Easter Seals Southern Georgia's capital campaign has raised over $300,000 since it launched the campaign in February last year. The goal is $500,000. The money goes to building a new and bigger Megan's House so that more families can utilize the respite home.
Family Support is a broad based category that serves children and adults, ages 3 and up, who have intellectual/development disabilities and autism. The goal of family support is to keep families together, until the individual with a disability chooses to live independently.
Children and adults with disabilities and special needs find highest-quality services designed to meet their individual needs when they come to Easterseals. Teams of therapists, teachers and other health professionals help each person overcome obstacles to independence and reach his or her personal goals. Easterseals also includes families as active members of any therapy program, and offers the support families need.
Respite is time limited, temporary relief provided to the primary caregiver of individuals with a disability. Respite allows families, who may otherwise be home bound, the opportunity to enjoy a well deserved break. This service is designed to relieve families/caregivers of the physical or emotional stress associated with caring for an individual with disabilities.
Family Support is a broad based category that serves children and adults, ages 3 and up, who have intellectual/developmental disabilities and autism. The goal of family support is to keep families together, until the individual with a disability chooses to live independently. Family support is designed to improve the quality of supports to families, while minimizing the need and cost of out of home placements. Respite/Family Support services are available to residents in 54 counties in Southern Georgia.
Megan's House is a respite home for children ages 0-17 who have developmental disabilities, autism, or are medically fragile. Direct care is provided by qualified, experienced Direct Support Professional and individualized care plans are developed by the Registered Nurse on staff. Megan's House is available for a minimum of 24 hours to a maximum of two weeks per visit and may serve up to two children at one time. Services are provided in three locations, Albany, Valdosta and Waycross.
The Champions for Children Program is designed to primarily assist children and families who do not meet the eligibility requirements for the TEFRA/Katie Beckett Medicaid program.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021, 10:50 AM
October is National Disability Employment Awareness month, and it’s World Series month, too. What be…
October is National Disability Employment Awareness month, and it’s World Series month, too. What better time to write this homage to a talented professional with one of the most coveted jobs in sports?
First, here is some background.
Many of the things I take on are difficult to do without being able to see. Some are even scary. I used to keep that to myself, afraid that admitting it would give others license to put me in a disability “box” and assume I have limitations that just aren’t there.
Enter sports broadcaster Jason Benetti, a role model for me since 2018. That’s the year he started doing play-by-play alongside baseball analyst Steve Stone for NBC Sports Chicago. When it comes to living above and beyond the pigeonholes people try to squeeze disabled people into, he’s my guy.
This month, Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” wrote a piece about Jason for Chicago Magazine. The title of the story, “The Storyteller of the White Sox,” is followed by this fabulous tagline:
If you follow the White Sox, you likely know broadcaster Jason Benetti was born with cerebral palsy. But that’s just the start of his story.
Jason was born 10 weeks early and spent his first three months of life in neonatal intensive care. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler, he grew up in a south suburb of Chicago. Both of his parents are White Sox fans, and for Jason, doing play-by-play for the Sox is a dream job.
That White Sox gig is by no means the only broadcasting he does. Not by a longshot. If you’re a sports fan, you might have heard him on ESPN’s alternate “StatCast” telecasts, or broadcasting other Major League Baseball games, or doing NFL games and NCAA basketball, too.
Jason is smart and funny and calls the plays so well that I, his number 1 blind fan, can picture them.
And in his Chicago Magazine article on Benetti, Peter Sagal paints a pretty good picture in words, too. Here’s how Sagal explains the way Benetti — and many other people with disabilities — have to adjust our own attitudes sometimes. From the article:
Jason knows people stare at him. They always have. Jason knows that his legs are oddly curved, that he walks with a full-body hitch in his step, and that his eyes point in two different directions, making people who don’t know him think he’s congenitally stupid. Jason is far too kind to put it this way, and too well mannered, but his remarkable career and potentially unlimited success isn’t a triumph over adversity. It’s a message to everybody who ever called him a gimp, to parents who told their children not to stare, to the flight attendant who asked him three times if he could handle the weighty duties of sitting in an exit row, and, while we’re at it, to the rival Jason beat out for a college radio sports director job who said, on a public forum, “Well, at least he will be a great magazine story.”
