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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!



A Sister’s Love

“A doctor came in and told her that her son was a “Mongoloid,” a term that hasn’t been used since the 1960s. The hospital had already sent his picture

to an adoption agency in New York, if our family would not want him. I remember going to visit my mom in the hospital to see my new baby brother and being told that he was special and would need a lot of care and attention.

I was the one that told my mom to bring my brother home, and that I would

help take care of him.”

Ashley Farnham had this experience when she was eleven years old. Aside from being the coordinator for Community Vocational Services, Inc. (Frank Olean Center’s sister organization), Ashley has been a support system for her brother Zack since 1998.

Prior to her brother’s birth, Farnham had experiences with special needs individuals. In the first grade, she learned sign language at recess to communicate with a deaf friend. In the fourth grade, Ashley played games with children who had developmental disabilities. Farnham’s compassion did not go unnoticed by the school. Around the time that Zack was born, Ashley and another student were chosen to have an extra hour of recess with kids in a special needs' classroom. Therefore, Ashley always had the heart for people who need a little extra.

At age eleven, she did not understand Zack’s Down Syndrome diagnosis, but emphasizes, “he was my brother, nothing else mattered.” That mindset has served Ashley well throughout the years. She was one of the many family members that nurtured Zack and partnered with specialists to help him defy the odds. According to Ashley, “doctors said that Zack would never walk or run, nor would his verbal skills amount to much. Basically, the doctors did not see him living past the age of six. As a family, we did not just accept these statements.” All the family’s resilience, hard work, and dedication to Zack’s care paid off. At twenty-two years of age, Zack walks, runs and talks! He is known as “Wolfman Zack” on the local radio station WBLQ, where everyone can hear him broadcast daily.

When asked about the rewards and challenges of being a sibling to a special needs individual, Ashley replies that her role, “is by far the most rewarding job in the family. I’m sure parents may disagree but it’s true. As a sibling, you have a different perspective especially while in school that parents don’t see through those elementary, middle and high school years.” Aside from declaring negative statements, one of the doctor’s challenged Farnham’s mother, saying Ashley would resent her due to Zack needing more care and attention. Yet as always, the love in the family won. Ashley believes that, “keeping the siblings involved as much as possible is crucial in understanding what the struggles are, not only for the sibling with developmental disabilities, but for the family as well.”

The diagnosis of a special needs child undoubtedly impacts the family, including ones with other children. There is no doubt that challenges will come, but at the end of the day, family is family. Ashley’s relationship with Zack proves that love is the strongest influence in the sibling relationship, because it builds resilience in the face of adversity and increases the chances of defying the odds.

Thank you, Ashley, for your openness, and being a positive example for special needs families out there.

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



Preparing For Wonderland

An amazing new opportunity awaits eleven participants at the Frank Olean Center. On the evening of May 1st and the afternoon of May 2nd, they will be bringing Alice in Wonderland to life on stage. Based on Lewis Carroll’s beloved novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the story portrays a young girl named Alice who falls in a rabbit hole and finds herself in a fantasy world. As she navigates her way through this mysterious realm, Alice encounters several unique creatures, including a frantic, time-obsessed rabbit; a talking caterpillar, the infamous Mad Hatter, and many more.

The Frank Olean Center is collaborating with GEAR Productions to make this project happen. GEAR Productions is a non-profit theater company based in Wakefield, Rhode Island, who puts on plays and runs productions for All Abilities. GEAR’s credo is to “give everyone a role.” Every participant in this play will indeed have a role: some will be speaking; others will not be, but all eleven of them will have a role in this captivating tale.

As of now, practice takes place Monday morning from ten to eleven am at the Baptist Church in Wakefield. In the short time of rehearsals, the experience has already proven to be positive for the participants. According to Donna Swanson who is overseeing their progress, “they are learning patience in waiting their turn, how to follow stage directions, responsibility, commitment, and team work. This is a great way to build self-esteem and it allows everyone to share their talents. It also gets them used to being in front of an audience.” Some of the participants are new to theater, while others have been involved in plays before. Therefore, they are immersing themselves in diversity, and other values that are important for self-growth and community integration--and they are having fun at the same time!

Alice in Wonderland will be open to the public, and there will be a sign language interpreter present at the play. This event will be accessible for everyone! The times and location are yet to be announced, so please be sure to check our Facebook page for more details as the date gets closer. You do not want to be late for this very important date!

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



The Power of the Voice

Voices are the greatest promotors of awareness. No matter how much or little is said, every voice has a significant impact. I have experienced this first hand as a co-host for “One on One with Olean,” the organization’s radio show. The guests have ranged from staff members at the Olean Center and CVS, Inc. (our sister organization); to participants from both organizations. WBLQ’s own DJ Gadget even swung by for an interview! Every guest brings diverse perceptions and experiences to each broadcast, openly allowing opportunities for honest conversations. Yet every guest on “One on One with Olean” shares a common interest, which is to spread awareness about special needs and other developmental differences.

As 2020 continues, we want more voices. Therefore, Tony Vellucci and I would like to extend an invitation for members of the community to come on the radio. You can either be directly affiliated with the Frank Olean Center--such as a donor, partner, employee, venue provider for events--or share a connection with someone from the organization. Also, we welcome anyone who is not linked with the Olean Center: you may work or volunteer in a similar field; have a family member with special needs/learning differences; had a life changing experience with someone on the spectrum, or you have some developmental differences and want to share your testimony. Overall, we welcome anyone who wants to contribute to the discussion of special needs/ developmental differences, and spread awareness.

The broadcast days are Mondays from 10:00 to 11:00 am at WBLQ (the studio is below Perks and Corks). If you are interested, contact Tony Vellucci or me (I will provide the contact information below). All you have to do is tell us what date you plan to come, if you would like to do a half show (10:00 to 10:30am) or a full show (10:00 to 11:00am), and let us know if you plan to bring guests. We recommend three guests as the maximum number, since there are only four microphones. Once you have sent this information, Tony or I will check to make sure that the date works. If so, we will reserve your spot and confirm with you. I will send the questions to you at least four days in advance, so that you have time to prepare over the weekend. Also, there is a special opportunity: during the last ten to fifteen minutes of the broadcast, you have the optional chance to be the interviewer.

Here’s the contact information:

Tony Vellucci

Phone: 401-315-0143 ext. 108

Meghan Fabianski

Phone: 401-315-0143 ext. 103

Note: I am only in on Thursdays, so email is the quickest way to reach me, but Jason Lanzillo (Director of Children’s Services) and program assistant Denise Pyburn will be in on most days to answer calls.

Thank for reading, and we hope to hear from you soon. Stay tuned for the next blog!



Night Out At Grey Sail

As February is about to make its grand entrance, the Frank Olean Center excitedly awaits a fun night. Drum roll please… “Cheers For Charity” hosted by Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly, will take place on Thursday February 6th, with the Olean Center receiving 100% of admission ticket and silent auction winner sales. Originally, this fundraiser was going to take place in October but, with a power outage effecting most of Westerly—including the brewery, Grey Sail had to postpone until February. Four months may have passed, but the anticipation for “Cheers for Charity” has been never ending.

You’re probably asking yourself, what is this event about? The answer is, a casual night out from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on February 6th. You and your friends can sample beer flights consisting of four 5-ounce samples of Grey Sail’s award-winning beer. You can also participate in a silent auction with awesome prizes, and feast on appetizers provided by local restaurants and caterers including Sandy’s Fine Food Emporium, Joyce’s Gourmet Catering, Casa Della Luce, Pizza Place, Watch Hill Catering, B&B Dockside, and much more. According to Kate Roschmann (Event Planner for the Olean Center), “we’re hoping to raise money to support our efforts, to continue improving and growing as an organization.”

