AHRC New York City

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PACE University Presents New Technology to AHRC NYC Staff

Students and a professor from Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems held a discussion related to the use of adaptive technology and the way it can affect the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers. James Lawler, DPS, Hannah Moller, and Robert Salloum presented a case study and various exciting technological opportunities to leadership and staff at AHRC NYC’s Maiden Lane headquarters in Manhattan. The presentation began with the outlining of three basic categories of mobile health technologies that can be applied to the field of developmental disabilities-fitness applications (apps), generic health apps, and life monitoring /medication monitoring apps.

A number of the apps and devices were explained in detail to the audience. These included: Fitbit, a series of devices and apps designed to calculate personal health & movement data such as number of steps taken in a day; Google Glass, eye-wear that connects to the Internet in a variety of ways and is essentially a computer for your face; Lift Labs, a company that created a special utensil to assist those with hand tremors in eating and taking medication; MedMinder, a special  pill box that only opens at designated times and sends notifications to caregivers if the medication is not take; and Smart Diapers, succinctly described by Hannah as “underwear you wear that tracks different things.”

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Through interviews with healthcare professionals, AHRC employees, and two people with disabilities, the group outlined which applications could be of most use to those with disabilities and how assistive technology can improve their lives. For example, one of the people involved in the study, a self-advocate referred to as AJ, enjoyed working with Google Glass due to its navigational properties, helping her to get around her neighborhood with more independence. The group summed up their findings by stating “The analysis disclosed that applications of mobile health, life monitoring, and medication monitoring to be comfortably feasible for both of the people with disabilities.” With proper staff training and investment, mobile health technologies “may enable an improved quality of care by AHRC New York City and an improved quality of life for the people themselves,” they concluded.

AHRC NYC staff who attended the presentation did raise some issues for discussion as it relates to implementing these new technological applications. Among these issues were the potential financial costs to the agency; whether Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance is willing to fund the use of new technology; and especially privacy and security concerns as it relates to protected health information and other sensitive material. Charles Umaña, Individualized Technology Strategy Specialist, also emphasized that while these new devices and apps present “a sign that technology is continuing to improve for the better,” especially the Lift Labs utensils and Fitbit, we should recognize that “the strength of technology lies in a means to enhance particular skills or situations and not exactly replace the need for them. Additionally, it is important to understand that technology is not for everyone. Though I am heavily invested and interested in technology, I understand that technology may not be the primary choice for everyone we work with. Some artist may love the idea of using a tablet or computer for their art while some may prefer paint or pencil and paper.”

NYSARC, Inc. Elects Kennedy President

Delmar, NY (10/29/2014) — NYSARC, Inc., the largest nonprofit organization of its kind in the nation supporting individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families, elected Laura J. Kennedy as its President at the Organization’s 65th Annual Convention.

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Kennedy and her husband, Henry, are parents of four daughters, including one who has a developmental disability. She currently serves as Director of the Early Childhood Direction Center at Staten Island University Hospital in Staten Island, New York.

“It’s a privilege to serve in this position and carry out what was started 65 years ago by families, for families,” said Kennedy, adding, “There is no other organization like NYSARC. We serve people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families in every county in New York state. Our diversity is our strength.”

The Executive Director of NYSARC, Inc., Marc N. Brandt, upon the election of Kennedy, stated, “Laura is the nineteenth person to become President of NYSARC, Inc., and I can think of no better individual to serve in this capacity than Laura Kennedy. Our field as well as our Organization is going through major changes and shifts, and Laura possesses the skills and commands the respect essential to see us through this changing period. All of us within the NYSARC family wish Laura the very best of success, and we look forward to working with her.”

Kennedy has been active in NYSARC at both the statewide and local levels for more than three decades. She has served on the NYSARC, Inc. Board of Governors representing the New York City Chapter, served as Senior Vice President, Vice President of the Southeast Region, Secretary, and chaired the NYSARC, Inc. Membership Committee. She has also served as a member of numerous committees, including Ad Hoc Special Committee on Structure, Education, Issues and Positions, Quality Standards Oversight and Ad Hoc NYSARC MCO Committees. She is President of the New York City Chapter of NYSARC, Inc. and is currently a member of the Chapter Board of Directors.

