EDSN Leads the Way with Disability Employment

jonIt’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.” Easterseals Disability Staffing Network (EDSN) is the social venture employment agency that matches people with disabilities with a wide range of private sector employers, and aims to empower individuals with disabilities to obtain competitive and meaningful work that we launched this summer.

To recognize the importance of empowering people of all abilities, and to educate about the benefits of an inclusive workforce, two members of the EDSN team have shared their personal experiences, and their roles in educating employers and helping individuals with disabilities find meaningful employment.

Vera Damanka is the talent acquisition manager and she spends most of her time reaching out to potential employees, whether through job fairs or partner organizations that provide services to people with disabilities. She has been living with a disability since she was a child and working since she was 14 years-old. While in college, she developed a passion for advocating for more resources, support and accommodations for students with disabilities. By the time an opportunity to work with EDSN came along, she was ready to take on the challenges of actively placing her fellow peers with best matched employers.

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Timothy Kirkendall is the business development manager at EDSN and he spends his time building partnerships with private businesses and educating them about the importance and benefits in hiring individuals with disabilities. A former law enforcement officer, veteran, and U.S. Marshal, whose disabilities started developing after serving in Afghanistan, he understands the challenges wounded warriors and individuals with disabilities face when trying to seek meaningful careers. After learning to live with his disabilities and reevaluating what service he could still offer society, he discovered a strong calling towards veteran and disability advocacy.

Q: Why did you choose to work with EDSN?

Vera: I came through a referral from Program Director Deirdre Bulger. We’ve known each other for more than 3 years when she was a disability services coordinator at the college I went to. We previously worked very collaboratively together, since I ran a peer support group for students with chronic illness and disabilities. When Deirdre came to me with the opportunity, I was actually working at the time. However, I was already craving to have more of a direct impact on people in my work rather than being scripted. EDSN seem to be a good opportunity for me to be able to share my own story, so I could empower other people to be able to work competitively.

Timothy: Prior to EDSN, I worked for the Maryland State Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), helping veterans secure a variety of benefits from disability to education, and other services provided by the VA. I found the work to be challenging, but eventually left to find other opportunities around veteran advocacy. I previously met members of the Veteran Staffing Network, who I connected with through LinkedIn, and when I started communicating to my contacts that I was on the market to continue my work of supporting veterans and people with disabilities, I was told about this new position that opened.

Q: What can you share with us about your disabilities? 

Vera: Primarily, I deal with a lot of neuromuscular disabilities with symptoms that mimic an extreme form of fibromyalgia. I previously used a wheelchair to get around campus because the muscle disease was pretty debilitating, but now I use a walker. I also have a few issues with my heart and vascular system, and now also have very bad migraines.

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Timothy: My disability is a pretty wide range from having been in combat. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and other subsidiaries that come with that like depression and anxiety, which I have learned to cope with. Also, because of an accident that happened in Afghanistan, I’ve injured my neck, my spine and have bone spurring up and down. I also have a degenerative disk disease in my cervical spine, which has led to some neurological conditions like shaky hands or losing feeling in my arms. Sometimes I also have joint and knee problems. You could say, this car has definitely got some scratches on the paint and miles on it. For my disability, I feel it is important to put it out there because once we make it normal to discuss these kinds of things, it will no longer be viewed with a stigma and fear.

Q: Why is the work of EDSN so important?

Timothy: There are so many advantages that individuals with disabilities add to the workforce. In fact, one of our biggest selling points about our candidates is that many have developed their own strategies for remaining independent, and they are bringing that incredible thinking skill to your jobs. Vera and I are a great example of how the disability workforce can benefit an organization. It’s also time for a paradigm shift to happen for proactively getting more people with disabilities into the workforce. The ADA was passed more than 28 years ago and we are still having this conversation, which means not enough is being done. I also take the time to educate partners on exactly how Easterseals is able to provide us with reasonable accommodation without that much more effort.

Q: How does Easterseals provide you with reasonable accommodation?

Vera: Deirdre is good about giving Timothy and me the license to take care of our health first. She always says that if you are happy and healthy, then you are going to work harder, and the team as a whole will be a lot more successful. For example, she allows for my schedule to be flexible when it comes to my doctor’s appointments. I have a speech to text software installed on my computer, so I don’t have to type everything, and in general I don’t feel intimidated to ask for additional support that will help me feel most comfortable to be able to do my job well.