And yes, there are prizes. Kate has played a significant role in choosing these items. You can check out Facebook for more, but here is a preview anyway. Do you love gift cards? There are some raffle/auction baskets for that. Looking for a technology upgrade? There is a possibility to win a Google Home smart speaker. Do you enjoy the night life at Foxwoods? Keep the fun going with a voucher for a one night stay. Are you seeking a summer adventure? Maybe a cruise on a Catamaran is your destiny. As mentioned before, there are more.

Have you not gotten your tickets yet? Don’t sweat. They are still available on the Frank Olean Center website, and the cost is $20.00 per ticket. We hope to see you at this event and cannot wait for the upcoming celebration. Thank you so much and stay tuned for the next blog!



On The Beat

When you hear the phrase "On The Beat," the first thing that may come to mind is a rhythmic phenomenon. For the Olean Center, On The Beat is something completely different, and just as amazing. This program was created by Kim Wright Mastrofino, with a dual purpose in mind: to create opportunities for the Olean Center and for the local community. Martin and Joe are two of the participants who accompany Kim on visits to local businesses. They refer to themselves as The Beat Team and raise awareness about both the Frank Olean Center and the businesses they visit. They interview employees/owners about their establishment, and promote their experiences on social media and in the monthly newsletters.

According to Kim, “Martin and Joe enjoy this program and often tell me how much fun they are having. It is a great way to learn about our business community and discover new places. This program assists these individuals to strengthen their communication skills, and their ability to connect to all personalities.” Martin’s long term goal is to become a fitness or martial arts instructor. This position requires the ability to work with a diverse population and, therefore, he works on his communication skills by conducting all the interviews. Martin is also learning how to become a better speaker, by “voicing his words more accurately, slower, and clearer.” As a result, he receives the benefit of /working towards his personal goals. Joe also receives benefits from the On the Beat program. His videotaping and editing skills have been a notable contribution to past play projects at the Olean Center. Therefore, he can continue refining those skills while making connections with people in our local community.

Since the program started promoting Martin and Joe’s interactions, local businesses have benefited as a result of their effort to create awareness--which is important and essential for all owners/employees. Kim says,

“This program is a great way for our community neighbors to get to know us and connect with us on a more personal level. All our visits have been a positive experience. We truly feel as though we have made friends. Many look forward to seeing us again--and even have offered ideas on how we

can visit again to support them and conquer our goals as well.”


So far, The Beat Team has interviewed JCPenney; Westerly Fitness; Live Proper Chiropractic; Paddy’s Beach Club; Northend Suds; The Right Click; Cheryl Richard Massage; Wireless Zone, and The Band Room.” Some of these businesses enjoyed seeing The Beat Team in action during their Spirit of Giving Tour. Dressed in classic Santa hats and carrying gift bags, the Team set out on a mission to spread cheer to nine community neighbors who greeted them with warm welcomes, big smiles, and holiday wishes. They even posed for photos, too!

The Beat Team plans to continue their rhythm of giving back. When asked about goals and aspirations for the program, it turns out that On The Beat has many. They hope to edit and showcase all interviews as a series on social media. Another goal is to conduct interviews each month, and find more creative ways to stay connected with businesses they have already visited. Keep up the great work Kim, Joe, and Martin!

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



A Blogger’s Reflection

If one were to ask me “what is your approach in blogging for 2020,” I would say that I will take the approach of a journalist, autobiographer, and the perspective of the reader. Yet this is not something that came overnight; it came from lessons and insight from 2019. Allow me to share that experience with you.

Throughout the 2019 year, I learned about the importance of accurate journalism. Sometimes I accidentally misworded something, or included incorrect information in the posts. The constructive feedback in that area helped me improve, because providing accurate information is important for three reasons. The first is that readers gain knowledge about available resources at the Frank Olean Center, so that they can learn about the agency and potentially connect with someone who needs services. The second reason, is that there are diverse perceptions between staff and participants, therefore it is important to share both backgrounds to balance the blog. Lastly, readers can fully understand the positive impact that the participants have in the community, and how their efforts contribute to their empowerment and independence.

Prior to blogging for the Olean Center in 2019, I had experience in autobiography. My personal blog reflects on my life with a Nonverbal Learning Disorder, and how lessons in horseback riding helped me learn and cope with this diagnosis. Based off personal feedback, readers want depth just as much as they want knowledge. As a result, there is an appreciation for vulnerability, emotions, state of mind, and all of the personal aspects that define a person’s story. So when it came to applying that skill for the Olean Center, I was able to share information while providing background about the participant, staff member or service. My hope is that readers felt like they were present during those events. However, it was humbling to bring that experience into my blogging approach for the Olean Center.

Lastly, I truly learned the significance of a reader’s perspective. To be honest, I am an aspiring fantasy fiction writer. So, let’s face it. I love details. Therefore I was producing blogs that were between 500-800 words, and the posts lasted between 25-40 minutes. This did not dawn on me, until I had an epiphany close to the end of 2019. There are moments when I will read a blog post in that amount of time, and then there are moments when I won’t. So I had to take a step back and remember the diverse perspectives among readers. Some have the same belief as I do, others prefer to spend more time reading a blog, and then there are those who want to spend less. This was a helpful lesson for me, because now as I prepare to blog for 2020, I will be producing posts that are between 300-600 words. Hopefully that will cut down on time, so that all readers can enjoy the depth of the blog and the timing is balanced for them.

Thank you for allowing me to share my experience, and my intended approach for the year. Your support is very much appreciated! Please feel free to provide feedback at any time! Thank you for your time and stay tuned for the next blog.



More Than One Meaning

Life with Olean is where the bells are still ringing,

Souls lift from the bells, signing hands and occasional singing,

Life with Olean is where our mentors matter,

Whose teamwork, goals and community bring positive chatter.

Life with Olean is giving and receiving,

The goals, support and comfort that are worth achieving,

Life with Olean is the connections that count,

Events create happy memories to recount.

Life with Olean is a unity community,

Voices, volunteers and work bring that unity,

Life with Olean is a chance for independence,

Using services, therapy or a new residence.

Life with Olean has something about Grazie,

Whose achievements could be seen by the paparazzi,

Life with Olean is where family is everything,

Dedication is what the parents and guardians bring,

Life with Olean can reach down and lift,

Clinicians and coordinators are among those who bring this gift,

Life with Olean is a director’s perspective,

Where art, creativity and friendship are effective.

Life with Olean is a way to take the reins,

Confidence and skills are what the participant gains,

Life with Olean is a time to seek, explore and work,

To help someone become an agent, banker or clerk.

Life with Olean is a coach and release,

Job coaches bring employees this peace,

Life with Olean is the spirit of giving,

That kind and generous entity is always clinging.

Life with Olean is more than just one meaning,

Depending on who is perceiving,

Yet as the New Year comes about,

More meaning will come without a doubt.

Thank you for reading as always! Happy Holidays and New Year to you all! Stay tuned for the next blog.



Giving With Hands and Music

Previously on “Life at Olean,” some of our staff reflected on what the spirit of giving meant to them. On this blog, you will learn about how some of the participants spread the spirit of giving with their hands and music. Donna Swanson, an instructor for Day Services, has seen both of these aspects in her involvement with the Westerly Library.

