ILA Receives Generous Donation from the Healy Family

The Independent Living Association (ILA) operates over 35 group homes throughout New York City, where over 250 developmentally and intellectually disabled men and women are given the opportunity to lead productive lives.

The Lamoka Avenue home is one of eleven group homes on Staten Island where 10 Individuals reside.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the homes have had to come up with alternative ways for the residents to carry on with and enjoy their lives.

Not only the staff but also many of the residents’ families have stepped up to ensure that the Individuals remain healthy, safe and happy.

Patrick and Frances Healy are the parents of Brian who has lived at the Lamoka Ave. home for about 20 years. During these most difficult times, the Healy’s have been incredibly generous with their donations to Brian’s group home. Their initial donations consisted of masks to both Individuals and staff, and when asked what other types of donations would be needed, the Healy family was told that food would be greatly appreciated.

So food, it was! Every other week, the Healy’s deliver all types of food including fruits, vegetables, juices and other healthy snacks. In addition, they have supplied full meals for the staff, all of whom are extremely grateful for the Healy’s generosity.

Faye Bobb-Sampson is the Area Coordinator and oversees 5 facilities on Staten Island, including the Lamoka Ave. home. She has worked with ILA in various positions for over 25 years, and considers ILA’s quality of services outstanding. Faye says that families like the Healy’s play an integral role in the well-being of their loved ones as well as the other Individuals in the homes. Since the Direct Support Professionals, the staff of the homes, are the voices and the ears for the individuals, Faye also sees a passion in the staff who take pride in their work. This pride, she says, is seen throughout the agency and is what makes ILA so special. Despite all the challenges during the pandemic, Faye, her team and the whole ILA family, have continued to remain steadfast in their dedication and determination to remain healthy themselves, so that every day they can help others who otherwise cannot help themselves.

Faye’s motto, “What is your purpose today?” reaches far when speaking about the importance of both personal growth and making social change in the community.

While food donations, such as those by the Healy family, are always appreciated, ILA Individuals also look forward to donations of arts and crafts materials, music-related items such as relaxation CDs, and all types of appropriate movies.

Click here to learn more about ILA or to make a donation. 

The Gift of Donorship

As we take stock of our world over the past six-plus months, the impact of COVID is clear to see. Businesses big and small have shuttered, countless thousands of employees have been let go, and everyone struggles to adapt in a markedly different economic climate.

But nowhere has this financial crunch been felt so keenly as in the field of social work. Already strained and overburdened before COVID, support workers, caregivers, and disability services everywhere are feeling the strain, but none as much as the intended recipients of these services. 

When community resources and enrichment programs are reduced, IDD individuals are the ones that suffer the most.

Tightening Our Belts

We hear it all the time as we move through economic downturns: “We all have to tighten our belts and get on with it.” And while this may be possible for some, it is not always possible for everyone. 

Nonprofit organizations like Independent Living Association have long provided a strong backbone for servicing the disabled community. Now, under the financial crush exacerbated by COVID, these nonprofits are struggling to provide the essential services that many IDD individuals rely on.

For some, underfunding and staff shortages mean they cannot go out into the community, shop, explore, and be social. Others will have to do without assistance getting up in the morning, bathing, eating, taking medication, and engaging in mental and physical stimulation.

Folks with disabilities have always suffered the most during times of crisis. Unfortunately, the systems that serve them have never been sufficient—least of all right now, as we all struggle to keep our heads above water. Coping with COVID and staying out of harm’s way is difficult enough without having to worry about whether the services you depend on will be available.

With IDD services stretched far beyond capacity, and resources and staff thin on the ground, these financial struggles will impact the quality and availability of services for months and even years to come.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

If you are looking to make a difference, there is no better way to do so than by supporting your community and everyone in it. Whether disability is an issue near and dear to your heart, or a need that is just entering your consciousness, there is no better time to donate.  

Consider making a donation to support ILA and the disabled community. Single payments are welcomed, but regular financial gifts enable ILA to offer enriching, ongoing programs to our clientele, who so sorely need it.

Becoming a donor for a nonprofit organization like the Independent Living Association is crucial for the survival of these services. When you donate, you help us achieve our goal of supporting and assisting I/DD individuals in living a productive and fulfilled life. All donations go directly into funding programs and offerings that benefit the communities we serve.
If you would like to learn more about our organization or find out how you can get involved, reach out today.

Society for All: Inclusion for People with Disabilities

July 26th, 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA was meant to establish “a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination based on disability.” This anniversary is, in no uncertain terms, a landmark achievement for folks with disabilities. It marked a turning point in history, but even today, the ADA is a far cry from true equality and inclusivity for individuals with disabilities. 

