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Meghan Fabianski on Life at Olean

Bring in The Light

“Their Lives, Their Dreams, Our Mission,” is the motto at the Frank Olean Center. The organization always keeps these words in mind when it comes to helping participants reach their maximum potential. When individuals work towards their goal, it often brings light into their lives. That light is a tool that assists them to push through their fears and uncertainties, and in most cases it is strong enough to outshine their darkness. As I write this, I think to myself, why not use this motto to inspire others during a time like this?

There is no doubt or denial that there is a darkness right now. I’m not going to personally share my opinion on this matter. However, I will say this to all of you: there is an opportunity to bring light by personalizing “Your Lives, Your Dreams, Your Mission.”

For instance, do you have dreams that will bring light? If so, then you can make it your mission to introduce them to the world.

If you dream of dancing, you could host a neighborhood social distancing dance party where your guests synchronize this event in their own living space or online. Turn up the beat and don’t stop moving! Have you dreamed of inspiring others like J.R.R Tolkien did with Lord of The Rings? Maybe it is time to write the next fantasy adventure novel, or script for that movie you yearn to bring to the big screen. Also, there are other genres and forms of writing that can be uplifting to others, so feel free to pick up the pen or tap that keyboard until those words are on paper. Do you have dreams that require an artistic hand? Then you have the chance to paint, sculpt, draw or use whatever medium you love, to share that beauty with others. Do you have dreams where your voice is your instrument? Sing an inspiring song or use the advantage of social media and create a video where your motivational voice will go viral. These are just a few examples of dreams that have a potential to bring light. I am sure there are so many more ways to make your dreams a reality--while bringing light to others.

Please take precautions and keep yourselves healthy amid this darkness. When and how it will pass is yet to be revealed. At the same time, your dreams have the potential to bring light and you have the chance to ignite them. Our Lives are different now, but there is always a choice to bring new ideas and discover ways that will uplift others.

Thank you for reading, and please stay tuned for the next blog!



The Fun Never Ends

“When I returned from London and moved to Rhode Island, I started working part time. But I needed something else to do in the afternoons, since I found

myself with free time on my hands. Living nearby the Olean Center, I stopped in one day to inquire as to what the purpose of the facility was. I discovered it was a facility for the mentally and physically challenged run by the state of Rhode Island.”

John Nicolosi’s discovery of the Frank Olean Center, and his yearning to productively use his free time, has turned into a fun-filled fourteen years. When John first began, his role was “simply to provide fun and enjoyment for the participants. I was required to complete all the necessary trainings that all the paid staff members are supposed to take, and therefore I was essentially an unpaid staff member.”

To this day, John Nicolosi continues to make sure that the participants are enjoying themselves:

        “I basically involve myself with activities such as bowling, lunches, picnics,

       various field trips, and other community related activities Since there is no

  formal volunteer program, much of what I do is either self-generated, or in discussions with staff as to what the participants might enjoy.”

John is also the creator of the “Nicolosi Fun Fund.” Most of the activities are not supported by the state so Nicolosi’s fund generates approximately $15-$20,000 a year through his friends and family, and John oversees how the money is spent--and ensures that it directly supports the activities. Some of the events that have been financed by the Nicolosi Fun Fund include Christmas parties, summer outdoor picnics, live entertainment and several other events. Overall, John strives to make sure “that my fun creates an enjoyable environment that [the participants] would not otherwise have.”

When asked how the Olean Center has personally benefited him, this was John’s response: “The only way I can describe how I have benefited from being part of the Olean Center is underscores how very fortunate I feel to be part of the Olean Center family.”

Thank you, John, for your amazing contributions to the Olean Center--and keep up the wonderful work!

And, thank you for reading. Stay tuned for the next blog!



You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Megan Gavin has a love for working with children, and twenty-plus years of experience with people who have a disability. A family member saw what she had offer and recommended that she apply for a position in the Olean Center's Children’s Services Department. Now for the past six years (as of last month) Megan Gavin has been a PASS worker (Personal Assistance Supports Services) to the same child. However, she is more than just a part of their care team; she is also a friend.

Gavin helps with daily tasks that may seem easy, but often can be challenging to someone with special needs. She also is a support system by ensuring that the participant is active in the community. According to Gavin, “four years ago, I talked to my friend’s family about getting their child involved with unified sports. They loved the idea, and we have been playing together ever since.” The nature of unified sports is an involvement in a community-based activity; therefore, it helps children to relate with others and vice versa. Also having someone like Megan actively participate in the unified sport makes the experience worth it.

When asked about the rewards and challenges of being a PASS worker; “the rewards of my position are endless. I feel like I have made a friend for life. My friend and I have been described as having a connection to our souls. I love being able to see my friend be successful. If I can be a small part of that, any bit of struggle has been worth it.” However, the downside for Gavin is watching her friend have a rough day, and not being able to fix it. Sometimes the best thing she can do is to be there for moral support during those moments.

Megan Gavin’s friendship and role as the participant’s PASS worker helped her tremendously with her own achievements. Through her position, she works with a teaching assistant at the participant’s school and learned through this experience that being a PASS worker was not so different from being a teaching assistant. This opportunity inspired her to become one herself. Now, “I am currently a Kindergarten TA during school hours. I wouldn't be where I am today without the connections and support that I gained through working for the Olean Center.”

Successful friendships always benefit both parties. For Megan Gavin’s participant/friend, Megan is a support system in achieving goals; obtaining community integrated opportunities, and processing difficult times. For Megan, she has found a strong connection and a purpose in her experience of working with the participant as a worker and friend. When the song "You’ve Got A Friend in Me" comes on, Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story may be the first two characters that come to mind. However, it could be an anthem for all friendships-- including the one Megan Gavin has with her participant and friend.

Thank you and stay tuned for the next blog.



Revelation of the Unseen

As winter slowly but surely comes to an end, an exciting event awaits in the spring. The Frank Olean Center and the Westerly Library will host an Autism Awareness Art Show, starting on April 3, 2020. “Beyond The Label” is this year’s theme, and artists will have the opportunity to use their creative talents to convey this message. However, what is the meaning of “Beyond The Label?” Honestly, this is open to interpretation; but I will provide my personal perspective.

I have learned from observation, conversations with colleagues, and my own experience with a developmental delay that it is common for society to focus on the outside of a person. I know that I am not alone in this. Many people have noticed that there is a focus on physical differences, delayed speaking, difficulties with social skills, sensitivity to sensory, and other attributes that label a developmental delay. There have been amazing strides in integration and stories of individuals overcoming the odds. However, there are times when there is more emphasis on what is seen and heard.

Yet art can reveal the unseen. For example, I have been involved with art events in our Children’s Services Program. All the children have a diagnosis, some of which are more profound than others. However, the moment their brush or pencil touches the canvas, their imaginations come alive. Some of them are skilled artists that produce creatures or fantasy galaxies that will transport someone into a state of wonder. Others are talented in abstract art, by creating something nontraditional, and allowing the audience to identify their own meaning. Overall, art reveals that these individuals have creativity, interests, intuitive connections and talents that are meant to make a difference.

So, what does “Beyond The Label” mean to me? My answer is the revelation of the unseen. When the Autism Awareness Art Show opens in the Spring, members of society may learn of deeper and often hidden meanings in autism and other developmental delays; thus, the stigma around differences may fade.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next blog!