Timothy: Deirdre has a very extensive history of supporting individuals with disabilities and is very in tune with anything that we need. She doesn’t just think about those things from inside the box. It’s really up for interpretation and nothing is really off the table with her in the realm of reasonable accommodation.

Q: What are the top questions you get from individuals with disabilities seeking employment?

Vera: The number 1 question I get is: will anyone hire me? It’s heartbreaking because it’s the perception that the world may not see them as employable, and that’s just simply not true. For me, it’s a matter of first helping them identify the employers that are willing to hire people with disabilities and make accommodations. Next, I like to focus on ensuring our candidates’ resumes and professional development skills are impeccable, and that they are confident talking about their skills to employers.

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The second question is associated with the fear of losing their disability benefits when they go back to work, which can be income based. We understand that for them to even qualify for those benefits took a great deal of time, so the risk of losing it due to work is a valid fear. But through the Ticket to Work program, many of our candidates can try out working without the fear of losing their benefits. We also have different work incentives throughout the course of the program, which will help allow for benefits to slowly taper off over time. And we have opportunities for expedited reinstatement of disability benefits, if for whatever reason an individual suddenly needs to stop working without having to go through the entire application process.

The third biggest worry is about accommodation and disclosure of their disability. A lot people don’t actually know what accommodation they need. They just know that they need them, and they don’t know how and when to present an employer with that information. These are the things I go over with candidates when they have their one-on-one coaching sessions.

Q: What’s the biggest concerns employers have about hiring individuals with disabilities?

Timothy: Cost is the biggest concern for most employers, especially small businesses. It’s understandable, but that is why we remind them about the tax credits and ADA compliance. We’ve also had companies feel they were doing charity by hiring an individual with a disability, so why should they have to pay to do charity. I remind them that this is not charity. EDSN is sending a qualified individual who has already been vetted and is ready to do the work. All we ask is that the companies interview the individual and see if they meet the qualifications of the job, regardless of their disability. All our candidates are looking for a hand-up, not a handout.

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The other concerns companies have is usually surrounding the types of disabilities our candidates have. We get questions like: how is it going to affect my business? What are reasonable accommodations? With our candidates, companies have to remember that EDSN would have already done the work by vetting these individuals and sending them best-matched candidates. As for reasonable accommodations, we will work with companies to set that up once a candidate has been accepted.  EDSN is not interested in throwing bodies at jobs, but rather building relationships and setting up our candidates for meaningful work.

Q: What kinds of jobs do EDSN candidates qualify for?

Vera: Literally anything. Hospitality, construction, electrician, mental health counselors, career coaches, judges, litigation assistance, network security specialists, IT, and clerical. We have candidates, who have worked previously for federal agencies with top secret clearances to candidates who have been house- keepers for 22 years and want to continue to do that work.

Timothy: As for employers we talk to everyone. I’ve met with Dell and Microsoft, as well as small mom and pop businesses. I’ve also met potential employers in the legal, medical, IT, janitorial, and hospitality industries. That’s the way I like it because EDSN has to have a portfolio that is as diverse as the community we serve, and no one disability or the individuals that have them is the same.

For more information on the EDSN program for potential employer partners, talent, or the Ticket to Work Program, please go to EDSN.ESEAL.ORG.

Shining a Light on Veteran Suicide

For Suicide Prevention month this September, I would like to share an important guest blog from Tracy Neal-Walden, PhD (Col-Ret), Director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Clinic. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a retired Air Force Colonel with more than 25 years of experience in mental health treatment, leadership, outreach, and policy.

Tracy-Bio2As a clinical psychologist, the topic of suicide prevention has been a central focus of my practice, research, and overall professional interest. However, as a veteran who served in the military for 24 years, I feel it is important to help shine a light on some critical information surrounding veteran suicide awareness and prevention, which can be a complex challenge for many friends and family members of veterans.

Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on veteran suicide and it stated that approximately twenty American veterans take their own lives every day. Veterans, in general, are 21 percent more likely to take their lives than civilians. But what was most alarming about the report is the fact that over the last 13 years the suicide rate among male veterans increased by almost 30 percent, while for female veterans it increased by more than 62 percent.  Moreover, firearms are consistently the most used method of suicide for both male and female veterans.

To understand the reasons behind the increase in veteran suicide, it is important to recognize some of the risk factors related to suicide such as financial issues, relationship difficulties, health concerns, and legal issues such as DUIs. We also know that the risk for suicide increases for someone dealing with multiple risk factors.

