Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Will the reauthorized "No Child Left Behind" help students with disabilities?

The "No Child Left Behind" Act, which requires states to develop tests in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades in order to receive federal funds for schools, was signed into law in 2002 and provides the largest amount of funding to schools through Title I. Under the 2002 act, students with disabilities were listed among the five sub-groups schools were required to report performance on.

On March 15, President Obama released "A Blueprint for Reform, The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," which is basically "No Child Left Behind." It appears the new administration will use the Elementary and Secondary Act and not "No Child Left Behind" when referring to the reauthorization. Among the five cross-cutting priorities listed in the Blueprint for Reform is Supporting English Learners and Students With Disabilities:

“Schools, districts, and states must be held responsible for educating all students, including English Learners and students with disabilities, to high standards, but more work could be done to develop and scale up effective strategies for these students. Priority may be given to programs, projects, or strategies that are designed to specifically improve the performance of English Learners or students with disabilities.” 

(Click here for the full text: A Blueprint for Reform, The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act).

According to the Washington Post article "The administration keeps the right principles in amending No Child Left Behind", the administration has embraced the principals of accountability, disaggregating data, which means that students with disabilities should remain a sub-group for accountability reporting. The administration's plan would scrap the much-maligned adequate yearly progress reports of schools for a new accountability system requiring that all students by 2020 be on a path toward college and career readiness, although this goal is more aspirational than definitive. Students would still be tested every year in math and reading, but other measures, such as graduation rates or scores in other subjects, could factor into the picture of a school's success. Schools would be judged by how much progress students make year by year. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is set to testify on these matters before Congress the week of March 22.

The Health Reform Bill - what does it mean for the disabled?

On Sunday, March 21, 2010 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the health-care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and two days later President Obama signed it into law. 

Our first question was, "What does it mean for the children and adults with disabilities and their families?"

Here's some of the changes that will take place within six months of the enactment of the bill – or by end of September:

  • Insurers would be prohibited from excluding coverage based on pre-existing conditions;
  • Insurers would be prevented from selectively refusing to renew coverage;
  • Insurers would no longer be able to charge people different premiums based on their health status, gender or occupation;
  • A standardized annual out-of-pocket spending limit would be established so that no family would face bankruptcy due to medical expenses;
  • Annual and lifetime benefit caps would be prohibited;
  • Mental health would be covered;
  • “Habilitative” and “maintenance services” would be covered;
  • “Behavioral health treatments” would be covered;
  • Insurers would be required to keep young adults as beneficiaries on their parents' health plans until they turn 26,
  • Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to deny coverage to sick children.

The following changes will not take place until 2014:

  • Americans will for the first time be required to carry health insurance — either through an employer, through a government program or by buying it for themselves.
  • Tax credits to help pay for premiums will start flowing to families with incomes up to $88,000 a year
  • Medicaid will be expanded to cover more low-income people.

"These reforms will allow Americans to achieve full health and recovery through significant investments in expanded health care access, including mental health, substance use, rehabilitation and prevention services, as well as collaborative care and chronic care management," said Laurel Stine, director of federal relations at the Bazelon Center. "This is particularly notable given that four of the ten leading causes of disability in the United States are mental disorders and 87 percent of Americans cite lack of insurance coverage as the top reason for not seeking mental health services,"adds Stine.

What are your biggest concerns regarding healthcare and the disabled? Share them with us!

Sources: Children’s Defense Fund; Associated Press

Monday, March 29, 2010

Giving Parents of the Disabled a Much Needed Break

RESPITE is defined as an interval of rest. Unfortunately, rest is something that parents of disabled children or adults don’t often get because they are caregiving 24 hours a day nonstop. Sinergia's Respite Program addresses that problem by offering parents a much needed break while their children are in a safe and comfortable environment.

The Respite Program is part of the Waivered services offered by the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD). As such, in order to participate, consumers must be Waivered-enrolled. Consumers with Medicaid Service Coordinators (MSCs ) who are not already Waivered-enrolled can have the appropriate documents completed and submitted for entry into Waivered services.

Through the Program Sinergia offers consumers up to 12 days of respite services per fiscal year (July 1st to June 30th). Consumers can utilize Respite six weekends per year, all 12 days at once or any combination of days totaling 12. The respite apartment is located in upper Manhattan in close proximity to Riverbank Park, Riverside Park and transportation.