Folks with disabilities have the right to productive, full, and meaningful lives just as much as any other member of society. But despite this, the world is filled with insurmountable, systemic barriers. Discrimination, though illegal, undoubtedly still occurs, though in most situations, it quietly flies under the radar. 

Despite what the law says, discrimination is an all-too-familiar reality for so many individuals with disabilities. 

How Can We Make Society More Welcoming For People With Disabilities? 

1. Employ People with Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities are perfectly capable of entering and excelling in the public workforce. Many people with disabilities are intelligent, ambitious, and hardworking, making them excellent candidates for all kinds of careers. A person with a disability is an asset in the workforce.

2. Understanding the Disabled Community 

Society needs to understand that the disabled community is a thriving social and cultural hub, just like any other. While no two disabilities are exactly the same, there is an element of mutual understanding between people who fall under the ‘disabled’ banner. Websites like AbleHere, Disabilities R Us, and Disabled United are just a handful of the many online community networks that help connect individuals with disabilities.  

3. Watch Your Tone

How do you speak to someone with a disability? The answer is obvious: the same way you would talk to anyone else. Folks with disabilities don’t want to be condescended to or treated like children. They don’t want to be stripped of agency, offered backhanded compliments, or held up as a paragon of courage. Don’t tell a person with a disability that they are ‘brave’ for just living their normal lives. What you are really saying is, “your life must be a burden, and I pity you.” Don’t let preconceived notions of a person impact the way you treat them.

4. Better Representation

What we see in the media can shape our lives and our perceptions. When disability is represented poorly, individuals with disabilities seem themselves portrayed in a hurtful, negative light. Not only that, but non-disabled folks are taught, consciously or unconsciously, about the stereotypes of disability. Individuals with disabilities deserve to see themselves and their lives reflected in the media and to have stories that they can relate to. But disability representation shouldn’t just exist in the media. Disability should be reflected in all aspects of life, from business to board rooms, in politics, and beyond. 

In conclusion, disability does not define a person, but it also shouldn’t be ignored. A person’s disability is just as much a part of them as their hair color or height. It isn’t a disadvantage; it is merely a way of life. And although steps have been taken, society still has a long way to go to achieve equality and inclusion.

To learn more about Independent Living Association or find out how you can help, reach out today.

Day Habilitation and Community Habilitation Services

Our community offers more than just a network of connectivity: it gives us a sense of self. Everyone is a part of it, and everyone shares in its benefits – and that includes folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Everyone learns, works, and plays at their own pace. No matter how far along a person is on their learning journey, we all want, need, and deserve to thrive as a member of our community. Beyond that, everyone is entitled to live with independence, dignity, and self-determination. 

The Importance of Community Services

Unfortunately, many services designed for IDD individuals are insular establishments that can lead them to feel isolated from their community. Group homes and residential programs located on campuses or private property limit engagement, making the people who live there feel cut off from the world – to their detriment.

Beyond the lack of connection, many IDD folks struggle with the lack of accessibility to community services. A dive in funding for disability services has resulted in decreased quality and availability of these kinds of public programs.

Fortunately, community-based programs like those at Independent Learning Association are working to fill those gaps. Assisted community living and day programs for IDD individuals are crucial for promoting health, wellness, and independence at every level.

There are countless documented benefits to a smaller community-based model of IDD living. Individuals living within their community experience a greater sense of control and safety, more social relationships, an increase in community engagement, and overall happier, more satisfying lives. 

That’s why ILA offers both day habilitation and community habilitation services. Here are some of the features and highlights of our programs:

Day Habilitation

Our Day Habilitation programs, located in Brooklyn and on Staten Island, offer services Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 3 pm. Each location has a meeting hub, but the focus is community based activities. Our services include games, arts and crafts, gentle fitness routines, a variety of training modules, ranging from everyday life skills to enjoyable hobbies. This service also offers the foundations of pre-vocational training skills to teach our clients the basics of entering the workforce.

These programs are designed so that IDD individuals can socialize, integrate, and improve their existing life skills. Our goal is always to support and facilitate learning, participation, growth, and development. To us, there is nothing greater than supporting individuals in achieving their goals.

Community Habilitation

ILA’s Community Habilitation services assist individuals out and about in the community. It’s about meeting clients where they’re at, and independently supporting them through daily activities. Accompanied outings, both for chores and entertainment, help foster a sense of accomplishment, enthusiasm, and pride in those who use the habilitation services.

