Why It Matters: Telling Our Stories Blog

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The staff at MH.IDD understand the importance of sharing a story. That's why we want to share our stories about the work we do, and perhaps more significantly, "why it's so important"...so we've decided to blog about it! Our monthly posts are intended to provide information and stories from departments within the MH.IDD offices, as well as stories from citizens we serve.
July 2017

'Carnival’ of Fun for Early Intervention 

It was a circus of fun on a perfect Tuesday evening for more than 600 people who attended the Early Intervention Family Carnival. This annual event, held at the Adventure Zone Playground at Capital Area Christian Church, brings together families in the Cumberland, Perry, and Dauphin County’s Birth to Five Early Intervention programs and Head Start programs for a night of fun, food and fellowship. 

Fun for All:  The carnival originally began as a family picnic and over the years has developed into the carnival of today. This year, the event saw a record attendance of 602 people. 

"I don’t know where the idea came from to go to Adventure Zone, but it’s one of the few playgrounds that is totally accessible and accessibility is important," said Amy Swartz, Early Intervention supervisor for the County. "We know families want to talk to other families with children who have developmental delays and special needs. Our goal is to provide an inclusive, fun event were families can meet each other, find support and find resources." 

Fun abounded for those attending the carnival. From the food prepared by countless church volunteers, story times, ball pit, face painting, arts and crafts, ball toss and many other carnival games, sounds of pure enjoyment could be heard all evening. 

In addition to being a fun time for children, the carnival also connects parents with local services. 

"We have providers who attend and help with some of the activities," said Swartz. "We also handed out information on the Life Course, which is to help parents plan out their dreams for their child." Swartz added this information helps parents understand that just because their child may have special needs, dreams do not need to end. 

Making an Impact:  One of the key features of the Carnival is the opportunity it gives parents involved in the EI program to interact with other parents. 

"There are lots of families who feel alone, they think something might be going on with their child, they’re frustrated but they don’t know where to go," said Annie Strite, senior human services manager with Cumberland Perry Mental Health. 

"This carnival shows families that they are not alone," said Chris Sechrist, visual specialist with the County. 

Families could be heard all evening saying how much they enjoyed the event and were glad they could attend. 

"I just want to thank those who organized the Carnival yesterday for such a wonderful evening," said Erica Nielsen, a parent who attended the event. "My family had a lovely time." 

"We know even if parents are struggling with their own challenges, they can come to this carnival, find support and create memories with their child," said Swartz. "We just love talking to the families. We get to play with the kids and we love that. It’s not therapy, it’s just fun." 

Great Partnership:  The carnival would not be possible without the countless volunteers and facilities, all donated, from the Capital Area Christian Church (CACC). 

"For the last two years, the church has done everything," Swartz said. 

"We started with a small group of people that worked on the original team that helped to build the playground," said Lori Cartmill, community impact director with CACC. "We extended that invitation to the church as a whole and many people embraced the opportunity. They make food, help set up, do prep work, serve at the event and clean up. The more they understand about the event, the more they want to participate." 

Lori added the church enjoys the carnival because it is an opportunity for "families to spend time with other families that can understand like experiences. It is a safe, accessible environment that allows families to have some time of fun." 

About EI: The EI program is for children in Cumberland and Perry counties, ages birth through three. Services are based on a child’s needs and not income level. 

August 2016
  1. Back to School Support
  2. Preparing for School
  3. Community Outreach

Back to School Support for your Child

The 2016-2017 School Year is quickly approaching. Some children find this transition to be extremely anxiety provoking, whether they are elementary, middle school, or high school age.  Each child exhibits their worries differently, ranging from crying, tantrums, tummy aches, mood swings, etc. As a result, the process can also become stressful for the entire family.  Providing your child with support leading up to the first few days of school can make all the difference!

