Banding together to make a difference

Alan Lane is the father of a young entrepreneur who wanted to share his idea for coping with anxiety disorders in the hopes of helping others. Joshua enlisted his family to take his idea from concept to online business. And he’s just 7 years old! Alan shares more about the genesis of Joshua’s Rubber Band Balls.

Joshua has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder—or OCD—and anxiety. A friend from church suggested that he try putting rubber bands together and taking them apart to help control fidgeting. That helped—and so he took the rubber band ball everywhere.

One day earlier this year, Josh and I were waiting for his mom at a medical appointment. He had the ball with him and I said, “I bet you could sell those.” He responded right away.

“Sissy can take pictures and Bubba can make a website. You can mail them and Mommy can help, too.”

Sissy is Joshua’s 14-year-old sister, Rachel, and Bubba is his 19-year-old brother, Tyler.

When his mom came out after her appointment, Joshua said to me, “Are you going to tell her about my business plan?”

And that’s how it started. We’ve been selling them since February of this year, online and through Facebook.

It’s great to hear from the people who buy them. A grandmother in Georgia got one for her granddaughter, who has anxiety. A teacher in California purchased one to use in her classroom. We recently established a partnership with the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey for children with cancer to use the balls.

Joshua also has had seizures since he was very young; they are controlled with medicine. He has a service dog, Spot, who sleeps with him and is a source of comfort. So he wanted some of the money from the sale of Joshua’s Rubber Band Balls to help train service dogs for other kids.

Now, we donate 10 percent of proceeds to Merlin’s KIDS, which provides trained service dogs for children. Through a friend, we just had the chance to meet the New Jersey woman who founded Merlin’s KIDS.

We helped Joshua start this business because we want to give back and help people. And one of the most rewarding parts has been the way our whole family became involved. But we never forget who’s the boss. When it’s time to discuss business, Joshua calls the meeting to order and it’s not over until he says so!

—Alan Lane

You can meet Alan and Joshua and purchase Joshua’s Rubber Band Balls at the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge at the Diakon Wilderness Center Sept. 14. Also visit https://joshuasrubberbandballs.com/

Five tips for choosing the perfect active retirement community

In my career in sales of senior living accommodations, I’ve found that one of two things happens when older adults begin their journey to retirement communities.

They either know exactly what they want and need … or …

They’re overwhelmed by the abundance of available options.

That second situation is not surprising: There are many things to consider, from services and amenities to programming and opportunities for exploration and learning.

My goal is to not let the search for the perfect senior living community become a challenge, so here are five brief tips that can help you or your loved one choose the right community.

Before you begin, however, I always advise making a list of your personal wants, needs and desires. After that list is complete, search for senior living communities both near you and a little farther away (but see the caution below about family and friends). Don’t write off a community just because it’s a little farther than you thought you’d like—it might just be the perfect community for you.

Plus, be sure to schedule tours, check items off your list and try to picture what your life would look like there. Here are my personal suggestions for building your list:

1.    Consider the environment. Do you thrive in the city, where there are plenty of shows to attend, musical performances to enjoy and shopping and dining opportunities? Or do you prefer the laid-back countryside full of peaceful walking trails, horseback riding and nature? In either case, be sure to tour communities that fit your preferences. If you’re open to a good mix of both, you may find communities that offer the best of both worlds. But never settle for a lifestyle that’s less than what you want.

To read more suggestion, please click here.

Building a positive relationship with birth families (Part 2)

I concluded part 1 of this blog post: “Now that we have established why it is important to build a good relationship, let’s talk about how to do that.”

Introductions

I always introduce myself the same way every time I meet a new birth parent: “Hello, my name is Eleanor; I am your son’s/daughter’s/children’s foster mom. I’m sorry to have to meet you like this because this must be a hard time for your family. Your son/daughter/children (insert comment about a positive trait here).”

Let’s break this down:

First, I use the words “foster mom” right away—I have had birth parents say things such as, “Oh, you are the lady watching my kids,” or assume this is a paid “job” for me—so I make certain to introduce the idea immediately that I am the person mothering their children right now. We are going to be co-parenting these kids for the foreseeable future, so let’s be clear on our roles right away.

Second, I acknowledge that this is a difficult situation. Whatever has happened up to this point, there is no question it’s a challenging time for everyone involved. Showing empathy for the family makes you seem less of an enemy.