ILA’s services can help improve an individual’s self-esteem, confidence, motivation, self-sufficiency, and ability. After all, everyone feels good when they can contribute and give back to their community!

Our community engagement services prioritize meaningful participation, the ability to make choices for oneself, manage responsibilities, and live their best lives. After all, there’s nothing quite like being included and getting involved in something greater than yourself.

To learn more about ILA, visit our website, or give us a call. We are always happy to answer your questions anytime.

Staying Nourished During the Pandemic

In recent months, we’ve been bombarded with information about how to keep ourselves COVID-free. By now, you know the drill—wash your hands, wear a mask, don’t touch your face, sanitize all surfaces—it’s all excellent information, and people need to understand it. What we’ve seen less of, but which is no less important, is how to keep our bodies and minds healthy during COVID

The Importance of Good Nutrition

During the lockdown, it’s easy to lose sense of things: nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, emotional regulation. After the initial shock, many of us have settled into a strange sense of comfort with this new routine. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. 

We have to keep our bodies healthy because good health means increased immunity levels. Especially within vulnerable communities like IDD individuals, a compromised immune system can be risky. 

A strong immune system is just one piece of the puzzle that is overall health. The healthier you are, the less at risk you are for catching the virus, and this is especially important for those with disabilities and chronic illnesses or conditions. 

Let’s take a look at ways to stay healthy and nourish our bodies during this difficult time.

Develop Healthy Habits

Eating habits have done a 180. With so many folks lacking a structured regimen, we sometimes find ourselves eating at strange times, ordering in more than usual, and snacking due to boredom. Conversely, if you’re busy with work, maybe you’re foregoing cooking in lieu of fast, low-effort solutions. 

Here are some tips to give your routine a boost:

  • Always eat breakfast. Eating a good breakfast not only strengthens your immunity and promotes healthy weight management, but it can also boost your mood – something we all need right about now! Make sure you get plenty of fiber and protein. Nuts, seeds, eggs, fruit, and muesli are all great ways to accomplish this.
  • Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to imbalance in your diet and is actually a significant risk factor for hormonal imbalance and weight gain. Beans, lentils, vegetables, and whole grains provide the basis for a well-rounded meal.
  • Be mindful when reaching for snacks. It’s easy to binge on unhealthy treats when you’re not paying attention. Choose healthy alternatives, like fresh fruits and raw veggies. Drink lots of water, and don’t overindulge on caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea, or liquids that are high in sugars, like soft drinks, sports drinks, and juice.

IDD Specific Nutrition Tips

The suggestions above are pretty good advice for anyone who wants to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. But for some folks living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there are specific limitations when it comes to mealtime.

Genetic disorders may cause difficulty with healthy weight management and obesity. An individual may have trouble holding utensils or be unable to swallow or digest meals properly. These are factors that can disrupt nutrition for IDD individuals.

To ensure they are eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, some IDD folks may benefit from the support of a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist, either full or part-time. A nutrition specialist will not only help with feeding, but can also create learning programs and structural supports for the IDD individual, their caregivers, and loved ones.

During the COVID lockdown, staying safe means making sure that you’re eating right too. The better your nutrition is, the safer, healthier, and happier you will be.

To learn more about how we support IDD individuals and those who care for them, reach out today

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

Visitations to ILA Group Homes Will Resume

Diana and Kevin McConnell haven’t seen their son, Ryan, since March 9. Eileen Nesselt has not seen her son, Robert, since mid-March. These families along with many others, whose loved ones live in Independent Living Association (ILA) group homes throughout the New York City area, have had their lives dramatically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Following mandatory State and OPWDD guidelines, ILA–which operates over 35 homes throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island–was required to suspend all personal visits to group home residents.

Good news though! 

A message from Arthur Palevsky, the Executive Director of ILA, recently notified families that in-person visits to group homes will be allowed once again. Of course, there are policies, procedures, and guidelines that must be followed to ensure the safety of the residents, the families and the staff.  House managers will determine the specifics of the visits.

The McConnell family, with the assistance of the group home staff, has only been able to have video visits with Ryan every Saturday afternoon as well as send him care packages. With visitations set to restart, they know how happy Ryan will be to see them in person very shortly. Along with their other children, the McConnells are anxious to resume their Sunday outings with Ryan when permitted. 

Similarly, Mrs. Nesselt has been speaking with Robert every day and occasionally through video visits when opportunity presents. However, as a mother, she would constantly wonder how Robert has experienced the separation. Even though the staff of the Canarsie home and the entire ILA leadership have been incredibly helpful and supportive, the hugs and personal closeness have been sorely missed by both parent and child.