In order to be effective with suicide prevention, it is important that friends and family members are aware of subtle changes that may be happening with someone they think may be experiencing difficulty and who served in the military. You don’t have to inquire about the details, but you could ask, “Are you ok? You don’t seem like yourself.” Alternatively, you can just say, “I know that you have a lot going on in your life right now, but I’m here if you want to talk.”  Moreover, it is important to check back in with the person even after you believe that their issue is resolved. This is important because is it often assumed that someone is doing better because they may appear as if everything is fine.

Another important preventive measure, especially for veterans, is reducing access to means, such as firearms.  If you know of someone, who is at risk, ask if they have access to weapons and help them to find a method to secure it, such as giving the weapon to a friend, securing it and any ammunition at two separate locations, locking the weapon in the base armory, if they have access to one.

To learn more about Suicide Prevention and Awareness, check out the following videos by the Cohen Veterans Network:

On Saturdays, September 29 and October 20, we are organizing a team for the “Out of the Darkness” Community Walks to help raise awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which supports survivors of suicide loss. More information is available here.

If you know of a veteran needing help, please encourage them to contact The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals at (240)-847-7500. We provide mental health services to any veteran who served in the U.S. Armed Services, including National Guard and Reserves and regardless of role, length of service or discharge status. We also provide services to their family members and regardless of their ability to pay.

Top Five Leadership Lessons from Speakers at the George W. Bush Institute

jonRecently, I was catching up with Dr. Marta Wilson, Immediate Past Chair of the Easterseals DC MD VA Board, and she asked what I had learned in the first three months of attending The George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.

My first thought was how the program has reinforced for me the power of Easterseals’ recently updated Vision: to create a hopeful, inclusive community where all individuals realize their potential and live meaningful lives. The vision connects with a perspective that the Bush Institute’s Program Director of Health and Wellbeing, Kacie Kelly, shared: the key to reducing veteran suicides is not just providing better crisis care, but rather creating a life worth living. After hearing those words, I knew this program would teach me something beyond better serving veterans and military families, and extend to better serving people of all ages living with disabilities and special needs who turn to Easterseals for support.

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The program also provided opportunities to grow leadership skills. Many lessons from well-respected leaders have resonated with me in the first three months of the program. I want to share five that are useful to any business or nonprofit leader, and more broadly to any person focused on reaching a work or life goal.

  1. Set an intention for the day. During the first session at The Bush Institute, our facilitator Todd Connor, Founder of Bunker Labs, asked us to set an intention for the day. I found it made such a difference that I now have a calendar reminder every morning to set my intention for the day. By focusing on one behavior each day, I make some progress every day!
  2. Focus on developing leaders. Bob McDonald, the Eighth Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Retired Chairman, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble shared the importance of developing leaders. He noted that the success of any organization comes from having enough leaders, and they can’t be minted overnight. It’s a great reminder of the need to provide learning and development opportunities to team members, so they can grow and thrive.
  3. Keep a list of the three most important things. Tom Luce, Founding President of Meadows Mental Health Foundation, shared that one way he’s able to stay focused when things get hectic (when aren’t they hectic?!) is to keep a list of your three most important things in your desk drawer and refer to it daily. It’s a great method for keeping the important things top-of-mind when lots of urgent (and maybe not so important) tasks crop up.
  4. Allow others to have responsibility. President George W. Bush and General Stanley A. McChrystal shared this advice using slightly different language. General McChrystal stated, “We’re most comfortable doing what we used to do and that leads to micromanagement.” And from President Bush, “Responsibility and authority flow together. You can’t say you’re responsible, but I’m making the decisions.” These are great reminders – especially for someone like me who had a different role in the organization before becoming CEO – that people may approach a problem in a different way. And if they OWN solving that problem, that’s better than having it solved my way.
  5. Simplify to understand what’s really important. Travis Stanley-Jones, a veteran and Proprietor of Mulleadys Irish Pub, spoke of how he was overly focused on winning fine dining awards when he first opened his restaurant. This led him to grind down his team. It was only after he stepped back that he realized the overall experience of the restaurant was actually more important to his guests, and that by grinding his team, he was ensuring that his guests wouldn’t have a great experience, even if they got great food. Now, he’s got a happy staff AND great food, and that makes for a great guest experience. Whatever your business, stepping back to ensure you’re focused on what’s really important is great advice.

Please comment to let me know if these ideas resonate with you, or if you have other leadership lessons to share.

