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When is a Sock-Hop more than just a dance?

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Thrive

Flashback to the 1950’s at a Sock-Hop.  “The Stroll” is playing and you grab your dance partner and line up across from them as the music fills your ears and the feeling of being part of something fills your entire being.  Your eyes are greeted with smiles and you hear giggling and chatting from all around you.  You are part of something wonderful, something enviable, something that tells your soul that everything is going to be alright and you are right where you are supposed to be. Two weeks ago, Excentia’s Sock-Hop event was thrown to create opportunities for increased socialization with peers for people living in the homes managed by Excentia.  It was a cookout and dance, to spend time getting to know others, and to dance the day away.  A chance to belong and make friends that will last a lifetime. You may have a family cookout, that you invite the people closest to you, it was like that only it was the Excentia RES family.  Finding ways to connect with each other is an important piece of socialization and a first step on the path to community integration. “The Sock-Hop theme was just for fun as we love to dress up and have a great time (the Halloween being one of our biggest events and the individuals loving to go shopping and get all dressed in costume).  Next year we are looking at having an event that invites family members of those we support as a way to build positive relationships with families and the company.” shared Anna Edling, Assistant Director of Residential Services. If you would like to learn more about Excentia’s Residential Services, please contact Anna Edling or June Johnston on our website. https://www.ourexcentia.org/about/#team-and-board

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The Slattery Home - Beyond Accessible

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The tale that brings Dr. Ed Slattery’s family to their current state of living- in one of the most amazing adaptive homes I’ve ever seen- is not an enviable one.  A horrific crash with a tractor trailer changed the landscape of their lives forever.  The response and actions that the family took to create an adaptive living space, is what is inspiring to those in the differently-abled community.  Whatever the circumstances are that led to a loved one inhabiting a wheelchair, this environment is undoubtedly the one that we would all choose to make the situation feel like less of a burden.  Knowing that a regularly designed home was not going to serve his family- an outpouring of creativity, circular thinking, and imagination blossomed just outside the metropolitan center of Baltimore.  The home that Dr. Ed Slattery helped to design and appoint features a myriad of both subtle and diverse adaptations to allow his son, Matthew, to live in a space that works for him and the chair he depends on for daily living.  Some of the features are specifically geared towards mobility ease for Matthew and some are to support the goal of a zero impact house. Before you reach the front door to the Slattery home, you encounter raised garden beds designed to allow Matthew to be able to comfortably reach the full planting space.  The beds are built from the same hardwoods that finish the exterior of the home.  Not only are they long-lasting and beautiful but also an esthetic choice that keeps the façade of the property tied to the beauty and functionality created by zero impact design. At the entrance to the home there are two uncommon features that are deeply enviable to any who regularly operate a wheelchair.  The inlaid “walk-off” carpeting feature that is located at both the exterior and the interior walkway at the front door allows for the benefits of a doormat without the hassles of a traditional rug that would bunch and shift as wheels run across the surface.  The exterior features a trough beneath that can be cleaned and the carpet area replaced as needed.  At all of the entrances to the home there are electronic buttons that open the door to allow for passage unencumbered by heavy doors. Once inside the home, which is oriented to best take advantage of the sun’s warming rays, you are further comforted by the radiant floor heat throughout the living space.  Railings in the corridors allow for stability if Matthew is venturing, sans chair, down any of the hallways.  When the home was built, the family was not sure what level of recovery he may achieve and what features would prove most important to his ultimate mobility. Pocket doors and sliding barn doors equip each doorway- allowing for ease of movement thru hallways and entrances to rooms.  The interior rooms that Matthew frequents are also equipped with electronic buttons that open and close the pocket doors. Another feature that has served the family well is the enlarged kick-plates that run the length of the hallways and the interiors of the rooms.  At 12 inches high, this feature keeps the wheelchair from unintentionally gouging the walls.  In every room there are cupboards that feature a cantilevered style which allows Matthew to roll in close enough to access the interiors completely.  This style of hanging cabinetry is found in the living room, kitchen, bathrooms, and Matthew’s bedroom. The kitchen is designed to allow for Matthew’s full access to all of the appliances.  There is a sink that is cantilevered replete with touch controls, a vertically adjustable cook-top fitted with a pot-filler, as well as a microwave oven situated below the oven for ease of reach.  The microwave also opens up/down rather than side-to-side which creates an intermediate landing for handling hot vessels.  The one kitchen appliance that does not live up to Slattery’s standards is the refrigerator.  The interior cavity, of all of the coolers they researched, is too deep to allow for access to anything but items in the very front of the shelves or on the doors. Dr. Ed Slattery works with local “hackers” to create better solutions to the difficulties of daily living for those who are wheelchair bound.  We fully expect one of his protégés to hack the refrigerator conundrum in the future. Half of the roof-scape of the Slattery home is planted with herbs that can be harvested easily from the pathway or by walking through the plantings.  The pathway leads to the observation tower which overlooks the back of the property, including fruit trees and gardens, and ultimately the skyline of Towson.   The interior of the three-story tower holds a unique chair lift that allows Matthew to use counter weights to pull himself, while seated, from the first story to the third.  It is a fully unique feature that demonstrates the delight the Slattery family finds in living within their environment. Everything about this residence is unique and it reflects the care and thoughtful nature that Dr. Slattery bestows upon his entire family and community.  

