Friday, December 2, 2011

Preventing Homelessness in New York

The Advantage Program, which was set up to assist families living in shelters by providing rental subsidies for temporary housing, sadly ended earlier this year (read our post: "How do Homeless Families survive without the Advantage Program?"). Since then many people were left with unanswered questions, as was evidenced on a recent morning, when men and women worried about losing their homes attended a lecture entitled “Life After Advantage.” It was held at the Harlem storefront office of HomeBase Palladia, one of 13 HomeBase offices managed by different non-profit groups scattered around the five boroughs of NYC (for a complete list, see below). Their main mission is to prevent homelessness.

The speaker, Romy Martin, posed the question that was bothering every person in that audience: “What are my options when my subsidy ends?” First, she gave them some hard facts: landlords that take the Advantage subsidy will receive their October payments and tenants will be required to pay their share.

Then, she told them, “Depending on court actions, this may be your last month of subsidy. Regardless, the subsidy is coming to an end sooner rather than later. DHS has NO intention of restoring it or replacing it. This does not mean that your lease will terminate. If you have a lease, you will be responsible for paying the whole rent.”

Having established there’s no rescue in sight, Ms. Martin gave her audience good advice about taking steps to protect their own homes.

If it is possible to increase your income this is a good time to do it. You could:
• Request additional hours at work
• Change jobs
• Make sure everyone in the household contributes to the rent
• Make sure all household members are receiving all benefits they are eligible to get
• Do budgeting; separate needs from wants
• Find a roommate

Other options:
• Consider moving to a more affordable space
• Explore other boroughs
• Apply for low income, affordable housing in lotteries every week at
• Follow up on NYCHA applications
• Check with DHCR to find out your legally registered rent in case the landlord wants to raise it

Meantime, the Legal Aid Society assures you the landlord cannot evict you without taking you to Housing
Court. You should not leave your apartment to reapply at PATH just because your Advantage rent has not been paid. You should know that landlords sometimes look at a person's history in Housing Court before deciding to rent them an apartment. So, if you have never been sued before in Housing Court, you might consider whether to leave your apartment before being sued.

You may be eligible for rent arrears under a rent program called FEPS (“Family Eviction Prevention
Supplement”). The FEPS program is available only to households with minor children with active cash public
assistance cases who have been sued by their landlord in a court case that can result, or did result, in their eviction and one of the elements in the case is/was that excess rent is/was owed.

In addition to facing a nonpayment or holdover case in housing court, you may also meet these requirements if:
• you were evicted within the past 6 months and are in the shelter system,
• you were evicted in the past year and are doubled up,
• you left your apartment due to a government vacate order, or
• you left your apartment because of a foreclosure proceeding.

Your rent must fall within the rent caps for your household size. The rules of FEPS are extremely complicated.

Legal Aid suggests you call HomeBase to talk about your options (see list below). Or walk in to the Crisis Intervention Program of the Coalition for the Homeless at 129 Fulton Street, lower Manhattan. Arrive by 8 am Monday through Friday to be sure you will be seen the day you come in.

If you are being evicted, call the Legal Aid office in your borough.
Bronx (718) 9991-4600
Brooklyn (718) 722-3100
Manhattan (212) 426-3000
Queens (718) 286-2450
Staten Island (347) 422-5333

Excerpted from How...When...Where: Information for homeless and relocated families in New York City
(November 2011)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Learning to Use the Internet as an Advocacy Tool

On Thursday November 17, 2011 the Metropolitan Parent Center (MPC) conducted a workshop entitled, “Internet 101: Learning to Use the World Wide Web. Presenter Mike Mitchell, Deputy Executive Director of Sinergia with the assistance of Godfrey Rivera, Co-Director of the MPC, taught parents the fundamentals of working with the Internet and how to use it as an advocacy tool. They also learned how it can be used to get informed about issues such as how their children’s disabilities affect their learning in school.

Participants also learned about e-mail communication, and how to search topics by using “web browsers.” Parents were given hands-on opportunities to practice using a number of laptops that were set up for their use. They followed instructions by viewing on a large screen while Mr. Mitchell provided easy-to-understand instructions on how to navigate the Internet. The workshop was also available to the Spanish-speaking parents via the use of simultaneous interpretation. In addition, a list of disability-related Internet resources was provided to them, which you can find below.

Disability-Specific Sites 
This site provides information, resources and networking opportunities to help adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by bringing together science and the human experience for both adults with ADHD and professionals who serve them.

This site shares information from a variety of sources and provides many links to other sites regarding practical ways to help, plan and manage the lives of children with autism. Information with respect to any treatment, therapy, program, service or provider herein is intended for information and educational purposes only.

The Center for the Study of Autism provides information about autism to parents and professionals, and conducts research on the efficacy of various therapeutic interventions for children with autism.

4.    Behavior Disorders
This website for teens, adults and parents offers information on behavior disorders, conduct disorders, and other behavior problems. Their articles are written to educate the general public about behavior disorders, the warning signs, treatment, and statistics on behavior issues.

5.    Behavioral Disorders in Early Childhood
This website discusses factors such as the environmental and genetic influences that may contribute to challenging behaviors in young children. There is also information on treatments and interventions for children with behavioral disorders.

6.    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is project designed to strengthen the capacity of Head Start and child care programs to improve the social and emotional outcomes of young children.

7.    Conduct Disorders-Support for Parents
This is a website written by parents who are raising children with many different diagnoses regarding conduct disorders, and who demonstrate oppositional behaviors and are resistant to parenting.

Learning Disabilities
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders (CAADD.) This organization advocates for students with ADHD and coexisting disorders.

