Archive for Support Services for Adults

Catching a Glimpse of the Solar Eclipse

Staff and participants of Community Living celebrated the August 21 solar eclipse. For all of us, it was our first total solar eclipse, as the last one took place 99 years ago!

For staff and participants at the Mahon Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, they made a full day out of it. Some attended Dardenne Prairie’s Dark in the Park event, while others stayed at the center and participated in themed activities.

Kelly Imboden and Judy Mahon, Direct Support Staff, accompanied Judy and Allison, participants at the Mahon Center, to the Dark in the Park event, which had music, a bounce house and vendor booths. They also packed picnic lunches, which included moon pies and cheese balls, to represent the moon and sun.

Prior to the event, staff read articles about what would happen during the eclipse and practiced wearing the safety glasses. However, since no one has sat through a total eclipse before, they could not prepare the participants for how dark it would get. “I noticed it didn’t get dark like night, but instead dusk like it does when a bad storm rolls in,” Judy Mahon, said.

Because most of us associate dusk with the time before bedtime, Allison wasn’t too pleased with the eclipse. “I did not like it,” she said. “I do not like when it gets dark.” When staff prepped the participants about the eclipse, Allison mentioned to Judy Mahon that she does not like the moon because then she has to go to bed. Thankfully, the darkness didn’t last long and soon Allison was back to enjoying her day. Her favorite part of the day was the bounce house.

During the event, Kelly noticed Judy independently looking up at the eclipse with her safety glasses. She noticed the sounds of cicadas and stars in the sky. “It is so beautiful I could just cry,” Judy said.

For those that stayed at the Mahon Center, which was not in the total eclipse path, they decorated the safety glasses with suns and moons and then reenacted the solar eclipse. They also played solar bingo. The eclipse was streamed live so those that didn’t want to go outside could still partake in the event. “It was an overwhelming experience,” Jessica Cain, Manager at Mahon Center, said. “It was amazing to be able to witness it.”

The pre-event prep seemed to work for the most part. Most everyone understood what would take place and seemed excited to be a part of it. Amanda, participant at the Mahon Center, enjoyed the event so much that she sat outside to eat her lunch as to not miss anything. “It was cool,” Amanda said.

Valued Friendships

Students at Sacred Heart Academy in St. Charles enjoyed giving back by volunteering their time during the 2016-17 school year at the Clever Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers.

As volunteers, they helped participants make homemade paper, which is then turned into homemade greeting cards. On occasion, they help participants with crafts and games, decorate the center for an upcoming holiday, but most of all they built friendships.

“The Academy of the Sacred Heart’s students’ relationship with Community Living is an integral aspect of our educational mission,” Maureen Glavin, Head of School, said. “It is not only important for our students to learn how to serve and give, but it’s equally important for our students to learn how to value all relationships and be able to learn through every relationship. In this light, our students’ interaction with Community Living’s participants is as beneficial to each child’s own growth and development as we hope our students’ interaction might be helpful to the participants of Community Living. As such, the Academy of the Sacred Heart is deeply grateful to Community Living! We value and appreciate the partnership.”

On May 15, participants from the Clever Center were invited to Sacred Heart Academy’s Mission Day. The event, hosted at the school, offers games and activities for students and guests. Event goers were encouraged to purchase tickets to participate. The money raised is then distributed to various charities chosen by the students at Sacred Heart Academy.

“Our participants enjoyed themselves at the Mission Day event,” Christy Jacquemin, Community Living’s Support Coordinator, said. “The participants were welcomed from the beginning and it was a neat experience for them to see the volunteers who come (to the Clever Center) be escorted around to the different games and activities by the students.”

Overall, the partnership between Sacred Heart Academy and Community Living is valued by all involved. “The volunteer opportunity is a great way for the volunteers from Sacred Heart Academy to learn and understand that people are just different; not less because of some of their challenges, and for our participants to meet and socialize with other people outside of their circle in a safe environment,” Christy said.

Meet Chris

As parents, you want what is best for your child(ren). Walter Sitzwohl and his late wife Tomme, have done just that for Jennifer and Andrea, Walter’s daughters, and Chris and Jonathan, Tomme’s sons.