Robert and Ryan themselves, like many of the almost 250 intellectually and developmentally disabled residents of ILA’s group homes, have also missed the daily Day Hab activities. No announcements have been issued concerning the re-opening of the Day Habs. 

In the meantime, the inventive group home staff will find ways to keep their residents engaged, productive, and most importantly, safe and healthy. 

For a complete list of policies and procedures for Visits to ILA Sponsored Homes click here.

The Struggle of IDD Individuals & Pandemic Living

Adjusting to the effects of COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for anyone. It’s lonely, frightening, and uncertain. But for most of us, it’s still possible to navigate within our communities. We can make virtual connections, pick up groceries, and take small pleasures in our hobbies.

But for those living with intellectual and developmental (IDD) disabilities, even these everyday tasks can become significant obstacles to wellness. 

The Plight of Social Service Workers

Workers in the social services field are already familiar with an uncomfortable truth: the disabled community is direly underfunded and understaffed. Even in the best of times, carers, respite workers, direct support workers, and other social service professionals are stretched woefully thin. There are simply too many folks needing help and not enough professionals to go around. 

Unfortunately, all challenges faced by the disabled community in non-pandemic times are magnified tenfold during a global health crisis. Now, the field is stretched to the breaking point. Workers who are employed may not be able to enter the homes of their clients for fear of spreading the virus. Often, workers have multiple clients, increasing the possibility of transmission.

Everyday Needs

Because of the stay-at-home and social distancing orders, IDD individuals cannot access some of the most basic services. These services are essential for safe and comfortable everyday living, like home care, getting groceries, and even proper handwashing techniques. Many of these activities require close contact, which poses unique challenges, both for those living independently and in care facilities. 

Fear of spreading the virus is limiting these services for IDD individuals and putting many at risk, both physically and psychologically.

How do you have that conversation with a disabled loved one? Some caretakers would rather avoid it entirely. “Well, it will just upset them,” they’ll say, or, “They won’t understand it.”

Categorically, this is not true. An IDD doesn’t stop someone from recognizing that the world has been turned upside down, and it isn’t a reason to exclude them from the conversation. Not being in the know can be frightening, and downplaying their emotions can have adverse effects.

The Breakdown

We all know what it feels like to be isolated by this illness. For IDD individuals, however, this can mean a total lack of community access, leading to isolation from all social interactions. It interrupts the flow of routine, and IDD individuals will struggle to accept these drastic changes. Routine represents security and normalcy, which is especially important right now.

Beyond these disruptions, staying at home, day in and day out, can make anyone restless. The absence of mental and emotional stimulation can be particularly taxing for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Resources That May Help

Although our situation is dire, just know that you or your loved ones don’t have to go through it alone. There is help available. 

Here are just a few resources to get you started.

For more information, or to find out how you can help, reach out today

ILA Frontline Healthcare Workers are Heroes—Today and Every Day

Did someone say ‘Parade’?

There are so many people who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak. They continue to help keep our communities safe and the world running. To celebrate the Independent Living Association’s courageous workers for their ongoing sacrifice–Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), Cooks, Maintenance, and all Support Staff–a special “Thank You for Your Support” parade was recently held in their honor.

And what a parade it was!

Omar James, the Brooklyn Area Coordinator for 4 group homes, believed that those dedicated ILA employees who interact directly with the Individuals residing in the homes should be given special recognition. Beyond any monetary incentives, Mr. James felt that the staff would genuinely appreciate a festive (if socially-distanced) acknowledgement of and salute to their work and caregiving–and thus the idea of a parade was born. 

With the leadership committee all on board, Mr. James, along with Linda Schnabel and Jonelle Best, began parade planning in earnest. 

Over the course of two days on May 6 and May 14, with parade routes mapped out earlier, every group home in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island was visited by ILA’s leadership, management, administrative and IT personnel. As the ‘parade brigade’ dropped by each home, those dedicated frontline workers and the residents stepped outside to be greeted and met with great fanfare, applause and heartfelt accolades. 

A number of donors also contributed gifts for the staff. Further marking the occasion was seeing the group homes’ neighbors coming out to extend their own gratitude to all the extraordinary workers. 

Independent Living Association operates over 35 group homes throughout New York City where over 250 developmentally and intellectually disabled men and women are given the opportunity to live productive lives. Even though their lives now are somewhat restricted due to COVID-19, the staff have come up with alternative ways for them to carry on with, and enjoy, their lives.