For instance, one of the participants, Thomas, volunteers at the library on Mondays. His job is to “[go] through the newspapers and magazines looking for coupons to cut out, and put in a box at the circulation desk that people can take and use.” Swanson has seen firsthand that Thomas “enjoys,” this experience and it gives the library staff the opportunity to focus on their tasks. Providing hands on assistance to members of the community is one of Thomas’s ways of spreading the giving spirit.

Some of the participants use their giving hands to educate, create and help. Once a month (usually on the first Friday), Donna and a couple of participants go to the Westerly Library to do a Stories Sign and Craft Hour to assist with reading and signing. Cheryl, is one of those participants that faithfully attends each month as she is good at signing. According to Donna, “this event is open to the public for individuals age three and up but, younger are okay as well. We take turns reading stories to the children, while sharing sign language words that go along with the story. At the end everyone does a craft that they take home.” The ladies usually help the children with their projects. Therefore, the works of these ladies’ hands give children an education on sign language, help on a project, and overall positive role models to look up to. Not only that, the ladies are able “to work on their reading and communication skills and share their joy of the library and books.” Therefore, the giving goes both ways.

Music has been another way of spreading the giving spirit. Donna recalls that “during July, the library had us fill in and do a bell choir performance during their summer day programs.” This event was featured in the blog The Bells Are Still Ringing. During that time, the bell choir was able to give the community’s children the joy of music, as well as an awareness on diverse disabilities since the participants come from different walks of life. Overall, this musical opportunity had such a profound impact that Swanson hoped for another chance to give the community that experience again. Sure enough, the bell choir is back to spread some holiday cheer.

On Tuesday, December 17th at 10:15 am, this talented group will be doing an interactive performance/show at the library. The participants include Sam who will be playing the keyboard, Robyn will be playing the bell chords, and Diane, Heather, Alison, Cheryl C, Emily, Cheryl L and Jessica will be playing the desk top bells. According to Donna, “we will play a few songs and then have the kids and parents sit in and join us.” Later on, the group with be gathering with some friends from Dunn’s Corners Community Church, Presbyterian, and do a sing along of popular Christmas and holiday songs. This is an exciting opportunity for all who are involved in the bell choir, and according to Donna, “this allows us to share the joy of music, our talents and the Christmas holiday with our local community.”

Whether it is with hands or music, the participants at the Olean Center continue to encourage the spirit of giving. Bryant McGill, an influential entrepreneur has said, “Giving is the master key to success in all applications of human life.” The participants have definitely been able to find success in their giving, and so can others. Give something this season; it does not have to be just money and toys, it can be volunteering, using talents to bring joy to others, and overall anything that will help someone is giving. Thank you for reading as always and stay tuned for the next blog!



We All Have Something To Give

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.” As the holiday season continues, the spirit of giving is a universal commonality among celebrants from all walks of life. The hope is that the outcome will be joy and happiness. Yet what does the spirit of giving mean? One might research the word “giving” itself, and discover that there are several different definitions. That’s because this word originates from a variety of perspectives. The employees at the Frank Olean Center, are among those who have their own personal beliefs about the spirit of giving, and what it means to them.

Kim W. Mastrofino who coordinates the Mentor Program and social media for the Olean Center was one of those who interviewed. “For me the true spirit of giving is doing for others with no expectation of getting something in return,” she says, “giving a gift you bought, volunteering your time, and making your gifts are great ways to get into the spirit of giving.” Kim truly believes that, “giving a gift such as one you make has more meaning, as it is made with love. However giving means different things to different people. I love the spirit of the holiday season as it brings out the very best in us all. People seem to be more relaxed and willing to give of themselves. They open up their hearts, and they think of others in a greater way.”

For Denise Pyburn, who is one of the Children’s Program assistants, her perspective is similar to Kim’s. She believes that the meaning of the giving spirit is, “giving from your heart and not expecting anything in return.” She also believes in the importance of being, “generous and kind and loving to family and friends. Also helping your neighbors and those in the community who are in need.”

From my point of view, the spirit of giving is dedicating your passions to help others. Every person has talents that are meant to fulfill a greater purpose. One of the many aspects of that purpose is to help others, therefore what better way to give and do something that you are good at, and will benefit others. For instance at the Olean Center, I see employees who have a passion for event planning and are able to organize wonderful occasions that benefit the organization. WBLQ gives their talents in broadcasting to promote non-profits like ours, and do the same for charitable community events. These are just a few examples; there is so much more. Overall, there are people who are using their passions to promote the giving spirit, and I hope that it continues.

There are different and similar definitions to what the spirit of giving means to people from the Frank Olean Center. However, at the end of the day, it truly comes down to taking the time to do something that will positively impact others. Whether it is making a gift that comes from the heart; giving time to help someone who is less fortunate, or using talents to benefit others, we all have something to give. You do, too. So ask yourself this question: what can you give this holiday season? Thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next blog!



Coach And Release

Last week, Peter Boardman, the coordinator of Napatree Vocational Services talked about the program, and how it helps participants explore, work, and maintain employment. Job coaching is one of the many options that is offered by Napatree Vocational Services. Dawn Rathbun, a three year job coach and Teresa Pagliusi, one of the participant’s, agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Between the two of them, they receive satisfaction from the job experience.

Rathbun’s position as a coach is to go to the employment site, and work with employed participants from the Frank Olean Center. Dawn always tries to make sure that they will be successful by helping them with their duties, and integrating reasonable accommodations. Some of those aspects is allowing the participant to sit on the job; using boards to write/track duties; bringing large folders to chunk filing, break down tasks by using wording that the participant will understand, etc. Sometimes the support from the company is natural, and the co-workers will step in when the participant needs help. The ability to receive assistance from colleagues is the most desired goal, because it allows coaches like Dawn to fade in and out of the workplace; while the participant receives the benefit of establishing connections and working with their co-workers.

In Teresa Pagliusi’s case, Dawn accompanies her to JCPenney from 10:00am to 2:00pm on some days. The two of them work together to organize/display clothing based off sizing, remove paper from footwear, fold towels, and direct customers. Teresa’s accommodations include the use of a folding board, wording that helps her understand the tasks, and redirection to locations in the store. However, Dawn encourages Teresa’s move towards independence, by teaching her how to do more of the duties on her own, as well as helping her use numbers and letters to better understand clothing sizing.

Overall Teresa is receiving coaching from Dawn, yet her growth is also pursued at the same time. Fortunately JCPenney is Teresa’s dream job and she openly admits with enthusiasm that she wanted to work there, “to get a paycheck!” There is no doubt that Teresa has the drive to be independent, from a financial and general perspective. Keep up the great work Teresa and enjoy your time at JCPenney!

Dawn Rathbun also experiences satisfaction in the participant’s job experience. She points out the the benefit of being a coach is her ability to get the participants out in the community and have them do something that they enjoy while making money. With that benefit, comes the reward of seeing when a person really loves their position and becomes successful at it. “It’s great to see them happy and doing a great job,” Rathbun says. Yet there are also challenges that come with her position. Dawn often encounters participants who struggle with tasks that are difficult for them, and getting them through those moments can be hard. Also, it can be a challenge to identify accommodations and tools since every individual is different. Rathbun usually consults with her team when those circumstances occur, and together they determine the best course of action to help the participant move forward.

When asked what advice she would give to other job coaches, Dawn emphasizes that “patience is definitely one of the keys, but also thinking outside of the box. Each individual is different, what you do for one person won’t always work for the other, always talk to the team and get their ideas. Figure out the best ways of coaching and training by working with the team.”