Walter and Tomme met in 1990, and that’s when Walter met 16-year-old Chris. “My daughters and I had an instant bond with Chris,” Walter said. “Although I didn’t adopt Chris, he’s been my son since we met. He accepted me as his dad.”

Jennifer, Andrea and Jonathan have all moved out on their own. And, recently Chris moved into an O’Fallon home that is operated by Community Living. The transition was much harder on Walter than Chris, but he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. “I have my good days and I have my bad days naturally,” Walter said. “But, I’m so grateful that Chris loves his new home. He’s at a place he feels comfortable.”

Walter and Tomme made sure Chris would be well taken care of if anything would happen to either one of them. Before she passed away, Tomme said to Walter, “Chris is going to be okay.” “All the planning we did together helped her relax her last few days and it helped me, too, knowing that she knew,” Walter said.

Chris has been a participant in the Support Services for Adults program since his graduation from Boonslick State School. “It was when the center was located off Cave Springs and it had only three rooms,” Walter said. The family also utilized the Respite Care Home.

It wasn’t until a close friend of Walter’s died of a heart attack, that Walter started thinking about Chris’ future living arrangements. “I began thinking, ‘what if I’m upstairs putting clothes away and something happens to me?,’” Walter said. “Chris would be all alone. He can’t get water, he doesn’t know how to prepare food, he wouldn’t know how to make a phone call, so all this thinking made me want to find a place Chris could live in case anything happened to me.”

He also wanted a place that he knew Chris would be well taken care of and treated with respect. “Tomme and I have always appreciated how well Community Living’s staff works to make sure the clients have a full life,” Walter said. “So, it wasn’t a hard decision to go with Community Living’s Residential program for Chris.”

As far as moving into the new house, Chris recognized staff that worked with him when he first started at the center. “It was a mini-reunion for Chris to see staff he hadn’t seen in a while,” Walter said. Today, Chris attends Clever Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, located in Dardenne Prairie, which is closer to his home. The transition was easy for Chris, as his roommate, Eric, who Chris has bonded with, also attends Clever Center.

For Walter, he’s happy Chris is on his own, but he does get lonely. “My job has been to take care of Chris so it’s hard to give that up,” Walter said. “People try to tell me that now I have time for me, but I try to explain to them that’s not why I did this. I didn’t move Chris out of the house so I can go do what I want to do, I did it for Chris’ safety. I did it for Chris’ well-being, not mine.”

Community Support

With all the change and transition, Walter and Chris continue a family tradition. It was a tradition that started four and a half years ago. On Thursdays, Walter picks Chris up from Clever Center and takes him out to dinner at The Three Families Restaurant, located on Mexico Road in St. Peters.

Owners, Wayne and Sara Sanders, met Walter soon after they opened in October 2012. “Walter told me about his son and how he needs his food blended,” Wayne said. “I told Walter we have a machine in the back that can turn rock into dust. A few hours later, Walter brought Chris in for dinner.”

It took Michael Hollander, Executive Chef, a few tries to get the consistency right, but now it has been perfected. “It’s great that we can do this for Chris,” Michael said. “We always try to find ways to make it work.” There are steps taken when blending either spaghetti and meatballs or pasta con broccoli, two of Chris’ favorite meals. Michael even knows how to make the creme brulee the way Chris likes it.

Walter considers the restaurant a haven for Chris and himself. “It’s a familiar place for both of us,” Walter said. “Plus, the staff bends over backwards to take care of us. They know what Chris likes and they make it just for him.”

For a night cap and to spend a little more time with his son before taking him home, Walter takes Chris to Starbucks on the corner of Mexico Road and Mid Rivers Mall Drive. “Starbucks has also been very accommodating to Chris’ needs,” Walter said. “They make the drink at a lower temperature so Chris can drink it. To me, it’s great knowing there are places in the community that do embrace the challenge of people with disabilities that need things made differently. It makes Chris feel accepted and a part of the community experience.”

Top photo: Walter pours more coffee into Chris’ cup at Starbucks. Above right photo: Chris and Walter sit at their favorite table at The Three Families Restaurant. “They are good people and have such a good heart,” Sara said.