The International Dyslexia Association is the oldest of the organizations that are specifically concerned with learning disabilities. Both a medical and an educational emphasis are maintained in this organization

10.    Learning Disability Resources
This website is a directory with links to other websites with information and resources pertaining to learning disabilities.

11.    National Center on Learning Disabilities
The National Center for Learning Disabilities works to ensure that the nation's 15 million children, adolescents and adults with learning disabilities have every opportunity to succeed in school, work, and life.

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) is the leading source of information on cerebral palsy and is an advocate for the rights of persons with any disability. As one of the largest health charities in America, the UCP's mission is to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bullying Prevention Forum Recap

Bullying among students with disabilities was the main topic at a forum held last month at Sinergia, who was designated as a champion partner in Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Program. "What we did was unique because we had parents and students participating in separate activities that addressed bullying simultaneously," explains Cassandra Archie, co-director of Sinergia's Metropilitan Parent Center.

The afternoon kicked off with a skit performed by Day Hab Program participants. "Armando, Terri, Trish, Emmanuel, and Vanessa practiced their lines for a full week before the event on the 19th," said Day Habilitation Art Specialist Erin McSorley. "They depicted a scene on a bus where an individual is targeted by a bully, but is encouraged by her friend's words and stands up to the bully. The actors really enjoyed being involved with the event and also had the opportunity to practice what to do if faced with a real bully," she added. The performers in the skit were all young adults, highlighting the fact that bullying and harassment can occur to older people as well.

After that there was a "speak out" for parents, to give them information and resources, while at the same time, the children gathered in the art studio to paint an anti-bullying banner, also organized by Erin.

Finally, everyone came together and the children talked about their experiences with bullying. Parents shared stories and one described how their child didn't want them to come to their school, and instead wanted to work it out themselves. The parent's immediate response was "I'm going to the school," and the child was against that because it would be embarrassing. In the end they called and spoke to the principal.

Another parent talked about her daughter who was bullied not only in school but also in her own neighborhood, so it spilled out onto the community. They contacted the parent of the bully and had a discussion. It worked out so well that now the (former) bully and the woman's daughter get along and there's no more harassment. We'd like to thank our wonderful sponsors for making this event possible: Dunkin Donuts, Subway, McDonald's (Lexington Ave.), Quality Natural Food Restaurant, Affinity Health Plan, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Fabco Shoes and Pathmark supermarkets.

Visit Sinergia's Facebook page to view the pictures from the event.

"Respect For All"  is NYC Chancellor's piece on anti bullying. It has a poster and brochure available with answers to:
  • What happens to bullies?
  • What is considered harassment?
  • What are some examples of banned behavior?
  • What should students do if they are being bullied?
To view it click here and this is the version in Spanish

Hotline for students who are experiencing bullying. This service is a result of a collaboration between the teacher's union (UFT) and the NYC Mental Health Association. It will be staffed from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by professionals from the Mental Health Association of New York City. Students can call for services in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and other languages, translated immediately.
Hotline: 212-709-3222

NYS OPWDD Statewide Plan 2011-2015

The Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has posted their new State Comprehensive Plan, which will completely change the way services are funded and delivered under the 1115 Research and Demonstration Waiver, called the People First Waiver. All Medicaid services and supports for persons with developmental disabilities will ultimately be funded and managed through the new waiver agreement between New York State and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Once the 1115 waiver is approved by CMS, the planning and testing of project pilots as well as the transition will take place over the next five to ten years.

The new system will incorporate key features:
  • Informed care coordination for people with complex medical and behavioral needs.
  • Transformed long term care based on person-centered planning, individual responsibility and self-determination.
  • New reimbursement models for institutional and community based care systems.
  • An expanded range of community-based services to allow individuals in institutional settings to transition into the community.
  • Redesigned assessment tools and eligibility processes.
  • Improved health and safety outcomes through a transferred quality management system.

Services will be financed and paid differently, and care management will be the responsibility of not for profit managed care organizations authorized by OPWDD, known as Developmental Disabilities Individual Support and Care Coordination Organizations (DISCOs). All Medicaid services would be included in the waiver; both long term developmental disabilities services and medical services. They will perform at least two primary roles: a) care coordination and b) fiscal intermediation, providing services directly to individuals and/or contracts with a group of providers. As fiscal intermediary, the DISCOs will receive a monthly capitation payment to fund all Medicaid covered services and coordinate non-Medicaid services in an individual’s service plan.

The Statewide Comprehensive Plan is a 90-page document which you can find here: 507 Plan. It is important that people read and review it thoroughly.

The 1115 waiver is the lynchpin of the State Plan, so it is crucial for the future of persons with developmental disabilities and their families. The system is at a crossroads, and we are encouraging parents to testify at upcoming hearings on November 9. Go to Public Hearing for full details.

This is a time of transformation in the service system, so we urge you to participate in the various initiatives pertaining to the 1115 People First Waiver and other events as the planning phase progresses during the year.

Insurance Coverage of Autism Therapies Is Expanded

On Nov. 1st Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly Bill 8512 into law, one of the most comprehensive autism insurance reform measures in the nation. The new law requires insurance companies to provide coverage of critical autism therapies, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) for both children and adults, and makes New York the 29th state to enact autism insurance reform. The law will take effect in 12 months, on Nov. 1, 2012, and allow up to $45,000 a year in ABA treatments with no limits on age or number of visits. For full details on the new law click here. (Photo)

Friday, October 28, 2011

DOE Finalizes Infant Disabilities Program

The early childhood special education community received welcome news last month that the U.S. Department of Education finalized regulations for IDEA’s Infant and Toddlers with Disabilities Program, known as Part C. IDEA Part C serves more than 340,000 infants, toddlers and their families each year.