Thank you, Dawn and all of the other job coaches, for your hard work and dedication! Keep helping others discover their potential, and steps to independence. To all the participants and the readers of this blog, consider these words of the Welsh poet George Herbert. “Do not wait, the time will never be just right. Start where you stand and work with whatever tools that you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along!” Thank for reading, and stay tuned for the next blog!



Seek, Explore and Work

"No matter what your disability is, we are happy to work with you.” This is a quote from Peter Boardman, who is the Vocational Coordinator for Napatree Vocational Services. Based on the dedication and approach of Boardman and his team, job seekers who learn differently have an empowering chance at successful employment.

Napatree Vocational Services operates from the Frank Olean Center, and is a vendor for Rhode Island’s Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS). The program offers vocational assessments, prevocational services, job placement, job coaching and retention. Boardman oversees and supervises the aspects of those services; sets future goals for the department, and still holds job development caseloads for employment seekers. Prior to becoming the Vocational Coordinator, he was a job developer. Therefore Peter still offers on site job coaching to new hires if needed, and works closely with local employers to match them with the right candidate.

According to Boardman, there are two aspects which make Napatree Vocational Services different from other providers. The first is that the program offers person centered planning, which means that the participant is in the driver’s seat.

Peter and other members on the team are in the navigator’s seat supporting the individual. For an example, there is an anonymous participant who has aspirations to be an FBI Agent. For people who have disabilities, a dream like that is often met with resistance, yet Boardman was willing to work with the participant.

Based off their research, a college degree and prior employment in security or law enforcement are requirements to be an FBI agent. This participant does not have a degree, but Peter and her worked together to map out locations in the community that would offer entry level security positions. At first, they identified the hospital as a potential employer, yet the atmosphere was too chaotic. Therefore they narrowed their search to local clothing stores, and found an asset protection position. This job required the participant to identify potential shoplifting and report the incidents to the manager. Aside from still maintaining those duties, she is currently being cross trained in other security aspects. Whether she will become an FBI agent is unknown, but her dreams are being considered. Overall, the person centered planning provides plenty of exploration.

The other aspect that makes Napatree Vocational Services different, is that Peter and the team work to establish customized employment with the employers. Customized employment is identifying the company or organization’s unmet needs, and matching those needs with an entry level candidate.

In the past, Boardman visited a salon that declared that they were not hiring. However their hair stylist was doing the laundry, sweeping the floors, and dusting. Peter was able to find a qualified participant to fulfill those needs, so that the hair stylist could book appointments and not have to leave her customers. Therefore the candidate is not the only one receiving support from Napatree Vocational Services. So is their employer.

The support for the participants of Napatree Vocational Services have come with great work, what would you like to do?”

Thank you for your support, as always, and stay tuned for the next blog!



Take The Reins

“For one to fly, one only needs to take the reins.” This quote is by Melissa James, who is a popular figure in the equestrian community. Horses are beloved creatures and teachers; especially to those who are involved in therapeutic horseback riding. Some of the participants in the Children’s Program are involved in this alternative therapy. The relationship between the participant and horse is admired by the clinician, parent, and child.

For those who are wondering what therapeutic horseback riding is, according to Path Intl., it is “an equine assisted activity for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of individuals with special needs.” Since horseback riding moves the person’s body in a rhythm that is similar to the human pace, individuals with special needs often receive life changing benefits from this form of therapy.

Claire Letizio, a clinician for the Children’s Program, has observed therapeutic horseback riding sessions. She cites that the benefits include “core strengthening, balance coordination, sensory input, a sense of freedom and trust, critical thinking, problem solving strategies, communication and interpersonal strengthening. [Other benefits include] cardio/heavy impact exercising (caring for the horse), setting boundaries, overcoming fears, patience, sense of pride, and responsibility.” Therapeutic horseback riding has also been proven to help riders maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially for individuals with special needs. Claire has also seen that, “riders with physical disabilities often show improvements in flexibility, balance, and muscle strengthening. It can be good for one’s overall health with assisting in lowering blood pressure and heart rate. [Therapeutic riding also] alleviates stress and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.” Although the benefits will impact the person individually, the riding and horses themselves truly make a difference.

Stephanie Trafka, and her son Gavyn can attest to this. Gavyn is a participant in the Children’s Program, and currently participates in therapeutic horseback riding. His mother is a certified instructor herself and has a lifetime interest in being involved with horses. Therefore, she views them as “incredibly intuitive, calming creatures.” That perception motivated Stephanie to research therapeutic riding, and eventually she enrolled her son in the program. She felt that horseback riding would benefit Gavyn in regards to his diagnoses of, “Global Developmental Delay, Epilepsy, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorder.” The difference has been astounding. Stephanie has seen that therapeutic horseback riding has “improved [his] balance, coordination, and muscle tone.” Also she has seen an increase in, “core strength, [and] sensory input resulting in better sensory regulation.” Lastly Gavyn has displayed, “improvement with motor planning, eliciting speech, fostering independence, and providing opportunities for appropriate social interactions.”

Not only is therapeutic horseback riding a stepping stone for Gavyn Trafka, but he personally is touched by the experience. He loves being with his horse Bonny and having opportunities to make friends with the other riders. When asked about current goals, Gavyn says that he is working on “queuing the horse to walk on and whoa with voice cues. [He is also learning] steering with reins, staying balanced (with a quiet body) in the saddle, appropriate social interactions with the instructor, volunteers, horses, and other riders.” Keep up the great work, Gavyn, and don’t stop riding!

To the readers, if you know of someone who has disabilities and could use a four-legged partner, give therapeutic riding a try! Thanks so much as always for the support, and stay tuned for the next blog!




A Director’s Perspective

As a prominent voice for leadership, John C. Maxwell speaks volumes in one of his many inspirational quotes, “to add value to others, one must first value others.” That is the type of approach that Jason Lanzillo takes on as a Director of Children’s Services. Although he is in charge of maintaining the protocol of this program, he does it with consideration for others in mind.

Lanzillo oversees the day to day aspects of the Children’s Services. According to him, this includes handling the department programs, providing supervision to the team, and ensuring that as a department, “we are maintaining the standards of the programs that we provide.” Some other duties of his include establishing relationships with collateral agencies, brainstorming department goals, and to set a positive example for the department as it applies to, “work ethic and morale.”

When asked about the challenge of being the director, Jason explains that it is, “staying connected to all aspects of the program. This requires a greater level of communication within the office, and one of my daily goals is to spend time with every member of the team. I feel this is an important opportunity, to learn more about how the services we provide are affecting the lives of our participants.” Despite that all of these aspects can be daunting, Jason uses them as motivation: “one of the things my parents instilled in me was that every challenge you face can be looked at as an opportunity. Looking at the job from this perspective allows me to maintain a positive approach. As a department, we are always seeking to deliver great care for our participants, which includes helping them achieve their goals. It is a privilege to have this opportunity and be trusted with leading this department and the services we provide.”

From Lanzillo’s perspective, one of the most children’s department’s notable accomplishments, is creating more socialization events with a focus in the arts. The reason why the art based activities have been an achievement, is that the majority of the participants in the children’s program are creative individuals. Therefore they enjoy the process of making a piece, freely expressing themselves, and are able to find individualized success in the work that they do. Overall the success works both ways, because the kids are receiving the benefits of socializing, yet they are doing something that they love at the same time.

The most recent art activity was at the Artists Exchange in Cranston, Rhode Island. Jason Lanzillo states that, “it was successful because as a team we worked together to set it up and we established a new relationship with a great organization. We were able to spend time in the community with staff, family and participants, and had involvement from three new participants who had not attended events before.” This activity and other art-based events would not be possible without the generosity of those who provided grants for these activities. Jason and the rest of the children’s department would like to thank the donors, which include the John D. and Katherine A. Johnston Foundation, Andrade-Faxon Charities for Children, Verizon Wireless Zone Foundation for Giving, and the Chariho Rotary Club.