Justina Hendricks to Receive DSP of the Year Award

Justina Hendricks, a Community Support Professional based at AHRC New York City’s Howie Stone Adult Day Center in the Bronx, is considered so knowledgeable and helpful by her coworkers that they have taken to calling her The Oracle. While her ESP might be called into question, what is not up for debate is her dedication to the people she serves and the love and care she brings with her each day to work. In fact, Justina has received a great honor as a result of her commitment to the disabled population and Howie Stone ADC. She has been announced the Direct Support Professional of the Year for the New York City region of the New York State Association of Day Service Providers (NYSADSP).

I’ve had a lot of great supervisors and coworkers over the years but I’ve mostly learned how to do my job from [the people I serve],” Justina said. She began her career with AHRC in 1991. “I was going through parenting classes back then and somebody recommended AHRC to me. I’ve always enjoyed working with and nurturing people.

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Justina’s caring nature began at an early age, as during elementary school she participated in a program attending to and feeding infants. She began her work in day habilitation at Dean O’Hare Day Center in Brooklyn (which has since closed), and has made stops at many other facilities during her two-decade tenure with the agency, including Brooklyn Day Hab, Mayflower Adult Day Center, and finally settling in at the Howie Stone Adult Day Center in 2000, when it was still called Bronx Day Hab.

In her letter nominating Justina for the NYSADSP award, Charlotte Diaz, Director of Howie Stone ADC, said that “Justina is the type of staff member that every agency aspires to have on board.  She is a dedicated professional who cares deeply about the individuals she serves.  It is apparent from observing Justina that she not only has relationships with the individuals, but also rich friendships.  She makes a sincere effort to learn about the hopes and dreams of the individuals, and actively works to bring these wishes to fruition.”

In the same letter a person supported by Justina stated “She is a good person, a good teacher on my path.” Justina’s rapport with both individuals with disabilities and her coworkers at Howie Stone ADC is unparalleled-she seems to know everybody’s name and treats all with dignity and respect.

Justina will be traveling up to Saratoga Springs on November 5, 6, and 7 to attend some workshops and to receive her award for her outstanding achievements. “I am excited to receive the award and I thank my coworkers along with the people I serve. They allow me to be me,” she said. She also said that working with this population has taught her strategies to improve her own life. “They give me the skills to keep myself going. People who are quiet teach me to be quiet.” She also thanked the agency as a whole for her accomplishments. “Receiving this award is a beautiful reflection on AHRC’s ability to train a person to succeed.” AHRC NYC is humbled and grateful to employ such a dedicated, hard-working, and caring employee like Justina Hendricks, and this award is well-deserved.

College Comic Con Fosters Creativity and Community

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Students from all three of AHRC New York City’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Programs  – Kingsborough Community College (KCC), College of Staten Island (CSI), and HOSTOS Community College in the Bronx-participated in the first annual AHRC NYC College Comic Con. The unique event took place at St. Margaret’s House, a housing facility for elderly and disabled New Yorkers run by the historic Trinity Church on Fulton St. in Lower Manhattan.  The day centered on the presentation of KCC and CSI’s summer project, graphic novels that students from both schools created using their own life experiences combined with the endless possibilities found in the medium of comic books. This was the first time that the three college programs were together at the same event.

The day began with an icebreaking exercise to introduce the students and staff to one another. Each attendee was given a name tag and asked to select an alliterative adjective to accompany their name. The results were amusing, with humorous monikers such as Exotic Esteban and Fantastic Fran. Next, everyone was given a laminated puzzle piece and instructed to form groups by matching the pieces together. The puzzles came together to form covers of famous comic books and strips such as Spider Man, Archie, and The Simpsons. Once the groups were formed, staff members went around passing out two dialogue-free comic strips to each section and instructed them to craft a short skit based solely on the actions and mannerisms presented in the panels. Mentors and students worked together to create scenes rife with pop culture allusions and hilarious caricatures. In the final performance a group made a spot-on impression of Matthew Weiler, Facility Director of KCC and CSI, attempting to make a phone call to his colleagues.

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Students and staff prepare and present their comic strip interpretations

Next KCC and CSI presented their graphic novels to the audience. The initial idea for the project was sparked by Ethan Jones, a student at KCC. “On Friday, April 25 I was presenting a photo graphic novel I had made with my friends at a self-advocacy conference,” Ethan said. “I was with Matt at the time and I think he was inspired by my graphic novel to make it a summer project for us.” The first page of both books opened with the following introduction: “This issue was inspired by the lives of distinction [as] part of the Melissa Riggio mission statement. It was decided by students and mentors alike to write a story where the heroes are captured and forced to live a life of conformity where they are prohibited from being their own individual person and realize how being themselves is the most important thing and hero can be.”