July 2016
You are Why it Matters July 2016
May 2016:

We've all said from time to time, "someone should do something about this....."   
We're taking this seriously!
Suicide rates have gone up to a 30 year high.
This statistic should give each of us pause. As a community what can we do? 
The Cumberland and Perry Counties' Mental Health Office as well as some excellent community partners including the Cumberland and Perry Counties' Community Support Program, Amerihealth-Caritas, PerformCare, AFSP, Please Live, the Cumberland County Coroner's Office, and Holy Spirit Health Systems (a Geisinger Affiliate), will host our first ever forum to chat together as a community about this heartbreaking trend. 
Our goal is to understand better, educate ourselves and each other, and to "Prevent Unnecessary Loss Through Suicide Education....PULSE"

We will have guest speakers and presenters, some light refreshments, and excellent support, and conversation. For more information, please call: 717.240.6320

April 2016:
Bleeding Heart cropped tight

April showers bring May flowers
...but it also brings levels of stress for families as their family member prepares for graduation.

For some families and their graduates, it is a time for parties, “senior week” at a beach location, preparing for college, etc.
For families of an individual with special needs, the stress level increases as they transition from the “education” world to the “adult” world. For these families, there are a lot of unknowns as to how their family member will do in the “adult” world. 
So what do families do? All families plan. For families with individuals with special needs, there are different levels of planning; some are more extensive than others. Cumberland/Perry MH/IDD is an Employment First county. What this means that our belief is that ALL individuals are capable of working or doing something that is meaningful to them as well as the community at large. 
How does this work? There is no cookie cutter approach or one size fits all solution as each individual is different.  Two things are needed for this to be successful. One is planning and making decisions and two is to have an open mind. Too many times we focus on what someone cannot do; we do not see what a person is capable of. 
For individuals ten years ago, the options were limited. The primary focus was on sheltered workshops and adult day services. Today, we are looking at individuals who are working in the community with a wide range of supports and others are pursuing their dream of post-secondary education. 
So the question becomes – is it simple? Sometimes it is and other times it is not. Is there a chance for failure? Yes, there is always that chance. Will someone make a mistake? Absolutely, but then again, as someone once said, you learn more from your mistakes than from your accomplishments.

March 2016:
Fiscal Girls

Behind the Scenes with Fiscal
Many people may not realize that the MH.IDD Fiscal Department exists. So, what do we do? If you say pay bills, then you’re on the right track, but MH.IDD Fiscal does much more than just paying bills. Our team of three works mostly “behind the scenes”. Yes, bill payment is an important responsibility, but we manage the funding for all of our programs – Early Intervention, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Mental Health.  
We work closely with MH.IDD staff and providers to ensure proper funding is available to cover consumer services. We implement and manage the provider contracts, from making sure the proper liability insurance coverage is in place and funding is available for the initial contract, to monitoring expenditures throughout the fiscal year and amending the contract if needed and funding permits. We work together to improve the billing and payment process. Bills that used to be hand keyed into our database can now be imported using a standard billing format.  
Our EI and IDD providers bill through the PROMISe MA system for all of their services. That billing is then sent to us through a secure electronic process and is imported directly into our database for payments to be made. All of these improvements save time and eliminate keying errors.   
Some of our other duties include billing for EI and IDD Supports Coordination and County Transportation through the PROMISe MA system, checking consumer MA status when billing is denied or in question. We also are responsible for making sure that none of our Service Providers are on the MA Fraud list, as well as analyzing where we are, and projecting where we are headed, financially.   
All of this “behind the scenes” stuff helps to keep the services running smoothly for consumers and payments to be made to our service providers!

February 2016:
Clerical Team
Not Just the Clerical Staff - We're the Clerical TEAM!

The Clerical Team - known as secretaries in days gone by -  now known as administrative technicians - who, while being the first line workers to greet the public, are still the workers behind the scenes that serve as the backbone of the program.

As a 3-member team, we work to provide an efficient operational flow for the administrative components of the MH/IDD and EI program. Greeting guests and handling phone calls are an essential part of our duties. Our team provides all the administrative (paper flow) duties for the office. While typewriters, carbon paper and mimeographs are no longer in existence within our work area, we still do the “typing, copying, mailing and filing” for the office.

