Chalk the Walk: Spirits remain high among consumers despite COVID-19 pandemic

Hearts, rainbows, and well-wishes decorate the sidewalks and driveways of Willingboro, New Jersey.

Like footprints, these colorful drawings and positive messages were left behind by the children in SERV’s DCF program. As the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve ventured out into the community to participate in Chalk the Walk—a national movement focused on spreading joy, optimism, and inspiration.

“Since we’ve all been practicing social distancing, we have to find new ways to connect with friends, family, and the community,” said Kristina Escobar, SERV’s Director of Behavior Support Services.

“Chalk the Walk is the perfect way to bring people together during this trying time,” she said. “With each sketch or note we leave on the sidewalk, we are spreading happiness and hope, and we are reminding our neighbors that we are in this together.”

But chalking the walk isn’t the only way the children in DCF homes are keeping their spirits up. While some prefer the outdoors, others have found solace in the kitchen, baking their favorite treats such as chocolate chip cookies and red velvet cupcakes.

On Friday, March 27, several of them came together to throw a surprise birthday party for Program Manager Juliana Ike.

The party was a “huge hit,” according to Ike, who said she was "overwhelmed with joy" when the children suprised her.

"I feel very appreciated and valued working at SERV," Ike added.

The pandemic has not distracted consumers from their personal fitness goals, either. In fact, many participate in an hour-long workout class every day, wherein they perform push-ups, sit-ups, and various bodyweight exercises. They’ve also gravitated towards playing sports and going for long walks.

In a recent email to staff, SERV’s CEO Regina Widdows wrote, “To say I’m proud of our staff would be a tremendous understatement. While this situation continues to rapidly change, what remains the same is [their] focus on our organization’s mission and [their] desire to provide the best possible care to our consumers. Despite all the challenges [they] face in [their] personal life—and I’m sure there are many right now—[they] arrive to work each day with passion and enthusiasm. For that, I am extremely thankful.”

Escobar echoed Widdows’ sentiment when describing the actions of staff. “Everyone has really stepped up,” she said. “The staff has been truly amazing, and they are all working non-stop to make sure the consumers are happy and to keep the chaos of the outside world at bay.”

Ten Awe-inspiring Women with Disabilities

An internationally-recognized fashion designer. An award winning actress. The first American flapper. There are many awe-inspiring women with disabilities, and to cap off Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled a list of ten trailblazers—past and present—who have etched their names into history books.

10. Àngela Bachiller is a Spanish city councillor for Valladolid and a member of the People’s Party. Elected in 2013, Bachiller is Spain’s first city councillor with Down syndrome. Mayor Francisco Javier León de la Riva described her as "an example of strength and of someone overcoming obstacles.”

9. The first internationally-recognized fashion designer with Down syndrome, Isabella Springmuhl Tejada had her designs showcased during London Fashion Week in 2016. This led to her being featured in the BBC’s 100 Women list, an annual collection of the most inspirational and influential women in the world, alongside the likes of Alicia Keys, Simone Biles, and Zoleka Mandela.

8. Whoopi Goldberg is a prominent actor, comedian, author, and television personality. A recipient of many awards and honors, she is one of only a few entertainers to have won an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award. She accomplished this all despite suffering from severe anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

7. Dubbed by her husband, famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald, as "the first American flapper," Zelda Fitzgerald was a novelist, painter, and socialite. After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Zelda spent most of the 1930s and 1940s hospitalized. During this time, she kept herself creatively occupied by writing and painting. Her novel Save Me the Waltz, a semi-autobiographical account of her life and marriage, is the subject of countless scholarly articles and remains widely read. 

6. Mary Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and an autism spokesperson. Grandin is one of the first individuals on autism spectrum to document the insights she gained from her personal experience of autism. She is also known for inventing the “Hug Box”—a device to calm those on the autism spectrum. In the 2010 Time 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, she was named among those in the "Heroes" category. In 2010, HBO produced an Emmy Award winning movie about her life, and in 2016, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

5. Nina Simone was a renowned musician and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. Recording more than forty albums, she has received four career Grammy Award nominations—two during her lifetime and two posthumously—and in 2018, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Simone was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the late 1980s, after suffering from extreme mood swings and depression throughout her career. 

