Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 in Review - Sinergia's Department & Program Highlights

Metropolitan Parent Center (MPC)
Families and parents make our work possible, and as we look back at 2010 we would like to say thank you to the many families who contacted the MPC for information or assistance - your child is our first priority. To the 1,739 parents and professionals who attended our 48 workshops and trainings, we trust that your time was well spent and we provided you with valuable information, tools and strategies along with opportunities to connect and network. To the 35,978 individual parent and professional contacts through calls, letters, e-mails and meetings, we strived to work hard on your behalf. To the parents that attended the 26 parent support group sessions throughout the year, we are so thankful that through the generosity of the Brick Presbyterian Church and skills of William Bird Forteza our facilitator, you were able to share and learn from one another. Thank you to everyone who visited our website in 2010. We hope you will visit our re-designed webpage to be completed in January and which will be made easier for you to find information, and is a one-stop venue for special education and general education information and resources. For the 8,067 parents and professionals who received our newsletter, we thank you for staying informed monthly. To the parent volunteers, your assistance was invaluable and we appreciate the giving of your valuable time. To the 989 infants, children and youth with the full range of disabilities we served in 2010, we will continue to support you as needed. To those families and professionals who find their way to us in 2011, we look forward to providing you with quality service as a Center of Excellence For Latino Family Engagement.

Autism Initiative
Sinergia’s Autism Initiative Program has continued to grow in 2010 and is currently serving almost 300 families of children with autism spectrum disorders, the majority of which are Latino and Spanish-speaking families. The Autism Initiative Program has also developed collaborations with a number of organizations and individuals that have provided our families and parents with productive and effective tools in the areas of resources and workshops. These individuals and organizations include scientists and researchers, art educators, school administrators, therapists and a chef/nutritionist. There were nine workshops conducted in 2010 that offered information on areas including sensory integration therapy, dietary interventions and alternatives, siblings of children with autism issues and transforming everyday activities into learning activities. The Autism Initiative Program also featured monthly events called “Breakfast Encounters” where parents share their stories, challenges and successes regarding raising children with autism spectrum disorders.

Medicaid Service Coordination (MSC)
During the past year the MSC program experienced a major restructuring due to the financial crisis. Nevertheless during this time the program provided 2841 units  of service to 327 individuals with intellectual disabilities in the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. The ten MSC staff members helped individuals to meet their goals and desires, to find and keep a home, we linked them to search for jobs, participate in recreational activities, build a circle of friends and to gain access to medical, clinical, and entitlement programs such as Social Security, food stamps. We also assisted families in the guardianship process and in securing other needed services. The MSC staff attended numerous mandated trainings provided through OPWDD and Sinergia, to ensure that disabled individuals as well as their families were able to secure the services and supports they needed. Through these efforts a staff member was able to find a work program for a consumer who had stayed at home the previous six years without engaging in daily activities. Also the program arranged for summer camps for some individuals who had never had a camp experience. Despite having to adapt to new regulations, larger case loads, restructuring (which allows for less time to visit), accompanying and advocating for individuals, the MSC Department continues to engage with and assist individuals with intellectual disabilities to make progress that will lead to more enriched, independent lives.

Residential Services
From January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010 the Residential Services Program provided over 60 individuals with developmental disabilities with residential services in 38 residential opportunities. These ranged from supervised and supported certified individualized residential alternatives to less restrictive individualized support services in the community. In addition to the residences, Sinergia provided 78,097 hours of direct service to help individuals enhance their daily living skills, ensure their health and safety , oversaw their nutritional needs, budgeting, medication administration, and promoted their independence and integration into the community. Pursuant to our goals of promoting greater independence and increasing the quality of life of individuals, several relocations were made during the year which provided for persons to have their own bedrooms and to move to better, newly built residences. The staff of approximately 65 employees in this department constantly attends development sessions so that they can meet regulatory demands and most importantly so they can meet the individual needs of the residents and enhance their quality of life in community settings.

Day Habilitation Services
In Sinergia’s Day Habilitation Program, consistency is an important foundation for progress. While changes in scheduling can be disruptive to the program, the participants demonstrated how well they could adapt to a very big change in February 2010. On Monday, February 1st, Day Habilitation began its program at 2082 Lexington Avenue, on 126th street. After much anticipation and fanfare, Sinergia’s brand new building was ready. That day and the several weeks since then, the members have shown that they don’t adapt to new surroundings by trial and error, but by trial and victory! They quickly learned new transportation routes and braved new bus rides home. When the new elevator was being repaired, they climbed the stairs or took the alternate elevator. It’s as though every participant was determined to make 2082 Lexington a new home. While the neighborhood in Harlem is very different than it was at 29th Street, the participants have embraced change and used it as a springboard for adventure. Day Hab. Groups have volunteered at the Carver Garden on East 124th St., growing fresh vegetables and learning how to prepare them. They’ve visited the library, shopped at the Brand New Mall on 116th St. with Manhattan’s first Target, walked to Yankee Stadium, gone swimming at the local public pools, and played basketball and football games at the park on 130th St. The new location hasn’t been an impediment to continuing past activities like Encore Meals on Wheels or exercising at the YMCA and Riverside Park. Life at Lexington Ave. has continued as usual with fun activities and adventurous new excursions. Some participants volunteered at the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition Shelter, walking homeless dogs and caring for lonely cats. In July, some participants went “Walking with the Dinosaurs” at Madison Square Garden. They visited exciting places like Rye Play land, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and Coney Island, also had fun closer to home, barbecuing in a local park and picnicking in the garden. The new spacious conference room on the fourth floor was the perfect place for the first Volunteer Award Ceremony and Spring Art Exhibit, as well as the annual Thanksgiving Lunch on November 24th. Day Hab also observed Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month with informational celebrations, premiered their first Photography Exhibit, and had a costume party for Halloween. The participants are now looking forward to holiday celebrations in December and the Dinner Dance in January. With the coming of the New Year, Day Hab will continue taking on new challenges and adventures in stride. It’s what they do!