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Young Heroes Academy proudly shows off their trophy

KCC’s graphic novel was entitled Campus Heroes and used illustration techniques reminiscent of rotoscope animation, featured in films such as A Scanner Darkly and the famous Take on Me video by A-ha. CSI’s creation was called Young AHRC Heroes  Academy: Origins; these artists also created accompanying shirts with a “YA” logo that evokes memories of the X-Men insignia. Both comics featured their heroes, modeled on the students themselves, overcoming barriers to find happiness and comfort in self-expression. At the end of the presentations, students from HOSTOS judged the two graphic novels and picked which one they liked the most, ultimately deciding on Young Heroes Academy.

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KCC students and staff  hold up “Campus Heroes”

Following a brief award ceremony in which all participants were thanked and applauded for their hard work, KCC and CSI presented HOSTOS with an invitation to participate in next year’s Comic Con Competition. Matt expressed that he was extremely satisfied with the event and proud of the students. “They took what was just a simple idea for a graphic novel and grew it into something so much more.”

Ingredients for Success

AHRC New York City’s Young Adult Internship Program

While volunteering for an organization in his community, Garey Santano heard about AHRC New York City’s Young Adult Internship Program (YAIP), which provides paid internship opportunities for people ages 16 to 24 who are out of school and unemployed, as well as job placement assistance, assistance in obtaining a GED, guidance in preparing for college applications, and information about financial aid for higher education.

This is a very rare opportunity for people in my position,” says Garey.  “For me, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”  When Garey was a kid, he dreamed of becoming a chef, and YAIP is helping him to learn more about culinary arts.

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Garey’s interests also include technology, and he joined YAIP with a hope that his internship would lead to part-time work that would allow him to pursue a degree in either mechanical or computer engineering.

Each YAIP session begins with three weeks of classroom-based skill building in which participants practice interviewing skills, build their resumes, and participate in discussions about the workplace. On Friday, August 8, 2014, the members of the current session learned about discrimination in the workplace through a discussion led by Melissa Limeri, who works as an instructor for the program. Melissa provided the class with handouts of a worksheet titled Is This Discrimination?

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Working in small groups, the cohort members discussed several written scenarios describing potential cases of discrimination. The groups were asked to decide if each provided scenario either did or did not constitute discrimination.  The discussion that followed incorporated each member of the classroom, as they delivered their findings.  One of the cohort members, Joseph Cosenza noted that it’s important to have a wide variety of people in the workplace, because each person can contribute to a successful outcome by bringing their own perspective to bear.  Through discussions about workplace environments, people participating in the program learn how to communicate, work together, and find success in their chosen careers.

After the classroom training, the program continues with an 11-week paid internship for each participating young adult.  They can choose to intern in retail, maintenance, or culinary arts fields.  Garey Santano chose to learn more about cooking, and began his internship through Project Renewal, which hosts a culinary arts kitchen that caters to homeless people and veterans.

I’m really enjoying the internship,” says Garey. “I’ve developed the ability to know what is needed [in a recipe] by smelling, as opposed to tasting. Certain herbs can be used to change the overall flavor, and according to the ingredients you use, you can make a variety of tastes.”

Through his internship, Garey is able to see what his work means to people. He has had the opportunity to practice his skills, and also to work at the events where his food is distributed. Garey has been invited to continue to train at the culinary arts kitchen when his internship period ends.  His participation in YAIP has made Garey rethink the steps he will need to take to reach his career goals.  He continues to envision a college degree in engineering, but he hopes to combine this with his love for cooking. “I’d like to start off by working in corporate kitchens to earn money for school, and maybe one day I can learn enough to create a process that produces healthier foods.”

The skills you learn [through YAIP] are very helpful,” says Garey. “They’re committed to helping you reach your goals, and they encourage you to take the initiative as they point you in the right direction.”

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Additional stories of young adults from the current YAIP cohort are available on AHRC New York City’s Facebook page. CLICK HERE to read more!

The Young Adult Internship Program, (YAIP) is funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development, (DYCD).  They are very supportive in coordinating and partnering with AHRC New York City in helping to change lives of young adults in New York City for the better, by connecting them to employment or educational opportunities.