Ironies of ironies, Jason Benetti has inspired Peter Sagal to write a great magazine story here. Not one about “overcoming” a disability or working “despite” his disability, but one about his work in a highly-competitive field. When it comes to sports broadcasting, Benetti’s achievements speak for themselves.
My husband Mike, a big White Sox fan, read the Chicago Magazine story out loud to me so I wouldn’t have to hear it online in my talking computer’s robotic voice. When he got to a part where Sagal writes about Jason’s view of the tendency to make poster children out of people with disabilities, Mike said, “You know, I’ve always felt this way, too, but I never would have been able to articulate it like Jason Benetti does!” From the article:
I ask him about his role as a symbol of hope and triumph to the disabled and abled alike. He remains sensitive about it, especially the suspicion — fading but still lingering — that he got his chances to succeed only so he could make everybody else feel better. “You know those video clips where, say, the high school football team lets its disabled manager suit up and take the field and the other team lets him score a touchdown? I have an aversion to those. It’s like dropping food on a country in a famine. It’s nice and a good thing … but what’s going to happen after that?”
The part I myself related to the most came towards the end of the article, when friends from his days at Syracuse University chime in. One of them points out that back in college, Jason tripped an fell more than others did:
And we were walking one night home from a party, and he tripped and fell. And none of us cared — it was very normal. It’s not like he was being bullied by anyone. But that would ruin him for 48 hours. We would have to go home. … He was trying so hard to not have his disability be a factor. When it did, he … got angry.”
The angry part? I’m afraid that’s the part I could especially relate to. When coming back home after a walk with my Seeing Eye dog, I sometimes grope for a while before finding the door handle to get back inside. When crossing the streets here, we aren’t always exactly in the middle of the crosswalk. I know where the mailbox is, but I don’t always find the slot to put the letters in right away. I’m fine with making mistakes like that…unless someone sees me do them. Then I get flustered, worried how they’re judging me, frustrated. I read that last excerpt over again and see that my role model’s old college friend used past tense when mentioning Jason’s reaction: he got angry. That implies he doesn’t get that way anymore. Time for me to make that change, too. As this 2021 baseball season comes to a close, Jason and I have enough to feel frustrated and vulnerable and angry about: the Chicago White Sox didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs!
Thursday, October 7, 2021, 11:27 AM
I have Muscular Dystrophy which requires full care for all activities of daily living. Through home …
I have Muscular Dystrophy which requires full care for all activities of daily living. Through home and community-based services in New Jersey, I am able to live in the community rather than an institution. I have a full-time job at Easterseals, where I work with the national staff as a Digital Content Producer. I also work on video game accessibility and disability representation as a freelance consultant. Beyond work, I spend time with my family and my loving partner of almost 7 years. I love reading and just redecorated my bedroom to look like a Victorian library – a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl. My family just got a Yorkshire Terrier named Madelyn who loves to run around my room and jump on my wheelchair. On the weekends, I play games with my niece who just started 5th grade, and help her with her homework.
I share all of that with you to let you understand my humanity. To show you that I am not just a number on a page, or a statistic. My life has value, as all lives do. If I lived in an institution, I would not be able to do any of the things I cherish. My physical and mental well-being would be in jeopardy. If you truly believed in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for all, then do the right thing and fully fund home and community-based services. We need that funding so people like me, who are disabled and have great plans for their future, can realize those dreams.
This issue doesn’t just impact people with disabilities – it also impacts their loved ones and professional caretakers. Higher wages are needed to meet the demand of people living in the community. We can’t meet that demand if we don’t receive the full funding. Without it, that means even longer waitlists, and even more people dying in institutions. During the height of COVID, we lost so many people living in these congregate settings, making the demand for community care more pressing than ever.
Segregation is injustice. The disability community is paying attention to the vote. Make the right choice not just for us, but for the entire nation – because only a nation that is more just and equal is truly united.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021, 10:05 AM
An interview with Crystal Odom-McKinney, National Director of Senior Community Service Employment P…
An interview with Crystal Odom-McKinney, National Director of Senior Community Service Employment Programs (SCSEP), and Max Zielinski, Assistant National Director of SCSEP at Easterseals discussing the importance of SCSEP services at Easterseals. Through this transitional employment program, Easterseals partners with community-based non-profit organizations and government agencies (host agencies) to provide participants with training opportunities to update their skills. During time in SCSEP, job seekers work with Easterseals staff to target and achieve personal employment goals.
What is the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Easterseals?
