Residential Counselors lead weekly groups for consumers

For more than a year, the SERV team has been laser-focused on providing care to consumers while ensuring safety.

This is no easy task, but Residential Counselors Sabrina Manasse and Diane Schaefer have been up to the challenge since day one of the pandemic.

Every Friday, Sabrina Manasse leads relaxation and exercise groups for consumers in Middlesex. For these groups, she meets with consumers in their apartments, and she plans her lessons according to their individual needs.

In other words, if she feels the a consumer needs to decompress, she will focus on stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or art therapy. However, if she believes they should get out and stretch their legs or break a sweat, she will encourage physical exercise.

The classes Sabrina holds and goals she sets for consumers are always inclusive and attainable for all who participate. She also tries to make her groups as enjoyable as possible while still being productive.  

Recently, for instance, she took a group of consumers to Johnson Park in Piscataway Township. After a brisk stroll around the park, they visited an animal haven, where they saw pigs, goats, alpacas, deer, a mini horse, and many other exciting animals.

Much like Sabrina, Diane Schaefer meets with consumers at their apartments every Monday to hold her healthy cooking and baking group.

For the group, Diane brings all necessary cooking ingredients to an apartment, where she works to create a healthy recipe with consumers. After they assist her in preparing the food, the group sits down to enjoy the meal together.

With this group, the consumers benefit from learning easy recipes for healthy meals that they can continue to create on their own. Cooking and baking have also proven to be great activities for reducing stress.

After more than a decade of service, Tina Pond discusses her experience as a DSP at SERV

For Tina Pond, a Residential Counselor in SERV Achievement Centers, there is nothing more inspiring than witnessing a consumer achieve a goal and reach a new level of independence.

Tina has been a dedicated member of the SERV team for more than a decade. When we heard she recently celebrated a milestone anniversary, we reached out to learn more about her time with the organization and what has kept her so passionate about her career for so many years.

Q: When did you begin working at SERV? What attracted you to the organization?

A: I have been working at SERV for 10 years now. I started as a part-time team member. I was looking to earn some extra money doing something I enjoyed. The manager at the time knew me through one of her friends that I worked with at another job. She was very impressed with my longevity in the field (18 years) and my devotion to the individuals we serve. When I told her I was interested, she was happy to oblige. I moved to full-time staff not too long after that.  

Q: What has changed in the time you’ve been at SERV? What has stayed the same?

A: During my time at SERV, I have watched a lot of team members and residents come and go. But what has stayed the same is that the team members are extremely hard-working, caring, and have a lot of empathy for this population. They also are very supportive to each other and all of our residents. This is truly a great team of staff and residents.

Q: What is the best part of your job?  

A: It gives me great joy to see the individuals we serve succeed at even the smallest task—how excited they get and the smiles on their faces when they feel that sense of accomplishment. A lot of people in this world today take things for granted. This can be the simplest of things like eating, communicating with others, walking, or going to work every day.

The majority of the population we serve would love to do all of these things independently, but they either can’t or they need assistance and/or adaptive equipment. So, of course, it is absolutely wonderful and inspiring to see them achieve a goal or reach a new level of independence.

Q: What keeps you wanting to come to work every day?

A: Knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life. For many of the consumers, we are family, and they look to us for support and guidance. I always try to focus on a person’s ability rather than their disability. It is my duty to help them achieve their dreams and reach their full potential.  

Q: What are some of your fondest memories?

A: Oh, I love watching one of the consumers react and get excited over fireworks on Independence Day and all of the lights on Christmas. Once, I also had a non-verbal individual give me a hug out of the blue. The individual would normally never do something like that, and it was shocking to myself and my co-workers who witnessed it. Another time, during a trip to a pumpkin patch, a consumer had picked his pumpkin and began hugging it because he was so happy that he was there. There are so many memories I could list, but these three things stand out.

Q: What are you looking forward to in the future?

A: Many more years of continuing to make a difference in the lives of those we serve.

Moving forward, making a difference: two SERV team members discuss their roles as essential care workers

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Taniel Isaacs, a Vocational Skills Trainer, hunkered down and took hold of D.K.’s shoelaces for what seemed like the hundredth time. “First, you want to make an X,” he said, crossing one lace over the other, “and then pull tight.”

You could hear the fatigue in Taniel’s voice. It was getting late, and he and D.K. had been at it for hours without any progress. Every time he thought he was getting through to him, something—a sound, a light, a thought—would throw off D.K.’s concentration, and they’d end up back at step one.    

