Archived News & Events - June 2018

June 25, 2018

IDS Fashion Show

It was an honor to attend the annual IDS Fashion Show hosted by The City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health. Held at the City of Philadelphia Developmental Disability Building on June 4, individuals with special needs were highlighted. The fashion show gave individuals a chance to rock the runway with their unique styles. They also socialized and met new people. The event brought joy to everyone who attended!

IDS Fashion Show IDS Fashion Show IDS Fashion Show IDS Fashion Show
June 25, 2018

Employment First Works - Leo's Story

Volunteering with Meals on Wheels is an important part of Leo’s life. He will tell you that giving makes him happy. As much as Leo enjoys delivering meals, he really likes talking to the people he delivers to. He especially likes bringing meals to Chester and Annie so he can take time to chat with them. Another important part for Leo is the time he spends with his friends. Leo said, “Volunteering with my Merakey friends is the best.” Leo and his delivery friends are supported by a staff person, starting their day at the Carbondale senior center where coolers and meals are picked up. The appropriate number and type of meal for each person on that day’s list are checked and then sorted in the coolers in the order they are to be delivered. Meals are taken to each home and a signature from the person is obtained. Part of the volunteer responsibilities includes checking on people to assure they are fine and do not need anything. Following delivery of the meals, coolers are returned to the senior center to be filled for the next day.

Leo not only volunteers delivering Meals on Wheels two days a week, he is also competitively employed, holding two jobs!

Leo has worked at Weis Market in Carbondale for close to 20 years. You will find him there every Wednesday from 9am to noon helping shoppers bag their groceries. He enjoys interacting with the customers, often receiving tips for his assistance which he really likes! On Friday and Saturday evenings, Leo works at the Windsor Inn in Jermyn as a dishwasher. He loves working in the kitchen cleaning dishes and chatting with his team mates.

It is evident that Leo has a meaningful and fulfilling life. He is a contributing member of the Carbondale community where he has found valued roles as a volunteer, friend, employee, and coworker!

Pictured: Meals on Wheels volunteers Richelle, Shanna, Leo, Patrick, Lei Ann, and Jimmy

June 25, 2018

Summertime Fun at NEPA

The IDD Day Program at Merakey in Northeastern PA kicked off the summer with fun activities:

  • A few of the individuals enjoyed visiting “April” the giraffe at Animal Adventure Park.
  • All of the individuals had a blast at the summer picnic on June 22. There was a buffet and lots of fun activities including volleyball, bean bag toss, kickball, dancing, balloon launch, and more!

June 25, 2018

Merakey IDD in Western PA Embarks on Program Innovation and Transformation


Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Merakey Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Western PA (M/IDD-WPA) is embarking on a challenging and exciting project to innovate and transform its programs and services. This effort is inspired by our obligation as a quality provider to embrace higher levels of individualization and inclusion in community life for the people with IDD that we support.

Through a grant from Polk Foundation we have engaged consultants Christopher Liuzzo and Candy Vazquez who bring unique knowledge, resources, experiences and perspectives to this important initiative.

Liuzzo’s work is grounded in values informed by Social Role Valorization (SRV) and person-centered practices. He has played numerous advocacy and administrative leadership roles since the mid 1970’s. His work includes the co-founding of advocacy organizations dedicated to individualized supports. For our initiative, Liuzzo has developed a Learning Institute that is bringing the top experts in the field to support our investment in transformational change.

Vazquez has worked in the disabilities field for more than 25 years, including serving individuals with disabilities and their families to ensure that they are receiving appropriate services and supports to live self-determined and person-centered lives. Located in Western PA, Vazquez is the local lead consultant and implementation agent for the project. Vazquez’s efforts include conducting trainings and forums for individuals we support, their families and our staff, and identifying “pathfinders” for whom new service prototypes will be developed. (Pathfinders are people with developmental disabilities who want more in their lives than their communities and available forms of assistance currently offered and choose to risk a quest in search of a better life.)

Liuzzo came to western PA in January to gain an overview of M/IDD-WPA by visiting our programs and meeting our leadership. Liuzzo stressed to those he met that, “True transformation involves a serious challenge to existing practices and assumptions about supports for persons with disabilities. That it often means turning those assumptions on their heads and disrupting familiar practices and rituals. It does not mean tinkering around the edges.” Our meeting confirmed for us and for him that M/IDD-WPA is ready for true transformation.