Crystal: The Senior Community Services Employment Program (SCSEP) is a federally funded program through the United States Department of Labor that assists low-income mature job-seekers, 55-year-old or older, in building their skills to becoming employed in the workforce. This government funded program has been around since 1965. Easterseals has been a part of SCSEP for the past 18 years.
What are some of the best things about hiring older workers? Why should companies consider this untapped market?
Crystal: Mature workers are reliable, they are dependable, experienced, and trustworthy. They add so much value to any company or organization. That diversity in the workforce is crucial. A lot of times mature job-seekers are cross-trained over the younger generation with the soft skills that are especially important in the workforce such as being extremely punctual, and having interpersonal people skills. That is an area that our mature job-seekers can ace their younger counterparts in.
Max: Also, their life experiences, just bring a different perspective. Mature job-seekers have been through many different life events, and they just have a different view on things. A company or organization can tap in on that and come at any issue with this different point of view.
A lot of our folks are very punctual; they will show up maybe 15 minutes to a half hour before they are supposed to be at a meeting. That’s awesome! They bring a zest for being involved. That is a fantastic asset to bring to a company – wanting to be there, wanting to learn.
Crystal: Hire for the attitude and train for the skill.
Max: Our folks have great attitudes, and they are very trainable. They love to learn new stuff. They know the importance of learning because that’s how you keep going in life. I look at it this way – they may think they are old, but, from the perspective of the universe, we are all super young.
Crystal: Mature job seekers want to be active and vibrant; they want to be involved in community engagement. And they want to fulfill that purpose. A lot of careers that our SCSEP participants are closely connected to, during this season in their life, are around community service, non-profit, and social services—because they want to give back. It’s a sense of belonging that they never knew they had. Because they love to give back and they love to help. They really do well in those environments.
What is your advice to a mature job-seeker who is concerned that their age might work against them while on the job hunt?
Max: We tell job seekers that you have a lot to offer an employer. Highlight what you bring to the table– years of experience, being on time, dedication to getting the job done. We always tell mature seekers to know that they are an asset, rather than an “older worker.” I always tell job-seekers that it’s a numbers game. The more places you apply to, the closer you get to your launching point. The next job could be a stepping stone to another career! If there is one thing the SCSEP program does, it really works to improve people’s confidence and let them know that they have a lot of self-worth to bring back to the workforce. That confidence is what we work to instill in everybody.
Crystal: The job market is amazing right now. There are jobs out there. Think about everything that you bring to the table. Your wisdom, your experience and your patience highlight valued assets in the workforce. We hold up a mirror to our job-seekers and tell them this is how valuable you are, and this is what you bring to the plate.
How has the pandemic affected the employment status of the aging community in the SCSEP programs?
Crystal: During the pandemic, our Easterseals staff had to pivot to working virtually. What’s more amazing is that our job seekers also pivoted to virtual as well. Many of our mature job seekers learned Teams, and Zoom. Easterseals Oregon has a weekly town hall where over 100 mature job seekers are on Zoom, in the chat box, and actively participating. Our mature job seekers have bounced into a state of resiliency. That was really a testament to how they learned and how they continue to learn.
Moving forward with the job market, it’s been interesting. Depending on how open your state is, job-seekers are pivoting to a virtual experience. We are working more to make sure their toolboxes are equipped with the skills necessary to become employable, that relates to virtual employment. We have training and workshops on how to show up to virtual meetings, and have a Zoom background. We also have mature trainers who can speak side by side about their experiences in navigating through the pandemic. We have had a lot of successes, but we still have quite a way to go.
Has the pandemic shown that there is a technology disparity among mature job-seekers?
Max: Yes. The pandemic highlighted that our population definitely needs more access to technology because, for some of them, getting on to the internet might be an issue. Going forward, we need to make sure we can find funding or find opportunities for folks to get computers.
In New Jersey, we were really fortunate. We found an organization that was started by high school student – he refurbishes computers, and we were able to get 50 of our participants computers so that they could get on the internet. We are looking to see if we can expand that into our New York program.
As far as employment, we did have a streak going prior to the pandemic – we were getting a participant a job a day for 5 straight years! When the pandemic hit, we were getting a job every other day. In 2021, we are getting back on track with getting a job a day for our participants, which is exciting. We are keeping our fingers crossed that continues.