Third, in making a positive comment such as “Your son has such an infectious smile,” you establish the fact that while you are mothering or fathering the child at the moment, you also want to be clear that this is their child. As far as the compliment, well, what parents don’t want to hear nice things about their kid? Besides, being friendly never hurts when meeting people the first time.

Photo album

The first time I meet parents I show up with a small dollar-store photo album to give them. I always ask the caseworker first if this is okay—and if there are safety issues I need to be aware of.

I include a photo of our family (if safe to do so), a photo of our house (again, if safe to do so), a photo of the child’s bedroom, our playroom, our pets and so on. In the early days, I always try to get a few photos of the kids playing or eating or involved in similar activities and include those. I work really hard to make sure I have at least one photo in which the child is smiling!

I used to not include photos of the kids being held or cuddled by us (I always assumed it would be upsetting to the birth parents to see photos of their child being held by someone else) and then had one mother tell me that she was afraid her son was not being loved while we had him. I immediately showed her all the photos on my phone of him being held, cuddled and rocked and she felt much better, so now I include those photographs, too.

While children are with me, I keep printing photos and taking them to visits. Plus, I scribble notes on the back about what we have been doing and what the kids have been up to each week. If my children were not living with me, I know I would wonder what their days looked like, so I try to make sure parents know what their kids are up to.

Crafts/Artwork

If your foster child is in preschool or school, you should have an abundance of craft projects coming home. I take one or two to each visit and give them to the parents. Kids love showing off their work!

Holidays

For Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas and so on, I help my foster kids make a small gift or buy something small for them to give to their parents. Most parents are touched to receive something and most kids really enjoy giving gifts.

For the child’s birthday and Christmas I normally take a small gift in my bag to the visit that falls closest to the holiday. If the birth parents did not bring anything to the visit, I let them know I have something in my bag for them to give their child if they would like to.

I have had birth parents burst into tears at this point because they just didn’t have the extra money to buy anything for their child and are so happy to have something to give.

I once had a fellow foster parent tell me I was enabling the birth parent, but I disagree. Most birth parents have all kinds of enormous tasks to complete, which can include finding housing, getting a job, completing rehab or attending parenting classes, so having money and time to buy their child a gift can be just one too many tasks for the week.

And it doesn’t take much effort for me to pick up an additional small gift; often, this kindness will go a very long way.

Don’t take it personally

All birth parents with whom I have worked have, at some point, critiqued the way I was caring for their child. One didn’t like the brand of diapers I was using; another insisted I must be neglecting to change her son because he had a (slight) diaper rash. One mom got upset that I had juice for the child in the diaper bag, while another was concerned I didn’t have juice on hand for her to give her child.

I figure it’s not about me.

This parent has almost no control over their child’s life, so they seek it where they can. I smile and tell them I hear them, but I don’t rush out and buy a new brand of diapers or run to the store for juice boxes. Their concern or anxiety is not typically about diapers or juice anyway.

Ask the parents about their child

Parents know a lot about their kid, how they go to sleep, what their favorite television show is, what they like to eat and so on—so ask!

In doing so, you will learn important information about the child you are parenting while also acknowledging the birth parents’ role in their child’s life. They are probably not feeling amazing about themselves or their identity as parents right now, so acknowledging they know a lot about their child they can teach you will be validating to them.

Boundaries

Sometimes, maintaining a positive relationship means setting good, firm boundaries. If parents are given my phone number or manage to get hold of it and start texting or calling constantly, I politely but firmly tell them that I am busy caring for their child and we will talk at the next visit. Your social worker can help you with setting boundaries if you need to, but I often find that having a frank but polite chat solves most issues.

Sure, it’s not always been smooth sailing with every birth family, but for the most part we have been able to build positive and respectful relationships with our foster and adopted kids’ parents, grandparents and even extended family.

It has not always been easy and has sometimes involved a lot of tongue-biting on my part—but it has been 100% worth the effort!

—Eleanor Delewski, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

(A final note about language: for a child who has been adopted, the commonly accepted terms are “parent” for the adoptive parents and “birth” or “first parents” for the child’s original parents. However, for a child in foster care, “parent” typically refers to the birth parent, with “foster parent” being used for the moms and dads caring for the child while he or she is in foster care. For clarity, the term “birth parent” is used in this blog post to refer to the foster child’s original parents, but I fully recognize that while a child is in foster care the birth parents are still the legal parents of the child. Not everyone agrees on what language should be used for which parent, but that is a debate beyond the scope of this post.)

