Tuesday, October 22, 2013

50 Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City Parent & Community Engagement Conference

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

Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will ensure that all American have access to quality, affordable health care and will create the transformation within the health care system necessary to contain costs. The Act will accomplish fundamental transformation of health insurance in the U.S. through shared responsibility and reform will eliminate discriminatory practices such as pre-existing condition exclusions. Achieving all these reforms without increasing health insurance premiums will mean that all American must be part of the system and must have coverage. Tax credits for individuals and families will ensure that insurance is affordable for everyone.
The Affordable Care Act has caused many changes but a major change took effect on October 1st, 2013, when the marketplace exchanges opened for enrollment for coverage that can begin as early as January 1st, 2014. Individuals and families have the option of comparing affordable health insurances that meet the guidelines required by the Obama administration.  NY State of Health is the official health plan marketplace for New York State. Through this website individuals, families, and small businesses can:

- Quickly compare health plan options and apply for assistance that could lower the cost of their health coverage.
- See if they qualify for health care coverage from Medicaid or Child Health Plus through the Marketplace.
- Calculate cost and select plans.

- See if you are eligible for a Tax Credit.

There are several health plans options offered via the marketplace. The different options are categorized in metal tier and are as follow: Bronze tier, Silver tier, Gold tier, and Platinum tier. Keep in mind as the metal tier increases the coverage and premium cost also increases. There is also a catastrophic tier offered to individuals under 30. However, this tier does not offer tax credit even if the individual qualifies for it in other tiers.

It is essential individuals review their current plan and prepare for the future as many current health plans may become non-existent. Remember uninsured Individuals will face fines.
The NY State of Health website offers information to individuals & families, employers, employees, broker, and navigators. Please visit http://www.healthbenefitexchange.ny.gov/what-ny-state-health to apply or call 1855-355-5777 to speak to a representative.

Transforming Family Care for the 21st Century

Transforming Family Care conference was held at The Hilton Hotel in Albany. Kenia Peralta, Family Care Coordinator and Myrta Cuadra-Lash, Executive Director represented Sinergia along with statewide Family Care Coordinators, Family Care Providers, Home Liaisons, FC Nurses and Program Directors. Openings remarks were offered by Lucinda Grant-Griffin, Director of Home and Community Living, in addition to the introduction of Acting Commissioner Laurie A. Kelley with comments by Deputy Commissioner Gerald Huber.

Family Care: "The Caregiver lives in their primary residence with no more than four individuals who are unable to live independently and who are fully celebrated, supported, nurtured and integrated into the family lifestyle" .

Richard Niedel, keynote speaker offered a comparison of the New York State Family Care Program and Massachusetts Family Care Program, how the program has been successful in MA and how NY will transform the Family Care program for the 21st Century. Massachusetts' the Family Care Program benefits from wraparound services utilizing additional funding from state agencies for individuals with behavioral needs and Companionship Exemption to family Care through the MA department of Labor. Family Care - A GOOD LIFE, REFLECTIONS ON THE PAST, INSPITATION FOR THE FUTURE. Richard Niedel, Program Director of the Office for Community Living, Springfield, MA.

Goals and proposed Outcomes: Extending the services and benefits to a wider section of the population as in community work to reach beyond and exceed. Finding and hiring the best qualified Family Care Providers in a timely and cost effective manner, and a successful marketing plan to allow the family care program recognition among the target audience. A series of workshops were facilitated throughout the day to the transformation agenda:

  • Challenges and Solutions for Transforming Family Care Training for the Twenty first Century: to develop consistency/constancy to Family Care training system-wide. Employ different training methodologies for the FC manual and align the Family Care and Substitute providers' trainings.

  • Outreach, Recruitment and Marketing-Strategies to meet the diverse needs of Individuals in Family Care: the discussion of different strategies, challenges, barriers and solutions to outreach; and introduce new and innovative ways to recruit family care providers. Best practices to connect to new and innovative outreach, recruitment and marketing.

  • Innovation and Partnerships-Innovative Housing Initiative to strengthen and sustain Family Care Program: The introduction of the HUD approved Counseling Program, financial institutions that partnered with OPWDD and federal/state partnerships.

  • Using Social Media to Transform Family Care in the Twenty First Century: discussed the use of social media in Massachusetts's Family Care Program, the comprehensive screening, background checks and matching program, the use of staff market program to various entities.
State and Agency Sponsored Family Care programs are the most structured and cost effective which ensures the needs, choices and preferences of individuals living in family care are no different from anyone else's needs, choices or preferences. These individuals need a place to live, a place to learn and a place to work. They need love, support, guidance, friends, privacy, and recreation, good physical, mental and emotional health. They do not need to be isolated or made to feel that they are different.

Annual Affordable Housing Conference

The Neighborhood Preservation Coalition (NPC) of New York State held its annual affordable housing conference and membership meeting on October 10th and 11th in Albany, NY. The Coalition is  committed to support community-based organizations that are working on preserving and improving the quality of life in poor neighborhoods. T
his is done thru the creation of affordable housing and the delivery of services such as eviction prevention, tenant counseling and property rehabilitation.  

Sinergia, Inc. is proud to be an NPC member and to be part of this life changing network that is dedicated to make affordable housing possible for people with disabilities in the areas of Northern Manhattan, Harlem and East Harlem. Our housing department delivers a variety of housing services which include: housing advocacy and assistance with court related issues, repairs, tenant's education and subsidy and low income housing applications. Currently we operate three Tier II shelters, 26 Individual Residential Alternatives (IRA) apartments and six Individual Support Services (ISS) apartments for people with disabilities.  

At Sinergia we find that it is vital for neighborhood's tenants to be able to obtain affordable housing and maintain current low rent control and rent stabilized apartments. This is why we provide intensive one-to-one advocacy and case management for people at risk of losing their apartments.  

This past year many NPCs have dedicated a great amount of resources working on restoring those neighborhoods that were most affected by Superstorm Sandy. The work of the community preservation programs becomes more necessary as we confront a housing crisis in New York City where rent prices have skyrocketed. Due to the fact that rents are so incredibly high, we have more people living in overcrowded conditions, a large number of eviction cases and people going into city shelters.
The purpose of having an annual conference for all NPCs is to discuss the needs of our neighborhoods in order to improve the quality of life of the people living in these areas by ensuring the supply of affordable housing, promoting economic development, and preserving the already existing services. This meeting allows us to determine how to invest our time and funding.  

The conference was attended by government representatives and political leaders that came together to have an open discussion with the coalition members on issues related to disaster recovery, job creation, improving small business, housing alternatives and other very important topics. Among the attendees were Fran Barrett, NYS Governor's Nonprofit Liaison, Karin Kunstler Goldman from NYS Attorney General's office, Joseph Galante from the NYS Comptroller's office and the NYS Assembly member, Patricia Fahy.  

Awards were presented to two prominent individuals that dedicated their lives to the creation and development of neighborhood preservation programs in New York State. William Allen, NYSHCR's Director of the Neighborhood and Rural Preservation Program was presented the 2013 Leadership award and Gail Webster, was recognized with the Luis Arce Success Award for her work as the executive Director of Hudson River Housing.  

Those present were able to learn what other agencies in New York are doing to improve their communities and network with other fellow organizations. The idea of this annual conference is to allow an open communication between agencies that are devoted to improving the lives of residents in their communities and to exchange ideas in order to replicate the good work in other parts of New York. Sinergia is always looking forward to learning innovative ideas in order to improve our services. The conference was a great experience in which we were able to learn various methods to improve the development of our community as well as to express our concerns and advocate for better services for our residents.