The final Part C regulations contain numerous changes and additions, including:
  •  Transition requirements have been revised, including provisions related to notification of the local education agency (LEA) and state educational agency (SEA), timelines, an opt-out policy, the transition conference, and the transition plan.
  •  The 45-day required timeline from referral to the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)  meeting has been retained with the addition of some provisions permitting documentation of extraordinary circumstances for a delay
  •  Natural environment provisions have been revised to reflect the 2004 statutory change.
  •  Changes in the content of the IFSP have been made, including in the “early intervention services” and “other services” components.
  •  Several changes have been made to procedural safeguards, including provisions related to written prior notice, confidentiality, surrogate parents, and dispute resolution.
  •  Changes have been made in provisions related to financial responsibility, systems of payment and ability to pay as well as to the use of public benefits, insurance, and private insurance.
  •  Provisions related to monitoring, enforcement, reporting, and allocation have been included in a new subpart of the Part C regulations.

For a complete list of Part C federal regulations click here.

About IDEA Part C in New York State
The New York State Early Intervention Program (EIP) is part of the national Early Intervention Program for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. First created by Congress in 1986 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the EIP is administered by the New York State Department of Health through the Bureau of Early Intervention. In New York State, the Early Intervention Program is established in Article 25 of the Public Health Law and has been in effect since July 1, 1993.
To be eligible for services, children must be under 3 years of age and have a confirmed disability or established developmental delay, as defined by the State, in one or more of the following areas of development: physical, cognitive, communication, social-emotional, and/or adaptive.
 For more information click here.

Myths About Bullying

Knowledge is power, and following up on our very successful Anti Bullying Forum, we wanted to share this important information to dispel some notions you might have regarding abuse or harassment at school.

What is Bullying?
The repeated exposure over time to negative actions or acts of intimidation on the part of one or more students.  The definition includes three important components:
  1.    Aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions
  2.    A pattern of behavior repeated over time
  3.    An imbalance of power or strength

Some common myths about bullies:
•    Bullies are loners:  Research shows that bullies are not socially isolated; have an easy time making friends; they have a small group of friends who support the bullying behaviors.

•    Bullies have low self esteem:  Bullies have average or above average self-esteem; interventions that focus on building self esteem in bullies are not effective

•    Bullies are looking for attention:  Bullies are looking for control, and the behavior will not stop even if they are ignored.

•    Most bullying happens off school grounds:  Most bullying actually occurs in classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds

•    Bullying affects only a small number of students:  Research shows that 25% of students are victims of bullying and 20% are engaged in bullying; bullying affects everyone involved, even bystanders. 

Source:  Equity Alliance - Addressing Bullying & Harassment Matters 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Son-Rise: An Innovative Program for Autism

Fifty Sinergia families attended the Son-Rise Program workshop/lecture on September 20th. Son-Rise was developed by Barry Neil and Samahria Lyte Kaufman, of the Autism Treatment Center Of America in Sheffield- Massachusetts, as a way to work with their son Raun. The Kauffmans created an innovative path which enabled Raun to go from severely autistic to become an intellectually curious, lively and socially engaged young man, bearing no traces of his former condition. The idea behind the program is to help parents meet and engage their child where he or she is, by joining them in their activities until they respond, and then patiently teaching them new ones, for as long as it takes them to come out of the place where they seem to be.

The workshop was a complete success. Susan Humphries, an excellent presenter and great communicator, was able to reach all families present with the help of our simultaneous translator, who we brought in for the high number of Spanish speaking parents that attended. Everyone was left with a sense of wonder and hope, and at least 5 families said they were going to apply for scholarships to Son-Rise's well known retreats in Massachusetts. The Autism Treatment Center will hold a much needed retreat in Spanish during the month of December. For more information on Sinergia's Autism Initiative contact Gina Peña-Campodónico at 212-643-2840 x305 or at gpena at

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sinergia hosts Vision Screening Event

Sinergia hosted a special event on Friday September 23rd which offered free eye health screenings to individuals who did not have any medical insurance and who had not seen an eye doctor in over a year.

Over thirty five parents of children with disabilities showed up to have their eyes examined. The Kress Vision Program of New York Downtown Hospital provided a technician and an eye doctor who checked their vision, checked for cataracts or eye disease, and conducted a glaucoma test. 

After the eye exam, participants saw the technician who took measurements for eyeglasses. Parents were able to choose from a large assortment of eyeglasses and will be provided with a pair of glasses, free of charge!

Many of the participants were unemployed and had no medical insurance, so they had not seen an eye doctor in years, and they expressed gratitude to the Kress Vision Program and to Sinergia, who provided the space for this event.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A New Life For Edwin

Some of you may have seen the television segment that Univision aired in March, which was filmed at Sinergia. It featured Edwin, a young man with polio who was desperately looking for a job. He had become quite despondent because although he pursued many employment alternatives none were successful. Much has changed since then, and we are happy to report that this remarkable young man has achieved his goals of becoming a productive citizen.

After the interview aired, Edwin secured a job in a supermarket in Queens through a referral from the reporter at Univision. However, housing was still an issue. He was sleeping on the floor of a friend's apartment, and within a week's time was going to become homeless. Through the persistent efforts of Ana Baquero, a staff member at Sinergia's Family Support Program, an apartment was found close to his work. She raised funds for his rental deposit and is diligently working to secure furnishings and household items. Our appreciation to the East Harlem Neighborhood Based Alliance, Sinergia's Christine Cuadra Special Fund and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal for providing the needed funds that enabled Edwin to achieve his goals. Edwin has a job, a car, and a home thanks to the combined efforts of the people and organizations that supported him through his time of need.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

National Preparadness Month Resources

The storms that have hit New York recently highlight the fact that caregivers need to be prepared to handle emergency situations that arise from natural disasters. President Obama has designated September as National Preparedness Month, and the federal government has compiled many helpful resources for individuals with disabilities during a disaster.