Our clerical team is the front line force that greets individuals whether they walk in or telephone. Many times we are greeting individuals who are unsure of who they want to speak with or even if they have reached the right office. Sometimes our initial contact is with individuals who are upset, confused, agitated or angry and we attempt to help diffuse the situation by offering a sympathetic ear and a friendly voice until we can connect the individual with the appropriate person or offer the information the individual is seeking or direct them to the appropriate department.

As the front line clerical team, our goal is to provide a smooth working, efficiently operating environment to make the work life of our employees easier while offering help and compassion to our individuals in service, their caregivers and our providers of service.
December/January: 2015/16 Special Edition Post

Keeping the "Happy" and the "Merry" in Your Holiday
During this season of the year, we all have a certain sense of nostalgia.  For many, 
we remember our youth, the fun of baking, decorating the tree, trips to grandma's house, the ugly Christmas sweater, and usually purchasing some gifts. Unfortunately, we also can place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, and our family members and friends, especially if we feel we’ve not measured up to what has been firmly etched in our mind’s eye.  How can we keep our Christmas and New Year’s Holidays relatively stress free?  The key is balance.  By now, we’re all starting to prepare or at least thinking about what we’re doing this Holiday season.  So, consider these tips as we make final preparations for this year’s Holidays.

2015 Courthouse Christmas Packages cropped
“Ponder”:  Balancing busyness can be difficult.  Remember, it’s important to be intentional about taking care of yourself.

 “ZZZZZ”:  For most of us, 7-8 hours of sleep is important.  It helps us keep our attitudes upbeat and positive.  Let’s do ourselves a favor and promise to remember to turn off the electronics and go to sleep.  

 “Sippin” Time:  We’re talking about water here folks.  Drinking enough water is a critical aspect of health.  Most of us do not drink enough water.  Most health experts say 8-10, 8 ounce glasses of water every day.  We can start now prepping for a healthy 2016 and be more intentional about staying well hydrated.

“Sit and Soak”:  If you’re like many of us, unfortunately, we are always planning for what is next rather than enjoying what is now.  Children grow up, relationships can change, and life moves so fast.  It is meaningful and healthy to simply take a minute, let everything else wait, and allow the moment to captivate your heart.  Soak it in…take a deep breath…and enjoy!

On behalf of the Cumberland and Perry Counties’ Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Office, we wish you and your families all the best this Holiday Season.

December 2015:
Our First Point of Contact
This month we would like to highlight our
Early Intervention service coordination staff. They are the backbone of the EI program and the first point of contact when a family enters Early intervention (EI) services. These services are available to children birth to three years of age who have a developmental delay or are at risk for a delay due to certain factors. There is no out of pocket cost for families to access EI services.  Our program serves about 600 children annually for evaluations and/or tracking services and children who receive ongoing services.  We have seven full time service coordinators and one part time service coordinator that cover Cumberland and Perry counties. These talented and knowledgeable professionals have combined over 100 years of early intervention experience. The many years of dedicated service have created workers who are well versed in the EI regulations, community resources, and most importantly how to effectively work with families. 
EI Staff 2x3

Our Service Coordinators complete initial family assessments/screenings, coordinate the evaluations, and help to create the individualized family service plans (IFSP). They monitor services every 90 days and also facilitate and participate in annual evaluations and transition planning, in addition to many other tasks .  Their skills are important to help families feel confident that the right supports are in place to give their child the best future possible.  We are so very grateful to our dedicated staff for their passion to help young children and families. 

September 2015:

What is a supports coordinator?

When asked, how do we explain to someone what we do? We, supports coordinators essentially locate, coordinate and monitor supports and services for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities. We are many different types of supports for our individuals, their families and/or their teams. For some, we may be the only support that they have. We are there to share their successes and to encourage them to continue if something does not work out as planned.