With Love

Valentine’s Day doesn’t always have to be about romance. Sometimes it can be a day to let someone know you are thinking of them. That’s what the “Valentines for Veterans” program is intended to do.

This marked the second year for the program, which allowed community members to send greeting cards to local veterans in VA hospitals and veterans service organizations. U.S. Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, 3rd District of Missouri, became involved with the program in its first year saying, it is his hope the 3rd District takes a moment and creates a valentine to be sent throughout the district to the men and women who so bravely fought for the safety of our nation. “This is a simple way for schools, youth groups, families and friends to help brighten a veterans day,” Congressman Luetkemeyer wrote in a press release dated January 8, 2016.

Over 9,000 cards and messages were dropped off at his offices for the inaugural year! So, in January 2017, Congressman Luetkemeyer asked for community members to once again participate in “Valentine’s for Veterans.” He of course wanted to collect even more cards this year.

When Sheri Wiltse, Chief Program Officer of Community Living, heard about the program, she took the idea to Courtney Corder, Support Coordinator at Clever Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers. Participants at the Clever Center have been making paper for over a year now. It started as birthday cards for individuals in Community Living’s Residential and Independent Living Assistance programs, but now they are making ‘thank you’ cards, invitations and so much more. “Making a Valentine’s Day card wouldn’t be any trouble,” Courtney said.

On February 1, participants and staff dropped off 20 valentines to Congressman Luetkemeyer’s office in Wentzville. “This opportunity gave our participants a purpose knowing that they are making someone’s day,” Courtney said.

In total, 13,000 veterans had their day made when valentines were distributed to veterans around the 3rd District. “I am incredibly amazed at the response by the community to the program,” Congressman Luetkemeyer wrote in a press release dated February 14, 2017. “Last year my local offices received an outpouring of support and this year surpassed those numbers.”

The 3rd District includes Callaway, Cole, Franklin, Gasconade, Lincoln, Maries, Miller, Montgomery, Osage and Warren counties, as well as areas of Camden, Jefferson and St. Charles Counties.

If you would like more information on the cards the participants at Clever Center make, call 636-970-2800. They can make any type of greeting card and specialty cards.

Click here for more pictures.

28 Days — 28,000 Pairs of Shoes

Three organizations work together to bring life’s basic necessities to local, global communities

Community Living’s Support Services for Adults program acquired a volunteer job last year with Shoes & Hope, a non-profit organization collecting new and used shoes to help bring clean water and life’s basic necessities to both local and global communities.

The participants at the four Support Services for Adults’ centers help sort, pair and count shoes in the comfort of their center. “Once the shoes are sorted and bagged by our friends at Community Living, we store them until we have 20,000 pairs of shoes,” Christy Weber, founder of Shoes & Hope, said. At that point, the shoes are paid for by the pound through an exporter. The money received is used for community development to bring clean water to communities.

The participants have been keeping busy with the shoes coming in and soon they will be inundated with shoes. At least that is the hope! The Vision St. Charles County Leadership class of 2017 needs your unwanted shoes. The program is asking the St. Charles County community to donate 28,000 pairs of shoes in 28 days to Shoes & Hope.

The Vision program this year, comprised of 27 participants with varying vocations in St. Charles County, selected Shoes & Hope as its class project beneficiary because of the organization’s locality in Cottleville, and its connections to Community Living. “It’s an opportunity to increase the community’s knowledge of all three organizations (Shoes & Hope, Community Living and Vision St. Charles County Leadership), plus it provides meaningful work for the participants in Community Living’s Support Services for Adults program,” Sheri Wiltse, Chief Program Officer at Community Living and member of Vision Leadership 2017, said.