Distinguishing between dementia and normal age-related memory loss …

The email was puzzling: Would I be able to get the staff colleague the document she had requested?

Eh … what document? my mind immediately wondered.

Apologizing in both text and email, I asked for clarification. What had I promised to do?

We had discussed the item two weeks ago, came the reply.

Ugh! But I was still drawing a blank.

Fortunately, I can attribute this instance of memory-loss to the fact we get so many requests in my office that if I don’t write them down immediately, I’m typically on to whatever item is staring at me from my inbox and that other request is … well … gone.

We often find aging parents exhibiting similar behaviors and our immediate question typically is: Is this normal aging or something else?

Many older adults consider this question themselves over fear for the future. And the question is not easy to answer but, over time, answers usually become clear.

So, is it normal memory loss?

It’s common for forgetfulness and memory lapses to occur because of normal changes in the brain associated with aging.

The National Institutes of Health notes that this situation may make it harder to learn new things or retain information as easily as in the past. And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, typical age-related changes may include making a bad decision once in a while, missing a monthly payment, forgetting what day or time it is but remembering it later, forgetting words or meanings of words and losing things from time to time.

These memory lapses can fluctuate as time goes on, but are perfectly normal.

But what they are the signs of cognitive illness? Click here to read more!

Why foster families need to build positive relationships with birth families

When I recently dropped my foster kids off for their visit with their birth parents, my toddler was excited. He had a new doll he wanted to show his mother and father.

When his parents arrived, he ran to them and proudly showed them his new toy. His dad picked him up and showered him with hugs and kisses. The little guy kissed his dad back and then reached for me, saying “Mommy kiss!”

I paused, uncertain how his father might handle the situation. But his dad walked right over to me and said, “Of course you can give Mommy kisses, too,” and held his son as he planted slobbery kisses on my cheek.

This is what foster care should look like.

The little boy has no hesitation in showing love for his parents in front of me, but also no concerns in showing his love for me in front of them.

He loves all of his parents and expresses it with typical toddler abandon. But can this situation be hard for the adults? Absolutely!

This boy has been in my home 100 days now. I have tucked him into bed and kissed him goodnight 100 times. For 100 days this precious little boy has called me “Mommy” and I will admit that my heart aches a little watching him run from me to his first mommy and throw himself into her arms.

And although she has never said it, I am sure that it must be unbearably hard for her to watch her son kiss me and call me “Mommy,” too. After all, she gave birth to him and raised him for two years.

I cannot imagine what it does to her to watch her son love another mother.

Nevertheless, we are all making the situation work, loving this little boy together and allowing him to love us all, too. For his sake—and for the sake of his infant sister—we are all putting our own hearts aside and focusing on what is best for the kids.

My husband and I have been fostering or parenting children adopted from foster care for 13 years. Twelve children have called us Mom and Dad, seven little foster loves who were ours for a season before going home or moving on to another family member, one “home-grown” daughter, two sons adopted from foster care and our current two babies, who are our ‘for-now’ son and daughter.

Our experience over the years has taught us a few things about building positive relationships with birth families.

Why does it matter?

In Pennsylvania, the average time a child spends in foster care is 20 months. So you are probably going to be seeing your foster child’s parents for a long time. If the case transitions to adoption, you may well be connected to these people for many years to come.

I am not saying building a positive relationship is an easy thing to do. Depending on what led to the child’s being placed in foster care, it can be really hard to smile and be friendly to your child’s birth parents.

But foster parenting is all about doing hard things, and it is really important to build the best relationship you can. The first meeting with birth parents, in fact, can set the tone for the relationship, so I think it is very important to make a good first impression.

Occasionally, however, I will hear a fellow foster parent question whether it’s important to have a good relationship with your child’s birth parents. I believe it’s vital—for the following reasons:

• Your foster child’s parents, no matter what their mistakes, are people worthy of respect, kindness and grace. I think every human is worthy of this.

