.

Success is different for each person. For some it’s remembering to respect personal space. For others it’s getting a limb to relax enough that it can bend. Each participant has a personalized physical therapy plan designed to meet their needs.

For some participants, simply getting out of their wheel chairs and into a recliner is a form of therapy. It helps keep muscles from tensing into position and induces relaxation.

Staff members are everywhere. They use mechanical lifts to help participants into and out of their chairs. They assist them in the bathroom. Most importantly, they keep everyone safe.

At CMCS there is no down time. “You’re tired when you go home, but fulfilled,” Shelly says.

participant meets a horse
Program participant Heather visits with a horse at Ephphatha Community Farma therapy farm serving people with physical and emotional challenges.

 

Adults with Intellectual Disabilities Get Support for a Lifetime

staff at Ervin Community Supports view photo
Staff of Ervin Community Supports view a photograph of the first program participants.

As we explained in this post last week, in the 1950’s there were very few options for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Families that wanted to keep their loved ones out of institutions were basically on their own.

Except that some families banded together. They formed organizations like the Upper Somerset Association for Retarded Children and the Greater Waterville Association for Retarded Children.

The Impact of Dr. Ervin

One of the co-founders was Dr. Edmund N. Ervin. You may recognize his name. Dr. Ervin was a pediatrician who helped developed health clinics and other facilities serving children with developmental disabilities. He lent his name to a couple of facilities in Maine including the Edmund N. Ervin Pediatric Center and our own Ervin Community Supports.

Developmental disabilities was a cause close to his heart, because his third daughter, Hilary Elizabeth was challenged by them. She was among the first program participants at the Ken-a-Set Adult Training program, which eventually became Ervin Community Supports.

In 1971 the Upper Somerset and Greater Waterville organizations merged, forming Ken-a-Set. While other facilities closed and merged around it, Ervin Community Supports remained.
the old Ken-a-Set thrift store building

Participants worked in the old Ken-a-Set thrift store. They also made birdhouses and wind chimes which they sold to help fund their program.

Ervin had its share of trials. Once during a storm a tree fell down, knocking a chimney through the roof of the building. The program was closed for the day and participants were sent to other facilities temporarily. They pumped water out of the basement for several days.

There’s even a rumor that the old building was haunted. Staff members tell stories of times when objects in locked rooms were moved or strange smells filled the building.

A Ervin Community Supports, A New Building

Eventually, the program had to move. The building was just too old to maintain and needed constant repairs. So in 2015, soon after Ken-a-Set and Sebasticook Farms merged to become SKILLS, Inc. Ervin Community Supports moved down to the old Social Security Administration Building on Front Street.

The bigger, brighter space meant they had room for more participants. The participants say they like the change. One participant, Terri, said she especially appreciates the new people she’s met thanks to the merger.

Terri has been with SKILLS for most of her adult life, and fondly remembers both Dr. Ervin and his daughter Hilary.

Families United to Support Loved Ones with Intellectual Disabilities

In the 1950’s there were very few options for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. There were no day programs, no waiver homes and no programs offering job training skills.

In fact, many people with intellectual disabilities lived in large dormitories at Pineland Hospital and Training Center. They were calleds “patients.”

Lawrence Acres, the fist building purchased by Sebasticook Farms

Families that wanted to keep their loved ones out of institutions were on their own.

And so, all over Maine, groups of families banded together to create a framework of support for their loved ones, especially their younger children. One such group founded The Sebasticook Association for Retarded Children, which became the governing body of the Marie Bradford School on Hartland Avenue in Pittsfield.

Getting Access to Education

At the time, public schools did not offer any educational programming to children with intellectual disabilities. The Marie Bradford School was one of many schools that were created especially for children with developmental challenges.

Over the years, the children grew. Public schools started introducing special education classes. By then the children of the Marie Bradford School were too old to attend. Their parents wondered what would happen to them now. There were no sheltered workplaces, no supported employment. Nobody had a workable solution for the parents of these now-adult children.

They closed the Marie Bradford School, which was now redundant, and reorganized themselves as Sebasticook Farms, a support program for adults in the area.

Creating Employment Opportunities

Lawrence Acres once supported a Farm Stand with produce grown and harvested by participants. Proceeds were used to fund the program.

The group purchased Lawrence Acres in Saint Albans. They turned the big farm house into a home where people could live, work and be a part of the local community. The need was great and they quickly expanded their network by purchasing two more buildings, Athens Group Home and Independent Living in Saint Albans. State funds were hard to come by, so the board members depended mostly on loans and some fundraising to get the job done.

Families wanted their now adult children to have the skills and independence to succeed and thrive in the world. Residents and attendees of the day program learned to garden and sold vegetables at a produce stand. Some made sample books for Irving Tanning. Others started a small workshop to build wooden pallets.

With no model to follow, Sebasticook Farms grew by trial and error. Some activities proved too complicated or dangerous, like the attempt at logging. Others quickly proved their suitability. The workshop became a sawmill, which eventually grew into Sebasticook Lumber.

Though it was sold off in 2015, the lumber mill still employs workers with developmental disabilities.

Evolving to Survive

By the early 2000’s dozens of programs like Sebasticook Farms had popped up all over Maine. The state was looking for ways to minimize costs and put pressure on these organizations to consolidate.

“You could almost see the handwriting on the wall, you had to merge or you were going to be gone,” says Jack Dyer, who has served as Chairman of the Board for most of his 40 years with the organization.

Jack and the board knew they needed to merge if they wanted to keep doing the work they’d started all those years ago. They entered into talks with several organizations in the area. In the end, they brokered a merger with Ken-a-Set.

Read about the history of Ken-a-Set

Ken-a-Set shared similar values and a familiar origin story. It formed in 1971 when the Upper Somerset Association for Retarded Children merged with the Greater Waterville Association for Retarded children.

Almost 30 years later, on July 1, 2005, Ken-a-Set and Sebasticook Farms became SKILLS, Inc. The word SKILLS was an acronym for “Somerset, Kennebec, Individualized, Living and Learning Supports” but it was also a one word mission statement. The goal of the newly minted SKILLS was to support adults with developmental disabilities to build the personal, social, and job skills they needed to thrive in the world.

Today, SKILLS encompasses 17 residential homes, four center-based community support programs, a thrift store in Skowhegan and an eWaste recycling facility in Waterville.

“It’s a lot larger than what I figured it would be,” Jack says. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years.”