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services regularly updates their site on various situations of concern. Additionally, the emergency preparedness section of has many tools and resources, including:
Other helpful websites include:

New Proposed Amendments to IDEA Part B

We received the following notice from the Office of Special Education Programs:
This week the Department of Education released a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend the IDEA Part B regulations.  Changes are being proposed to the regulations regarding when a State or local educational agency seeks to use a child's or parent's public benefits or insurance (e.g., Medicaid) to pay for Part B services.  These proposed amendments to the Part B regulations would ensure the protection of the rights of parents and children and ensure that children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) while addressing concerns raised by State educational agencies and local educational agencies regarding the burdens imposed by the current regulation. 

Note that the notice of proposed rulemaking has been delivered to the Office of the Federal Register but has not yet been scheduled for publication.  The official version of this document is the document that will be published in the Federal Register in the next couple of weeks. The Part B notice of proposed rulemaking is posted at:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sinergia Receives Parent Training and Information Award

On August 12, the Metropolitan Parent Center at Sinergia received notice from Congressman Charles B. Rangel that we received funding under the Parent Training and Information Center Program to provide information and training to parents in the five boroughs.  This funding allows the MPC to continue serving families of infants and toddlers with the full range of disabilities through September 30, 2015.
Congressman Rangel wrote “ I would like to thank Sinergia Inc. on your continued dedication to providing the necessary information and training needed to parents of children with disabilities. Your organization has embraced and fulfilled the ideas set forth in the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and has been a great asset for the 15th Congressional District of the great state of New York.  As a strong proponent of providing education to children with disabilities I would like to extend my personal gratitude to Sinergia for continuing to lend support to educating parents who have children with disabilities.”

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Celebrating Direct Support Week

Direct Support Professionals, or DSPs, are care givers that work directly with people with disabilities to help them become integrated into their community and lead a self-directed life. As you can imagine, DSPs play a vital role in assisting those with disabilities and providing support and advocacy. Which is why we were very happy to see that the week of September 11, 2011 has been designated “Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week”. As part of our acknowledgment of this valuable workforce, Sinergia has selected two direct support staff members from the Residential and Day Habilitation Programs for special mention, and award them for their dedicated service.

David Bryant
David Bryant is an exceptional direct support professional who is a team leader at several residential sites. He works steadily and consistently with some consumers who exhibit challenging behaviors. He finds the balance between professionalism and empathy and always responds appropriately, even under extreme circumstances.

Argenis Pierret 
Argenis has been with Sinergia’s UpLiving program for just over a year and has been a positive addition since day one. He is a very intelligent and hard-working individual who has routinely demonstrated an innate ability to gauge the mood of the individuals with disabilities that he works with and adapts his interactions with them accordingly. Argenis has demonstrated outstanding initiative and has been able to make the most of out of every situation. His unfailingly cheerful and upbeat attitude is a wonderful influence to all of those around him.

Sinergia is very happy and proud to recognize these two outstanding staff members and demonstrate our appreciation for their outstanding work ethic.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sinergia's Back to School Open House

Sinergia held a Back to School Open House on September 1, 2011 and it's hard to capture with words how exceptional the families that attended were. We put together this special event for parents of children with disabilities to help them prepare for the fall semester, and over 100 showed up, some of them from as far as Brooklyn and Queens. Several parents brought their severely disabled children in wheelchairs along with their other children in tow. One mother who lives in a shelter came with a severely disabled child who was on a feeding tube. It was very moving to see how committed these parents are to giving their children a better life, to learning and to connecting with other families. It also speaks to the trust they have to Sinergia.

We screened a video on the 35th Anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) followed by a presentation on education advocacy by Cassandra Archie, co-director of the Metropolitan Parent Center (above, front left). There were also presentations by representatives of the many programs found at Sinergia, including housing assistance, residential services, respite, reimbursement services, We Are Parents Too (a program that offers parenting and other skills for parents with developmental disabilities) and the Day Habilitation and family support services. The parents had the opportunity to meet the different coordinators of programs, ask questions and receive information not only about our programs and services but education in general.

We held a raffle and seven lucky parents won backpacks fully loaded with school supplies and gift certificates to Footlocker, which will come in handy at the start of the school year. Pizza and refreshments rounded out the day. Children delighted in playing with computers in the special activity areas while the parents acquired valuable information.

Our Metropolitan Parent Center worked together with various other departments to make this a resounding success. To view the full album visit our Facebook page.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to School: Special Dates in September

As the new school year gets underway,  here are some special dates parents need to take note of in the month of September (from the NYC 2011-2012 School Year Calendar):

September 5, Monday
Labor Day (schools closed)

September 6, Tuesday
Classroom Teachers, Bilingual Teachers in School and Community Relations, Guidance Counselors, Attendance Teachers, Nurses, Therapists, Laboratory Specialists and Technicians, Educational Paraprofessionals (except for School Secretaries, Psychologists and Social Workers) report for work. School Secretaries, Psychologists and Social Workers report for a regular work day.

September 7, Wednesday
Early dismissal for non-District 75 Kindergarten Students only. Partial school time for Prekindergarten public school students.

September 8, Thursday
Early dismissal for non-District 75 Kindergarten Students only. Partial school time for Prekindergarten public school students.

September 9, Friday
First Full day for non-District 75 Kindergarten public school students. Partial school time for Prekindergarten public school students.

September 12, Monday
First Full day for all Prekindergarten public school students.

