Monday, December 9, 2013

Somos El Futuro Fall Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The 2013 Somos El Futuro Fall Conference was held this year in San Juan, Puerto Rico from Nov. 6-10, 2113. Since last year's conference had to be postponed last November because of Super Storm Sandy there was much anticipation and interest in ensuring the success of this year's conference. Sponsored by the Somos El Futuro, Inc. and NYS Assembly//Senate Puerto Rican & Hispanic Task Force, which is chaired by the Hon. Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz it drew major elected officials from U.S. Congress, New York State Assembly/ and NYC Council, among them, the Hon. Congresswoman Nidia Velazquez, Mayor Elect, Bill De Blasio Hon. Assemblyman Roberto Rodriquez, and Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. There were over 500 participants from the business community, Not for Profit organizations, Puerto Rican officials and over 100 legislators from NYS and NYC.

The conference was dominated by major issues such as immigration, national policies in Latin America and the needs of the growing Hispanic population in New York and the United States. The critical nature of these needs transformed the conference into a true policy retreat for all legislators and participants. The workshop topics ranged from issues of Charter Schools vs. District Schools, Economic Development, Hispanic Women Empowerment, Higher Education, Civil rights of the LGBTQ community to Mental Health and Preservation of services for Hispanic and underserved individuals with developmental disabilities The conference included some of the most perplexing issues facing the Hispanic family today.

The Honorable New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, was honored and commended for his commitment to preserving services for persons with developmental disabilities and multicultural providers by the Federation of Multi-Cultural Programs, Sinergia, Inc., Human First and the New York Assoc. of Emerging and Multicultural Providers,. Moreover, Assemblyman Ortiz was recognized by our agency for his vision and foresight in the enormous undertaking of organizing the Somos el Futuro Conference.

On November 9th, the fourth day of the conference, our very own Myrta Cuadra-Lash, Sandra Ruiz and Dr. Len Torres joined other non-profit providers in a workshop focused on the preservation of services for people with developmental disabilities, and the critical role that community based, multicultural organizations play in serving them. The panel focused on the need to advocate for the sustainability of these agencies who serve the most underserved individuals, particularly Latino, other language minority and minority individuals.
Somos el Futuro posed three major questions:
  • Who are the most vulnerable among us?
What can we do to guaranteed human rights for all?
  • Where do we go from Here?

The mission of the Somos El Futuro is to create opportunities that increase the participation of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic community in the public policy making process and to build the capacity of New York's Hispanic communities to work towards the development of policies, laws, state rules and regulations that address the needs and issues of Hispanics across the state.

Thanksgiving Turkey Drive

Sinergia Inc., would like to express its most sincere and heartfelt appreciation to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal  for their ongoing generosity. For the past three consecutive years they have donated 50 turkeys to our families during the Thanksgiving Holiday. Sinergia is grateful for this and other contributions the Franciscan Friars have donated throughout the year.      

We are thankful that they share 
their blessings with the families served by Sinergia. In addition on November 26, 2013 Sinergia  distributed 40  more turkeys to families in need. thanks to a generous donation by the Church of Heavenly Rest.
Families served by our Family Support Program, the Parent Support Group, Residential, Family Care, "We are Parents Too", Respite and Tier II (shelters) programs were beneficiaries.We thank these two organizations for their generosity and for making Thanksgiving a truly thank full day for these 90 families.    

Staff Announcements

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Yesenia Estrella will become the Deputy Director of Sinergia this December.   She is the present Director of our Housing Services and is very knowledgeable about the operations of the Metropolitan Parent Center, service coordination programs and other programs operated by the agency.  Mrs. Estrella has worked at Sinergia for the past seven years and is well respected and admired for her competency, devotion to individuals and families served and is well deserving of the appointment. 

Rolando Aquino has been appointed this December as Assistant Director of Residential Services.  He has been employed by Sinergia for the past 12 years and is an integral and important member of residential services and has earned this promotion. 

Paola Jordan assumed the position of coordinator of the Autism Initiative in September of this year.  Formerly a board member of Sinergia, she is the mother of twins in the autism spectrum and has enthusiastically taken the helm of the project and in a short time has introduced additional recreational and enrichment activities for the children and parents..

Last but not least Sandra Ruiz has stepped in as Interim Deputy Director in addition to her duties as coordinator of the We Are Parents Too Project.  Sandra can always be counted on to support the organization in whatever way is needed.  She is a treasure.

Dr. Len Torres has reduced his time at Sinergia because of his pressing work in Long Beach as an elected official.  Nevertheless, we thank him for his deep commitment to the people we serve and the mission of the agency.

