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:
Phone: 401-315-0143 ext. 108
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 www.blessedride.com 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.