Friday, October 30, 2009

New housing options for individuals with disabilities

The Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities' (OMRDD) 2009 Fall Housing Conference was extremely informative as organizations such as NeighborWorks America, Concepts of Independence, Dunn Development Co., The New York Association on Independent Living, USDA Rural Development and many more gathered to discuss the type of housing services and care their organizations provides.

The focus of the conference was to unify the fragmented world of available housing services provided for individuals with disabilities. The housing divisions of all of these organizations are vital to the our community as many aspire to live a more independent life and ultimately attain their dream of homeownership. This dream can now become a reality through OMRDD's Home of Your Own (HOYO) program.

HOYO was created to not only assist our consumers in purchasing a home, but it is also designed to help income-eligible parents, legal guardians and direct support professionals that care for them to purchase a home as well.

The requirements of each classified individual vary in eligibility for the program, but some common requirements are that you must:

1)    Be a first time homebuyer
2)    Be a New York State resident
3)    Meet the designated income-eligibility requirements
4)    Complete a HUD-Certified First-Time Homebuyer training

One of the main benefits of HOYO is it allows you to open an Asset For Independence Individual Development Account (AFI/IDA). AFI is a federal grant program from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services that finances a five year Individual Development Account (IDA). Through these accounts OMRD and AFI will match your rate of savings 1:4, so that every dollar you place into your IDA account will be matched four times over, up to the account's allotted maximum. The mortgages for these homes will be provided through the State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA). SONYMA will finance 100% of these mortgages for a term of 30 to 40 years and have a fixed interest rate of 4%. There are currently 12 counties in New York where AFI/IDA accounts will be available. For more information contact Michael Cortes at (212) 678-4700 or mcortes at

Friday, October 16, 2009

The “We Are Parents Too” Quilt Project

This past summer Sinergia launched a quilt project aimed at parents who are disabled and unable to care for their children themselves. Entitled "We Are Parents Too", the project was created to allow participants to express themselves about their children and their parenthood. The idea for the project came from our Executive Director, Myrta Cuadra-Lash, and culminated in a collaborative effort between three of our divisions: the Parenting Training Program, the Residential Program, and the Day Habilitation Program.

The quilt has places for parents to put pictures of their children, and as the project progressed, it increasingly became a real creative expression and therapeutic experience for its 15 participants.

Once completed, we would like to welcome the public to come see and admire the quilt, which will decorate a prominent wall at the new Sinergia offices we'll be moving into by year’s end. Check back to see how it progresses!

Quilt Project Advisors: Isabel Malavet, Coordinator of the “We are Parents Too” Parenting Training Program; Carmen Mejia Boil, Recreation Therapist at Sinergia; and Maria Torres Bird, Expert Quilter and Sinergia Quality Assurance Director.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Moving your special needs child to another school

The fall season is associated with change. Summer ends and autumn begins, bringing with it the majestic change in the color of the leaves. But the biggest change in the fall is the return of our children to school. For most of us this means our children will go back to learning in a safe environment in the company of their friends and teachers whom they love and trust. Unfortunately, not all our children experience school in this manner. Many of our special needs children experience school differently because they encounter basic problems such as getting down five flights of stairs in a wheelchair, having appropriate support on the bus, and receiving the necessary services to ensure a successful school experience. As caretakers we act quickly when we’ve identified a problem and expect, as we should, a quick response from the school to remedy the issue(s).

Often times our response doesn’t come in a timely manner, if at all. Some of us have found creative ways to get schools to comply, while others become increasingly frustrated and resort to changing schools. Changing schools may be a good option and definitely something to consider. However, problems will be encountered with every school -- we know because we work with many schools in Manhattan and the Bronx -- and we need to find ways to make ourselves heard in our current school. This means identifying the problem and articulating it clearly and concisely to the responsible persons. If no results are obtained, make your way over to Sinergia and talk to an educational advocate who will help you present your concerns to the school's special education team. The advocate will even accompany you to a mediation session and/or an impartial hearing if necessary.