Myrta Cuadra-Lash

Discoveries, Plus Retreat

 On October 19 through October 23, in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, I attended the Marc Gold & Associates fifth annual Discovery, Plus Retreat. The retreat required long days and even some evenings of attending informational sessions, presentations and workgroup sessions, but all of the time spent learning about Discovery was worth it. Beginning next year, staff at Sinergia will learn about Discovery.
This invitation only, retreat provided participants with information, skills, hands on experience and activities in understanding Discovery, and  how Discovery strategies are different from traditional assessment procedures for individuals with disabilities in preparing for customized employment.
Instead of trying to uncover the answer to what a job seeker wants to do, Discovery tries to determine a host of other findings. Discovery seeks to understand who the person with a disability is in as many aspects of life as necessary to inform planning.
A facilitator during one of the sessions helped us understand the shift that must take place by commenting; as professionals who work with and on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families we must find a way to share in the journey of Discovery. This will require beginning new relationships, a new pact and new expectations.
In late January 2014 I will be training staff from Sinergia's Day Habilitation staff abut the Discovery process so that they may start introducing customized employment to the participants.
Cassandra Archie

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

50 Children

Ellaine Gallardo is a young woman who has worked at Sinergia for the past eight months as a Human Resources specialist. She took a short vacation this summer and by peeking at her computer screen we learned of her wonderful experience with young students in the Dominican Republic. The next time someone asks us what we did on our vacation let's remember Ellaine's story. We knew it had to be shared with our readers.

I impacted 50 children's lives and that changed my life.
I remember growing up with my family emphasizing that education was the only thing no one could take away. I feel I have been blessed to be surrounded with individuals that gave importance to the pursuit of my education, which has opened many doors to me and contributed to attainment of my greatest accomplishments. This year I felt extremely blessed and felt I should act on my religious beliefs.  

I decided to do something that would focus on education and impact individuals that might need extra support. I have seen the difference in the education system of the Dominican Republic versus that of New York City and decided for the first time to distribute book bags filled with school supplies to children in the Dominican Republic. My family in the Dominican Republic recommended a school in a poor region of the country side as in need of assistance. I chose 3rd and 4th graders because at that age children are young enough to benefit from positive influences, but old enough to understand the importance of education. I gathered all the materials by looking at weekly sales and searched for the best deals. My family and friends would also send me messages of deals for school supplies in their neighborhood as well. I remember visiting a store three-to-four times a week because there was a limit on customer purchases, as well as my arms would tire from carrying the materials home.

The school administration did not inform the children of my visit or the gifts. When I arrived at the classroom where the students were gathered, they all looked at me with confusion. I was introduced and asked to speak. During my speech, I told them of my plan, why I was doing it, and emphasized that education was extremely important. I called each child by their name to pick up their book bags filled with pencils, erasers, sharpeners, folders, notebooks, and crayons; I received a hug in return. The kids were shouting with excitement and were appreciative to receive materials they needed. The children did not want to leave my side and kept hugging me even after the distribution was over and the pictures were taken. The principal told the children I was their education godmother and they must stay in school as I instructed them to do so. My experience was wonderful and the heartfelt thank you and hugs surpassed my efforts.

I received 50 hugs of appreciation on September 25th, 2013 that changed my life. I did not want to publicize this event, because I did not do it to receive praise. I honestly did it to say thank you for my blessings. After the event, I realized that not sharing my experience would be selfish because everyone should know how rewarding it is to perform such acts. Besides, I had put the children's' picture in my desk top background on my computer screen at work at Sinergia and there was so much interest that I could not keep the information to myself and I was encouraged to   share my special project.

My plans for the next distribution are more ambitious as I will be collecting future donations, which I will share with a larger number of children. I will also not shy away from shining the light on these acts of sharing with others, since sharing this experience has also been an added blessing

New York City Parent & Community Engagement Conference

On Wednesday, October 16, the New York City Public Education Conference on Parent and Community Engagement was held at the New School’s Center for New York Affairs. The goals for the conference were:
  • To prepare a set of effective, research-based parent/family engagement programs that could be adapted to improve family and community engagement.
  • To discuss ideas and recommendations for new initiative in parent/family engagement.
  • To develop a report and follow-up activities to influence the next Mayor’s Public Education Agenda and Parent/Family and Community engagement polices as well as systemic actions.
Keynote speaks and a panel discussion, facilitated by Dr. Karen Mapp, Harvard Graduate School of Education, offered participants encouragement and ideas on Best Parent and Community Engagement models.   The World CafĂ© engaged participants in gathering ideas for improving the city’s parents and engagement structure, policies and systems.