The fully renovated apartment features three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, living room and den. The apartment is spacious and clean and can support up to three consumers at a time. When the weather permits, Respite consumers are taken to the park, movies, Central Park Zoo and other local attractions or they enjoy playing games inside the apartment.

If you’re in need of an interval of rest or for more information, please contact Martha J. Rivera, at 212 643-2840 X351

Friday, March 26, 2010

Recap of February 2010 FAST Project

On February 22, 24, 25 and 26 Sinergia held four pilot training modules to teach families and their children to become self-advocates as part of the FAST Project (which we talked about in our Feb. 17th post). The topics covered were: Employment – Getting and Keeping the First Job, Effective Parent Advocacy, Working for Change - The Power of a Personal Story, and The Journey to Adulthood: What Parents Need to Know. The trainings were presented by Lizette Dunn-Barcelona, Cassandra Archie and William Bird Forteza.

Even during the worst snow storms in New York City history 104 parents attended and participated in the four trainings, and we'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that was there.

Here are a few comments we received from parents during the trainings:

"The workshop was very empowering."

"I learned from this workshop I should to talk to my child about the difference between friendship and romance."

"Very effective in covering key information to help kids have a quality education."

"As a mother I need workshops like these to be able to help my daughter with issues wherever we find them."

"What I learned most was the attitude you need to have when you ask for something and to speak clearly and with self assurance."
"The whole concept of telling a personal story was great, useful in focusing on what is important about our children."

Sinergia Celebrates Move to East Harlem By Honoring 5 Latina Leaders

Sinergia, Inc., who for 33 years has provided service and support to individuals with disabilities and their families, is celebrating their move to East Harlem with a ribbon cutting ceremony and honoree reception at their new offices.

As Sinergia embarks on a new phase in their new home in "El Barrio," we wish to mark the occasion by inviting the press, local dignitaries and community members to a very special event honoring the uniqueness of the Latin culture, the resilience of the people they serve and the communities that sustain them.

We have chosen this opportunity to shine the spotlight on five of the most talented and accomplished Latina leaders - extraordinary, trailblazing women who've helped shape our community with their powerful voices, their brilliant minds, and their generous hearts. Melissa Mark Viverito, NYC Council member for the topmost part of the Upper Manhattan, will be joining Sinergia's Executive Director, Myrta Cuadra-Lash, in doing the honors.

"I grew up in East Harlem and this community has played a very special role in my life," says Ms. Cuadra-Lash. "It is very significant that Sinergia, an organization I cofounded over three decades ago, has finally come home at last. Over the years many of the children and adults with disabilities and their families who came to us for services were from East Harlem and the upper reaches of Manhattan. It is very gratifying that we are now able to provide them with services in their home community. The Board of directors of Sinergia and staff have poured their hearts into creating this beautiful, warm place of solace and services to those individuals with disabilities and their families and we are so proud to have them join us in a very joyful community celebration of our new home," she adds.

Marta Moreno Vega, Founder & President, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
Alice Cardona, Political activist
Yolanda Sanchez, Executive Dir., Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA)
Zenaida Mendez, Dir. External Affairs, MNN
Gloria Quiñones, Community leader

Sinergia's new reception areas on the 3rd & 4th floors of 2082 Lexington Avenue have become a gallery space which will showcase the rich, cultural and artistic heritage of Latin America and will celebrate artists with disabilities as well as community artists. The inaugural exhibit is featuring 28 pieces by Samuel Lind, a noted Puerto Rican artist and will be on view until the end of April.
(See recent blog post for more info)

Join us in celebrating...

Our New Home: East Harlem-The cradle of the Puerto Rican migration

2082 Lexington Avenue (between 125th & 126th Streets)

Our People: Latina Women of Excellence

Alice Cardona
Yolanda Sanchez
Marta Moreno Vega
Gloria Quiñonez
Zenaida Mendez

Our Art & Culture: Art Exhibit


 vegigantesA Retrospective of the Work of Samuel Lind, a Puerto Rican artist concerned with the well-being of his community, the preservation of the environment and the chronicling of the African Experience in Puerto Rico.