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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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Carl Spangler - Red RoseRun

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Carl Spangler flashes a shy smile as he sits in the press room at the Lancaster Barnstormer’s Stadium. Wearing a blue t-shirt and ball cap, which he frequently lowers to cover his face, he still can’t master the skill of trying to hide his beautifully straight teeth.   Spangler, a humble 56-year-old man, is preparing to run his 21st Red Rose Run in Lancaster on June 6th. He has been running for 36 years and has logged more than 5,080 miles in races alone. He has all of the stats memorized – where he has run, how many miles, what his time was … he is able to spit off his best times for different races straight from memory.   He runs simply because it’s “good exercise” and because it makes him feel “good.”   Spangler, who lives in a Keystone group home in East Petersburg, has run 11 marathons – his best time being 3 hours and 13 minutes in Chambersburg, Pa. He follows a strict running schedule – 2 miles Monday thru Thursday around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, making sure to always take Fridays off.   Today, he sits calmly while tapping his white-sneakered feet as he staples Barnstormers baseball tickets to flyers as part of the work he does for Excentia.   Brock Minnich, volunteer coordinator for Excentia, said Spangler is a dedicated, hard-working man who is pleasant to be around.   “He’s outgoing,” Minnich said. “He likes to talk and make conversation.”   Spangler appeared uncomfortable talking about himself, simply stating that his running ability must be due to “good genes.” He has a routine of eating a big plate of spaghetti before each race. At home, he has a shelf full of trophies and plaques, proudly displayed in his second-floor bedroom. He goes through each one, remembering where the race was held and the year, even though some of the trophies don’t have that information listed. Karen Krueger, Spangler’s house supervisor, said his running is a good social outlet for him. “He has a lot of racing friends who he’s run with for years,” Krueger said. While Spangler is more than just a runner – he also enjoys bowling – it is his running that attracts attention from others. “He’s the star,” Krueger said, adding that he has about 5 friends who will be watching him race in the Red Rose Run this year. The 39th annual Red Rose Run starts at 8 a.m. on June 6th, for those interested in cheering Spangler on throughout the course.

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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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Jillian's Story