September 29-30, Thursday and Friday
Rosh Hashanah (schools closed).


Busing Issues for Special Needs Children

The Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) announced that on September 8, the first day of the school year, yellow school buses will take 150,000 children to their schools and back home. For children with special needs who will be transported in a mini-van, parents can expect a letter confirming the bus route and pick-up time by August 29th.

OPT has come under fire in recent years because of budget-cutting measures that affected many of the city’s children. Students from multiple schools now share the same bus, bus routes were consolidated and lengthened, and students with special needs were required to provide medical documentation to qualify for a seat in a mini-van. There have been on-going transportation problems with the 60,000 special needs children who ride the smaller mini-van and have often suffered from inferior service, according to Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children. “In past years we have heard from too many families about children not picked up at all and missing hours, sometimes days, and sometimes more, of critical school time,” she said. In addition, students with limited travel time requirements have been on the bus for way too long. OPT responded that it promises to do better and added that “we are making a big effort to communicate with parents about how the OPT system works, what they should do when there’s a problem and what documentation, including medical documentation, is needed to match the right bus service to each child.”

For more read "DOE answers parents' busing questions."

Do you have a child that needs to travel on the mini-vans? What problems have you encountered with OPT? What suggestions do you have to ensure that children have a safe and speedy trip to school and back home? We would love to hear your comments.

Photo source

Friday, August 12, 2011

Special Ed Checklist

Here are three things that are crucial for parents to do in the first 30 days of school -- if they're not in place there could be bad consequences later in the semester!    
  1. Your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be in place the first day of school.
  2. Devise a system to monitor your child's progress towards their IEP goals so that you review it at least as often as you receive progress reports or report cards.
  3. Determine whether your child's special education teacher is highly qualified (HQ). All special education teachers must be HQ in special education, which means they must be "certified." In addition, some special education teachers must also be HQ in the subject(s) they teach.

Sinergia's Back to School Open House

back to school
The annual back to school rush starts in earnest this month, so we wanted to focus our August newsletter on helping parents of children with disabilities to get ready. 

This is the time of year when parents are usually running all over town stocking up on backpacks, supplies and other essential items their kids will need for the fall semester. But if your son or daughter has special needs, there are some additional things you need to add to your list. To help parents get prepared, Sinergia will be hosting a Back to School Open House on Thursday, Sept. 1st from 11am to 1pm. We will have program coordinators present that day giving brief introductions about their programs, and parents will be able to: 

  • Meet our Educational Advocates and Educational Attorney
  • Get educational information
  • Have an opportunity to ask questions
  • Learn about Sinergia programs
  • Tour our beautiful office space
  • Enjoy a light lunch   

At the Open House we will unveil the beautiful quilt that was a project of the "We are Parents Too" program. Under the leadership of staff member Maria Torres Bird, parents with developmental disabilities worked on the quilt and sewed individual patches with tributes depicting the love they feel for their children. We will also be raffling two gift certificates, $50.00 each, from Footlocker. You must be present to win. For more information call 212-643-2840 ext. 307.       

Here's a useful web page you might want to keep handy to keep track of all the special dates you'll need to know: 2011-2012 School Year Calendar.                                                           (photo:

Flying Solo: A Success Story

Since 2007 Armando Perez (left) has aspired to travel independently. "He initially was escorted in the Sinergia van when traveling from his home to 134 West 29th Street, our previous location. But then Armando began training to travel on his own and quickly learned how to use the subway," says Day Hab Specialist Robert Maldonado. However, in 2009 Sinergia moved and the route changed, which meant that he had to learn how to arrive at our new location via subway and surface transit. With the help of the Day-Hab Program's persistence and training, along with some inter-agency planning, Armando has demonstrated amazing adaptability. He began traveling back and forth from his Sinergia Day Hab program since Wednesday, July 20th, 2011. For that we salute him, for this great milestone and his skills, perseverance, and patience. He is definitely one of our heroes!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sinergia Participates in People First Waiver

The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), in consultation with the State Department of Health and other stakeholders, has begun to seek programmatic and fiscal reforms to the service system through the development of a new 1115 demonstration waiver, the “People First Waiver”. There have been Listening Forums and  Public Hearings throughout the state to gather input from individuals, family members, providers and stakeholders on how to restructure the current system of care for individuals with developmental disabilities. A steering committee and five design teams have been established to make reform recommendations, and to help plan the roll out of the waiver and its implementation. Myrta Cuadra Lash, Executive Director of Sinergia, has been nominated to serve on the Benefits Design Team that is charged with “making service and supports reform recommendations that enhance person centered planning and service delivery and increase the system’s capacity to serve people in the most appropriate community setting with an equitable level of resources based on the needs assessment process.”  She will contribute to this team’s discussion on specialty populations and the service needs that should be added for people/families who are underserved to successfully participate in the 1115 Waiver. The waiver will transform New York State’s total system of care for persons with developmental disabilities within the next five years. We encourage you to visit the OPWDD website to keep abreast of developments in the People First Waiver and find ongoing information from the design teams.

How Well Do You Know Your Child's School Staff?

Situations arise all the time at school and often you may be unsure of who to call -- should you speak to the principal or your child's counselor? By getting to know the staff at school you'll also be better prepared for IEP meetings. It's about understanding how the school operates, and knowing what role the different people play in supporting your child. Here's a list that will help you gather all the pertinent contacts you'll need. Keep it handy and update it as needed.