• Your child loves them. I have had foster parents argue this point, saying essentially that “this is the person who neglected/hurt/hit/left/and so on the child; how could they love him or her?” Years of fostering has made me understand that, no matter parents’ mistakes, your foster child loves his or her birth parents. Children will notice how you treat these people they love.

• If your foster child is reunified with his or her family and you have had a good relationship with the birth parents, you may well get updates on how the child is doing. I think one of the hardest parts of foster care involves loving a child who leaves your home and then never hearing how the child is doing. If you can build a good rapport, the child’s parents may send you updates; it always helps me to know the kids I have loved are doing well now that they are back home.

• Although we know reunification does not happen in every case—in fact, about 25% of foster-care cases end in adoption of the child, often by the foster parents—the goal of foster care is nevertheless reunification with the birth family. So keeping all relationships positive is ultimately in the best interests of everyone, especially the child.

(And, in those instances the case moves toward termination of parental rights, birth parents may be given the option of signing for termination voluntary. Some have when they know their child is with foster parents who love them, take good care of them and are willing to adopt. If your child’s birth parents perceive you as rude to them, mean or dismissive, they are not nearly as likely to agree to a plan in which you will raise this child you love.)

Now that we have established why it is so important to build good relationships with birth parents, let’s discuss how exactly you do that!

—Eleanor Delewski, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

Continued in part 2, For foster families: Building positive relationships with birth families (to be published in two weeks)

Supporting an aging loved one during short-term rehab

I took a 95-year-old relative for minor surgery recently and, afterward, she complained just a little about having had to put up with the inconvenience of the procedure.

As several family members have chuckled on occasion, our relative is quite fortunate overall. While she had to care for her husband as he faced health issues for a number of years, she’s had relatively few significant health issues herself.

And she still lives alone—and drives! Undoubtedly, most of us hope for that future.

Unfortunately, as we age, the likelihood increases that we may face varying issues including chronic health conditions or other diseases, surgeries or falls. Often, those situations can be improved with short-term rehabilitation.

Short-term rehab encompasses physical, occupational and speech therapies that can help people reach their individual potential and, quite frequently, return to the lives they love.

The care team at a short-term rehabilitation center creates a personalized plan that can help older adults regain strength, manage medical conditions and transition back home. In addition to offering care around-the-clock, these centers also typically offer education and resources for both seniors and their families.

Many short-term rehabilitation centers, such as those operated by Diakon Senior Living Services, offer private and semi-private suites, therapy gyms and personalized instruction, nutritious dining designed to enhance health, and space for socializing. The goal is an overall positive experience that helps patients thrive.

If my relative required short-term rehab, it’s likely she would say she did not need it. She would not be alone in that self-assessment. Many older adults tend to decline short-term rehabilitation after being released from the hospital. Often, this is because they’d rather go home and don’t see the value in rehabilitation, according to Aging Care.

You can help them to understand their stay is only temporary—and it can lead to their remaining healthier longer. In fact, if they return home too soon and aren’t yet healed properly, they can be setting themselves up for a longer stay in rehabilitation later on.

To make this process easier on your loved one, click here to read about a few things you can do.

Making benefits even more appealing

It was more than four decades ago, but I can still vividly recall the setting.

I was sitting in an office of Human Resources, at that time called “Personnel,” on the second floor of Tressler-Lutheran Service Associates’ Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, office building, converted from the old Lutheran Home on the West Shore.

Six months had passed since my initial employment with Tressler and my discussion with one of the two staff members then in Personnel centered on my selection of benefits, which were now available to me.

Did I want to sign up for a pension contribution?

“Nope,” I asserted, testament to my naiveté at that age. I later attributed that poor decision to the small salary I was receiving; after all, it was 1978 and the salary at my former position, as a newspaper reporter and editor, had been even smaller.

Fortunately, I eventually came to my senses and signed up for Tressler’s 403(b) plan.

While most employees now know better than to wait for benefits, especially as employers focus on comprehensive orientation programs, many organizations still impose a “probationary period” before employees can receive benefits such as health-care coverage.

Diakon has been one those employers, but no longer.

Beginning Aug. 1, Diakon joins the list of forward-focused organizations offering “Day 1 health-care benefits.” That means new employees—both full- and part-time—can immediately sign up for health-care coverage, including medical, dental, vision and prescription drug coverage.