According to Jason, the art-based activities will be a continued goal for the children’s department. The feedback from families have been positive, and the children’s department team believes that more socialization will provide beneficial enrichment for the participants. Some other goals Jason wants to acknowledge is opening up Respite Services, and building a relationship with the higher education community, “because not only do we have older participants who are involved with transitional schools, they are also interested in college level courses, or continuing their education, and is a way to continue sharing our story, mission, leadership and success.”

Best regards to the children’s department in their endeavors! As always to our readers, thank you for your support and stay tuned for the next blog!



Reach Down and Lift

Family was the center of the last blog post, which touched on PASS (Personal Assistance Supports Services), a program offered by the Olean Center’s Children’s Services Department. Also offered for children and their families is a program known as HBTS (Home Based Therapeutic Services). John Holmes once declared “that there is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” His words embody HBTS in a nutshell.

This program requires quite a bit of lifting. According to the website, HBTS, “provides intensive, in home and community support to families of children with moderate to severe health care needs.” This is similar to the PASS program, in regards to the child’s treatment team which includes their parent/guardian, specialty treatment consultants, a direct support professional, a coordinator, and a clinician. Also, HBTS relates to PASS by addressing the three major areas of goals which include, “daily living skills, safety and self-preserving decisions, social roles and social settings.” However, the program also includes goals in behavioral management and parental training. The treatment team meets every month to discuss these goals, as well as provide helpful strategies or resources to the direct care staff. All of these aspects of the HBTS services go into providing the child with a helping hand, and lending unconditional support to those who are involved.

Two HBTS staff members were interviewed for this blog. The first is Cassie Baker, who is a coordinator, and Claire Letizio who is one the of the clinicians. Cassie’s role is similar to the PASS coordinator’s, which is to collaborate with the treatment team regarding the child’s goals, assisting in interviewing/screening potential direct professional support workers, as well as overseeing and supporting their orientation and training. Cassie always ensures that communication between families and workers occur on a consistent basis, so that all parties are engaged in helping the child’s progression towards their goals.

As an clinician, Claire spearheads the treatment plan for a child involved in the HBTS program--whereas in the PASS program, the clinician collaborates more closely with the family on identifying goals. Although Claire always takes the family’s input into consideration; she ultimately drives the HBTS cases by writing the treatment plan, collaborating with the team, supervising direct care staff, connecting with schools, agencies and hospitals, and relaying beneficial information to families to ensure that their child receives the best treatment possible.

Between their careers as HBTS coordinator and clinician, Cassie and Claire see several benefits to this program. From Cassie’s perspective, HBTS provides support to all members involved in the child’s treatment plan. “The families and children receive extra support so that our staff can take the time and work on these skills, and address areas of concern while being active participants in the community.” Based off of her work as a clinician, Claire sees the benefit of offering an outside perspective. “The child is the identified client,” she says, “but the diagnosis affects all of the family. In order to keep the family unit, it is essential that the clinician does not look through the tunnel vision but through the broader picture. Also, nobody knows the child like their parent, you want to respect and honor that, and you use that to best of your ability to help facilitate care that will help child and family.” Therefore, nobody is ever left out whether it be child, parent/guardian or worker, the entire team is involved.

What is next for HBTS? From Cassie’s perspective, “I think we as a team are always striving to be better and to develop new goals as a team. We are always looking for ways to offer more support to families and staff. I would love to see all of my families and children develop a successful, caring relationship with their direct service workers.” As for Claire, she would like to see more unity among the participants by broadening social events, as she always enjoys watching their interactions. So if you are interested in being a worker or have a venue for events, please reach out.

In case you know a parents or guardians who are seeking services: children are eligible for HBTS services if they are between three to twenty-one years of age, Medicaid eligible, live at home with a family or guardian, and diagnosed with a chronic and moderate to severe cognitive, physical, development, and/or psychiatric condition. Jason Lanzillo, the Director of the Children’s Services Department, can provide more information on the program. He can be reached at 401-315-0143 x 103. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next blog!



Family Is Everything

Anthony Brandt had a way with words on paper and words from the heart. He once said, “other things may change us, but we start and end with family.” Family plays a significant role in the Frank Olean Center’s PASS (Personal Assistance Supports Services) program. This opportunity is offered by the Children’s Services Department, so the younger participants have the chance to succeed.

According to the Olean Center’s website, the mission of the PASS program is to “[allow] parents and guardians to direct the services received by the child. This family centered approach builds on the child’s individual strengths and fosters independence, while respecting family values and choices.” The child’s treatment team includes the parent/guardian, clinician, PASS coordinator, PASS worker, and specialty treatment consultants.” The treatment team works together to ensure that the child addresses goals in three areas, “daily living skills, safety and self-preserving decisions, and social roles and social settings.”

Two members from the treatment teams were interviewed for this blog. Shannon Kilty is a coordinator for PASS, and Fatima Martins-Abbot is one of the clinicians for the program. Despite that their roles are different, both of them are essential in empowering the families and providing guidance to the workers.

Aside from coordinating the child’s goals with the family and clinician, Kilty is active in screening and interviewing direct support professional workers that are chosen by the family. She also provides orientation training and other necessary supports for both parties; so that they can work together to meet the needs of the child, and ensure that progress towards goals happens on a continuous basis. Shannon even facilitates communication between the families and workers, which happens on a weekly or bi weekly basis, depending on the needs of both parties. Therefore, the child and support system are both considered in the PASS program.

As a clinician, Fatima Martins Abbott is another person involved in identifying goals that will best support the child, and backing the family with their decisions. She can help recruit potential PASS workers, but emphasizes that it is truly up the family to make that decision. Abbott is there to support them through and through. Another aspect of Fatima’s role as a clinician is that she can help families, by providing them information about evidence-based strategies for autistic/special needs children. An example of an evidence-based strategy are social stories, which are individualized short stories that depict a potentially uncomfortable situation, and how the child can cope with the use of, “precise and sequential information,” (What Are Social Stories, 1). The social stories are also a helpful tool for the PASS worker, and ensures that they are on the same page as the parents.

Both Shannon and Fatima find that PASS’s family-oriented approach benefits the children and their families. According to Shannon,

“it promotes opportunity by giving children the tools to perform skills and tasks successfully. It creates a sense of accomplishment for these children. For the family, it gives them an outside look of how their child progresses while working on these skills with a PASS worker, and then eventually incorporating learned tasks and skills in the home even when the worker is not there.”

Fatima’s perspective is that she can truly see the child in the context of the family, and provide support that will reduce stress and help both parties. The resources for the child are plentiful, and the family is right there providing as well as receiving.

What is next for the PASS program? According to Shannon, “we are hoping to add to our cliental and increase the amount of families that we service. We have hopes of providing RESPITE services to our families, incorporating the program “Zones of Regulation,” and exploring additional specialty treatments and consultations.” From the clinical side, Fatima continues to ensure that new goals are identified and reviewed every year. “We always ask that the worker evaluates how it is going, and communicate with family so we can assess what we are doing and determine if it is working.” There is not a moment that passes without the thought of a child; they are a priority in the PASS program.

With your help, we can help more special needs children. If you know of a child who is Medicaid eligible, is between the ages of 6-21, lives at home with a family or legal guardian, and is diagnosed with a chronic or moderate to severe cognitive, physical, developmental or psychiatric condition, please feel free to reach out to Jason Lanzillo, at 401-315-0143, x 103. Referrals can be made by a family member, doctor, or even another agency. Thank you and stay tuned for the next blog!