1.    My child’s school principal name is ___________________________________________

2.    The name of the assistant principal is_________________________________________

3.    The school counselor name is _______________________________________________

4.    My child’s Special Education teacher’s name is_________________________________

5.    My child’s general education teacher’s name is_________________________________

6.    What is the name of the school Psychologist___________________________________

7.    The Parent Coordinator is__________________________________________________

8.    The name of the school secretary is__________________________________________

9.     I have the telephone numbers of each of the above    Yes                              No

10.    I know where they are located at the school?               Yes                             No


Making The Most of the Parent Teacher Conference

You and your child’s school have something in common: both of you want your child to learn and do well. Parent Teacher Conferences are an important component of the ongoing dialogue between families and schools, so when talking with your child’s teacher, remember that both of you have valuable information to share, and both of you can learn something new to help your child. The Parent Teacher Conference is a two-way conversation and good outcomes are achieved when both parents and teachers talk and listen. There should be an emphasis on learning and a focus on both how well the child is doing in school, as well as how your child can do better. Opportunities and challenges should also be discussed.

Parent Teacher Conferences typically occur before a child's first marking period, when they receive their report cards. That means the first one will happen just before Thanksgiving, but parents do not have to wait until then. They can ask teachers for a conference at any time. They can also make the request in writing, if they wish to document it.

Cassandra Archie, Co-Director of the Metropolitan Parent Center suggests that the first Parent Teacher Conference be scheduled at the end of September, and below are some questions that parents should ask teachers to understand if their child is starting out properly.

Talk to your child’s teacher about:
  • Progress – how is your child doing.  Is my child performing at grade level? What do you see as his/her strengths?  How could he or she improve?
  • Assignments and assessments. Ask to see examples of your child’s work. Ask how the teacher gives grades.
  • Your thoughts about your child. Tell the teacher what your child is good at. Explain what your child needs.
  • Support learning at home. Ask what you can do at home to support your child’s learning.
  • Support learning at school. Ask how the teacher will both challenge and support your child when they need it.
After the parent teacher conference, Ms. Archie has some additional recommendations:
  • Make a plan  - Write down the things you and your teacher will each do to support your child.  Make plans to check in with the teacher in the coming months.
  • Schedule another time talk – There are many ways to communicate, in-person, by phone, notes, email. Be sure to schedule a time to talk.
  • Talk to your child.  If appropriate talk with your child, don’t forget to include him or her.

For more info visit The Harvard Family Research Project – Parent Teacher Conferences: A Tip Sheet for Parents

Does The School Fit My Child’s Needs?

According to Cassandra Archie, co-director of Sinergia's Metropolitan Parent Center, it's important for parents of children with special needs to think critically about whether the school fits with their child's needs. To that end, she compiled a checklist of questions to help them make an ongoing assessment. It can be used throughout the year, but she says parents should know and understand some of these items immediately, like in the first month -- for example, regarding philosophy and behavior issues.

  • What is my child’s school philosophy?
  • How is the school guided by that philosophy?
  • How long has the principal been at my child’s school?
  • Does the principal have any teaching experience?
  • What training does a teacher receive for a particular class they are teaching?
  • What types of opportunities are there for integration with non-disabled students?
  • Are there any after-school programs offered? If yes, which ones?
  • How does the school address behavior issues?
As the school year progresses, if it happens that parents need to seek another school, or the district has given them permission and supplied them with a list of alternatives, here's a post we wrote on Changing Schools.

The New IEP Forms Are Here – Are You Ready?

On Sept. 1st during our Back to School Open House we will have a 20-minute session giving hands-on instruction on getting familiar with the new IEP system. Parents will be able to familiarize themselves with the new IEP forms, which were developed by the State to help IEP teams focus on the services that are most important and to reduce variation of forms across the state. Here's what you'll need to know: 
  • The new IEP form is a statewide form that will be used by all school districts in New York State
  • The new IEP forms are required for the upcoming school year 2011-2012
  • The expectation – the IEP will be more individualized to each student
  • Parents will remain vital members of the IEP team

For the first time all new IEP documents will be created and maintained electronically, using the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS), a secure web-based case management system for students with IEP’s.

The chart below compares the old IEP pages (Current IEP "Page") to the new IEP layouts/sections (SESIS "Section"). This is important for parents to know because the IEP meeting will be conducted using the SESIS sections, and most parents will have an old IEP form, which flows differently. For example, at an upcoming IEP  meeting the first thing that will be discussed is the Summary Page, which is the same as the current IEP pages. But following that will be the Attendance Page, which would have been the Conference Information on the old IEP, and so on.

Old vs New:

For additional guidance related to the new IEP see:
Answers to Question About Changes on the IEP
New York State Education Department website

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sinergia's 2011 Summer Benefit

Beautiful setting, beautiful sounds, beautiful people! That's how we would describe our Summer Benefit on June 12th, where we had a chance to pause for a moment and take stock of our accomplishments. Everyone was looking their best and in a celebratory mood as the music of the Ray Santos Orchestra filled the space at the historical Museum of the City of New York.

The event gave us the opportunity to honor Dr. Pedro Noguera (above left), who is the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, for the work he does to champion children and promote student achievement. His immense scholarship and research on urban education prompted us to recognize him with the first ever Dr. Sally Romero Award for distinguished service to children, which was presented to him by Dr. Romero's daughter, Norma Romero-Mitchell.

We also honored New York State Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez (above right) with the Community Service Award for his tireless work in building the infrastructure that will ensure access to housing and business development, as well as cultural and social services in East Harlem. Yolanda Sanchez, an institution in the Latino community who has spent over thirty years in human services, presented him with the award. Both honorees also received a citation from the NY State Assembly.

The evening was dedicated to two of our very own heroines who are no longer with us. Dr. Sally Romero was President of Sinergia's Board of Directors until her untimely passing last summer. Christine Cuadra was a beautiful young woman who stood out in her vibrant red dress at our last gala in 2008. She too has passed on but we will never forget her dedication and hard work with the homeless families at Sinergia and her unwavering support to her mother, Executive Director Myrta Cuadra-Lash.