Is there a link between any SCSEP programs and the push for Congress to pass the infrastructure bill that would fully fund Home and Community-based services? Would any of the SCSEP programs be enhanced if this bill were to be passed?
Max: Improving the internet and cyber infrastructure would open that up to more communities and give our folks more opportunities to get involved, to look for employment, and to be able to be more a part of their communities. In the Build Back Better Agenda, there is funding for the SCSEP programs in there and hopefully it will get through appropriations – keeping our fingers crossed. Moving forward, hopefully there is more funding coming down the pipeline for employment-based programs that SCSEP does benefit from.
Crystal: Additionally, when infrastructure of our roads is improved, that will enable our job-seekers to be more accessible to opportunities in their communities.
What SCSEP programs at Easterseals are you most proud of and why?
Max: All of them. I am proud of all our programs. Since we are a national organization, I look at all of our programs like a family. They all bring different things to the table, but the part that really keeps me motivated and going is getting to share in their triumphs. Meeting with the participants that we serve, and listening to their stories, getting to talk to them, and let them know that we are here at the national level to help.
What do you hope to see next for the SCSEP programs?
Max: We are always looking at ways to increase the reach of SCSEP because, with the funding that we get, we are serving probably less than 1% of the population that would be eligible for SCSEP. So, there are a lot of people out there who probably don’t know about the program, or we can’t serve them because we don’t have the funding to do that. It’s kind of a shame because we are the only program that serves older Americans and mature workers.
The population does seem to be getting older every day. More people are realizing that retiring at 65 is just not the reality anymore. People are living a lot longer now, so you can be engaged and continue on and have a fruitful life.
What do you want mature job-seekers to know about SCSEP services at Easterseals?
Crystal: Easterseals is here, and here to stay. We are here to help break barriers as it relates to mature job seekers and get them what they need by whatever means necessary — access to technology, increased access to training, and employment opportunities. We are here to dispel myths and work directly with employers to educate them around the value of mature workers and workers with disabilities, while celebrating our continued victories of employment and training opportunities.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 11:09 AM
My 15-year-old author friend Anja Herrman, a.k.a. DJ Mermaid, is going to be on WBEZ, Chicago Public…
My 15-year-old author friend Anja Herrman, a.k.a. DJ Mermaid, is going to be on WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio, today, September 22, 2021 at 3:44 pm. I wrote a post here years ago when a conversation Anja had with her aunt first aired on StoryCorps, and today I’m sorry to report that the national StoryCorps project has decided to permanently close its Chicago StoryCorps booth. Since they first opened in 2013, StoryCorps Chicago has recorded and preserved more than 4,000 facilitated interviews in the Chicago StoryBooth, but that all ends this week, when StoryCorps Chicago is ceasing operations.
But rest assured, there is some good news to this blog post! To honor its official end this week, 10 StoryCorps pieces produced by WBEZ’s talented soundman Bill Healy over the past seven years have been chosen to air again, and guess what? One of them is that conversation Anja had with her aunt back in 2015!
Anja’s five-minute story will play on WBEZ today, Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 3:44 PM CST. Anja was only nine years old during that conversation, and I have it on good sources (Anja’s mom!) that the piece WBEZ airs today will include a little update from Anja now, at age 15.
I came to know Anja especially well when she was nine years old and learning at home during a casting program (casts on both legs from her hips down to her ankles). She was schooled at home for two months back then, and I was her at-home writing tutor. Many of her completed assignments have been published as guest posts here on our Easterseals National blog, and you can read this post from 2016 to learn how and why she had all her posts back then published under the pen name DJ Mermaid.
A published writer and disability activist these days, Dj Mermaid goes by her real name now: Anja K. Herrman.
Anja was the winner of the Primary Division Playwright Discovery Program at the Kennedy Center in 2019, and a keynote speaker at the #EachforEqual International Women’s Day Event in 2020. Her work has been featured in Magnets and Ladders, Input Magazine, the Disabled Writers blog and the Huffington Post.
Anja uses a power wheelchair to navigate her public school now, she’s learned a lot about ableism in the past six years and is sure to have a lot to say when StoryCorps asks for an update. Join me by tuning in to hear it all on WBEZ in Chicago or asking your smart speaker to “play WBEZ” at 3:44 central time today, Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
Tuesday, September 7, 2021, 2:25 PM
My family makes it a priority to take a vacation together every year. Some vacations are smaller (Wi…
My family makes it a priority to take a vacation together every year. Some vacations are smaller (Wisconsin Dells is just a three-hour drive from Chicago, for example), while others have been a little fancier. For about five years now, my parents have allowed significant others to tag along, and this year was my boyfriend Juan’s very first vacation with my family.
