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A practical resource packed full of helpful advice, inspiring ideas, and wisdom for the day to day life challenges and opportunities that come with living with developmental needs.

Tyler's Story

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Tyler is an energetic kid who loves to play with Legos and Power Rangers. His favorite color is blue and he loves reading Disney’s McQueen Series. He also enjoys playing at parks and playgrounds.   Tyler attends S. June Smith Center’s Inclusive Preschool. While Tyler doesn’t have any developmental needs, his parents shared with us a little bit about how the S. June Smith Center affected Tyler when his brother Max received services.   “Tyler was born with no issues and did not personally need the services.   But, Tyler participated with Max throughout his entire journey with the S. June Smith Center to date – from therapies to preschool!”   They continued to express how beneficial it was to have the S. June Smith Center involved in both of their lives, “We enjoy the fact that Tyler and Max can attend a preschool right now during the development stages where they really rely on each other.  Eventually, they may go to different schools, but they currently remain together where Tyler helps Max physically and Max helps Tyler socially!” This family-centered approach is at the core of the S. June Smith Center’s philosophy for delivering services.   Family time is very important to Tyler. He loves spending time with his twin brother, Max; big sisters, Emmie and Cami; and their puppy, Macy.

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Thad's Story

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Airplanes are something that Thad Schmidt is very familiar with. The 55-year-old Edinboro Circle resident has flown in several airplanes throughout his life. His late father was a smoke jumper in the 1940’s, parachuting onto forest fires in the Montana Rockies, and used to get his friends to give Thad rides.   “Dad was always interested in airplanes,” said Thad’s sister, Joyce Wenger, who has memories of going to the airport with Thad as kids and watching the airplanes take off.   Schmidt sits on the couch, leafing through a Toy Story coloring book. He may be nonverbal, but there’s something in his facial expressions that seem to convey a conversation without saying a word.   That’s how Wenger knew her brother was having the time of his life when they recently chartered a plane from Lancaster Airport.   “He was happy. I know he really enjoyed it,” she said. “He will often fall asleep while he’s riding in a car, but he stayed awake on the plane. He was definitely engaged.”   Gregg Williams, program supervisor for Edinboro Circle, arranged for Thad to take the private plane ride. While he wasn’t sure how Thad was going to react to it, he knew his love of planes was strong enough that he would enjoy it.   “We get close to the airport and he perks up,” Williams said. “He had a blast (flying).”   Schmidt and Wenger flew over Biglerville in Adams County, where they grew up. They got to see the house they used to live in, and fly over apple orchards, Wenger said.   Schmidt has been living in an Excentia group home for about a year. Now that he is in Lancaster, Wenger said she gets to see him more often. While they didn’t have much interaction when she was a young adult, her little brother has always held a special place in her heart and she makes a point to see him about once a week. She said they like to go on walks together and pet all the neighbors’ animals.   “Since he’s moved, it’s been wonderful to visit just with him,” Wenger said, adding that in the past she would visit her brother and her parents at the same time.   Schmidt lived with his parents until about three years ago – his father was 92 and his mother was 86 when he moved out. Wenger takes her mother, who is now 88 years old, to visit Thad weekly.   Getting up in the airplane was like stepping back in time, Wenger said.  Thad seemed to remember all those previous experiences of flying.   “He went right up to the airplane and got right up in it,” she said. “He was never scared. He always enjoyed it.  He sure knew what he was doing.”

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Let the Children Play

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As a pediatric occupational therapist with many years of learning in both formal and informal ways about early child development, I have developed some personal “guiding rules:" A child’s relationship to his/her mommy/daddy/loving adult is primary. Our role with an infant is to nurture and protect. Easy. The not-so-easy role is the gradual changes that should occur during childhood where parents step back and allow the child to learn from their own experiences. Allowing a child to take a risk; difficult. A child’s relationship to “Mother Nature” is a key component of development. For babies, this refers to gravity. As a society we have “over-containered” babies: infant seats, strollers, swings. Babies need to move and maximize the time they are playing on the floor. Children, too, need to move. Run. Climb. Roll down a hill. The evidence is in and it indicates that these activities promote far more than physical development. The architecture of the brain is established by our early experiences. We are sensory beings. Information gets into the brain by the sensory systems. Some of these are not widely recognized by everyone such as the proprioceptive system (information from our muscles and joints) and the vestibular system (information about movement and how we relate to gravity). They are vital components of our development. Play IS a child’s occupation. As an occupational therapist, I have frequently been asked how occupation relates to children. Play is the answer. Not all play is created equally. We must choose those opportunities that allow children to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills while having fun. We want to stimulate their imagination and creativity. Knowing the above, it will not be surprising that I was very excited to learn about TimberNook. It knows, understands and supports my “guiding rules." Tagged as the Ultimate Sensory Experience, TimberNook is both a philosophy and curriculum. Set in the outdoors, Mother Nature is used as a “third teacher” to provide an environment where children can have authentic play experiences. With multiple options for programming, TimberNook can serve toddlers from 18 months-4 years (Tiny Ones) in a parent-child setting, and 4-7 year olds (Little Wild Ones) and 7-12 year olds (Wild Ones) in a child-and-staff setting. Excentia is excited to announce that we are now a TimberNook provider and will be doing programming in 2019! We are working in partnership with the Lancaster County Conservancy to use Climbers Run Nature Preserve as our site. This unique location will have an area specifically planned to facilitate “play the TimberNook way” as well as the existing trails, meadows, a stream, and forested areas. Head over to our TimberNook Facebook page and click the ‘Like’ button to stay informed as we roll out the plans for next year. We will also start posting more detailed articles about subjects that support the philosophy of TimberNook of Lancaster County!