Family Care
    Family Care is a program in which individuals, including children with developmental disabilities are placed in the care of families in homes within the community. The services are supplemented by a team composed of a Family Care coordinator, Family Care Provider(s), Medicaid Service Coordinators and a nursing team which provides medical care and intervention to consumers in the program. The program currently serves 10 children and adults. Currently there are two prospective consumers that are in the process of being admitted into the program. Out of the ten consumers in the program, only five of them have parents, relatives or legal guardians who are very involved in their care and well being. These family members have expressed great satisfaction with the care that their family members are receiving from the family care providers. Family care providers are unsung heroes; some have opened their homes to individuals since their infancy and have amassed 20 years as providers. The dedication of these families is extraordinary and Sinergia gratefully acknowledges their contribution to the lives of individuals in the Family Care Program. Our annual Family Care luncheon on July 29, 2010 was a testament and expression of gratitude to the five providers and two respite providers for all the care and nurturance they provide throughout the year in their homes and community.

Family Support (FS)
The Family Support Case Management programs “Direction Services and East Harlem Service Coordination” served 139 families and provided over 3556 hours of case management in 2010. Medicaid isn’t required for FS programs, therefore we are able to serve families that do not have Medicaid and would otherwise remain unserved. During this year we were able to obtain medical, clinical, entitlements, special education, recreational and OPWDD services for the individuals served by the program. One family in desperate straits with a physically handicapped mother who had suffered an amputation with a severely disabled child was able to receive emergency services, respite and OPWDD housing after they were evicted from their home. Another family was assisted with funds to pay rent arrears in order to forestall an eviction.  We also referred families for reimbursement for clothing, furniture and other necessities. Most recently we assisted families that don’t qualify for Medicaid because of their income with the Medicaid Waiver enrollment. This enables the family to get prescriptions and medical services not covered by their health insurance as well as OPWDD waiver services. After more than 25 years this program still remains a lifeline for families with children or family members with developmental disabilities. Family Support Services are indispensable for families that need help and struggle to maintain their children and adult family members with disabilities in their own homes.

Family Reimbursement
Sinergia’s Family reimbursement Program is a Family Support Service funded by the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and serves families in the Bronx and Brooklyn who have a person with developmental disabilities living at home. The program offers reimbursement funds for the purchase of goods, services and necessities to help the member with disabilities to stay living in the home. In 2010 Sinergia awarded a total of $27,000 in reimbursement funds to 69 families which covered respite care, camp and recreational opportunities, medication, equipment, needed furniture, music therapy. This is a fund of last resort and due to limitations in funding, priority is given to emergencies and to families with very restrictive incomes.

Educational Advocacy
The family support educational advocacy is a program funded by the New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities for families living in Manhattan who have children with developmental disabilities. In 2010 we were tremendously satisfied to have been able to help 25 families and provided over 600 hours of intense advocacy to help parents of children with disabilities obtain a great deal of information and guidance so that their children could receive appropriate educational services. Sinergia’s educational advocate was able to assist parents with issues related to school transfers, behavior problems, busing issues, obtaining paraprofessionals, related services such as occupational, physical, and speech therapies, transition, placement, evaluations and other problems that parents resented. During 2010 we worked closely with parents to determine the suitability of their children’s educational programs. The main goal of this program is to ensure that services provided by the NYC Department of Education to children with disabilities are developed in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and are individualized and reflective of their academic, social and vocational growth. We believe that all children can learn and we promote parental involvement, which is crucial to the progress and achievement of their children with disabilities. We thank those families who contacted Sinergia and became part of our family in 2010 and who allowed us to assist them.

We Are Parents Too
This unique program serves parents with developmental disabilities. It offered 34 workshops throughout the year which covered a range of topics from nutrition, domestic violence, infant development, discipline vs. punishment, child custody issues, etc. The total units of service provided for the year totaled 1,397 to 92 parents. Seventeen parents participated in the recently formed parent support group. This program works to sustain families that are headed by parents with developmental disabilities. We also collaborate with the courts, ACS and legal aid lawyers in helping families with reunification of their children. A recent highlight was our collaboration with the Healthy Families Program of the University Settlement Society of NY.