Make the First Five Years Count

As we prepare for back-to-school season, I’m pleased to share a special guest blog from L’Ornya Bowie, Easterseals DC MD VA’s Senior Director of Child Development Operations.  L’Ornya is an expert in early childhood education, bringing over 20 years’ experience, a Master of Education from Marymount University, and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Howard University.

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Did you know the first five years of your child’s life are fundamentally important? With 80 percent of brain development happening in the first five years of life, these years are the foundation that will shape your child’s future health, happiness, growth, and development. They also play an important role in your child’s future academic achievements and social relationships with family members and the community. During these years, children learn and develop more quickly than at any other time in their lives. Yet in the United States, every year, more than one million children enter school at risk of an undiagnosed developmental delay because they haven’t been screened properly, if at all.

At Easterseals, we want parents to be aware of critical developmental milestones and the signs that may be indications of developmental delays. Even more, we want them to know how to support their children in reaching these milestones and how to access early intervention if needed. Early intervention can make all the difference for a child to succeed alongside his or her peers when entering kindergarten.

As a leading provider of inclusive early care and education services, we are committed to partnering with parents to raise healthy and happy children. Here are some common developmental milestones that your child should reach by the suggested age. If you don’t see these skills developing, or if you have any concerns, talk to your pediatrician. If you need referral services for an evaluation, please email me anytime.

TALKING

  • Say “mama” and “dada” by age 1.
  • Say the names of a few objects and people by age 1.
  • Attempt nursery rhymes or short TV jingles by age 2.
  • Be understood by people outside the family by age 3.
  • Talk in short sentences by age 3.

PLAYING

  • Try to put toys in mouth by 7 months.
  • Play games such as peek-a-boo, patty cake and wave good-bye by age 1.
  • Play group games such as hide-and-seek or tag with other children by age 4.
  • Share and take turns by age 5.

THINKING

  • Respond to name when called by age 1.
  • Identify hair, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth by pointing to them by age 2.
  • Understand simple stories told or read by age 3.
  • Give reasonable answers to simple questions such as, “What do you do when you are sleepy?” or “What do you do when you are hungry?” by age 4.
  • Understand the meaning of the words “today,” “tomorrow,” and “yesterday” by age 5.

MOVING

  • Hold head up when lying on tummy by 3 months.
  • Roll over by 8 months.
  • Sit up without help or support by 9 months.
  • Crawl on hands and knees by age 1.
  • Walk by age 2.
  • Walk down steps by age 3.
  • Balance on one foot for a short time by age 4.
  • Throw and catch a large bouncing ball by age 5.

USING HANDS

  • Open hands by 3 months.
  • Bat and swipe at toys by 4 months.
  • Pass toys from one hand to the other by 9 months.
  • Pick up little objects like Cheerios by 10 months.
  • Bang toys together by 11 months.

LIVING SKILLS

  • Drink from a cup and use a spoon by 2 years.
  • Help with getting dressed by 3 years.
  • Dress without supervision by 5 years.

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For a more comprehensive assessment, consider taking Easterseals’ Confidential Make the First Five Count Screening Tool. This tool guides you with questions so that you can evaluate your child’s growth and development during the first five years. You can use the free tool when your child is at least 4-weeks-old until five-years-old. The sooner you address a developmental delay or special need, the better long-term success you can expect for your child’s overall well-being. Early intervention is key.

To learn more about Easterseals’ inclusive early care and education services, and how we can help your child reach his or her potential, click here.

What’s Your Personal Call to Serve?

Notes from the President: 

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I just returned from an exciting session at The Bush Institute’s Stand-to Veteran Leadership Program where we explored a key question each of us faces: why do you make a personal choice to stand for certain beliefs?

The Institute shared a video of a speech given by General Mark Milley, 39th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, at Easterseals’ Advocacy Awards where he talked about his personal call to serve. One sentence from General Milley had particular resonance for me. “In this country, in these United States for which I am willing to die, every single one of us is born free and equal, and you will rise based on your merit and skill, and you’re going to be judged by the content of your character, not by the color of your skin.”

I grew up without much money, so I am proud to live in a country where opportunity is available. But it is important to me that beyond available, opportunity is accessible, and that’s why I became involved with Easterseals 12 years ago.

I was fortunate to have a family that read to me and helped me prepare for school. I also had the good fortune of attending high-quality public schools. When I went to Williams College, working during the summers and part-time during the school year enabled me to cover a big chunk of my tuition, unlike today.