Any and all unwanted gently used pair of shoes will go towards the mission of Shoes & Hope. There are currently 20 shoe drop locations throughout the metropolitan St. Louis area. Community Living has a box at each of the following locations:

    • Administration Building, 1040 St. Peters Howell Road in St. Peters
    • Mahon & Lonning Centers, 100/102 Lee Ann Court in St. Charles
    • Clever & Wilson Centers, 1056/1058 Rondale Court in Dardenne Prairie
    • Family Center, 107 Sheriff Deirker Court, O’Fallon, MO 63366

If you have shoes to donate, you may drop them off at any of the above drop off locations. For more information on Shoes & Hope, go to www.shoesandhope.org. For more information on Vision St. Charles County Leadership, go to www.visionleadership.org.

Community Living’s Support Services for Adults participants are always looking for new volunteer opportunities in the community or at the centers. If you are associated with a non-profit/service organization and have a volunteer job for us, call 636-970-2800.

Spotlight On … Support Dogs, Inc.

What gets two thumbs up from Mike and a big smile from Ginny? Their volunteer job at Support Dogs, Inc. where they make no-bake dog treats, prepare kong balls and stuff take-home bags for individuals receiving a therapy dog.

Kim Kaesser, Support Coordinator at the Lonning Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, did a Google search for volunteer opportunities and Support Dogs, Inc. popped up. It seemed to have great potential for the Support Services for Adults participants.

After making contact with Stephanie McCreary, Volunteer Coordinator and Office Administrator for Support Dogs, Kim and Mary Reilly, Support Coordinator, toured the facility and talked about possible volunteer jobs. “It sounded like a great agency,” Kim said. “I have been looking for new volunteer opportunities to get our participants out in their community.”

When Stephanie received the inquiry from Kim, she knew she wanted to make this partnership happen. “With having a special needs son myself, I know finding volunteer opportunities that are meaningful can be challenging,” Stephanie said. “It’s so wonderful because this partnership gives the people that we serve ourselves the chance to give back, because we actually provide dogs for people with physical disabilities.”

Lonning Center staff has been taking different participants to Support Dogs to see who is a good match. “We try to find participants that we know will be able to participate in the job and who will also enjoy it,” Kim said. “It’s always good when a client can work on an activity, but it’s even better when they can enjoy it.”

And, it’s not just Mike and Ginny who are enjoying it. Aimee, who has been looking for a new volunteer job, has a great time making the no-bake treats. The no-bake treat recipes were being implemented when Kim reached out to Stephanie. “The timing was perfect,” Stephanie said. “Our dogs love the treats made by your volunteers. It’s a meaningful task and it’s great to provide them an opportunity that is helpful and meaningful to someone.”

For Aimee, when she sees the dogs in training and the trainers giving them the treats, she knows she is making a difference in the lives of the dogs. Not only do the participants find meaning in what they are doing, but the staff does too. “It’s exciting to watch the trainers give the treats that we made to the therapy dogs,” Monica Taylor, Direct Support Professional, said. “Our participants are getting to see their work used for good.”

The participants put their all into the work they do for Support Dogs and are really making the most of the partnership. “We are giving to them and they are giving to us,” Kim said. “Our clients are helping them and in the long run their dogs are helping our clients. It’s a really cool partnership.”

Support Dogs, Inc. is a national not-for-profit organization providing highly-skilled service dogs to individuals with disabilities, and uniquely trained therapy teams in the community, offering dignity, hope and independence to those served. To learn more, go to www.supportdogs.org.

Photo: Mike pours ear drop medication into a to-go container, which goes in the take-home bags for individuals receiving a therapy dog. Click here for more photos.

Soaring Scout

An Eagle Scout is the highest achievement attainable in the Boy Scout program, and Blake Hilker is on his way to achieving this merit.

When Blake was determining what to do for his Eagle Scout project, he asked Jessica Cain, Manager at the Mahon Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, if there was anything he could do for the center. “She told me they needed benches for when they do fire drills,” Blake said. “When they go outside, there is no place for the participants to sit, so some of them will sit on the ground.”

With this news, Blake decided to make benches for the center. He also thought about his cousin, Joe, who is a participant at the Mahon Center. He wanted to dedicate the benches in Joe’s honor.

Blake made two benches for the grassy area in the front of the building. The benches now give the participants a place to sit with a sturdy back. “It feels nice to help people in general, but sometimes I think people with disabilities get over looked,” Blake said. “In this case, it was special to me because I got to help not only my cousin but his friends, too.”

