The Center for Hope, a Merakey program in Newburgh, New York is proud to recognize one of their former members, Miracle James, as a true success. Miracle is a thoughtful, intelligent, young woman who was born and raised in Newburgh. She feels great emotion and pride when speaking about her hometown, which she feels is often unfairly criticized by those who do not have an intimate understanding of the community. “Until you are a part of the community, you do not have the connection to the people that live here and therefore do not have a good understanding of all that Newburgh has to offer,” comments Miracle.
Miracle had been a member at the Center for Hope since her Junior year in high school. In addition to school and attending the Center for Hope, she also worked at McDonald’s through the work program. This year, however, she decided to work at the Center for Hope as a youth mentor. Working at the Center for Hope has given her the opportunity to give back to her community. “Growing up in Newburgh is hard,” she said. “This experience has helped me to get out more and to fully appreciate what my community and what this program has to offer.”
Since fall 2017, Miracle has been attending the State University of New York at Albany where she is majoring in psychology and minoring in business and women’s studies.
The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Team is making great strides in successfully implementing Employment First throughout the Division. Employment First is a framework for systems change that is centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. Stories of hope, ambition, and success have been shared by individuals who had a dream to be gainfully employed.
On October 22, 2018, Thomasina was presented with the 2018 Self-Advocate of the Year Award by The Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability (PAR) at their annual conference. Thomasina was overjoyed to share this wonderful experience with friends, family, and colleagues. Nominated for the award by Director of Employment Services Theresia Kody and Employment Services Manager Derrick Rogers, Thomasina’s story shows the importance of having social capital, and that having positive relationships elevates the mind, supports physical health, and nourishes the soul.
To understand how Thomasina earned this prestigious award, we must reflect on the events from this past year. In 2017, Thomasina suffered a health complication that inhibited her from gainful employment. However, through diligence and perseverance, Thomasina overcame her health challenges, and last fall, she began working as the lead housekeeper at a Merakey location in Philadelphia. She arrived early to work every day, greeted everyone with a warm smile, and always pitched in to help her colleagues with additional tasks that needed to get done.
The Graham Company, Merakey’s insurance and risk management partner, was looking for additional support in their office, so they asked us for a referral. Merakey knew the perfect candidate to refer, so Thomasina was offered and accepted an administrative position at The Graham Company this past May. Working in unfamiliar territory, she started at 20 hours a week. Within just three days at the Graham Company, the management team recognized Thomasina’s work ethic and potential, and they asked her to expand her job responsibilities. Despite her lack of confidence in her abilities, Thomasina immediately said “yes” to this request. In doing so, Thomasina not only proved her value to the team at the Graham Company, but she surpassed her own expectations as a contributing member of the business world. This new-found confidence made Thomasina recognize that she is capable of so much more than she had realized. Thomasina is now scanning, copying, binding portfolios, and more. With these additional tasks, she received her very own computer for emailing and electronic filing. In September, Thomasina celebrated passing her 90-day probationary period working at The Graham Company with an office party surrounded by her colleagues! After five months of hard work, Thomasina has proven to be an invaluable member of the team.
Thomasina is a mother, friend, self-advocate, church member, and employee. As someone who bears many roles and responsibilities in life, Thomasina is proud of her accomplishments and successes, which helps to bring sustainability to her family. She continues to prove to herself that she is capable of doing more than she thinks she can, especially with the support of her friends, family, and colleagues. Even though change can be scary, Thomasina enjoys her ever-evolving role at work and in life.
Merakey is proud of Thomasina’s achievements and congratulates her for being recognized as PAR’s 2018 Self-Advocate of the Year Award!
Education and Autism Division is rapidly growing in both services offered and in geography. Last year, the first Autism Center in Louisiana was introduced in Baton Rouge. Based on an increased need for services in other areas of Louisiana, Merakey opened their second location in Hammond in March. The Open House welcomed over 200 families and interested stakeholders from the North Shore area. The Center offers Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy and specialized therapy services, such as speech and occupational therapy for individuals up to the age of 21. The Center’s Bee Me kindergarten provides a readiness program for children of all abilities and developmental stages.
In January 2019, Merakey will open its newest Education and Autism Services Center in Fort Worth, Texas, providing education and behavioral programming for students with autism or emotional support needs. Visit merakey.org for more information about the new Center’s offerings in Fort Worth.
The Behavioral Health Prolonged Exposure Program at Merakey Philadelphia received the distinguished EPIC (Evidence-Based Practices and Innovation Center) EBP (Evidence-Based Practice) Program Designation. Merakey’s status as an EPIC EBP Program Designated provider of the Prolonged Exposure Program is being shared across the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Community Behavioral Health departments to reflect the significance of this recognition.
Merakey received this recognition as a result of successfully passing the review process, which included addressing EBP training and consultation, EBP service delivery, and EBP quality assurance. The goal of the EPIC EBP Program Designation is to identify and roster providers who are offering high quality evidence-based and evidence-supported practices and to increase the number of individuals who receive evidence-based services. Visit dbhids.org for more information about the EPIC EBP Program Designation.
In May, Merakey Allegheny Valley School’s Pittsburgh Campus held a prom at the Sheraton in Moon Township. 188 individuals and staff members gathered in the ballroom to enjoy lunch, photos and dancing to the band American Pie. All the participants were dressed in their finest which were topped off with a boutonniere or corsage. It was a magical event that could not have happened without all the departments working together.
Special thanks to the Walter F. and Ellen H. Nicoden Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation for its support of this event.
The rebranding in April provided an opportunity for the Education and Autism Division to reevaluate how the different service locations throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, Michigan, Louisiana, and now Texas are consistently identified. The former “Schools” are now called Autism and Education Centers with specialized services included, such as schools, ABA services, kindergarten readiness programs (Bee Me), transition services, and more. This new naming convention provides a more comprehensive identity for the continuum of services provided.
To enhance marketing our new name and to support autism awareness, Merakey Education and Autism Centers were busy participating in several walks this year:
13th Annual Autism Speaks 5K Run/3K Walk
Ike the Spike joined the fun with the team from the Merakey Education and Autism Center in State College, PA as they walked and ran to support autism awareness. It was a beautiful day to have some fun in the sun and support a great cause!
Merakey Education Center Scranton Supports Local Autism Walk
Employees from the Merakey Education Center in Scranton attended the annual Parents Loving Children Through Autism (PLCTA) Walk at Nay Aug Park. The Walk helps to raise awareness about autism and funds for activities for families and children in the community affected by autism. Staff member set up a table with information about Merakey services and giveaways to introduce Center’s new name and identity to the community.
Lehigh Valley's Autism Walk
Staff members from Stepping Stones Plus in Bethlehem, PA met at the beautiful Steel Stacks to attend the Autism Walk. The event was a great opportunity to hand out information to families and other stakeholders about our new Merakey Stepping Stones Plus name, location and services.
Chambersburg Autism Walk
The Merakey Education Center in Chambersburg, PA joined a local Autism Awareness Walk at Chambersburg High School to promote awareness and support students and families with autism. Students and staff enjoyed all the fun events that the school hosted, such as group games, bouncy houses, and face painting.