AHRC Nassau became a COMPASS Agency in 2004. Since that time, COMPASS has evolved and grown to a level in which empowerment is the most predominant theme, influencing all aspects of the Agency and driving all other COMPASS criterion. AHRC Nassau implements a wide variety of practices that promote valued outcomes for the people supported. These practices are thoroughly integrated into both the Agency's operation and its culture. AHRC Nassau is committed to improving the quality of life for all and has developed policies which promote and encourage feedback, particularly from the people supported. AHRC Nassau strives for the ongoing enhancement of a culture of empowerment, which requires support throughout the Agency. Very simply, it is our job to create an environment in which the people we support have a voice, and that we listen to what they tell us and then act to help all achieve their dreams.
Teaching, supporting and reinforcing self-advocacy is a key ingredient to empowerment. AHRC Nassau councils meet throughout the Agency on an ongoing and regular basis. The councils report to the COMPASS Committee and the Board of Directors monthly. An individual holds a seat on the Board of Directors. Board members attend council meetings once a year for a Q&A and to further strengthen the bond between the councils and the Board of Directors. Council representatives also make presentations to the Board of Directors annually to enable them to learn of their endeavors and share in their goals. Board members conduct physical plant inspections of every home and program site throughout the Agency. This started out as a vision to connect the Board with the people served; today it continues to run strong.
Self-advocates representing the councils are also standing members of the COMPASS Committee. The councils drive the COMPASS Committee and the activities of the councils are reported to the Board of Directors. As the councils' empowerment has grown, so has AHRC Nassau. The result has been invaluable change at AHRC Nassau. From the creation of empowerment training seminars for individuals (computer, Money 101, Running Your Own ISP Meeting, etc.) to physical plant modifications (i.e. the installation of automatic doors, awnings, pools, etc.) to global systemic changes (i.e. removal of the word "consumer", individuals' participation in the staff hiring process, participation in training new staff, purchasing vehicles, installation of GPS in vehicles, generators in each home, etc.). The list of valued outcomes facilitated by the councils is endless. People's voices have become loud and strong and are now an integral part at all levels of Agency decision making.
An individual story about Empowerment
"The meeting was called to order, the sign in sheet was passed around and the people around the table stated their name and title. When the person leading the meeting introduced herself, she stated, ‘My name is Jean Marie Rogers. I am the Vice President of both the Executive Council and the Hub Site Program Council. I work part time at Waldbaums and have for the past nine years. I am calling the meeting to order'."
Jean Marie identified herself as someone who would like to run her own ISP meeting. She participated in training at AHRC Nassau to run her meeting. Prior to the meeting, she met individually with her support staff to discuss her accomplishments and plans for the future.
At the meeting, Jean Marie meticulously confirmed and/or updated information written in the ISP. She independently provided the names of her physicians as well as changes. She then discussed the supports she desires and the dreams she has. Jean Marie stated that running her own ISP meeting gave her control over her own life. She did if for herself. She directed the focus of the discussions and the pace of the meeting.
Jean Marie says "building a meaningful life means being the one directing it."
AHRC Nassau also empowers families (including siblings) and staff. A Workforce Development Committee has packaged a number of wellness initiatives for staff based on the philosophy that a healthy and empowered staff will provide optimum levels of performance. Family seminars are also offered on a regular basis as families remain the binding factor in what AHRC Nassau does on a daily basis.
Developing Supports by Empowering Families
As part of AHRC Nassau's commitment to the Compass philosophy and empowering families, a sibling group meets every three months under the leadership of Paul Giordano, sibling and Board member. The group is both educational and informal in nature. It is a forum for siblings to share their experiences, offer support to each other, and discuss current life challenges or concerns. Siblings are the future caregivers of many people and thus take a proactive role in supporting their brother or sister. Below are siblings' testimonials of the sibling group:
"My relationship with my brother over the years has not surprisingly had its ups and downs. He can be as thick as a brick, but will love you unconditionally no matter how disappointed or upset he may be with a decision you have made in his best interest. Someone recently asked me what it's like being the sibling of a brother with a developmental disability. I can only think of one word that truly defines what it's like—dynamic. When you boil it all down, it's really very simple. As the song says, ‘he ain't heavy, he's my brother.'"
- - Paul Giordano
- "In the last few years, a sibling group has been initiated at AHRC Nassau. In a warm and friendly atmosphere, Paul Giordano and Karen Hirschfeld host gatherings for siblings. These meetings provide an additional avenue for siblings to learn how to assist and protect the interests of their siblings and ultimately the interests of their own families. Our meetings have explored numerous issues that currently affect our families or will potentially affect our families in the future."
- - Eileen Goggins
- "Thank you, AHRC. Thank you, Paul and Karen, for initiating and continuing the sibling group meetings. I can only say to all, get involved, come listen and share your thoughts and stories with people who understand and have experienced similar situations. As many of us have aging parents, it is time for us to step up, listen, learn, and GET INVOLVED. After all, it is your brother or sister…"
- - Jonas Kaplan
- "I attended my first sibling group meeting, hosted by AHRC board member and sibling, Paul Giordano, nearly two years ago. Since that time, I have learned that there is much more to being a sibling than taking my brother, David, out on a Saturday night. In addition to providing siblings with an open forum for sharing stories, the group educates each other."
- - Hallie Greene
- "The first meeting of the sibling group was in the summer of 2006 at the Mansion in Brookville. I knew one or two people there, yet I felt connected to every soul in the room once the discussion began."
- - Mollie Traversa