This year we’d all decided to go to the Excellence Riviera Cancun. A friend who is blind had his honeymoon there, but his wife could see, so I didn’t honestly think to ask him about how accessible and accommodating the resort was. My parents had been there a few times and spoke highly of the customer service they received there, so my expectations were pretty high.
I feel confident enough traveling with Juan, and I knew we could always ask for help if we needed it, but when my dad made our reservations, he made sure the resort understood that our group included a blind couple. I couldn’t be sure what this might mean in terms of the services that would be provided to us or whether it’d make a difference whether they knew in advance or not. In the end, though, I was glad my dad went ahead and told them.
One of the many things I love about Juan is that he’s a people person and has no problems talking to strangers. I knew he’d be up for this adventure in Cancun.
Another thing I love about him is how thoughtful he is. I’ll give you an example. Juan lives in Houston, I live in a suburb of Chicago, and he flew in to Chicago on his own the day before we were leaving for Cancun so our family and our significant others could all travel from Chicago as a group the next day. And then there’s this: the day my parents and I went to Midway to pick Juan up, he was able to find assistance from the gate so quickly that he was already at baggage claim by the time we’d arrived.
Finding his luggage was easy, too: his mom texted me earlier that morning with a picture of it so my parents knew what to look for.
In Cancun, we stayed in the swim-up suites, which meant each couple had their own private terrace complete with table and chairs, a lounge bed, and a ladder into the public pool. When my mom showed us around our suite (including the terrace), she pointed out a small patch of rocks next to the ladder. What a great landmark! When navigating around the suite, neither of us had our white canes with us. We decided that any time we’d be heading to the lounge bed or the pool, at least one of us would have our canes and see if the patch of rocks would help us get our bearings.
We spent a lot of time out on our terrace. On most mornings, we’d order room service for breakfast and eat outside. Afternoons were spent lounging by the pool, and sure enough, using the rocks as a landmark worked out beautifully. I used my cane in my right hand while holding Juan’s hand in my left, trailing around the table and chairs and the lounge bed before reaching some grass. After a short trek through the grass, we’d come across the rocks, and to the left of that was the ladder. I’d hit the ladder with my cane a few times so Juan would hear where it was.
“Now I have to figure out where to put this,” I thought out loud to myself during our first venture to our side of the pool. I wanted to set my white cane down by our ladder while we were swimming, but I worried someone might move it. Finally an idea came to me. I could fold it up and attach it to the side of the ladder. That way, we’d know the ladder with the cane was the one that led to our suite. No one would be able to move it, and it wouldn’t get lost. This video by Perkins School for the Blind shows how a white cane can be folded up and attached places. This worked out well and served as almost a public service announcement that we were blind. Other guests would approach us in the pool and ask if we needed anything (like a raft to float on, for example). One nice man even came up to us to tell us that the pool was pretty crowded, so if we got turned around there would be several people available to help us. One time I was in the pool by myself, and when a woman saw me climb the ladder and feel for my cane, she came up to me and politely asked, “Excuse me, are you looking for your cane?” What a pleasant surprise! Not only did she call it a cane (normally people call it a stick), but she asked me if I needed help rather than just assuming I did.
The resort also had a coffee shop. Those of you who have read my previous posts here on the Easterseals National blog will not be surprised to hear I was there every day. One morning, Juan and I decided to try and see if someone from the hotel would be willing to escort us there, not wanting to rely on my parents or sisters to walk us. We called the front desk, and when Juan explained we were both blind and asked if someone would be willing to assist us. They said, “Of course!” They were very prompt and at our door in about 5 minutes. This quickly became a part of our morning routine.
The vacation flew by, and he didn’t go back to Houston right away: two days after we arrived back in Chicago, I accompanied my dad to drop Juan off at the airport.
When our friends (his from Houston, mine from Chicago) ask how our trip went, both of us excitedly tell them about the great service, and how this would be an ideal vacation spot for blind and visually impaired individuals. Not only is it great that it’s all inclusive (so once you arrive, there’s so much to do that you don’t need to leave the resort), but the staff is very friendly and more than happy to help.
Our first vacation together (and his first one with my family) was a huge success!!