Returning to his NY home, he developed an aggressive plan that embraces our organization’s willingness to take the challenging path and invest in transformational change. In very short order, Liuzzo had developed the Merakey Learning Institute, confirmed the speakers, and from March 8 to May 31, there have been eight full-day learning sessions.

40 staff members are a part of the Learning Institute including direct support professionals, program directors, administrators, medical professionals and support staff. This is a significant investment in resources and participants have the full support of their supervisors and the highest levels of Merakey IDD leadership to be a part of and fully engaged in the effort. Participants are committed to bringing to each session an open mind for learning and their commitment to challenging the way we do things so they can help the people they support to live the Good Life.

Session leaders and presentation topics to date:

Dr. Guy Caruso: Introduction to Social Role Valorization and the Typical Life Experiences of Persons with Disabilities
Social Role Valoriza¬tion (SRV), originally formulated by Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, de¬scribes and explains the ways that persons with disabilities are socially devalued and offers a theory that guides practitioners and orga¬nizations to address that devaluation and help achieve the Good Life for those persons.

Dr. John O’Brien: Reflections on Current Reality and the Change That Is Necessary
Participants considered current practices and structures in light of SRV and current trends expressed in Pennsyl¬vania’s Everyday Lives framework and the CMS settings and person cen¬tered planning rule.

Christopher Liuzzo: Agency Transformation
Participants defined organizational transfor¬mation by considering real life examples and tools to cultivate trans¬formational capacity. They increased their understanding through exercises in identifying existing service practices to leave behind and new ones to develop.

Carol Blessing: Person Centered Planning
Participants learned about the practice of person-centered plan¬ning and its fundamental role in transformational work as well as how to differentiate between genuine person-centered planning and practices which might appear to be genuine but in fact are not and actually undermine it.

Joseph MacBeth and John Raffaele: Creating a Culture of Competency
Participants explored the evolving role of the Direct Support Profes¬sional (DSP). They were introduced to the Nation¬al Association of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), its definition of DSP competencies and the NADSP’s Code of Ethics, “a roadmap to assist us in staying the course of securing free¬dom, justice, and equality for all.”

Dr. Michael Kendrick and Christopher Liuzzo: Right Relationships, Imagining Better and Distinguishing Between Wants and Needs
The following four major themes were explored: (a) The meaning of “human fulfillment” and how Merakey can help the people it supports to lead more fulfilled lives; (b) How many human service agencies fail to “Imagine Better” on behalf of the persons they support, and the steps and processes provider agencies can take to imagine and then create more fulfilled lives for those persons; (c) Decisions that have been taken by provider agencies in the United States and around the globe in their quest to transform from group and congregate based services to individualized supports; (d) Key decisions, including policy changes, that organizations should take early in their transformational journeys.

Dr. Beth Mount and Christopher Liuzzo: Reflections on Learning to Date; Discovering Your Leading Edges; Identifying What Needs to Be Left Behind
This two-day session provided participants with numerous examples of persons with very complicated support needs who are living the Good Life in a highly individualized fashion and often in difficult circumstances. During the sessions participants identified behaviors that need to change on the path to transformation, including those that need to be stopped and those that need to be newly created. An eye-opening “community mapping” exercise was undertaken to identify the many resources and assets available in local communities which could help support creation of the Good Life for Pathfinders.

The Learning Institute will continue in its intensity throughout the remainder of 2018. For eight participants, this will include completing a 12-week online curriculum in Citizen Centered Leadership through the Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University. A group is also being identified to make a Learning Journey to meet with personnel from another provider organization that has been successful in its transformation efforts.

This is an exciting time for Merakey IDD and we are most grateful to have the opportunity to thoughtfully and carefully transform our programs and services to make impactful changes that will improve the opportunities and the quality of life for the individuals that we are honored to serve.

Watch for additional information about our Innovation and Transformation project in The Pulse.

Participant feedback is solicited after each learning session; comments include:

  • Really informative and some great ideas as well as new perspective – eye opening!
  • [The session] made me think about how I do my job – really made me think!!
  • It really laid a basis and understanding for what the future is going to hold.
  • [I like] knowing I’m not the only one wanting and understanding the need for change.
  • Participants [are] truly opening up with honest feedback.
  • [It’s] starting to seem like it will work.
  • The presentation gave me an increasing amount of hope and perspective that it can and will work if we follow these suggestions and ideas through to the end.
  • My passion is to help the individuals I serve to be happy. If it is in their community, then I want to be able to open my thinking. You inspire me to be better.
  • This session has continued to be thought provoking and this transformational challenge seems less daunting.