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Give back to the S. June Smith Center

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Tis the season to give back! Every year when Christmas time rolls around I always find small ways to give back to my community. One year my family participated in an “adopt a family” for for the holidays where we got a wishlist from the family and headed out to stores like walmart and target for items. Another common way to give back to schools. Many times people donate books to kids at bookstores which is so easy when you are checking out. This year though I’m asking that you think about Excentia’s S. June Smith Center when you decide who you want to give back to, big or small.   If you aren’t already familiar with Excentia’s S. June Smith Center we provide Early childhood and early intervention services to help children, from birth to five, who are experiencing developmental delays or disabilities. While we don’t believe that growth and development occurs on a strict timetable, we do strive to provide our parents and caregivers with a proactive approach to ensure that their children are put on a healthy path of development. We have a collaborative approach and we work with the individuals involved in a child’s life that could enhance a child’s development, such as the family, caregivers, teachers, other support providers and members of the community.   One way for you to give back is to use Amazon Smile. Amazon Smile is a service that Amazon offers where you can link up your Amazon account with Excentia’s S. June Smith Center and .05% of every purchase you make is donated directly. So if you are already buying christmas presents or your monthly order of toilet paper for your house you are giving back without having to put any effort forward. I have provided directions below on how to link up your accounts below.   Choose SJSC as your charitable organization: Sign into www.smile.amazon.com on your desktop or mobile phone browser. From your desktop, go to Your Account from the navigation at the top of any page, then select the option to Change your Charity.  Or, from your mobile browser, select Change your Charity from the options at the bottom of the page. Select S. June Smith Center a Service of Excentia and get to shopping!   You can also follow the link below to a wishlist that the teachers at the preschools have added items that are in high demand for their classrooms. I have an example of the types of items on the list to the left.   https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1HHSRY6OLNHXI/ref=cm_sw_su_w Another way to give back is to hop in your car and head out to a few stores for gift cards. Susan Oberholtzer, Preschool Special Education Teacher and Associate Director of Preschool Services at Excentia was kind enough to suggest a few items that you can donate directly to a preschool. Those items being Gift Cards! In particular gift cards to Target, AC Moore and/or Michaels are great because a lot of classroom materials are purchased throughout the year at these three stores. She also suggests iTunes gift cards because they are “used to add educational apps for the children to use during guided centers in the classroom as well as to add circle time songs.”   Get in the give back spirit and help keep the classrooms at Excentia’s S. June Smith Center stocked and running by donating today!   ALAM, Lexis