After college I became an investment banker, attended Tuck Business School at Dartmouth, and worked in a variety of roles in consulting, investment banking, and at a telecom company before settling down in D.C. at Capital One. Their Executive Board Leadership Program enabled me to serve on the Board of a nonprofit supported by Capital One. I visited Easterseals DC MD VA and instantly connected with the organization’s mission. I saw children of all abilities learning together as well as children from low income families getting high quality early education so they would be positioned to succeed in school and life.

Also at that time my Mom had cancer. Like any nervous son, I was worried about how to take care of her – should I get a home health aide or put her in a nursing home? Both options were deeply unsatisfying as my mom was an extremely social person and I absolutely did not want her to feel isolated. My mother was able to live independently until she entered the hospital two weeks before she died. We never needed Easterseals services for my mother, but it was comforting to know that the combination of medical and social support provided by the Adult Day Services center was available.

These events in my life connected me to Easterseals, and I am honored to be in a position to lead an extraordinary organization that is a source of comfort, relief, and opportunity. It’s really two key aspects of our Vision: hope and realized potential. Easterseals creates a hopeful, inclusive community where all individuals realize their potential and live meaningful lives.

Every day, I see families who remind me of my parents. They want to help their young children be prepared for school, but they have to work multiple jobs just to get by, let alone cover the cost of tuition. I understand how important it is for parents to be able to give their children a chance to get a good education. And I am extremely proud that Easterseals can provide low-income families with scholarships to cover the gap between the cost of delivering our high-quality early education and the reimbursement rates paid by government vouchers (it’s about a $1,000 gap per child per month).

Sometimes friends ask me, “Don’t you hate asking for money?” My reply is – I’m so passionate about our work that I’m happy to spread the word any chance I get. Expanding the services and work of Easterseals DC MD VA is my calling in life and I am honored to answer that call every day.

If you have your own personal “call to serve” story or experience (and it doesn’t even need to be Easterseals), I encourage you to share it with me in the comments below. Our community has so many needs, so I hope this post inspires you to get more involved in some way.

A New Era for Disability Employment

Notes from the President: 

jonAlmost 30 years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush made a bold pronouncement: “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”

As president and CEO of Easterseals DC MD VA, I’m proud of Easterseals’ legacy of both direct service and advocacy to change the way the world defines and views disabilities. Since our founding in 1919, we have been at the forefront of change and innovation. Our staff and volunteers were leaders in the fight for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The fight for the rights of individuals with disabilities to have equal opportunities for employment, public accommodation, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. Part of that fight was a series of advertisements to illustrate the dilemmas and desires of Americans with disabilities to have the same opportunities as every American–to live, learn, work, and play in their communities. If you’re a history buff like me, you’ll enjoy looking at these advertisements.

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Together, we have reached some incredible milestones – most Millennials and Generation Zs have no concept of life without curb cuts on sidewalks or wheelchair ramps in buildings. Most buses have wheelchair lifts. Therapy services are much more widely available. Children now have the opportunity to be educated in a less restricted environment, but rather an inclusive classroom where they can learn side-by-side with their typically developing peers.  An arrangement that benefits all.

One area that has not kept pace, however, is employment. Today only 30 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed. In the D.C. metro region there are more than 330,000 working-age individuals with disabilities who are NOT employed. Adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those without disability. The reality: although the ADA provided more access, employment continues to be a challenge.

That’s why we recently launched the Easterseals Disability Staffing Network (EDSN, pronounced “Edison”) to break down barriers to employment faced by many people with disabilities. EDSN is a social venture employment service that matches adults with various disabilities with a wide range of private sector employers. It works on two levels, first by serving as an intermediary for businesses or organizations seeking to employ individuals with disabilities. Then, recruiting from the area’s service agencies that provide job training and other support services to source a large pool of candidates. We will also recruit graduates (of colleges, high schools, and technical schools) and other employable individuals with various disabilities. Easterseals has worked with many local vocational rehabilitation, supported/customized employment, and state agencies to understand the barriers to helping more of their clients find successful jobs, as well as careers. EDSN is the next phase for progressing disability employment.

EDSN Team

EDSN also prepares candidates through our job search e-learning program, and trains employers on how to successfully integrate people with disabilities into their workforce. EDSN builds on our success with the Veteran Staffing Network (VSN), which creates new employment markets for thousands of veterans and military family members (many of whom have disabilities). Additionally, our model breaks down barriers for employers by providing the opportunity to utilize a temp-to-hire model that allows companies to try out employees. We also have a strong network with committed companies through the VSN, who already know the value of hiring people with disabilities, and can help make successful connections.

