Choices 2017 Winter

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Choices Winter 2017 Newsletter

Community Options believes in the dignity of every person, and in the freedom of all people to experience the highest degree of self-determination. Embracing this philosophy, Community Options provides housing, support services and advocacy assistance to help empower people with disabilities.

Reflecting on the Closing of Pennhurst State School and Hospital

Bill Baldini and Dr. James Conroy

Bill Baldini and Dr. James Conroy

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the closing of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, an institution for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Pennhurst housed over 10,600 individuals throughout its 80 years of operation (1908-1987).  In a 1968 NBC news report by Bill Baldini, “Suffer the Little Children”, Pennhurst was exposed as a ghastly institution where abuse, exploitation, neglect

and medical experimentation abounded. The inhumane treatment of individuals with disabilities in institutions like Pennhurst, was the lightning rod which electrified the disability rights movement.
Self-advocates rallied together and fought for their human rights in court and won, thus forcing states towards deinstitutionalization.

The commemoration of the Pennhurst closure is a sobering reminder of why organizations like Community Options are much needed in supporting individuals with disabilities. Community Options has played a major role in taking people with disabilities out of institutions across the country, some of whom have previously lived in Pennhurst.  People with disabilities have lived in segregated settings with no freedom for too long. They want to live in their own homes, work in their respective communities, build relationships and lead self-directed lives. Community Options is helping to pave the way for making community inclusion and self-determination
the norm for all.

Community Options to Hold 10th Annual Cupid’s Chase 5K Run

The first Cupid’s Chase 5K took place in Princeton, NJ in 2009 with 350 runners. Joseph Roy-Mayhew was the first-ever winner with a time of 16:25.

“I heard about it when I was with the Running Club,”said Roy-Mayhew, a Princeton University graduate student at the time who lives in Boston working for a 3D printing company.  “I remember the weather was great for the event.  Good people to be around, everyone seemed happy.  It’s crazy that it’s 10 years later.  It’s great to see that it’s expanded so much.”

On Saturday, February 10, 2018, Community Options will celebrate its 10th annual Cupid’s Chase 5K with 37 races across 11 states and thousands of runners expected.Last year, Cupid’s Chase raised nearly $300,000 and $1 million total over the last four years.  Fred Joslyn scored the best time across the country, finishing with a 15:28 mark in the Harrisburg, PA race.

In 2018, Community Options will hold its first ever Cupid’s Chase 5Ks in the states of Utah and Maryland, with races at Salt Lake City and Wheaton, respectively.  Community Options recently began providing service to both Utah and Maryland over the last two years.  New race location cities for 2018 include Bridgewater, NJ, Queens, NY, Butler, PA, King of Prussia, PA, Latrobe, PA, Salt Lake City, UT and Wheaton, MD.

Participants will receive an “Available” or “Unavailable” shirt to wear for the race in hopes of sparking a love connection, as well as a finisher medal, a goody bag and refreshments.  Runners, walkers, and rollers (baby strollers and wheelchairs) are all welcome to join and help raise funds to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities by participating in our annual Cupid’s Chase 5K.

For more information, sponsorship, volunteer opportunities or to register for the event, visit cupidschase.org.

A Year after Hire, New Jersey Native’s Role Grows at Walgreens

Joe Catana

Joe Catana

On November 1, 2016, Joe Catana started working as a Customer Service Associate for Walgreens in Hamilton, NJ.  Exactly one year later, Catana received a promotion for his hard work and diligence.

Catana’s duties originally included checking outdates and performing light stocking as necessary, twice a week and earning $10 per hour.

“Joe is hard-working and seeks every opportunity to learn and grow as an employee,” said Walgreens Assistant Store Manager, Steve Benci.  “He brings enthusiasm to his work that is contagious and motivates his teammates to be their very best.  Joe has become an important part of the team here at Walgreens.”

365 days later, Joe now works three days a week, earning $11.50 per hour as a result of his great performance.  The Hamilton, NJ native will now be responsible for stocking the housewares department and helping unload truck deliveries on Thursdays.