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TRAIL Academy Graduation

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On September 16 2017 I had the pleasure of attending a very special graduation ceremony hosted by Excentia’s TRAIL Academy. In fact it was the first ever graduation ceremony of this amazing program offered to individuals who are seeking independency within their community. The goals and objectives of the Academy are Teaching, Reaching and Achieving Independent Living (TRAIL). The program did not come easy though and there were many hurdles for both the participants, their families and Excentia. [caption id="attachment_1728" align="alignnone" width="300"] Vicki,Ryan, Chris, Brett, Anna, Laurie,[/caption] The TRAIL Academy came to Excentia in June 2016 after over a year of waiting for an official answer. Laurie Kleynen and Anna Edling are the masterminds behind this program and with their persuasion and hard work Excentia was rewarded the program by Lancaster County BH/DS. The participants of TRAIL went through a series of evaluations and an assessment created by Excentia to make sure they were equipped with basic skills and so that their outcome would be successful.   Vicki Bricker, Director of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Services, Lancaster County BH/DS said at the graduation, “We wanted to create a program for the other guys.”   Vicki spoke at the graduation on how many services are focused on individuals with severe developmental disabilities and not so much on those individuals who are high functioning. Vicki and her colleagues have wanted to do something for “the other guys” for quite a few years now and she is more than thrilled with the outcome of Excentia’s TRAIL Academy.   For the last 18 months Ryan and Brett have been living together in a townhome located near Manor Shopping Center in Lancaster County. Together the two have been learning to live on their own. With the help of Direct Service Providers, Elizabeth Ortiz and Wendy Kurtz, they have been acquiring the skills and knowledge of budgeting, use of public transportation, emergency and safety skills, self-advocacy skills, securing employment, etc. [caption id="attachment_1638" align="alignnone" width="300"] Brett and Ryan at their townhome[/caption] On Saturday September 16 they were both awarded diplomas in front of friends, family and the army of people who got them to this milestone in their lives. Both Ryan and Brett took the time to thank everyone for their hardwork and dedication over the last year. Family and friends shared stories about how amazing this program is and what it has done for Ryan and Brett. My favorite story that was told happened to be about a fire drill that went south, quickly, but you had to be there to here about this one.   Anna Edling, Director of Residential Services, says “The individuals had the drive to want to live on their own. Without their drive, the instruction provided by the staff wouldn’t have been successful. While we did hit a few bumps in the road, together the individuals and program staff navigated a path that led Brett and Ryan to be successful in gaining the skills they needed to live independently. Seeing them now, moving into the next chapter of their life, each in their own apartment, is what makes me able to say that the program is a success.”   Ryan will be moving in with a roommate and Brett will be moving into a one bedroom apartment. They will both receive a few hours of support each week instead of the round the clock support like when they first started TRAIL. Two new individuals have been chosen for the 2nd year of the TRAIL Academy and will be moving into the townhome next month.   Congratulations Brett and Ryan! You both worked hard and deserve this!   If you are interested in becoming a Direct Service Provider please follow this link: https://www.ourexcentia.org/careers/. Excentia is always looking to add to our growing family!   Alpha Love and Mine, Lexis

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Events with the SJSC

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Last week I had the opportunity to visit two of Excentia’s S. June Smith Centers for fun filled days. On Thursday I visited the Ephrata preschool for their Olympic games and then on friday I headed to the Lancaster location for a preschool graduation. One thing that I noticed at each preschool were that the connections between the students and teachers were strong, pure and unbreakable.   Thursday When I first pulled up the Ephrata preschool I could tell we were in for an eventful morning because all of the olympic themed games were already set up outside. As I entered the main building classroom the sound of laughter and play filled the room. The kids were having playtime and snack time until the other classroom would join us. Once the other class showed up the real fun began. We all circled around a parachute, the colorful one that most of us remember playing with in gym classes when we were little kids. The kids started pulling up and down while I added beach balls into the mix, but since all of the children were different heights many times the balls would fall right to the ground. After the opening ceremony parachute game we split up into two groups -- one inside and one outside. The children who were outside played games such as the mini beach ball toss, wet sponge toss and water blaster archery with balloons. While the outdoor activities took place the other group was inside golfing, having a beach ball toss and even an ocean themed scavenger hunt. Though there wasn’t any competition among the kids during the olympic games they all still received gold medals at the closing ceremonies.                         Friday On friday I was invited to the lancaster preschool graduation which really excited me because the last preschool graduation I attended my own. When I approached the classroom the first thing I noticed were the beautiful decorations that the teacher and staff had made to make the room more lively and interactive. As I navigated through the sea of parents for my seat the sound of live music filled the air from violinists in the center of the room.   While waiting for the graduation to start myself and about 30 people were greeted by Sally who is the classroom teacher. After her opening words a woman from Earth Rhythms, a local business, handed the soon to be graduates instruments and had the entire room join along in clapping and song. As the children were getting ready for their official graduation ceremony we continued to sing songs.   After a few moments the room filled with the sound of the official graduation music played by the violinists. Each child walked back into the room but this time they all had on graduation gowns and caps, which made every parent’s face light up. After they all sat down they were presented with their diplomas and artwork that they had completed in anticipation for the big day. One thing that grounded all of us was when a diploma was presented to a family who had just lost their child the previous week.   Attending the preschool graduation and olympic games made me very thankful for the position that I am in with Excentia. I wouldn’t have these opportunities otherwise to meet and interact with the teachers, families and students who are directly impacted by Excentia’s S. June Smith Center.   If you would like to watch the lancaster preschool graduation you can watch it below.         Alpha Love and Mine, Lexis