Not only will the benches be beneficial for the Mahon Center, but also for participants at the Lonning Center, since the two centers share a building. “If there is any opportunity you get to help others, you should do it,” Blake said. “It’s such a great feeling.”

Blake will soon go through a review process to determine if he will receive his Eagle Scout rank. If he does, he will be in the four percent of Boy Scouts who are granted this rank. We think he’s well on his way!

Photo: Blake and his cousin, Joe, a participant at the Mahon Center, sit on the bench Blake made for his Eagle Scout project.

Celebration of Life

With each tear, there was laughter. With each embrace, there were smiles. Friends and family gathered at the Mahon Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, to celebrate the life of Chris Wren.

In June, Chris passed away at the age of 39. Chris was a participant at the Mahon Center. He made many friends at the center, in the community and with the staff. “Chris changed our lives,” Jessica Cain, Manager at the Mahon Center, said. “We have enjoyed the time we have had with him.”

For 19½ years, the Mahon Center was a big part of Chris’ life, and it was also a big part of Alice Abotobik’s life. “The center helped Chris grow up,” Alice, Chris’ mom, said. “They were a major part of the man he became. For me, they were my support. I knew they loved my son and I knew he was safe and protected.”

As a thank you, Alice purchased a bench in Chris’ memory for the center. It includes the dates he attended the center: January 1997 – June 2016. Jessica, along with the help of the Dozier family (Dan, Julie, Katie and Joe), patched and painted the front wall, as well as hung vinyl lettering. The bench sits under a quote, which reads, “One smile can start a friendship. One word can end a fight. One look can save a relationship. One person can change your life.” The bench is decorated with two pillows – one with a shark for Chris’ favorite movie, “Jaws,” and the other is an M&M, which was his favorite candy.

Every Friday for the past 15 years, Sue McKinney, Direct Support Professional, and Chris would go grocery shopping for Ed and Joan. While in the check-out lane, Chris always picked a pack of M&M’s as his dessert.

Because of Sue and Chris’ time together, a friendship was formed. Sue, as well as many others, lost a dear friend. “We are celebrating the life of a wonderful man that made an impact on so many lives,” Sue said.

At the celebration, many shared stories of Chris:

— “Chris always protected my son and would want to come by the house to make sure he was okay,” Janet Hertz, whose son attends the Mahon Center, said.
— “He didn’t like cats, but he got along with Ed and Joan’s cat and that cat loved him,” Paul Miller, Ed and Joan’s caregiver, said. (Ed recently passed away. Alice attended the funeral. “I know Chris would have wanted me there,” Alice said.)
— “He would always stick his tongue out at me when we watched wrestling together,” Kelly Imboden, Direct Support Professional, said. “Everything or everyone I liked, he didn’t. We were like brother and sister. Alice always said I was the sister he didn’t have, which I don’t have a brother, so it worked for both of us.”
— “His last planning meeting where he found his voice,” Jessica said. “We talked about things to work on and he would hold up his finger and say, ‘no, hold on. I want a part-time job … from home.’ Everything you hope for in a plan meeting is for them to advocate for themselves, which is exactly what he did.”
Alice— “Chris loved being here, even though he always said, ‘I’m not doing nothing,’” Alice said. “He really did love it here. He would come home and say everyone’s mad at me for not doing anything. I would explain to him they wanted him to work. And, then he would start naming off other participants and the behaviors they had for the day and he was like, ‘and I’m not doing nothing.’”

Storytelling was a big part of the celebration. Most everyone in attendance had one or two to share. “I knew Chris outside of the center, so being here today really means a lot,” Paul said. “When Chris passed away, I directed the funeral, which was an honor to do. Today is a continuation of that remembrance of him.”

There were embraces and there were smiles … “Seeing the wall with the quote and bench made me cry today, but it’s going to make me smile,” Sue said.

There were tears and there was laughter … “Today validated Chris’ worth and showed just how much everyone loved him,” Alice said.

In April, Chris was featured in the Community Connection, Community Living’s eNewsletter. Read the full story here.