4. Madeline Stuart is an Australian supermodel with Down syndrome. Stuart has appeared on the New York Fashion Week catwalk, and has walked Paris fashion week, London fashion week, Runway Dubai, Russian fashion week, Mercedes Benz fashion week China, and many more. She is a powerful advocate for inclusiveness and diversity in modeling, with a huge social media following. She’s also been profiled in both Vogue & Forbes, and has completed the Special Olympics triathlon three times.

3. In addition to winning two gold medals in the Special Olympics, Karen Gaffney was the first person with Down syndrome to complete the English Channel relay race. Since crossing the channel, she has also conquered the Boston Harbor, the San Francisco bay, Lake Champlain, the Dun Laoghaire Harbor, and the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. In 2007, she was the focus of the Documentary Crossing Tahoe: A Swimmer’s Dream.

2. Emily Dickinson is arguably one of America’s foremost poets. Dickinson suffered from manic-depression and spent the majority of her life in seclusion, yet was able to produce over eighteen hundred poems. Although she was a prolific writer, only ten of her poems were published during her lifetime, and those were heavily edited. The breadth of her work became public after her death and is a staple of the American literary canon. She is best known for her eccentric personality and her frequent themes of death and mortality. Scholars and readers alike have long held a fascination with her unusual life.

1. Helen Keller was a prolific author, political activist, lecturer, and the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The story of Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was made famous by Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life, and its adaptations for film and stage, The Miracle Worker. As member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, antimilitarism, and other similar causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971 and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015.

A message from CEO Regina Widdows, March 25, 2020

Dear SERV family members and loved ones,

SERV is committed to providing care to the individuals we serve.

We understand that the news surrounding COVID-19 is concerning. Please rest assured that we are taking necessary precautions to fight this ongoing crisis in order to keep your loved one safe.

  • Our incredible direct support employees are considered essential service providers and are exempt from Governor Murphy’s executive order that NJ residents stay home. They will continue to provide your loved one with exceptional care.
  • All administrative and otherwise non-essential employees have been instructed to work from home, whenever possible, in accordance with Governor Murphy’s executive order.
  • We are following CDC-recommended cleaning regimens to minimize surface contamination. All door handles, windows, bathrooms, kitchens, and other heavily-trafficked areas are being disinfected.
  • We are following social distancing practices, ensuring that staff and consumers maintain the recommended 6-foot distance whenever possible.
  • For the safety of our staff and the individuals we serve, we have temporarily halted all in-person visitations. We encourage you to schedule a virtual visit with your loved one via ZOOM Cloud Meeting. Please contact your loved one’s program site for instructions and to provide your email address for scheduling.
  • Our staff is working tirelessly to boost morale and maintain an upbeat, positive environment for your loved ones. Recently, we purchased a variety of recreational items and games for our residential program sites, which has resulted in a lot of encouraging feedback. Another way we are keeping the consumers occupied and engaged is through activities such as arts and crafts. Many of the day program and clinical staff are also working directly in the residential properties to provide additional support to the DSPs.
  • Effective March 17, 2020, the following day programs have been closed until further notice:

SERV Centers of New Jersey

Clifton Behavioral Healthcare

Adapt Partial Daycare Mercer County

Adapt Partial Daycare Hudson and Passaic Counties

SERV Achievement Centers of New Jersey

Mercer County Progressive Achievement Centers

Union County Progressive Achievement Centers

We will continue to evaluate these measures as new guidance becomes available, and we will inform you of any changes. Thank you for trusting SERV during this unique and difficult time.

Sincerely,

ReginaWiddowsSignature

Regina Widdows, President & CEO

SERV employees get creative in efforts to boost morale during crisis

arts and crafts paint set

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the nation, our state’s call for social distancing has meant a lot of canceled plans—from visitation at our residential program sites, to all community outings for consumers. 

But even though social distancing and isolation have become the norm, SERV consumers and staff are not letting it prevent them from having fun and enjoying everyday life. 

Last week, the dedicated staff at our residential sites turned to art therapy as a way to boost morale and keep consumers busy during this crisis. They also encouraged consumers to read and ventured outside to dance and sing along to some of their favorite songs. This week, the staff says, they’ll work on vision boards.

The staff at our youth program site have been getting creative, as well. This past weekend, with the sun beaming down on them, consumers went for a short stroll around the neighborhood, getting their fill of fresh air before heading back inside for an ice cream party. 

Art therapy. Game nights. Ice cream parties. These are just some of the ways to stay busy during this crisis. Our staff has done a great job keeping consumers occupied thus far, and we are encouraging them to keep flexing their creative muscles to come up with new ideas.