What Are Social Stories?. (n.d.). In Special Learning, Inc. Retrieved October 9, 2019, from



Something About Grazie

Maya Angelou was right when she said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Grazie is a woman of few words, yet when she does speak, her voice truly conveys a passion and enjoyment with her involvement at the Frank Olean Center.

Grazie is a native of Westerly, Rhode Island, and has been involved with the Frank Olean Center since 1987. Throughout her time, Grazie continues to support the organization’s relationship and participation with the arts. She has been enrolled in several VSA (Very Special Arts) competitions specializing in poetry. A notable success of hers was being the 2012 VSA Poet Laureate. Aside from poetry, she has participated in several theater classes and productions orchestrated by the Frank Olean Center; including the Rock N Roll Revival Project.

Grazie first began services at the Olean Center as an AAP participant, then transitioned to the STEPS program, and is now a current participant in PACE. This is one of the options that the last blog addressed regrading specialized supports programs. PACE takes an active approach with physical therapy, and the staff are trained to help people with different backgrounds. Therefore Grazie is able to exercise in her wheelchair during physical therapy sessions. She finds that exercising helps her feel stronger, and helps her maintain an active lifestyle.

Aside from helping participants stay active, PACE also encourages them to participate in meaningful community activities. Grazie is no exception; throughout her time at the Frank Olean Center, she has shopped at Walmart, gone to the Westerly Library, and participated in community walks at the Rotary Park and Avondale. The animals at Manfredi Farm have often looked forward to her visits, and she also enjoys interacting with others at the Westerly Senior Center. One of Grazie’s most recent social interactions took place inside of the Frank Olean Center, yet the community was still involved. The Saori weaving company of Stonington Borough came to the Olean Center to teach the art of Saori weaving to program participants. Grazie was among those who attended the class and created a beautiful scarf. She enjoyed working with the instructors to make a memorable craft.

PACE always uses these community outings/interactions to help participants pursue their goals. Grazie has found that PACE’s approach helps her move towards independence and advocacy skills. For an example, using the phone can be a challenge since speaking up is not easy for her. Yet the PACE program encourages Grazie to use her voice, by initiating phone calls with the staff at the Frank Olean Center. Also, the community outings gives her the chance to vocalize what she wants to do. Therefore, Grazie is consistently working on her goals towards independence and using her voice.

When asked if there was a current goal that she working on, Grazie hopes to land a volunteer position in the food industry. She credits her Italian heritage for her love of food, and receives countless praise from the Olean Center when she brings her lunch meals in. Based off the opinion of the Olean Center, her family cooks, “the best Italian food!” Grazie’s smile always brightens from those comments. She also shares a close connection with her family, who play an active role in helping her pursue her goals. They often take her on shopping trips, which has become one of Grazie’s favorite past times. Have you noticed how classy she is? Overall Grazie is a very driven woman, who loves to promote the Frank Olean Center by maintaining positive relationships with the community, and continually working on her goals.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Grazie. You are truly an inspirational woman and keep up the fantastic work! To the readers, thank you for your support as always and stay tuned for the next blog!



There Is Always A Chance For Independence

Susan B Anthony, a prominent activist once said, “Independence is happiness.” At the Frank Olean Center, independence is a common goal for our participants. This often takes time for them to achieve, yet the specialized supports services provide a stepping stone. Gina Blair, who supervises the specialized supports services, witnesses the balance between supporting our participants, and helping them accomplish their independence at the same time.

Blair oversees the two prominent programs in specialized supports services, which are PACE and Transition. According to her the purpose is, “to assist individuals in the areas of daily living skills, interpersonal relationships, socialization, communication, community awareness, physical maintenance, and leisure skills. The overall goal of these programs is to assist each person to function as independently as possible, and to maximize their potential, motivation, and self-esteem. The emphasis is placed on community involvement.”

Both programs share a commonality with community exposure, since the participants from each program are involved in outings on a daily basis. However there is a significant difference between them. The PACE program assists our participants who have challenges with ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living). These activities include walking, feeding, dressing/grooming, transferring from one place to another, and other basic living activities. A physical therapist or staff that are experienced with physical therapy, will help the participants set a goal in these areas, and assist in taking steps to reach them. Although progress often takes a while, these participants can still learn the value of independence.

On the other hand, the Transition Services program provides assistance to participants who are higher functioning, yet still need hands on support. The Transition Services are notable in identifying volunteer positions in the community, and matching interested participants to these opportunities. Volunteering is another aspect in community involvement, yet also gives participants the chance to work on personalized goals, and further improve their steps towards independence.

There are several benefits to both programs. The first benefit is that the participants continually work on their goals, so progress is always being made. Another benefit is that the more exposure the participants get, the more this continues to raise awareness of special needs in the community. Also for those who volunteer with the Transition participants, they can get a full understanding of the circumstances, and can even help them achieve their goals towards independence.

Lastly, some participants from the programs have benefited from our employment services and have landed a community job, which enhances their financial independence. Some have been able to achieve living semi independently in either their own housing, host family, or a group home.

What’s next for specialized supports? As of now, Gina Blair and the staff in specialized supports services continue to work on, “providing a meaningful life to our participants.” They are always looking to expand on activities/volunteer work, so that more awareness and opportunities can be fulfilled. So far, the participants who volunteer have positions at RICAN, Charlestown Senior Center, and Cross Mill Library. Also the Transition participants have experienced community outings at Westerly Senior Center, Kettle Pond, Westerly Library, Rotary Park, Avondale Park, Alley Katz, Manfredi Farms, and several local businesses.

So if you know of someone who provides those opportunities, please feel free to reach out and let us know. Another goal that the specialized supports program hopes to achieve, is creating a sensory room for our participants to utilize throughout the day. Best of luck to the specialized supports team in achieving their goals, and please keep doing what you are doing. Thanks so much, and stay tuned for the next blog!



A United Community

Helen Keller, an American author and activist once emphasized that, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” Togetherness is a common element at the Frank Olean Center, especially when it comes to our participants integrating with the community, and the community integrating with them.

Tabitha Brennan, the Program Coordinator for the STEPS program is active in facilitating community outings for our participants. Some of the trips that she has organized include Alley Katz Bowling, Olde Mistick Village, the Westerly Rotary Park, and Westerly Library. Brennan has also extended her work into the community, by coordinating career and volunteer opportunities for some of the participants as well. Whether it comes in the form of an outing or work opportunity, the integration between our participants and members of the community is helpful.

For the participants well-being, the community integration is important for their growth and freedom. Choices are a part of both aspects, and Tabitha ensures that the participants choose what trips or career/volunteer opportunities they want to partake in. Those choices empower the participants, because they have to communicate their desired activity, which can be a challenge for those who have trouble speaking, or are anxious about self-advocating for themselves. Yet communicating that choice gives them a sense of freedom. Integrating our participants is also important for the community too, because they are employees, volunteers, members and customers to several different establishments in Westerly. Their contributions ensure that work gets done, volunteer opportunities are complete, businesses remain booming, and most importantly new connections are formed. The Frank Olean Center participants meet new people every single day; therefore the more they integrate themselves, the more the community supports the Frank Olean Center and the Frank Olean Center supports them in return.