Mr. James noted that the ILA team was not able to directly show appreciation for our Battery Place home because of the environmental challenges presented by an apartment building, but Mr. James promises we will.   And, it is not long after the successful tribute to the frontline workers that Mr. James is already pondering “What’s next?” 

His answer, “Let’s just wait and see.”

The Impact of Direct Support Professionals

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) work directly with intellectually or developmentally disabled people. Their task is to assist their clients, enabling them to live their lives to the fullest. They act as a bridge between a client with a disability and the community, strengthening both in the process.

But the role of a DSP is no longer just that of a caregiver. Over the years, the profession has shifted towards teaching, support, and mentorship. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities don’t always need to be looked after; they often benefit more from learning how to look after themselves. With the assistance of a DSP, people with disabilities can blossom, becoming independent, sociable, and confident in their abilities.

Knowing this, it’s clear that DSPs are indispensable assets to the disabled community. They are primarily supporters, although they may also specialize as clinicians, personal administrators, and social coordinators. They effectively do it all. For their clients, this can mean everything from assistance with bathing and dressing in the morning to helping them access education and entering the workforce.

The Unsung Heroes

DSPs are the unsung heroes of the healthcare community. They provide essential services for thousands of people with disabilities every single day. They are frontline healthcare workers, the same as doctors and nurses, yet they often go overlooked.

It’s high time for everyone to recognize the good work done by direct support professionals. Like so many of our other frontline workers, they deserve our praise and gratitude.

The Breaking Point

With COVID-19 taking an unprecedented toll across the board, everyone is bearing down, trying to make ends meet. This is proving to have especially serious consequences for DSPs and the disabled community. Under the extreme financial strain, many service providers are being forced to impose care rationing. Service providers are being stretched too thin. They are overworked and underpaid. 

In short, there simply aren’t enough DSPs to go around. The industry was already struggling before the pandemic; the turnover rate was high, leaving vacancies that desperately needed filling. It was near unsustainable. Now, the industry has reached dire new levels of systemic strain, and disabled folks are suffering as a result. Beyond that, there just aren’t enough medical supplies to go around. DSPs work in close contact with their clients, leaving both clients and workers vulnerable to the spread of illness. 

Even if scores of unemployed people flock to the DSP field, the necessary skills can’t be taught in a few days or weeks. It takes months and even years to become a trained and qualified DSP, as they are often called upon to perform tasks like tube-feeding and administering medication. 

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, while Governor Cuomo has done so much to strengthen New York’s healthcare system and unite its workers, there is more yet to do. If we take the time to learn more about DSPs and what they do, we’ll be better able to serve them in return. Human service professionals everywhere need your support now, more than ever. 
If you are looking for a way to be part of the solution, reach out today to learn more about what you can do to support our DSPs.

Independent Living Association Receives Mask Donation from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made a most generous unsolicited donation of 100 hand sewn masks to ILA in appreciation of the care and dedication of the ILA staff during the challenging pandemic.

The materials used for the masks, according to Julia Carlson, Associate Conservator in the Department of Textile Conservation, and Melina Plottu, Associate Conservator in the Costume Institute, are high quality conservation materials: Pima cotton, acid free polyester Pellon and 100% cotton muslin. The masks are water repellent, washable, and the 300 thread count cotton outer layer and Pellon inner layer helps block out most particles.

The Met mask making project was undertaken by 21 volunteers and staff from six museum departments and has been spearheaded by Janina Poskrobko, Conservator in Charge in the Department of Textile Conservation and Minsun Hwang, Conservator in Textile Conservation.  Smart Local 28 of the sheet metal workers union donated the metal strips for the masks .…  a true collaboration of New Yorkers caring for each other.

Besides ILA, other recipients of the masks have been three hospitals, four other non-profits, women’s shelters, veteran’s housing and essential workers in various departments in the Museum. Over 1700 masks have been donated thus far.

ILA employs over 700 people, operates 35 group homes (Individual Residential Alternatives) across New York City with a total of 247 beds and has a day habilitation center that many of the developmentally and intellectually disabled men and women attend. Like many similar organizations, COVID-19 has dramatically affected the daily structure and routines of these individuals. Direct Support Professionals staff the homes 24/7 and are responsible for the care and safety of the residents, no easy task especially during these times. Arthur Palevsky, the Executive Director of ILA, is extremely appreciative for the Met donation as well as other contributions of both money and Personal Protective Equipment

Even though a number of individuals have been affected by the virus, the entire staff of ILA is committed to the continuous care of all its individuals and “our staff”, says Mr. Palevsky, “continues to be nothing short of amazing”.  

Cover image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.