Community Options is proud of its great working relationship with Walgreens and its dedication to inclusion in the everyday workforce.

Three Years in, Arizona Making Rapid Progress

Wendy Johnson took over the Community Options’ Arizona office in September 2014. As the long process to providing direct support to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities began, Johnson assembled the first ever Cupid’s Chase 5K in Tucson and received quite the turnout.

In November of 2015, the phone call finally came that the Arizona office could provide in-home support to individuals.

2017 has been, by far, the biggest year for Community Options’ Arizona. On May 30, COI was awarded their first group home contract in Tucson. On July 10, the national nonprofit claimed its first group home contract in Tempe. Later in the month, COI opened its first office in Tempe.

As of early December, Community Options now operates a home in Tucson as well as three homes in Tempe. Before January 1, a fourth home in Tempe will open with several individuals set to settle in. Also before the New Year, a day program will open in Tucson, as requested by the state of Arizona. Community Options has acquired a rented space that will aid a small, underserved community known as Oro Valley.

By March, a fifth home in Tempe is scheduled to be purchased and opened. Community Options Arizona currently serves 15 individuals via in-home support, five by way of supported employment and 12 in residential homes.

Community Options Celebrates Opening of 500th Home

In December, Community Options announced the opening of its 500th home.

“This is an extraordinary milestone for us,” said Robert Stack, President and Chief Executive Officer.  “It shows our commitment towards advancing our mission to provide community-based housing and employment supports for persons with disabilities. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff, as well as the generosity of our supporters. We expect to continue this momentum as we enter 2018 to further expand our services.”

In addition to housing and employment support services, the organization also operates retail businesses through its Community Options Enterprises division.  These businesses serve to provide real-world skills to individuals with disabilities, in the community alongside their typical peers.

One of the businesses operated in New Jersey is Vaseful, a full-service florist in Edison that employs 12 people with autism and other developmental disabilities.  Community Options expects a second Vaseful location to open in the next year, thanks in part to a very generous gift from a private donor.

“We are very excited with the success of our flower store in Edison and thanks to the donation of over $100,000, we remain excited as we prepare to open our second flower store in Princeton,” said Andrew Park, Managing Director for Community Options Enterprises.  “The employees at Vaseful are taught invaluable skills in a community-based setting that will prepare them for future employment opportunities they choose to pursue.”

Man with Autism Making Great Strides in Independent Living

Robert Stack and Damian Schuler at Community Options’ Holiday Party

Robert Stack and Damian Schuler at Community Options’ Holiday Party

Adults with developmental disabilities, like autism, often face challenges with employment and living on their own.  When provided with the right supports, those challenges can be met and overcome.

Damian Schuler has done just that.  The 26-year-old, who is on the autism spectrum, has resided with Community Options in Pompton Plains, NJ since 2010, where he lived in a fully-supported home and then moved to a Supported Living Apartment on his own. Damian works 30 hours a week at Burlington Stores as a cashier, where he has been employed since June 2016. In conjunction with Community Options Supported Employment services, Damian has previously held jobs with AMC Theaters and Quick Chek.

“Damian has been a customer service cashier at Burlington for over a year. He makes sure to greet every customer and offer them a warm smile. He is exceptionally friendly and polite.  Damian goes out of his way to ensure that our customers receive the best service possible during their shopping experience,” says Sharon, store manager at Burlington - Wayne. “Damian truly exhibits all of the Burlington core values and is a role model associate. Both trustworthy and honest, Damian is always a team player and extremely helpful to everyone. Most recently Damian became one of our top three earners for our store donation drive. He has also been recognized as employee of the month. We are very proud to have Damian on our Burlington team!”

“Success stories like Damian’s are the result of his hard work and the right supports at the right time,” says Tracy Mendola, Executive Director of Community Options – Morris, Essex, Sussex Counties. “Damian works hard every day to overcome the challenges he has that are inherent with an autism diagnosis, and he lives and works in the community with his typical peers. The staff at Community Options provide individualized support services so Damian, and others like him, can have the success of being an integrated part of their communities at work and at home.”