Home Care
We are so pleased that Home Care Services were once again restored this year. This program has helped 9 families within the past several months and 4 more will start to receive home care services in January that will help them to care for their disabled family member.

Community Habilitation
The At Home Residential Habilitation program (AHRH) was renamed in November of 2010 by OPWDD and is now known as Community Habilitation. Community Habilitation is designed to offer service intervention to people with disabilities either in their homes or out in the community. The program assists consumers with everything from budgeting to healthy meal preparation to guidance with keeping a clean home. The program also underwent some regulatory changes that will make it easier to implement, and the services can now also start in the community as well as the home. This will be helpful on those occasions in which the consumer needs to partake in an activity like shopping or would like to attend a recreational event. At the beginning of the year there were only three consumers who were enrolled in AHRH and they were receiving about 44 hours per week of services. During the year four more persons with disabilities have begun receiving this service and Community Habilitation now provides nearly 95 hours a week of service. We anticipate further growth since this service helps consumers remain in their own homes and in their communities.

Housing Assistance Programs
During 2010 the Housing Department served over 200 families who were facing impending evictions, inadequate and overcrowded housing conditions, needed home repairs and access to available housing opportunities, including information about housing lotteries and low income housing. In addition to our housing assistance services the department held nine housing related workshops through the funding from Department of Housing and Community Renewal. The speakers included personnel from NYC Housing Authority, Human Resources Administration, Housing Preservation and Development, the Downstate Office of Housing Initiatives of OPWDD. Speakers helped empower individuals and families as to their rights and possible entitlements they may be eligible to receive. We are very grateful to OPWD and DHCR for their continued funding of this program, especially in this economic downturn when individuals and families are trying to maintain housing and avoid homelessness.

Overnight Respite Program
Sinergia’s Respite Program has served 22 individuals with developmental disabilities with overnight respite services from January 1-December 21, 2010. We provided 2,464 hours of service to 15 males and 7 females ranging in age from 14-42. The length of stay ranged from overnight to 12 days duration. All the guests enjoyed their stay at the respite apartment and their parents expressed their interest in future stays throughout the year. It is an important service for parents who need to take a break from caring for their children. We have received their phone calls expressing appreciation for the care of their loved ones, especially in cases of dire emergencies or hospitalization of parents. Our Respite Program is equipped with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms ensuring privacy and personal space for our guests. During the spring and summer they enjoyed trips to the pool, they attended street fairs, block parties, movie theaters and picnics in the park accompanied by our staff. In colder weather they enjoyed daily walks in the neighborhood, playing board games, coloring with the staff or watching T.V.

Tier II Program
During 2010 Sinergia served five families in our Tier II Program funded through the NYC Department of Homeless Services. As of July 1, 2010 three families with five children moved into our newly renovated and relocated Shelter apartments. Sinergia’s Tier II Program provides temporary shelter, while the families are required to secure permanent housing with the assistance of the Coordinator of the Tier II Program. The homeless housing system is stressful and requires that the head of the household search for adequate and affordable housing. The staff of Sinergia lends support, links families to services and provides relief to the parents so that they can care for their children with special needs as well as meet the mandates of the shelter system. The families have expressed gratitude for Sinergia’s assistance and are all looking forward to moving into their own permanent homes in the near future. Our Tier II Program attempts the utmost to help families who are homeless and have children with disabilities to regain stability and secure affordable and safe housing and support services.

In the past year much has been going on in Sinergia’s digital world.  It takes quite a bit of resources to keep our computers, phones, copiers, fax machines, televisions, projectors, laptops, simultaneous interpretation equipment etc., running smoothly and the following acquisitions and services helped Sinergia keep pace with the Technology:

1. New Front Line Firewall
2. 10 new computers for use in Day Hab and other programs.
3. New printers
4. Top of the line software (Norton Antivirus, Microsoft Office 2010, Norton Ghost)
5. Over 1000 submitted IT requests
6. 2 new flip video recorders
7. Started to replace computers that are 5 to 6 years old.
8. We also purchased new transmitters and microphone headsets which are part of the simultaneous interpretation equipment used for workshops and other events that need translation.

Advances in Information Technology, both positive and negative, occur daily, and keeping pace with them is a job that requires much attention. A single malevolent virus can spell disaster for the agency and it takes a lot of vigilant work to keep such things at bay. Sinergia has more than 80 workstations between the main office and out in the community and close to 100 people who use these stations for research, communication, data collection, entertainment, investigating community events and the like. Additionally, the maintenance of the machines and other elements that manage the display, printing, copying, scanning and electronic storage of documents and data concerning the hundreds of people that we serve is also very intensive and requires daily monitoring.

A very special note of appreciation to all the staff at Sinergia that worked tirelessly through 2010. Your dedication and hard work made all these achievements possible. Your service to several thousand individuals with disabilities and families helped them to survive with dignity and resilience and for some to even thrive in these difficult economic times.