Date: Thursday, April 8, 2010
Time: 3:00pm - 6:00pm
Where: 2082 Lexington Avenue, 4th floor (between 125th & 126th Streets; #6 train to 125th Street)

3:00pm Exhibit opening
4:00pm Tour of facility/press
5:00pm Ribbon Cutting by Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito & Honoree Reception

RSVP: Carmina Pérez 212-650-0226, socialmediapro@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

OMRDD Honors Female Leaders for Women's History Month

As part of Women’s History Month, NY State's Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) asked Sinergia Executive Director Myrta Cuadra-Lash (far left in the picture) to participate along with two other panelists in a program entitled "Conversation with Women Executive Directors of Service Provider Agencies". Commissioner Diana Jones Ritter (far right) led the informal discussion which covered questions about the role of women in the field of developmental disabilities, and how they balanced their roles as primary care givers with the demands of work. It also gave an opportunity for the directors to speak about the greatest challenges they encountered as leaders of their agencies. “I was honored to be in the company of my fellow panelists Ann Hill, Director of Creative Lifestyles (2nd, left to right) and Susan Constantino, Director of United Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (3rd, left to right). It was a time to look back and share my unique experiences, accomplishments as well as the challenges that I have faced,” said Myrta Cuadra-Lash, who has been Sinergia's executive director for the past three decades.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sinergia bids a fond farewell to OMRDD's Katherine Broderick

On the evening of March 11, Executive Director, Myrta Cuadra-Lash and Deputy Executive Director, Michael Mitchell attended the retirement party of New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Associate Commissioner, Kathleen Broderick. Ms. Broderick, who worked for OMRDD for more than 30 years, will long be remembered for her depth of caring for individuals with disabilities, her incomparable work ethic and her dedication to everyone involved in making the lives of those with disabilities better. Ms. Broderick is also know for her sense of humor and endearing penchant for calling individuals “cherubs”.

For many years, Ms. Broderick was on the front line of positive change for people with disabilities and was instrumental in the development of Individualized Residential Alternatives (IRAs) as a more humane way of providing residential services to people with disabilities. She worked tirelessly to help reduce the number of institutional Developmental Centers and large 12 and 14 bed Community Residences (CRs) in order to make it easier to provide person centered services to those with disabilities. Kathy was known for her constant availability, her long hours, her astounding memory for faces and for her habit of showing up at residences on holidays, weekends and evenings to just say hello to the individuals living there. She is also well-known for her affection for her staff and respect and compassion for those working in direct-care.

Kathy’s dinner at the Marina Del-Ray in Throgs Neck was attended by more than 650 people, and speaker after speaker attested to Kathy’s dedication, warmth and unrelenting advocacy. Many of the speakers and attendees spoke of how much she will be missed and wondered how she would ever be replaced. Kathy Broderick knew well of Sinergia and the services we provide. We wish her best of luck in her retirement and consider her a lifelong friend of Sinergia.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Samuel Lind Exhibit Inaugurates Sinergia's New Offices in "El Barrio"

To commemorate our new office space, Sinergia's lobbies on the 3rd and 4th floors of 2082 Lexington Avenue are graced by the works of Samuel Lind, a noted Puerto Rican artist whose creative force captures the African based experience of Puerto Rico. The exhibit, entitled: Aires de Loiza: Culture and Nature, A Retrospective of the Work of Samuel Lind, is made possible through the generosity of Samuel Lind and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. A very special ¡muchas gracias! goes to Marta Moreno Vega, Executive Director of CCCAI, and to Dianne Smith, artist and Board member of Sinergia, who will shepherd our gallery space as a place which honors our rich, cultural and artistic heritage and celebrates artists with disabilities as well as community artists. The exhibit is open to the public and will be on view until April 30th, 2010.

Here's more about the artist:
Samuel Lind is an artist dedicated to understanding the creative forces that define the African based experience of Puerto Rico. Lind works with a variety of mediums that allow him to capture the images that surround him. Samuel's concern for the well being of his community and preservation of the environment is expressed in the visual dialogue that is actualized within the community of development vs displacement of the poor. These issues are the creative fuel that ignite and frame Samuel Lind’s powerful imagery and question our commitment to the quality of life now and in the future.