June 11, 2018

Merakey Foundation's 20th Annual Golf Classic

Despite the wet weather on May 22, the Merakey Foundation’s 20th Annual Golf Classic was a hole in one! Over a hundred golfers came out to the Ace Club in Lafayette Hill, PA to support the Foundation and the services provided at Merakey. The Ace Club provided a delicious lunch and dinner for all those in attendance. By the end of the day, the Merakey Foundation raised more than $322,000 in support of Merakey’s programs and services. This year’s event focused on Merakey Foster Care services and individuals aging out of the programs. The Foundation’s funding offers the ability to provide a college semester of tuition and books, rent for two months after leaving the program, and other everyday resources. Special guest Valentina Hollinger, a former individual who received services at Merakey, used this platform to be a voice for those still facing challenges in the system. She received a standing ovation for her speech and posed for lots of pictures with guests! We thank Valentina for her participation and words of action.

Special thanks to Board Chairman Mike Mitchell, CEO Joe Martz, members of the Merakey Foundation and Parent Boards, and all the contributors for their incredible support over the past 20 years, helping to raise more than $3 million from this event for Merakey programs and services.

June 11, 2018

IDD Clinical Team on the Move

IDD Clinical on the Move!

Significant achievement is happening for the IDD Clinical Team consisting of Clinical Directors, Behavior Specialists and Clinical Specialists. From April 4 (while celebrating Merakey rebranding) till May, IDD Executive Clinical Director, Dr. Tim Barksdale taught a series of eight-hour courses to ensure that the entire team of over 50 professionals from PA, NJ, and DE are now certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). With this skill and training, the team is now better able to support people exhibiting various forms of mental illnesses. This effort moves the IDD Division closer to achieving NADD accreditation which will further distinguish Merakey as a national resource for providing treatment to people with an intellectual disability and co-occurring mental illness. In addition, congratulations to Clinical Director, Christi Amato, for receiving her Clinical NADD Clinical Certification, the sixth clinician in the IDD Division to achieve this clinical milestone. Go team!

June 11, 2018

Merakey Supports Christiana Rotary in Delaware

Christiana Rotary The Merakey Education and Autism Division supported the Christiana Rotary in their annual golf outing on Thursday, May 21. Heather Godwin, Senior Director of Operations for Delaware, collaborated with the Christiana Rotary throughout the year to enhance connections within the community. With these connections, Heather has secured free trainings from Microsoft for students and staff, as well as a photographer who will be donating their time to take pictures at the 2nd annual Merakey Strides4Students 5k walk/run on June 16. In addition to sponsoring a tee-sign at the golf outing, Heather prepared an auction basket that included two free entries to the upcoming 5k, Merakey swag, and a $50 New Balance gift card that was donated to support Christiana Rotary.
June 11, 2018

Employment First at Merakey

Employment 1stMerakey’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Division congratulates the following staff for successfully completing the Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE) approved course and being awarded the ACRE Basic Employment Services certificate in May:
  • Katie Montello, Program Specialist
  • Rita Christner, Social Service Director
  • Emily Nickles, QIDP/Program Specialist
  • Norine Thompson, Program Instructor
  • Courtney Sargent, Program Instructor
  • Eric Patterson, Program Instructor
  • Carole Snyder, Program Instructor
  • Mary Loos, Program Instructor
  • Amber Wilson, QIDP/Program Specialist
  • Linda Fowler, QIDP
  • Dana Boyer, QIDP/Program Specialist
  • Sarah Cerminara, QIDP/Program Specialist

Obtaining this certificate is no small task, as it requires dedication and time management. These staff members committed to this course so that they can be better allies for the people we support. The course consists of discussions, papers, and other activities to engage in effective learning. Thank you for all you do! Our goal is to support staff with training opportunities, such as this one, so that we can continue to empower people in taking meaningful steps toward reaching their fullest potential.

For more information on ACRE (Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators), please visit:

For more information on Employment First, please visit:

June 11, 2018

Laughter and Love: A Funny Fundraiser

Join us on August 1, 2018 for a Funny Fundraiser, presented by The new Merakey Foundation Junior Board!