Other benefits, including tuition assistance, retirement plan, and disability insurance, still require waiting for the probationary period to end, but nearly all employees are most concerned about health-care insurance, so the change is a very welcomed one.

Making Day 1 employment today much better—and smarter—than mine 41 years ago.

 By William Swanger, MA, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

Because we review comments, they do not appear immediately. Please do not submit each comment more than once. Please review our comment policy.

Personal Care: Fact vs. Myth

I love when we’re able to help people gain the care they need, but often don’t want to seek, typically for a variety of reasons.

Right now, several Diakon senior living communities, Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown among them, are helping motivate people to seek personal care or, as it is known here in Maryland, assisted living—through various incentives.

But why might older adults who need such care not seek it immediately? Certainly, as people grow older, they may notice changes in abilities. Whether someone has suffered a fall, is recovering from a surgery or simply needs assistance completing the typical tasks of daily living, personal care may be of great benefit.

But when some older adults hear the phrase “personal care,” they may have a negative reaction.

They think, for example, that they don’t need any help and that they are still sufficiently independent to continue caring for themselves.

That perspective is understandable, but family members and other friends may quickly spot the need for assistance.

What are signs a loved one may benefit from personal care?

Is a loved one no longer taking care of him- or herself? Wearing the same clothing for more than a day? No longer seeming to care about appearance?

If so, the person may be having trouble completing these tasks or attending to basic needs. Not only can this situation decrease confidence, but it can also continue to affect independence.

If loved ones react negatively to the idea of personal care, they may be falling victim to myths they’ve heard. To combat this, you could help to dispel those myths …

●    Personal care will decrease my independence. This couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact, personal care can actually enrich your quality of life enough that you may become more independent. For example, if you don’t need to spend time worrying about certain activities of daily life, you may be able to focus more fully on wellness, improving your health through exercise and participating in more lifelong-learning opportunities.

To read more about dispelling the myths about personal care, please click here.

Giving at-risk youths their second chance …


This wasn’t my typical assignment.

Stephanie Rivera had accepted a ride with a family member and his friend, not knowing that decision would have an immediate impact on her life. Unaware that the car had been stolen, the 17-year-old found herself in trouble with the law. Instead of starting her high-school senior year looking forward to prom and graduation, she faced having to clear her record and pay off costly fines.

It was at this point that Stephanie, who had never been in trouble with the law, really needed someone to be her guide through what lay ahead. Fortunately, she was motivated to succeed and accepted responsibility for her actions.

As a case-manager for Diakon Youth Services’ Bridge Program, I walk alongside and mentor students enrolled in our community-based, weekday support and intervention service through their county’s juvenile probation office.

Unlike Stephanie, most of them have been in trouble multiple times. Based on a therapeutic approach to accountability, the program helps these adolescents build a foundation of self-discipline and respect for family, teachers, the law and self.

In addition to working with them on educational and workforce-development goals, I offer them my time.

For Stephanie, this has meant things such as picking her up after school, driving her to her court hearings, taking her to lunch on her birthday and simply providing an ear to listen. With that guidance and a little TLC, she got her permit, a job and faithfully saved week after week to pay off her restitution. She also graduated from high school and enrolled in college.

Despite her hard work, however, her long-range plan of joining the Army remained out of reach. As a minor, she had had her fine grouped with that of her family member and friend, who refused to pay their share. If she wanted to move on and be released from probation, she had to come up with $500 on her own.

Knowing it’s always important to have a Plan B, I approached my supervisor about the possibility of helping Stephanie through Diakon’s Second Chance Fund. The fund helps students who have done well in our program and completed their goals and probation requirements, but do not have all the necessary resources to make restitution.

Recognizing Stephanie’s hard work, my supervisor approved my request and shortly thereafter, Stephanie learned she would be released from probation, her juvenile record expunged. Those steps cleared the way for her to be the first in her family to attend college and eventually join the Army.

Because of generous donors who support Diakon’s Second Chance Fund, students such as Stephanie, who do what we ask of them but fall short in terms of financial ability, will not miss out on their dreams.

They have earned them. They deserve it. And they have gained their second chance.

Marlene Ortiz is a case-manager for Diakon Youth Services’ Bridge program in Chester County. To learn how you can make a donation to the Second Chance Fund, click here.

Because we review comments, they do not appear immediately. Please do not submit each comment more than once. Please review our comment policy.