So why should companies want to hire workers who have disabilities? The answer is simple – to build a great workforce. Overall, workers with disabilities have superior timeliness and attendance records and lower turnover rates than the general workforce. There can also be tax advantages for hiring individuals with disabilities. As director of EDSN Deirdre Bulgar notes, “The desires of people with disabilities are no different from yours or mine. They want to work, make a fair wage, work in an environment where they are appreciated, and gain satisfaction that they were productive at the end of the day.”

IMG_9299With EDSN, Easterseals wants to empower individuals with disabilities to obtain integrated, competitive employment, so they can live productive and independent lives. Marsha Johnson, an employee of Easterseals, is a perfect example of an individual who has worked to her potential, despite having a disability since she was diagnosed with polio at the age of 5. For most of her life, she has lived without full use of her legs. However, her parents provided her with incredible support and motivation from the time she was a child, from connecting her to every available resources (including Easterseals) to instilling in her a sense of hard work to ensure she not only lives, but thrives. Ultimately, Marsha achieved a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Gannon University, and then worked as a social worker in Pennsylvania’s Department of Health and Human Services for 25 years. She was also the first African-American woman to be employed in the department for child welfare.

Now retired, Marsha continues to work as a front desk receptionist at Easterseals’ Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center, welcoming other members of the community of all abilities. “People come to Easterseals because they need help, and when I see them at the front desk, or answer their calls, I see my mother in them – just reaching out for help,” says Marsha.

IMG_9300Marsha is truly an inspiration and an embodiment of our vision of creating a hopeful, inclusive community where all people achieve their potential and live meaningful lives. Easterseals Disability Staffing Network is another innovative stepping stone towards that promise for thousands of Americans living with disabilities.

To learn more about Easterseals Disability Staffing Network, contact Deirdre Bulger, director of EDSN at dbulger@eseal.org.

Easterseals Brings Quality of Life to Participants with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Notes from the President: 

jonRoxy Fuentes is the activity specialist at The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Adult Day Services Center at Easterseals’ Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center in Silver Spring. Every day, she comes to work ready to put smiles on the faces of our participants. The center provides personalized, daily care and a social environment to more than 60 individuals who live with some form of disability or special need. More than half have memory loss such as Alzheimer’s disease, and the memories that remain are precious to them.

For Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I want to share some insight on how Roxy and other Easterseals staff members help our participants live meaningful lives.

First, however, I’d like to provide some facts. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost 6 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease and it is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. By 2050 this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million deaths per year. Every 65 seconds someone in America develops the disease. Currently, more than 16.1 million people provide unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

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These numbers are staggering. As the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease explodes, cost-effective, community-based care like Easterseals Adult Day Services is critical to a functional society. Furthermore, the need to support caregivers and families in addition to providing quality care to members of our community living with dementia is only growing.

Delmy Jesus Orellana and her family are a perfect example. Ten years ago, 79-year old Delmy, who lives with her daughter and three grandchildren, was diagnosed with dementia. Stretched for time and resources with other family responsibilities, Delmy’s daughter was quickly becoming overwhelmed with work, children’s school and her mother’s care. When Delmy also became depressed, Delmy’s daughter turned to Easterseals to get support for her family.

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At the Adult Day Services Center, Roxy spends her day engaging participants like Delmy with sensory activities such as art, music, cooking, puzzles, and dancing. Roxy says these activities, along with keeping participants on a predictable schedule, help them better manage their progressing memory loss. “It’s important to get to know and understand each participant as an individual because what works with one person may not work with another,” said Roxy. “I also practice a lot of patience when communicating with participants, which helps to keep them calm. For them, it can get very frustrating to forget what day it is, or how to do something, or even what they were just saying.” This is a great example of Easterseals’ core value of Respect. When you come visit you’ll see Roxy and her colleagues respecting the individual’s hopes and desires in our program.

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Roxy’s calling to work with people living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other brain disorders started when she was 7 years old taking care of her grandmother, who was in her 90s. When her grandmother passed, Roxy knew she wanted to continue working with senior citizens when she got older because it fulfilled her sense of purpose. Roxy now has over 12 years of experience that she brings to our participants. She not only leads activities, but is the center’s resident Spanish translator for participants. “What I like best about working at the center is that they really invest in resources for the participants, whether it’s communicating at their level or providing resources for engagement,” Roxy says. “People with memory issues and other disabilities need a variety of activities to stay stimulated. For example, playing a simple game of Bingo or creating a painting really helps them stay connected to a world that is slowly becoming unfamiliar to them.”