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Jillian Leed stands at her stove, stirring a chicken, baked potato and vegetable soup. Just a year ago, this was something she couldn’t do.   The 35-year-old has been living independently in her own apartment for the last two years.   “I like it (here),” she said.   Her one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of her apartment complex is cozy, decorated with pictures of her family and complete with new furniture in the living room that Jillian proudly states she bought recently with her own money.   Jillian has been successful in achieving her dream of living on her own, now working full-time at Good Will on Lincoln Highway, taking public transportation to and from work, and managing her household with help only one day a week. But achieving this success didn’t happen overnight.   Anna Edling, Associate Director/Program Specialist for Residential, said Jillian first expressed an interest in having her own place in 2011. The first step was to find competitive employment, and then teach Jillian the skills she would need to be independent, including laundry, cooking, cleaning, navigating public transportation, and money management.   “It’s a process,” Edling said. “You don’t just say you want to move out and (then) move out the next day.”   After preparing her the best they could, Jillian moved into her apartment two years later in 2013. But even after she was on her own, Edling said they realized there were still skills she had to address. One of the big ones was socialization. When she lived at Frederick Circle, there was always someone to talk to or play a game with. Suddenly, Jillian was all alone. She started peering into her neighbor’s windows, looking for that contact with other people, Edling said.   Staff started role-playing with Jillian, training her in social situations. Since taking the bus to work every day was a major factor in Jillian’s success, staff addressed the safety issues that come along with being in public places all alone. One of the ways they role-played was having staff approach her while she rode the bus, asking her questions like her name and her address to make sure Jillian knew not to give out her personal information to strangers.   That practice has seeped in to her life in other areas beyond the riding the bus.   “No strangers! No strangers come into my apartment,” Jillian said emphatically.   Taking steps to move from a group home into one’s own apartment is a complicated process, Edling said. Many don’t realize all the many skills that are needed to achieve such a goal.   “Think about your everyday life and all the things you do,” Edling said. “All those little skills that we take for granted, she didn’t know how to do. We want her to live an everyday life like the rest of us.”   That includes waking up on time in order to take a shower and get to work, realizing at the end of the day that you didn’t plan for dinner, going to the grocery store, coming home and making dinner … the list goes on, she said.   “There are a huge amount of skills that we take for granted every day and she had to be taught,” Edling said.   For example, when Jillian lived on Frederick Circle, one of her chores was to mop the kitchen floor. As the scheduled was laid out, Jillian only had to mop the floor once every three weeks since her roommates did the other weeks. When Jillian first moved into her apartment, she was only mopping the floor once every three weeks. Edling said she had to remind Jillian that she alone was responsible for that now, so she had to do it every week.   Another skill was cooking, and Jillian seems to have mastered that. She frequently gets up from the couch to go to the stove and check on her soup, stirring it and tasting it. The apartment starts to take on the hearty aroma and warmth of the soup.   “I’m making tacos today,” she says excitedly, a new meal she is learning.   Brandy Inhenyen, program coordinator and staff member assigned to work with Jillian every Thursday when Jillian has off work, said she has been working with Jillian for about a year. Her job now is easy.   “She’s really improved in her cooking skills. She was scared to use the stove when I first started. Now, she does it all herself.” Inhenyen said. “I’m just here to give prompts. She knows what she needs to do.”   Inhenyen said the only thing that Jillian still struggles with is money management. She pulls out a roll of quarters and counts out the $1.50 Jillian needs to do her laundry.   “If I gave you this whole roll of quarters, you’d spend it,” she says to Jillian.   Jillian smiles sheepishly, admitting this to be true, as she takes the quarters and heads downstairs to the laundry room.   “Don’t put too much in,” she reminds herself as she puts her clothes into the washing machine.   Edling and Inhenyen said Jillian has inspired other clients to want to work toward independence. Two other clients have since moved out, but they are receiving help from their families and are no longer getting support from Excentia. Jillian is currently the only Excentia client living on her own.