According to Tabitha Brennan, the benefits of community integration are “togetherness and socialization.” In the case of our participants who have jobs, working is a social opportunity since they come together with their co-workers to ensure that the tasks run smoothly. In order for the workday to be successful, our participants and their co-workers need to work together despite their differences, and learning to work with one another creates that togetherness. Also, the participants with careers reap the financial benefits, and that gives them the opportunity to seek more independent oriented activities. As for those who participate in community outings, they are also partaking in a social opportunity that gives them a sense of togetherness. Living with disabilities is not easy for our participants, yet that commonality brings them together and they find a way to have a great time.

Brennan also mentioned a heartwarming project continues to motivate our participants involvement in the community. Inspired by a craft idea called South County Rocks, the participants paint positive messages on rocks and hide them throughout the community. Anyone who finds it may be touched by words of peace, joy, love, beauty and overall good vibes. Congratulations to the participants in their work of touching the community, and keep participating! Everyone in the world needs kindness.

Overall integration is important for our participants well being and future. Yet it is also essential for the community in return. The community that works together stays together. Being part of a community allows for new ideas to come, awareness to be spread, and overall memories to be made. So, if you see the Frank Olean Center participants in the community, please feel free to say hello and get to know them. You never know what positive outcome can be achieved from that. Thank you very much and stay tuned for the next blog!



The Connections Are The Ones That Count

Hank Rosso, a prominent founder of philanthropy and fundraising once said, “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” There is no secret that the Frank Olean Center is a nonprofit, and fundraising is a necessity to support our work. Yet more importantly, there is joy among the people who contribute to the Olean Center, and their generosity forms promising connections. Jeanie Herzog, our organization’s Development Consultant, has experienced this firsthand.

Herzog comes from an extensive background in fundraising. She began at the age of 11 by fundraising for the American Heart Association in her neighborhood, sold Girl Scout Cookies for many years, and coordinated a fundraiser for Cambodian refugees in all Rhode Island high schools when she was 17. Ever since then philanthropic activities have been her passion. For the past decade, Jeanie has connected with local businesses and venues to plan fundraisers for the Jonnycake Center of Westerly and the WARM Center. Ever since May of this year, she has used that experience to help plan Olean Center fundraisers: fundraisers at both Graze Burgers and Paddy’s Beach Club in Westerly, Rhode Island were wonderful events.

Yet there are several factors that go into planning and executing a successful fundraiser. Jeanie emphasizes that, “the process basically is to advertise as well as possible to attract folks to support Olean, and it’s critical to provide as much as possible to the people who are kind enough to come. In addition to flyers around town, we use social media to make sure we reach as many possible event-goers as we can. Things like good raffles, music where possible, [and] a cool location. All these are factors which require detail.” Overall, there is a lot of work that goes into planning a onetime event. As expected there are benefits and challenges.

According to Jeanie, the true benefits of fundraising for the Frank Olean Center, “lie in really forming relationships with the folks who attend, the folks who provide the venue, the businesses who sponsor the event, and the businesses who provide raffle items, discounts…name it. Chris DiPaola has also been wonderful in giving us the opportunity to promote events on our radio time at WBLQ. This is an extraordinarily generous community, and working with everyone really is inspiring.” Yet the challenges occur when there is worry about the amount of people who will show up. As mentioned before the Olean Center is a nonprofit; therefore money from fundraising directly supports our programs, and expenses that cannot be covered by grants. The reality is if a small number of people show up to the fundraiser, their contributions are helpful, but lack of funds can halt progress or expansion of services at the Frank Olean Center. However relationships with people are the priority with fundraising. Yes, the money is crucial in funding, but connections are more important.

We hope that you will become one of our connections. Gray Sail Brewery of Rhode Island will be hosting a Cheers for Charity event on October 17th from 5:00pm-8:00pm with 100% of sales benefitting the Olean Center. So we hope to see you there! Also Jeanie wants you to know that Olean will be participating in Downtown Shutdown Live on September 26 starting at 5:00pm in downtown Westerly, Giving Tuesday in early December, and there are plans for fun mini-fundraisers during Autism Awareness Month in April. We are also planning a super event in late May at The Andrea, so please stay tuned for details!

Last but not least, the Frank Olean Center is proud to announce our newest staff addition. Kate Roschmann was recently hired as an event planner, and she will especially be instrumental in fundraising efforts. Kate hails from Maryland, but has moved all over the country since her husband is in the Navy. Prior to becoming involved with the Frank Olean Center, she was a volunteer leader in planning events for Moms Demand Action. When asked what excites her the most about event planning/fundraising for the Frank Olean Center, she replied, “I am excited about the chance to develop and grow the fundraising system here.” Welcome to the Olean family, Kate. We are so happy to have you and cannot wait to see what the future unfolds!

Thank you very much to all of our supporters. We hope that you enjoyed this blog, and please keep checking in for new posts each week!



Giving And Receiving

Previously on “Life At Olean” … the post titled Our Mentors Matter touched on the benefits of the Mentor Program, and how it benefits both mentor and mentee. However, we are not done talking about the program yet. This time, you will get to experience the inside perspective of the participants and their mentors. Whether they are mentor or mentee, they give and receive.

Kim Wright Mastrofino, who coordinates the program took the time to interview the mentors and mentees. According to the majority of mentors, this role is a wonderful experience because it offers flexibility especially with schedules, they also get guidance and assistance by receiving beneficial information and resources at the monthly meet ups. The trainings are “useful” in their roles as mentors, because they can apply them with their mentees on and off site. Also the mentors enjoy other perks, such as connecting and socializing with other mentor teams; and knowing that there is a mutual enjoyment of spending time with each other.

The program has achieved positive outcomes, for mentor Laura and her mentee Kevin. She informed Kim, “that this is a great program. I look forward to my time with Kevin as he is a lot of fun. He is also very thoughtful and appreciative, and I find him to be caring and kind.” Their partnership has encouraged a balance of purposeful and fun activity, especially for Kevin himself. According to him, “the mentor program has given me more freedom and independence to do more of what I like to do.” Kevin has also developed more friendships through the volunteer work that him and his mentor do, especially at the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce. As a result, he is connecting with others, working on good communication, and networking for a job. So kudos to Kevin and his mentor Laura for giving their time to the community and receiving the benefits that come with it. Keep up the great work, you’re truly making a difference!

Another one of our mentors Lisa Ornberg, was interviewed and featured in our monthly newsletter. She joined the program in April 2019, and was paired with her mentee Kathy. Ornberg expressed that she, “was excited to GIVE, she has also RECEIVED--learning more about herself...her strengths and gifts. And, she is growing in wonderful, new directions.” Lisa views her relationship with Kathy as an “equal partnership,” and views her as “a true friend who may sometimes need a little help and guidance.” Yet giving and receiving is a strong aspect in their connection with each other. When Lisa’s brother passed away, Kathy supported her as a friend by attending the memorial service, supplying a hefty amount of tissues, and offered kind and compassionate words. Therefore a gesture like that truly shows that when one gives to someone, they receive something amazing in return.

Lisa and Kathy genuinely enjoy their time with each other. They are frequents at the YMCA pool, play bingo at the Senior Center, and enjoy a variety of activities. Kathy even participated in Special Olympics this year, and Lisa supported her in “sharing in the fun of and excitement of the Olympic Games!” Mentoring is an important aspect of Lisa and the other mentors role, yet so is the fun.

The Mentor Program is highly recommended by Lisa. She encourages others to join, and wants others to know that it is a program that is worthwhile. As emphasized before, Lisa notes “the flexibility, and that volunteers (mentors) are given tools, training, and guidance necessary in establishing great mentor partnerships.” So if you are interested in Lisa’s endorsement, please consider becoming a mentor. Kim Wright Mastrofino is more than happy to provide more information, she can reached at (401) 596-2091. Thank you again for all of your support, the Frank Olean Center is truly appreciative.