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Thad's Story

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Airplanes are something that Thad Schmidt is very familiar with. The 55-year-old Edinboro Circle resident has flown in several airplanes throughout his life. His late father was a smoke jumper in the 1940’s, parachuting onto forest fires in the Montana Rockies, and used to get his friends to give Thad rides.   “Dad was always interested in airplanes,” said Thad’s sister, Joyce Wenger, who has memories of going to the airport with Thad as kids and watching the airplanes take off.   Schmidt sits on the couch, leafing through a Toy Story coloring book. He may be nonverbal, but there’s something in his facial expressions that seem to convey a conversation without saying a word.   That’s how Wenger knew her brother was having the time of his life when they recently chartered a plane from Lancaster Airport.   “He was happy. I know he really enjoyed it,” she said. “He will often fall asleep while he’s riding in a car, but he stayed awake on the plane. He was definitely engaged.”   Gregg Williams, program supervisor for Edinboro Circle, arranged for Thad to take the private plane ride. While he wasn’t sure how Thad was going to react to it, he knew his love of planes was strong enough that he would enjoy it.   “We get close to the airport and he perks up,” Williams said. “He had a blast (flying).”   Schmidt and Wenger flew over Biglerville in Adams County, where they grew up. They got to see the house they used to live in, and fly over apple orchards, Wenger said.   Schmidt has been living in an Excentia group home for about a year. Now that he is in Lancaster, Wenger said she gets to see him more often. While they didn’t have much interaction when she was a young adult, her little brother has always held a special place in her heart and she makes a point to see him about once a week. She said they like to go on walks together and pet all the neighbors’ animals.   “Since he’s moved, it’s been wonderful to visit just with him,” Wenger said, adding that in the past she would visit her brother and her parents at the same time.   Schmidt lived with his parents until about three years ago – his father was 92 and his mother was 86 when he moved out. Wenger takes her mother, who is now 88 years old, to visit Thad weekly.   Getting up in the airplane was like stepping back in time, Wenger said.  Thad seemed to remember all those previous experiences of flying.   “He went right up to the airplane and got right up in it,” she said. “He was never scared. He always enjoyed it.  He sure knew what he was doing.”

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Paula's Story

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Paula Brocious loves horses.   Calming, relaxing, and providing a sense of peace and quiet are all things that her horse, Neptune, provides her.   “(It’s) the best part of my week,” she said, her face lighting up with an infectious smile.   Paula has been taking horse riding lessons every Monday for the past 20 years. She is one of Excentia’s many riders at Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center in Lancaster.   Horseback riding provides numerous benefits to the rider, including cognitive, social and physical benefits, said Heather Mitterer, community outreach coordinator at Greystone.   Learning cause and effect through experiencing how the horse reacts when the rider shifts his weight, or forming an emotional bond with the horse are some of the benefits that riding provides. The horses also allow the riders to build confidence in themselves.   One example is someone with an attention disorder, Mitterer said. The act of riding a horse helps them develop and keep focus.   “They start to understand outside of themselves because there’s a horse that reacts and responds to everything they do,” she said.   Greystone Manor has been operating since 1981 and serves individuals with a documented disability. The non-profit houses 11 horses, all free-leased, and provides indoor and outdoor lessons, Mitterer said. The horses experience a thorough training period to ensure they are ready for riders, she added.   “Our instructors work hand-in-hand with each horse. They’ll try to spook it – everything they can to prepare the horse.  We want a horse who’s not going to panic over every single thing.”   When Greystone is no longer able to use the horse, they give it back to its owner, Mitterer said.   The stable does not utilize therapists with the riders – volunteers and instructors with special training and certifications in equine assisted activities help guide the rider so that they can eventually ride the horse themselves.   “It’s the horses that are doing the therapy,” Mitterer said.   Greystone also offers unmounted clinics, where clients focus on getting to know the horse, learn about safety, and how to care for and groom the horse before they ever mount it.   Karen Weber-Zug, who has been an instructor at Greystone for five years, has some amazing stories about how the horses have helped the riders. One rider, she remembers, had trouble with facial expressions and exhibited a flat affect. After taking lessons at the stable for several years, the 16-year-old now gives verbal responses.   “I’ll never forget the day I asked him if he wanted to go outside and he smiled,” she said.   With another client on the autism spectrum, instructors used the horse to teach the child how to accept change and be more flexible in his daily schedule, Weber-Zug said.   Riding horses is also a great benefit for those who cannot walk because the movement of the horse simulates the feeling of walking, Mitterer said.   “That’s an amazing feeling to know what that feels like,” she said. “You are controlling the horse.”   The specific benefits each rider receives depend on the individual person, Mitterer said.   Riders at Greystone range in age from 5 to 66. At 46, Brocious has achieved the ability to ride Neptune independently. She prefers to ride Neptune outside, if possible, but sometimes rain forces them indoors. When that happens, Brocious said Neptune gets scared, but she reassures him that it’s ok.   “I tell him not to be afraid,” she said.   Amanda Witmer, direct support staff at Excentia, said she likes to watch Brocious ride and see the relationship she has developed with Neptune.   “She’s very affectionate with the horses. She always has to say goodbye to them,” Witmer said.   In fact, Brocious has her own special way of saying goodbye to the horses. Before she dismounts, she guides the horse in a “moonwalk” of walking backwards. Brocious proudly states that she taught the horse how to do that.   “She just loves it. She talks about (riding) all the time,” Witmer said.

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