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Resting Easy

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Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties parents regarding their children is sleep. The good news is that most sleep issues can be addressed. It’s a fairly unrecognized “routine” but probably one of the most important. It is during sleep that the brain is at its most active! This is particularly true in the developing child. The child is taking all the information that it experienced during the day and making sense of it, either filtering or storing for use. Each of the sleep stages has its own unique purpose and feature for assimilating information.   Lack of sleep results in a number of issues: Difficulty with concentration leading to poor learning Behavior changes including sleepiness, crankiness, hyperactivity, short temper Overall schedule disruption   Getting a good night sleep starts with good sleep hygiene.   Make sure a typical schedule is in place. Don’t think you have one? You might be surprised if you actually go through what a typical day looks like approaching bedtime. Almost everyone usually has some sort of pattern that they follow when winding down at night. After examining the routine, figure out where regular changes can be made to create a more relaxing situation heading into the bedtime hour. Eliminate screen time at least 1 hour prior to sleep – studies suggest screen time continues to stimulate the brain whether the person is engaged with it or not. Bath time – Try a warm bath with soothing scents and/or follow with lotions. Lavender, chamomile, and Eucalyptus are said to have calming effects on the senses. Add a deep massage for further calming. Snacks – Watch the type of snacks that your child is eating both before bedtime and during the day. Highly sugared, simple carbohydrate snacks will actually give a boost of energy. This includes most snack foods and many manufactured juices. Items that contain colored dyes can also create a hyper effect particularly those with red and orange colors. Nap time – make sure naps last no longer than 1-2 hrs depending on the age of the child (Infants vary) and they do not extend past 4 pm on average if the aim is an 8-9 pm bedtime. Bedtime – Consider gradually backing up bedtime by 15-30 min increments. Actually, a significantly earlier bedtime can be easier for getting a child to fall asleep then keeping them up until they seem really tired.   If the problem still exists, consider ideas like heavy quilts and blankets, swaddling, regardless of age, white noise, room temperature, etc. to help keep a child asleep. If the problem continues to be significant, consider talking to your doctor about some of the natural sleep aids that are readily available or investigating any underlying medical conditions. And don’t forget to discuss it with a medical/early intervention provider. While not every sleep problems is correctable, trying some of the above strategies may prove very restful!

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Making "Book Time" Fun

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Research tells us that early experiences with books have an incredibly significant impact on a child’s language and learning. Many of us know that books are a great way for children to learn new vocabulary words and begin to learn about letters and words. Furthermore, book-sharing experiences early on can create positive feelings toward books. Think about it: your child is cuddled in your lap, with your full attention, interacting with you, his loving caregiver!  The positive emotional experience promotes a love of book, one that can carry on into the school years and beyond. Here are some tips for making “book time” a fun time for toddlers:     Choose books that are visually simple. Look at the illustrations on the pages. Are they very busy with a lot of details? This might be too much visual information for a young child. I like starting out with board books that have a few pictures on each page, preferably brightly-colored photo-style pictures of objects that are familiar to a child. The “Bright Baby” series is a good example.   Choose books with simple language. Young children respond best to books with few words, and better yet, repetition throughout the book. A favorite of mine is “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” by Eric Carle.  The beautiful, brightly colored images on each page, combined with the simple, repetitive language, make it a great choice.   Books whose words have a natural cadence or rhythm are enticing to children. For young children who might not be ready to attend to the words in a book, this rhythm or cadence can be an attractive quality. Try to read the book with this quality in your voice.  Another favorite of mine is “Moo Baa La La La” by Sandra Boynton.   There’s no need to ask a lot of questions. For some children, asking questions or trying to have them name pictures or repeat your words can turn the experience into a negative one. This is particularly true for children with delayed speech, language, and/or cognitive skills. It is perfectly okay for your child to remain silent!  It is better to have the child engaged non-verbally than to pressure him/her into talking. How can you do this?  Point out and name pictures.  Instead of asking a question, rephrase it as a comment:  “I wonder where the star is. Oh, I found it!”   Follow your child’s lead. Name the pictures he or she points to.  If your child is not yet pointing, try to attend to his/her eye gaze: What is he/she looking at?  Keep your language simple. You don’t need to do a lot of talking for a successful book-sharing activity!   Make your own books! Children love to look at pictures of people and items they know and love.  The easiest way to do this is to take pictures and place them into a 4×6 photo album.  You can take pictures of family, friends, favorite toys, and familiar objects.  Or, make a photo album with pictures from a fun outing or event your child participated in.   Try books with different textures or other interesting elements, such as mirrors. These can be interesting for children.  However, pay attention to how your child responds. Some children can get so fixated on these elements that it can be very difficult to engage them in other aspects of the book-sharing experience. This is especially true for books with buttons that make sounds. Sometimes the child becomes overly interested in pushing the buttons to hear the sounds.   Remember that the goal is to create a positive, enjoyable experience for your child. This will help prepare your child to be a successful reader later on!

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