At the time, Taniel had only been with SERV for two months, so he couldn’t help but question himself and his teaching methods. What am I doing wrong? he wondered. Am I not speaking clearly?

You see, this was just as much a learning experience for him as it was for D.K. While D.K. was learning how to tie his shoes, Taniel was learning the importance of patience and understanding when dealing with a consumer.

But it wasn’t until the next day that Taniel realized the true impact of the time he’d spent helping D.K.

As soon as Taniel arrived for his shift, D.K. came rushing toward him, his eyes wide with excitement. “Look—look, I did it…just like you showed me,” he said, pointing to his shoelaces, which were tied in a perfect knot.  

And now, nearly three years later, Taniel recalls this memory with D.K. as a “career-defining” moment.

“It was right then, as D.K. showed me his tied shoelaces, that I knew I was in the right place and that I wanted to devote myself to helping others,” he says. “This is such a rewarding career, and I cannot think of anything I’d rather be doing.

“The feeling I get when I see that I have made a difference in someone’s life, that I have truly helped them learn a new skill or overcome a challenge—there’s nothing like it. It’s why I’m here at SERV, and it’s what keeps me motivated to do my best and keep moving forward.”

Recently, Taniel was promoted to Program Supervisor in SERV Achievement’s PAC Day Habilitation Program. He says he’s excited about his new role and the opportunity to grow as a leader in the behavioral healthcare industry. He’s also looking forward to continuing to build strong relationships with consumers.

The PAC Day Habilitation Program reopened at 50% capacity in May, after closing its doors in March of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although he is excited to return to normal operations, Taniel expects that it will pose a challenge for some consumers.  

“Some of the consumers have gotten too comfortable with being stuck at home,” he says. “They have not been able to go out and socialize in the community for over a year, and I think it may be difficult to get them back into a routine. But it’s time, and I am ready to help them as much as I can.”

Also moving up the ranks in SERV Achievement’s PAC Program is Stephanie Vil. She was promoted from Vocational Skills Trainer to Assistant Supervisor in Mercer County.

Stephanie joined the SERV team in March of 2019 as an overnight Residential Counselor at a Lawrenceville group home. Before that, she had served as a Residential Counselor at several organizations, gaining nearly a decade of experience in providing care. 

For Stephanie, SERV represented two things: change and growth.

“I felt stuck at my previous jobs. Despite many years of service as a care provider, I was never able to move up,” she says. “I knew that SERV had upward mobility and that the organization invested in its employees’ futures. So, when I saw an opportunity to join the team, I jumped on it. It was a way forward and aligned with my long-term professional goals.”

As an Assistant Supervisor, Stephanie is eager to take on new responsibilities and have a “more involved” role in the organization.  

“Serving others is my calling, and I’m thrilled to take this next step in my career,” she says.

Stephanie also plans to take advantage of the opportunities available to her as a member of the SERV team. She is especially interested in the organization’s tuition reimbursement program. She says she has her sights set on a degree in psychology. 

SERV Achievement’s PAC program holds Memorial Day barbeque for consumers

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer—although it didn’t feel like it this year, as New Jersey faced record cold temperatures and heavy rain. 

However, the team members in SERV Achievement Centers’ PAC program weren’t going to let the weather spoil their plans to hold a holiday barbeque for consumers.

On Friday, as storm clouds moved across Mercer County, they decided to take the party indoors. Using only two small electric grills and a crockpot, they cooked up a feast that included hamburgers, sausages, hotdogs, beans, macaroni, and pasta salad.

“Of course, it’s not easy to cook fifty hamburgers and hotdogs with a tiny grill in the breakroom, but I had a lot of fun doing it,” said Stephanie Vil, Assistant Program Supervisor. “I wasn’t going to let the rain stop us from having our barbeque—not on my watch.”

Stephanie coordinated the barbeque with help from Supervisor Michele Stewart and her team members Faith Jalarue, Brandi Green, Darlinkboye Wawood, and Sydnei Griffin.

“This was very much a group effort,” she said, “and I’m so glad we were able to work together to find a solution and make this a memorable holiday for the consumers.”

The consumers in the PAC program laughed, watched movies, and played games together as they enjoyed the delicious meal the SERV team prepared for them. After dinner, they treated themselves to popsicles and ice cream.

The PAC program reopened at fifty percent capacity in late April. Prior to that, as a result of the pandemic, the program had been limited to telehealth services since March of 2020. This barbeque was the first time they had gathered to celebrate a holiday in more than a year.

Stephanie said that she is looking forward to planning another event for consumers soon. “Hopefully it won’t rain this time,” she added.