Our Mentors Matter

Former British prime minister established a valid point in one of his many inspirational quotes. “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” This speaks volumes to the mentors and mentees, who are involved in the Mentor Program at The Frank Olean Center.

Kim Wright Mastrofino began coordinating the Mentor Program in 2017, after the State awarded the Conversion Trust Grant to the Olean Center with a purpose of increasing opportunities for community integration. Eight teams were established, but some teams have been dropped due to illnesses and/or changes in schedules. According to Kim, “this program is designed to work around busy schedules and offers flexibility. We take into consideration, vacations, family time, work, personal lives, and illness. We encourage a weekly meet up to stay connected. The program is goal oriented with each team member partnering to work on individualized goals. By doing this each receives the benefits of the program.”

What are the benefits of the Mentor Program? The first component is that the mentor is a connection to the participant’s support network, and the participant becomes a connection to them. According to the Kim Mastrofino, the mentor’s relationship with the mentee allows them to, “assist individuals to develop their talents, and encourage them to find value in seeing other perspectives. They cultivate independence, and empower them to become effective decision makers. They also provide a safe space to talk.” In addition, the mentors also specialize in helping our participants identify and work on achieving personalized goals; by finding opportunities that match the goals, accompanying the individual to those places, and connecting them with members of the community who can help too. In doing so, the mentor may also receive the same outcome. For an example, if one our participants has a fitness goal, their mentor will find a gym, become a fitness partner to the mentee, and help them find trainers or other gym members who will encourage growth in their fitness goal. Also this benefits the mentor, because attending the gym with the mentee may help them with their own fitness goals, and establish connections with people who will encourage them as well.

Another component of benefits for both mentee and mentor is backed by Mastrofino’ s research, and experience. According to both aspects, “mentoring can change the course of a person’s life while enhancing self-esteem, fostering self-determination, and building friendships.” This benefits the mentee, because these changes and enhancements contribute to their individual growth, and gives them positive recognition from families and caregivers. Also it benefits the mentors, because the changes and growth to their lives often leads to success in the workplace. “Employers and business community members usually recognize the significance of a diversified work environment and the benefits of mentoring influences.” Therefore if someone is part of a mentor program outside of their career or are searching for one, chances are they will receive recognition and promotion in the workplace.

The third and final component of the benefits of the Mentor Program, is that the mentors and mentees are supporting the Westerly community. The Frank Olean Center mentor teams have served as volunteers for the animal shelters, Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, and Charlestown Seafood Festival. They have participated in fitness classes at the gyms, art classes with local seniors, supported swimming events at the YMCA, attended local arts/theatre performances, and have developed friendships which open more doors to participate in the community. The feedback from the community has been positive, and there is gratitude towards the mentors and mentees in their efforts to give back. Therefore not only are the participants and their mentors helping, they are recognized for it and feel motivated to keep pursuing those opportunities.

Does this program interest you now? Are you a caring person who wants to help build a brighter future to someone who has a disability? Do you want to mentor someone who will also help you achieve your own positive outcomes? Are you open to contributing training and education about special needs in the workplace and the community? If so, you’re a great fit for the Mentor Program! In order to be a mentor, you must be at least 21 years of age, pass a background check, complete the required training, and spend time with your mentee. If you want more information about the mentor program, please reach out to Kim Wright Mastrofino at (401) 596-2091. We look forward to having you as part of the Frank Olean family. To the readers who are not interested in the program, but know someone who wants to be a mentor, please feel free to pass this along. Overall, thanks to all for your support and stay tuned for the next blog!



The Bells Are Still Ringing

Plato, an Ancient Greek philosopher once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to imagination and life to everything.” Although the bell choir at the Frank Olean Center is a relatively new and evolving activity, the participants have already begun to spread their musical wings and touch the lives of the Westerly community.

The idea for the bell choir originated from Donna Swanson, one the instructors for the day services program. She wanted to incorporate a musical activity that was accessible for all of the participants. Some of them do not like to sing, or have difficulty playing an instrument due to difficulties with motor or processing skills. Therefore she found desk top bells which are adaptable, because it only requires the participants to press on a button, and they do not have to exert extra mental or physical effort. Also the sound of the bell is beautiful itself, so they do not need to sing.

On July 11, at the Westerly Library, the bell choir interacted with children and their parents of the Westerly community. Donna Swanson’s goal was to have the bell choir showcase their talents, and it turned out to make a successful impact on the participants. They were able to enjoy a social interaction outside of the Frank Olean Center. Social activities are often difficult for people with disabilities, and this could be for a variety of reasons. Some might get overstimulated from the sensory happening around them, they may struggle picking up on social cues, following the pace of the activity might be hard, and there could be other possibilities. So for the bell choir to be able to step outside of their comfort zone, by musically expressing their talents and personalities, that is beneficial because they are having fun and socializing at the same time.

Also this musical hour was a benefit to the children and their parents as well. Some of them did not have as much exposure to disabilities, or were not as aware of them. Therefore the integrative experience was an eye opener, since the bell choir brought an awareness with their diverse diagnoses. One of the participants who is deaf even signed “Jingle Bells,” along with Donna, while the rest of the choir and children used the bells. Therefore the parents and children received an education from the bell choir, yet it was enjoyable and they had a good time.

Ever since the event at the library, the bell choir is active yet still developing. Donna Swanson hopes to continue to expand the activity, by blending the Frank Olean’s chorus with the bell choir. She also wants to find people who can sing, play the bells, and play and sing at the same time. Her goal is to have the choir perform at least two more times, especially around the Christmas holiday. Therefore, good luck to Donna and the bell choir. We hope that opportunity comes for another performance, and rock on with the beautiful music!



Greetings, my name is Meghan Fabianski. I am a blogger and aspiring fantasy fiction writer from Southeastern Connecticut. For the past two years, I have been a program assistant for the Frank Olean Center’s Children’s Services Department. Every co-worker at this organization is genuinely supportive of my writing endeavors, and have featured several of my pieces in the monthly newsletter and their social media page. I was recently hired to officially blog for the Frank Olean Center. So it is my pleasure to welcome you to Life With Olean.

You might be asking yourself, why does she keep mentioning the Frank Olean Center? What is this place? The Frank Olean Center is a nonprofit organization that, “serves individuals of all ages with developmental and intellectual disabilities.” We welcome a variety of diagnoses, including but not limited to Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders. From our perspective, it is possible to help our participants achieve their maximum potential and independence; therefore we provide services that are compatible with their physical, mental and emotional needs. After all, “Their Lives, Their Dreams, Our Mission,” is the tag line of the Frank Olean Center.

Every week, this blog will allow you to follow in the footsteps of the Frank Olean Center, and experience the perspective of the day to day operations. You will learn about the Adult and Children’s Programs; and the positive impact these services have on our participants and their loved ones. There will be posts about community integration and the events that support this effort. The blog will also touch on the personal aspects of the Frank Olean Center, including fundraising and networking experiences. Those are just some of the examples; there will be other topics that have not been mentioned yet. Overall the goal is to not only promote our cause, but ensure that the blog resonates with you somehow. You may be someone who is trying to understand disabilities, or you have a disability and can relate. You could be a parent of a child with disabilities, or have a connection with someone who has been diagnosed. Perhaps you might run a nonprofit, or have a completely different motive for reading this. Whatever your reasoning may be, the Frank Olean Center is grateful for your time and support. Thank you and welcome again!

August, 8, 2019

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