We were also thrilled to announce that June 12th was proclaimed Sinergia Day by the Council of the City of New York. The current President of Sinergia's Board of Directors, Dr. Len Torres (above), read the inscription, which says in part: "On behalf of all New Yorkers we commend Sinergia for its leadership, vision, faith in families and its abiding commitment to and advocacy for children and adults with disabilities." We want to thank the office of New York City Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito for arranging this proclamation. As we approach our 35th year, we will continue to build on our achievements.

The Ray Santos Orchestra (above) played a mix of Latin salsa and romantic boleros which had everyone congregating on the dance floor.

One of the items in the silent auction was a gorgeous oil painting (above) by artist Dianne Smith, former boardmember of Sinergia.
Dr. Gayle Haines (above left), who organized the silent auction, chats with Myrta Cuadra Lash and Beth Torres (above right).
 Zenaida Mendez of the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (far left) and Dr. Marta Moreno Vega of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora (3rd, l. to r.) pose with the honorees.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Essential Services Restored as NYC Budget Passes

The City Council passed New York City's budget for Fiscal Year 2012 (July 1, 2011 - June 30, 2012). Overall, this budget preserves essential services, preventing teacher layoffs, restoring fire companies, day care slots, and library services.  A few of the highlights are below, but please click here for more detailed information.

Restoring Essential Services

In his Executive Budget proposal in May, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a wide range of cuts that would have impacted essential services. The City Council  worked with the Bloomberg Administration to restore many essential services:
  • No teacher layoffs, thanks to an agreement between the Council, the City, and the UFT.
  • No fire company closures
  • Substantial restorations to child care and thousands  of “Priority 5” after-school vouchers for families, albeit at a lower funding level
  • Neighborhood public libraries will continue to offer 5-day-a-week service
  • Restorations to the Parks Department will mean public pools are open all summer, and we’ll still have playground associate
  • The Council also restored many smaller, but still important, programs – like those that help immigrants learn English, prevent homelessness, and offer legal and social services.
Also we are happy to report that the Council’s Autism Initiative was restored, which means Sinergia can continue its services to parents with children with autism. Sadly, even with these restorations, there will still be many painful cuts citywide, including the loss of over 2,500 teaching positions through attrition and the elimination of several thousand summer youth jobs, after-school program slots, small-dollar scholarships to CUNY students and day care slots for low-income working families.

OMIG Legislation Reform

As the economic downturn continues to make federal dollars to not-for-profit agencies serving people with disabilities more and more difficult to attain, federal offices are taking steps to reduce fraud and waste. The Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) is the investigation and enforcement arm of Medicaid and is responsible for initiating audits and levying penalties when fraud is uncovered. However, many agencies, not for profit service providers and funding agencies like OPWDD consider OMIG audits to be excessively punitive and over-reaching in their zeal to recover or eliminate funds to said agencies. Advocates for reining in the OMIG have complained that agencies found to be guilty of even the minutest instances of mistaken billing have been too severely reprimanded through the imposing of heavy fines and penalties. While acts of blatant and purposeful fraud need to be uncovered and the guilty punished, the OMIG has been accused of being extremely heavy handed and punitive when meting out judgments for alleged mistakes in billing for reimbursements for delivered services. Additionally, allegations of abusive and dismissive treatment towards staff members, not allowing agencies to repair or correct minor and unintentional episodes of mistaken billing and incomplete explanations of alleged violations, have also been of grave concern to agencies under audit.

Legislation to provide due process protections for providers and recipients of Medicaid who come under the scrutiny of OMIG passed both houses of the Legislature in June. The long awaited measure, also known as OMIG reform, will provide for fair practices, procedures and standards for actions if signed by Governor Cuomo. We will be carefully monitoring this situation and will report any additional developments as they occur.

Special Lunch for DayHab Volunteers

Of the many activities that the adults in our Day Habilitation Program partake in, volunteering is one of the ones they enjoy the most. On June 23rd, DayHab volunteers were honored at a luncheon in the Dr. Nivia Zavala Conference Center.  In appreciation for their assistance to such agencies as Meals On Wheels, each participant was presented with a framed certificate along with a gift certificate from Target. Also in attendance was Eve Cook, the Volunteer Coordinator for New York City Meals on Wheels, who stated during her speech that the volunteers from Sinergia were her most reliable and were known for showing up even during inclement weather. It means a great deal for these adults with disabilities to give back to the community through their delivery work for Meals on Wheels, and the horticultural assistance they give at the Rusk Institute and the Carver Gardens on 124th Street.

Sinergia's Family Care Providers Appreciation Luncheon

On July 22 Sinergia will host a Family Care Appreciation Luncheon, where we acknowledge the invaluable contributions of five dedicated Family Care providers. Our Family Care Program, which has been in operation for 20 years, consists of families living in the community who open their homes to people with developmental disabilities. Presently there are ten individuals living with families in the community. Some have lived in a family care home since infancy while others have lived with the same family for as long as twenty years. Two brothers who are now in their teens consider their family care provider their Mom since they joined the family when they were babies. The individuals with developmental disabilities living in family care homes become integral members of these families; they participate in all family activities and go on vacation with them. It also affords them the opportunity to partake in all aspects of community living. We salute the following Family Care Providers for their nurturance, love and dedicated care: Angela Baez, Guadalupe Guillen, Ana Guzman, Leydi Dominguez, Carmen Ulloa. Pictured above is last year's luncheon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CPR and First Aid Training for Parents

Earlier this year one of the mothers in our Metropolitan Parent Center (MPC) underwent a very scary experience when her three year old daughter removed a barrette from her hair and placed it into her mouth. The little girl swallowed it and started to choke. Luckily, the mother was able to safely manage the situation and successfully remove the object. After going through such a scary ordeal she suggested that we offer a workshop on first aid techniques so that parents can learn what to do in case of an emergency.