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Roxy says two of the most popular activities at the center are the Wii games and recently installed Smartboard. Both help get participants moving. The center also organizes music and dance sessions, yoga classes and local field trips. All these activities create an engaging, social, activity-filled environment. For Patricia Anderson, a 71-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease, coming to the Adult Day Center three times a week gives her a precious opportunity to interact with people. “When I’m at home, all I do is stare at 4 walls,” she says. “I look forward to coming to the center for the Zumba classes, arts and crafts and basically just talking to good friends.”

Today, I’m happy to report that Delmy is no longer depressed, and she keeps herself as healthy and active as possible by walking 40 laps around the center every day. And for Patricia, even though there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Easterseals’ staff members like Roxy will continue to do everything they can to provide support to Patricia and her family and bring smiles to participants’ faces.

Creating Leaders to Achieve More Together

Notes from the President: 

jonAs Easterseals DC MD VA embarks on implementing our ambitious strategic plan and realizing our vision of creating a hopeful, inclusive community where ALL individuals realize their potential and live meaningful lives, I’ve been struck by the increased need to enhance the leadership skills of our entire team, so that we can achieve more together.

As an organization, we are already more than halfway through a six-month journey with Unlocking Potential Foundation. This is a leadership program founded by noted executive and political figure Carly Fiorina focused on enhancing leadership skills at all levels of the organization – from direct care staff to executives – which I wrote about in a previous blog.

GWBPC Stand To - Module 1. Photo by Grant Miller

On a personal level, I am also honored to be part of the inaugural class of The Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, an initiative that helps develop the leadership skills of individuals serving our nation’s veterans. By participating, I hope to learn as much as I can about good leadership and serving veterans effectively.  In the first session, we heard from the great minds of President George W. and Mrs. Laura Bush, The Honorable Bob McDonald, Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Retired), David Brown, Tom Luce and Keith Hennessey.

Recently the initial convening was held in Dallas, and I want to share some of the learnings that are important to our community. At the start of the session, Kacie Kelly, program director at the Bush Institute, reminded us that the key to reducing veteran suicides is not just better crisis care, but rather “creating a life worth living.” I was immediately struck because it reinforced the awesome power of our own vision – to create a hopeful, inclusive community where all people achieve their potential and live meaningful lives.

GWBPC Stand To - Module 1. Photo by Grant Miller

Maureen Casey, CEO of Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, also reinforced the importance of serving the entire community. She reminded us that military spouse unemployment (16 percent) and veteran underemployment (15 percent) remains at an all-time high, despite veteran unemployment rates dropping over the last few years.

I am proud that the Veteran Staffing Network (VSN) and Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals serve the entire military community – spouses and family members, guard and reserve, wounded warriors – in addition to veterans. We help military families on multiple levels from providing counseling, childcare and respite care to finding employment. Additionally, the VSN not only focuses on finding veterans jobs, but on long-term career placements with higher salaries. And our recent partnership with Blue Star Families will help address the high unemployment and underemployment of military spouses.

GWBPC Stand To - Module 1. Photo by Grant Miller

For nearly 100 years, Easterseals has been a leader in serving individuals with disabilities or special needs. We have always known that family support is crucial to successful outcomes. That is why we extend our services to caregivers as well. As we continue our work making profound, positive differences in the lives of people of all ages with disabilities, special needs, military backgrounds and their families, I want to highlight just a few key ideas that I took away with from The Bush Institute that I plan to apply as head of this great organization:

  • Focus on values-based leadership and explain your values to the team, so that they can grow in their decision-making capabilities.
  • Be intentional by setting a small number of priorities and referring back to them daily to avoid distraction.
  • Assign a rotating “devil’s advocate” to ensure you hear all perspectives before making decisions.
  • Leverage data so you’re not just another guy with an opinion.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on our vision or leadership.  Please email me jhorowitch@eseal.org.

Easter Seals Celebrates and Supports Mothers

Notes from the President: 

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Mother’s Day is May 13. As a community-based organization dedicated to fulfilling our mission of making profound, positive differences in the daily lives of people of all ages with disabilities, special needs, military backgrounds, and their families, Easter Seals is pleased to celebrate this special day and support Moms and their families all year around.