Why do we like what we do? If you ask, supports coordinators like to see people try to do something new – especially when the individual is told that they could not or should not do something, such as work or live independently. There are many success stories but there are stories where people tried and may have failed. What they learn as well as us, is that you learn more from your mistakes then from your accomplishments. What you learn is that what works for one person, may not always work for the next person. That does not mean that the person cannot do something but rather they would need to do it a different way or go in a different direction. We, supports coordinators are there to encourage individuals to be successful and to be a part of their community. 

Supports coordinators are a unique group of social workers. We are different in that we do a lot more than people realize. We are behind the scene making sure that paperwork and services are delivered. We are working with individuals and their families and teams to make sure that the individual realizes their full potential despite doubts from others.  We make sure that the individual has the opportunity to be successful in whatever they want to do.

What we ultimately want is to make sure is that each individual we support has an everyday life – just like the rest of us. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Why should a person with an intellectual/developmental disability be any different?

August 2015:
Cookin' with CASSP 
The first Plant, Prepare, Partake Summer Outreach session of 2015 was a great SUCCESS!   

The weather was PERFECT, the food was amazing, and the families were awesome!  The menu for the day was marinated chicken, baked beans, grilled vegetables, and for dessert, smores!  We thought that the baked beans were especially yummy so please feel free to check out Trisha Yearwood's recipe below (found on www.foodnetwork.com).   

For us CASSP Workers, it was wonderful watching the parents and families engaged and working together. The children helped prepare the veggies, there was pleasant conversation among the families, and even some sharing of gardening, planting tips and discussions about preparing low cost meals at home. We had a lovely nature walk, while learning some history and enjoying the beauty of Little Buffalo State Park. We hope that the families walk away from our project, and consider enjoying this "hidden treasure" for years to come!   

We are so appreciative of the community support for this project. Andee Warner, from ABC (Alternative Behavior Consultants) spoke to the families about being safe in the kitchen, outside safety (especially during the summer months), and some valuable parenting tips. Andee's presentation was encouraging all parents to be aware and become educated, while learning something new and invaluable. Leslie Heimbaugh from the Perry County Literacy Council presented information regarding services offered at their office. The mission of the Literacy Council is to provide educational programs for Perry County residents and families that will enable them to better function as productive and responsible citizens." Literacy Council offers opportunities to achieve a GED, college degrees, resume help, work preparation, citizen preparation, and more. She shared a story of success and self-sufficiency, which we hope our families found hope and inspiration through. For those that work in and service Perry County, take an opportunity to check out all that the Perry County Literacy Council has to offer the community. Website: http://www.perryliteracy.com/  

Lastly...we were all excited for the new sneakers! Ten children were eligible to receive brand new, sporty, brightly colored, new sneakers for Back-to-School.  This project would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the Perry County Food Bank and the Grant from Perry County Community Foundation. We are truly appreciative of their support! 

Trisha Yearwood's Easy Baked Bean Recipe:

  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, finely chopped
  • Four 14-ounce cans pork and beans
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, leaving the drippings, and drain it on paper towels. Crumble and set aside.

Add the onion to the pan with the bacon drippings and sauté until softened, a couple minutes. Stir in the beans, molasses, brown sugar, mustard and crumbled bacon, and mix well.

Pour the beans into a 3-quart casserole and bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. 

June 2015:
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I wonder how many people are really familiar with the term "CASSP"  (Child Adolescent Service System Program)?  The MH.IDD blog post this month will hopefully help all of us to learn a bit more about who we are and what we do.  

What does CASSP means to us as, Elementary Based Social Workers?  It means encouraging success, supporting positive change in the lives of others, helping overcome adversity, and impacting the future of families and children.  As a social worker, we come into this field because we want to make a difference in
the lives of people.  In our every day job, we have seen the impact of poverty, abuse, mental illness, physical health challenges, cultural adversity, and sometimes life changing circumstances such as loss.  The loss of a job, a parent, health care benefits can create life changes.  All of these barriers in life can become overwhelming and devastating.  We have the responsibility and the opportunity within our role to help guide, advocate for, encourage, support, and impact the lives of these families.  Our job is to ultimately support the families' needs, while building upon their strengths, by identifying supports and opportunities to help them reach THEIR goals and promote stability in all areas.