If changing schools is still the only option, speak to Sinergia well in advance of the change so we may help you prepare appropriately. Making such a change is difficult for you and your child and preparation is the key. Acquire information about the school by visiting and talking to parents about their experiences. Refrain from changing schools during the months of September and October as it will only complicate your situations. Not only will your current school be unprepared to help you make the transition, but the new school will not be prepared to accept you. Schools need time to adjust to their schedules coming out of summer break and a little patience on your side can go a long way. Evaluate your happiness level various times during the school year and if you’re ready to change schools, attend Sinergia’s “selecting your school” seminar which we offer on the month of August and let us help you through this difficult process.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Education Advocacy for Parents Workshop Series : Some changes in the sequence of workshops

The Education Advocacy for Parents Workshops will start on Tuesday October 2nd at 10 AM. Please note that there has been a change in the sequence of the workshops. Workshop #5 has been shifted from October 22nd to October the 20th and will look at the Dispute Resolution Process. We were able to obtain two wonderful and competent mediators, Michelle Kirschbaum and Lourdes Rivera-Putz, professional mediators from Safe Horizon. They will discuss what the mediation process is and how parents who are encountering problems obtaining, changing or improving services for their children can employ this strategy. This workshop will also look at the impartial hearing/resolution session as another option available to parents regarding dispute resolution.
Workshop #6 (the last workshop) will examine NYC Dept. of Education Discipline Policies and how they affect students with disabilities.
This session will also discuss how Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a Civil Rights law that prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities in programs that receive federal funds. 504 Plans can be helpful for students who have a disability and do not meet the specific eligibility requirements under special education law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Please refer to the education advocacy workshop series announcement posted in September in this blog for information about workshops 1-4.

2009 Summit for Family Engagement in Education

On September 23-23, 2009 a Summit for Family and Parent Engagement was held at the Marriott Hotel in Albany, NY. This event is a continuation of a series of dialogues that were initiated last year in Albany to address the issue and challenges of engaging families in their children’s education in New York State. The purpose of the conference was to hold dialogues with a variety of stakeholders on how to "create systemic change in effectively engaging families and communities in closing the achievement gap". The summit is also known as the “On the Same Page Summit for Family Engagement in Education.”

The achievement gap for children in Title I schools (schools that receive special federal funding because of the high numbers of students and families living in poverty) in New York State is well documented. The NYS Board of Regents outlines policies which require and support parent involvement as a way to help close that gap, as well as request schools and agencies to work together toward this end. Research supports parent involvement as an effective method in improving a child’s achievement record, and the Board has recently adopted policies and implementation plans that require more comprehensive collaborative efforts. One of the major goals of the Summit was to provide the Regents with recommendations as to how to implement this policy. To this end, Summit participants were placed into eight “Action Teams” in order to address specific areas outlined by the Board of Regents Policy Statement. The Action Teams were:

Higher Education and Professional Certification Programs
This action team discussed possible ways to prepare teachers, administrators, and school personnel to engage families, utilizing training and assessment incorporated into professional preparation and certification processes.

Professional Staff Development Opportunities
This team discussed the creation of family engagement training and development for parents, teachers, and administrators, exploring the link between parental involvement and student achievement, integrated training and best practices programming.

Family Engagement Assessment Tools
These team members considered options for assessing family engagement such as measures on School Report Cards, self-assessment rubrics for school-based teams, and surveys to gauge public sentiment.

Parent Involvement/Family Engagement Quality Indicators
This team explored ways to improve how family engagement is addressed in current review and intervention processes for schools in New York State, and considered how family and community feedback, cultural competence enhancement, and parent-to-parent outreach can be used in school improvement planning.

Engaging Diverse Families/Cultural Competence
Sinergia's Metropolitan Parent Center participated in dialogues regarding the importance of cultural competence in increasing family involvement. This team will examine definitions of diversity and cultural competence, ways to assess and lessen cultural gaps, and examples of strong cultural connections between homes, community, and school that impact student achievement.

Engaging the Social Welfare/Healthcare Community
The team worked to define potential partners within the social welfare and health care community who can help support engagement of non-traditional families, promote family engagement in education through inter-agency networks, and identify at-risk students in order to provide school outreach programming.

Promoting Partnership with Families of Children with Disabilities
The Metropolitan Parent Center also worked with participants from advocacy organizations to consider the definition of an expanded support mechanism based on collaboration of services and resources, development of standards for parent advocacy on behalf of children; and creation of collaborative online information sources for families of children with disabilities.

Engaging the Business Community
Team members looked at ways to encourage the business community to develop policies friendly to family involvement in education. They will also consider how the schools and businesses can communicate systematically and collaborate to enhance family engagement and to prepare students for the workplace.

The teams met over the two-day summit to discuss engagement issues and then reported their recommendations to the NYS Board of Regents and Summit participants. While the Summit is over, the work of the teams is not. Each group will engage in teleconferences to discuss next steps, review research and to start setting the stage for the next Parent Engagement Summit.

In a future post we will look at specific recommendations made by the Action Teams, please visit us again soon.