Location: Helium Comedy Club
Date: August 1, 2018
Time: 7-9:30
Tickets: Starting at $25,
Cash bar available during show

For more information, check out the event on Facebook:
June 11, 2018

Starbucks Training

Starbucks training Starbucks trainingMerakey and the Philadelphia Alliance teamed up to participate in a training for Starbucks employees held at the Loew’s Hotel in Philadelphia on May 29.

Tess Zakrzwski and Dannett Candelaria represented Merakey Philadelphia Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services by setting up a resource table.

About 500 people attended the training, and participants stopped by to discuss Merakey services and receive Merakey swag. Tess and Dannett took this great opportunity to also network with other providers of services who attended the event.

June 11, 2018

20 Years of Dedicated Service!

20 Years of Dedicated Service
Congratulations to staff members from the corporate office who celebrate 20 years of service this month. Staff were treated to a celebratory lunch and cake with their colleagues on May 24. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to support Merakey employees around the company!

Pictured, L-R: Barbara Kelly (Accounts Payable), Terry Juhas (Purchasing Manager), Mike Gavin (Director of Corporate Accounting), Lizanne Klinges (Manager of Financial Support Systems), and Jackie Schiele (Workers’ Compensation Claims Manager)
June 11, 2018

Merakey Participates in 2018 NAMIWalks


Kim Caton, executive director of Merakey Bucks and Montgomery Counties, attended as an Event Sponsor at the 2018 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk at Montgomery County Community College on May 5. Kim proudly shared our new company name and story with walkers, family members, and individuals supported by providers similar to Merakey. NAMIWalks celebrates its 16th anniversary this year, making it the largest and most successful mental health awareness and fundraising event in the country. Thank you, Kim, for representing Merakey and helping to share the great services we provide every day!

June 11, 2018

Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Day at Citizens Bank Park!

On May 21, the Long Term Structured Residence (LTSR) at Iris House in Philadelphia celebrated Mental Health Awareness Night at Citizens Bank Park during the Phillies game.

The Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health also attended the event to promote awareness and share information about this very important initiative. A good time was had by all, especially after the Phillies won!

Great job and thank you to Iris House LTSR residents and staff for your participation.

Citizens Bank Park Citizens Bank Park Citizens Bank Park
June 11, 2018

Employment First Works - Ed

“I’m Lovin’ It” is a slogan we all know and what Ed represents as he goes to work at the Golden Arches three days a week. Ed began his employment with McDonald’s in New Stanton over 25 years ago when he lived with his family. When Ed moved to Coraopolis, Pittsburgh in 2007, support was provided to gain employment at the local McDonald’s. Ed’s success continued.

Ed is currently a Crew Member at the McDonald’s in Kennedy Township. Over the past 10 years, Ed has come to know the regular customers. According to Ed, “Everyone talks to me." McDonald’s manager Rick Littleton stated, “I wish I had 10 more guys like Ed. He does his job. He is on time. He doesn’t call off. One of the best employees I have ever had.” In June, at the McDonald’s awards banquet, Ed will be recognized for his 10 years at the Kennedy Township location where he will receive a 43’’ flat screen tv he picked out himself.

In 2012, Ed began a second job working at Lintons Food Service Management as a kitchen/dishwasher aide at the Merakey Pittsburgh Campus location. He shared that he enjoys working at Lintons and stated, “I like the teamwork.” As any good employee does, Ed works very hard, is flexible with his work assignments and eagerly assists others as needed. According to Michael DiBuono, Food Service Director, “Ed is always here, always ready to work and always has a good attitude. He sees what needs to be done and is able to take action.” Ed joined his coworkers from Lintons at this year’s Merakey Bowling Tournament, held in March at Zone 28, where he enjoyed the competition, food, and fun.Ed

In addition to his employment, Ed leads a very active life. He lives in Coraopolis with housemates where he enjoys grilling. He attends various activities in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. Through Exceptional Adventure Tours, he has gone to Cleveland for a Steelers game, Hershey Park, indoor amusement park in Ohio, a basketball game, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, as well as a dude ranch for five days in New York.

Ed spends a lot of time with his family, playing sports and dining out. He also owns a riding horse, which he enjoys caring for. This year, he will be heading to Atlantis Bahamas with his family. Ed takes much pride in his Catholic faith and regularly attends mass at St Malachy’s, where he is known by many parishioners. He tells his mom all the time “I’m never alone; Jesus is with me”. His parents shared that Ed has always taken pride in the USA, having his freedom, and his Catholic faith. Ed and his parents are very happy and proud of the Everyday Life Ed lives.