We also recognize that it’s important for mothers to get a break to care for themselves sometimes. That’s why Easter Seals Serving DC MD VA has a respite program for families of children with disabilities or special needs, and their siblings, including military and Wounded Warrior families. Respite days prevent burnout and keep families whole.

Cheryl Niles is a military spouse with two daughters, one of whom has significant health problems and requires constant care. She learned about Easter Seals respite care from a resource on base and she said it was a defining moment for her. She worked with Easter Seals to set up regular in-home respite care for her daughter Madeline every week. “You can’t just have a babysitter when you have a child with so many needs,” says Cheryl.  “But because of Easter Seals, I can truly take comfort in knowing that we have someone who is qualified to take care of our daughter.”

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In addition, Cheryl’s girls enjoy community-based respite events monthly at our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center. Children are paired one-on-one with volunteers through a careful matching process, then  spend a fun day doing age-appropriate activities. Then their mothers – and other caregivers – can take a break from caregiving while knowing their children are having a wonderful time.

The events provide one-on-one interaction between children and trained volunteers and have included magicians, face painters, clowns, petting zoos and other engaging, hands-on activities.

Jaster Family PhotoAnother mom, Megan Jaster, has four children with different special needs and a spouse who deploys regularly. In addition to in-home respite, her kids come to the monthly events to have fun. “At Easter Seals, my kids can just be kids, with other children with special needs and without,” Megan says.

If you’d like to volunteer in the respite program or need respite support, please contact Brooke Kaiser at bkaiser@eseal.org.

So, happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and especially to mothers of children with disabilities and military children.

Celebrating a Personal Call to Serve at the Advocacy Awards Dinner

Notes from the President: 

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On May 22, 2018, we will gather to honor the Cohen Veterans Network and General Mark and Mrs. Hollyanne Milley, 39th Chief of Staff of the United States Army at our Advocacy Awards dinner.

I look forward to this event each year as we celebrate the hopeful, inclusive community created by Easter Seals’ incredible staff, and honor advocates who have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to advancing opportunities for children and adults with disabilities or special needs, including military families. The Advocacy Awards Dinner also brings together leaders in business, government relations, and professional services along with military and government dignitaries to support vital Easter Seals programs and celebrate our collective impact on our community.

MG-Mark-A.-Milley.jpgThis year we are pleased to honor General Mark A. Milley 39th Chief of Staff of the United States Army and his wife of 33 years, Hollyanne Milley. General Milley has been in the Army for 35 years. He has led forces in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, and he served on the operations staff of The Joint Staff as a Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. General Milley assumed duty as the 39th Chief of Staff of the United States Army on August 14, 2015, a position he continues to hold.

Mrs. Milley is a nurse and spent eighteen years working in a hospital setting as a Critical Care Nurse in intensive care units and emergency rooms. For the last 13 years she has specialized in Cardiac Nursing. In addition to serving as an advisor to Easter Seals as a member of our Ambassador Committee, Mrs. Milley volunteers with and advises several organizations including the Red Cross, USO, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Remote Area Medical in the Appalachian Mountains each summer to tend to those who cannot afford medical care.

MilleyWe will also recognize the Cohen Veterans Network, a non-profit organization created by Steven A. Cohen to serve post- 9/11 veterans and their military families by providing high-quality, accessible, and integrated mental health care. The Cohen Veterans Network seeks to improve the quality of life for veterans, including those from the National Guard and Reserves, and their families regardless of discharge status. Cohen Veterans Network works to strengthen mental health outcomes and complement existing support to save lives, save families and save futures.

Through a national network of Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics, including the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals, veterans, their families and the family members of active duty military receive low to no-cost, personalized, and evidence-based mental health care, case management support, and local referrals to deal with other stresses like unemployment, finances, housing, and legal issues. cvn-summit-homepage

Easterseals has been proud to partner with Cohen Veterans Network. The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals opened last November and has served nearly 200 veterans and family members to-date.

I would like to thank our Inspiration Sponsor for this event, Transformation Systems, Inc., as well as our Independence Sponsors Booz, Allen, Hamilton; Citi; and OptumServe. In addition, I want to thank our Media Sponsors Washingtonian and Washington Business Journal.

If you are interested in being a sponsor of this event or purchasing tickets, you can find more information on our website or you can contact our Director of Events, Abby Cikanovich at 301-920-9702 or acikanovich@eseal.org.

I look forward to seeing you on May 22nd at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center!