The school based program is a resource to families and schools during the child's elementary years.  In addition to the Elementary Based Program, we also have the support of the CASSP Coordinator and Cross Systems Coordinator.  Our hope is always to keep focused on our CASSP CORE Principals: by supporting the entire family, focusing on child centered supports; remembering the importance of community based activities and fostering resiliency; upholding the value of least restrictive supports in a child's life; being culturally competent; and collaborating with all involved systems and services.  You never know how much a parent support group, Boy Scouts, an after school program, or a summer camp, can truly impact a person's life.  

This summer we are organizing our 3rd Perry County summer outreach program, Plant, Prepare, Partake in collaboration with the Perry County Food Bank.  The mission of Plant, Prepare, Partake is to teach healthy eating while on a budget, to encourage positive family conversation and enjoyment of family togetherness, and to promote family physical activity.  This year families will experience a fun-filled day at the beautiful Little Buffalo State Park in Newport PA.  We are excited to have different community agencies come out to support this project, while investing their time in servicing our participants.  This year we will have a speaker from ABC (Alternative Behavior Consultants) and a representative from the Perry County Family Center to talk about parenting and safety.  Spots are still open for the following dates: July 24th, July 31st, and August 7th.  If anyone is interested in more information about how to make a referral for this year's summer project, please contact Julie Beddia at 717-580-3303.

As CASSP Elementary School Based Workers we feel privileged to be able to provide this service in Cumberland and Perry County!

Julie Beddia - Elementary Based Social Worker for West Perry and Newport School Districts 717-580-3303

Pam Brown - Elementary Based Social Worker for Big Spring and Shippensburg School Districts 717-574-7327

Karen Lehman - Elementary Based Social Worker for Carlisle and South Middleton School Districts 717-512-8802

Megan Garrison - Elementary Based Social Worker for Cumberland Valley and Mechanicsburg School Districts 717-713-9096

Angie Burge - Elementary Based Social Worker for Camp Hill, West Shore, East Pennsboro, and Susquenita School Districts 717-580-6503

Megan Johnston - CASSP Coordinator 717-240-6320

Melissa Naylor - Cross System Coordinator 717-240-6320
May 2015:  

I work in the County's Information Technology Office.  What does that have to do with mental health, intellectual, or developmental disabilities?  Why am I blogging on their site?

I work closely with this department.  I design programs for storing the data and running the reports.  To do this, I have had to learn all the details about how the staff does their jobs.  I have also learned about all the requirements that go along with human services.  I have been doing this for 16 years now and have come to deeply admire the people that work in this field.  I see people who care about others, who feel success and disappointments along with those they assist.  I also get to see all the administrative work that goes into helping others.  Many don't get to see this side of the job.

To me, what they do is similar to parenting.  A lot of work goes into raising a child and some of it is "administrative" - changing diapers, feeding, bathing, making sure they get to school, supporting them in their sporting events and hobbies etc.  Being a parent has so many rewards too, - hearing "Mama" for the first time, watching your child in a school play, or getting homemade Valentines.  I do not believe parenting is easy, nor do I believe human services work is an easy career.  But just as we need parents to raise the children by teaching, modeling, and caring, we also need human services employees who use many of these same skills to offer help to those who need it.

I had a reminder of these kinds of supports just this week.  My daughter is an avid track athlete.  While running her relay, she fumbled the baton during the handoff.  After the race, I was there with words of encouragement to lift her back up.  I'm her cheerleader, there when she needs that extra boost.  I was reminded that often in life, we all fumble the baton.  Our "batons" may be different, but we all benefit from having caring, supportive people in our lives.  The assistance that human services employees give is not just connecting consumers with resources.  Often, assisting others sometimes means just being their cheerleader, being that word of encouragement when things are rough.

In my role working for the county, as I design my programs, I often try to do so from the point of view of trying to make the administrative side of staff's jobs a little easier so they have more time to be a support to people.  I am proud of the work they do and I know many are grateful for the assistance they give.