"Reflections on my Visual Career"
by Samuel Lind

"My first encounter with graphics was during my adolescence and I immediately felt that it was connected with culture. I admired the artists who were able to characterize people uniting images with written messages on their posters. That was during my first stages of drawing and I had a strong urge to capture peoples’ typical scenes and cultural expressions. I used my sketch pad or any paper I could put my hands on to capture scenes as one would with a camera. Wherever people came together, whether at play, dancing bomba or at the Saint James Festival I would intently bring out what I saw and put it on a poster or a painting.

As a child, I was unfamiliar with the rudiments of making serigraph prints
and my posters were one of a kind, not repeated. My intermediate school teacher noticed my dedication and would provide me the materials that I needed such as construction paper, tempera paints, bottled egg whites, oils, pigments and fixatives to adhere to the paper or cardboard- I would even paint on paper bags that the local grocer would give me. The room I shared with my older brothers looked like a small exhibit hall filled with typical scenes and landscapes. I only needed a board to place my paper and the light that filtered through the trees and that was my work space.

My intermediate school teacher Miss Rosa organized my first exhibit of posters as a part of a cultural activity in the school. The reaction that I received motivated me to continue to pursue art. I learned to make light strokes to bring out the main figure or object, in the second plane were the landscape or the background figures, or sometimes some words that would frame the theme to give a direct message to the spectator. As an adolescent people actually started to buy my works and they would have them framed. That was important to me, it made things feel official, that it was a job as well as a communicative tool with which I could spread a message.

I was exposed to an artistic print workshop when I formally studied at the Fine Arts College of the Institute of Culture. At first I was drawn towards wood block prints, but once I experimented with silkscreening there was more connection with the color. Pressing the ink with the squeegee to pass it through the silk screen provokes a sensation which resembles an act of faith, producing sometimes unexpected results. That lack of certainty, that magic captured me since the first experiment which was printing the primary colors over each other, marking the transparencies and colors produced by layering. It was a phenomenon that I was only able to control with time in my studio, it altered my graphic expression and my thinking.

There was a long standing tradition in Puerto Rico of using prints to promote development and education. Artistic posters were used to educate people in rural areas. Silk screen posters was also frequently used to promote cultural activities and were done by artists contracted by the Institute of Culture’s Office of Community Relations. With time, prints evolved to become an art form that distinguished Puerto Rico in the worldwide art market. I was influenced by three distinguished professors and master artists; José Alicea (Printmaker) Lorens Omar ( Silk Screen Printer) and Augusto Marín (Painter). Even today, I hear their voices at times, when I put down a paint stroke, when I create a print.

My first silk screen print was for the Loíza Festival. It was entitled “Loíza Aldea Noble Town” and the first Bomba dance print was called “Rulé son da” and while I was working Tite Curet Alonso arrived to my studio (distinguished composer and folklorist). While talking with him the idea of doing a poster for an activity in Loíza called “Las Enramadas” ( The Ranch Sales) which ended up being my first silkscreen poster sponsored by the Puerto Rican Foundation of the Humanities and was prized in 1979.

After that initial start things started to move along and I was contracted by diverse counties and government agencies to make silkscreen prints for different cultural activities, for example, the Industrial Promotion Agency, the Tourism Agency, Theater Festival, among others. I have been especially connected with activities with African roots such as Bomba and Plena festivals. Admittedly, my major motivation to develop my skills as a serigraph printer making the posters for the Saint James Festival of my own town of Loíza. For me it is a long standing tradition and I do my best to print that commemorative poster every year which is also used for the cover of the festival program which are collectibles.

I have been a poor collector of my own prints but I am enthusiastic about the idea of this retrospective because it forced me to restore some of the most important images I have produced. During this process, I discovered that from the first one up until the most recent for the Bomba and Plena Festival of 2007 I have experienced each of the scenes that I have put down. During my humble career as an artist for the last 36 years I must say that the most enriching part has been sharing my work with all kinds of people, humble folks as well as collectors from all parts of the world.

I am grateful to the Creator and all the angels that have assisted me as well as all the people who have appreciated and collected my works in their homes. I am but an anonymous worker of the arts with a mission to express my feelings and thoughts creatively."