The MPC collaborated with Sinergia’s nursing staff, who were able to recruit a representative from the American Red Cross to conduct a CPR training for parents. Those who attended received first aid information, and they were taught how to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, and help choking victims using the Heimlich maneuver. Mr. Antonio Chavez (above) from the Red Cross brought along a number life size dolls of children and adults that were used to practice CPR techniques. It was an intensive, interactive and exciting experience for the parents. They had to pass an on-site test in order to earn the CPR and First Aid certification, which is good for two years. Eighteen participants were able to obtain the certification, and these parents now possess skills that will help their loved ones in case of an emergency.

Would you know what to do if your child gets hurt or is in need of medical attention? Below are some ways that you can start getting prepared.


1. DOES EVERYONE IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD INCLUDING YOUR HOME HELP AND CHILDREN KNOW YOUR ADDRESS AND NEAREST LANDMARK? Write your address and nearest landmark down on a wall both upstairs and downstairs in case you need to call for an ambulance. If you panic it’s easier to read off the paper.

2. DO YOU KEEP ALL YOUR FIRST AID ITEMS IN ONE LOCATION OR IN DIFFERENT DRAWERS THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE? If an accident happens its easier if  everything in one place.

3. DOES EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE KNOW WHERE THE FIRST AID KIT IS ? Ideally on a shelf out of reach or in a locked cupboard.

4. DO YOU HAVE A FIRST AID KIT IN THE CAR? Accidents can happen anywhere, at the beach, shopping mall etc. Make sure you have a back up first aid kit in the car.

5. DO YOU HAVE A LANDLINE IN ADDITION TO YOUR MOBILE? In an emergency you don’t want to be looking for your mobile only to find it’s out of battery or credit.


Choking is every parent’s worst nightmare and so common amongst infants and young children. A first aid course will demonstrate the most effective way to remove an obstruction in the throat without causing further damage.

You would be surprised at the number of parents and home help that have never thought of it. Dial 999 for medical assistance.

For example, pan handles should always be facing inwards on the stove, have a "no kids" zone in the kitchen while preparing food, remove knives and sharp utensils from kitchen surfaces immediately after use.

10. DO YOU KEEP YOUR MEDICAL DOCUMENTS IN A CENTRAL LOCATION THAT CAN BE EASILY REACHED SHOULD YOU HAVE TO GO QUICKLY TO THE HOSPITAL? Label a separate folder for everyone in the home and store all medical information in these files in one place so everyone knows where they are in case you have to take them quickly to the doctors or hospital.


Your child needs to go to an emergency room if he or she has:
  • An injury that causes the child to lose consciousness
  • A deep laceration
  • A possible broken bone
  • A burn
  • An animal bite
  • Swallowed something toxic
  • Extreme difficulty breathing (for instance, because of an asthma attack or choking.
  • A convulsion
  • Vomited blood
  • Bleeding from the ear
  • A fall followed by a severe headache, persistent vomiting, weakness, or an
  • abrupt change in mental status (hallucinations, incoherence, irritability or
  • extreme lethargy) within 24 hours
  • A fall or head injury and the child is under 1
  • A fever and the child is under two months old
Courtesy of the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day Hab Visit to the Rusk Garden

After finding out about all the wonderful things going on at the Rusk Institute's Glass Garden (which we mentioned before in this post) the DayHab group went on a field trip and participate in their Prevocational Program. "We had a great time learning to plant windowboxes that will be kept in the perennial garden for patients and the public to enjoy," says Day Hab Specialist Erin McSorely. Looks like they had lots of fun "communing with nature," and even getting a little R & R (rest and relaxation)!

Vanessa, Michael, Maritza, Gisselle and Ivan

Mildred and Cindy


Sinergia's New Website

Sinergia has just upgraded its home on the web,, which will also be available in Spanish soon. Our Metropolitan Parent Center, which is a federally funded Parent Training and Information Center, has a section all to its own. Under the "IDEA" tab you'll find information on:
  • Laws and Regulations
  • Advocacy Skills for parents
  • Individualized Education Plan & Family Service Plan (IEP/FSP)Dispute Resolution
  • IDEA Disabilities categories
  • Infants and Toddlers and Early Intervention
Under "Information" you will find the following:
  • State Annual Performance Plan
  • Annual Performance Report
  • District Report Cards
  • ARIS Achievement Reporting and Innovation System
Back on the Home page, under "Services" you will find information on:
  • Medicaid Service Coordination
  • Family supports Services
  • Family Care Program, 
  • Day and Residential and Respite Services
  • Community Habilitation
  • Home Care
  • Housing Assistance Services 
Issues of the monthly Newsletters are currently being posted in the Archives in English and Spanish for your review.

Please bear with us as we complete the Spanish translations, tweak content and continue to work on our website to make it as reader friendly as possible, bringing you valuable information and helping individuals and families access the services they need. We hope you'll stop by for a visit soon!

Day Hab Art Sale

The Day Hab Artists were at it again! They let their creative juices flow and made hand-crafted items for the “Go Green, Spring Clean” art and craft sale. The sale featured artwork that was either made from recycled materials or designed to assist the user to make greener and smarter choices. Among the items for sale were fashionable shopping totes, vintage button picture frames, and reusable lunch dishes. 

Corey, Blanca, Maritza and Carlos

House by Carlos

Horse by Ivan

Rosa and Mabel hard at work