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That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? How do you maximize your benefits? Well first you have to define what your benefits mean to you.
To some, benefits mean health, dental and vision coverage. To others, they mean retirement savings and life insurance policies. To your coworker they could mean work perks and holidays. To your boss they could mean team building seminars and trainings. What do they mean to you? I can help you narrow it down!
First things first, you should set up an appointment with your benefit specialist to see what you, your spouse or your parent’s employer has to offer. They will be able to break down what is covered under each medical, dental and vision plan. They can also lay out what supplemental/voluntary benefits are offered and any other perks included under their employment.
By setting up this meeting you are starting a relationship where you can get comfortable asking questions and building trust which can help further maximize your benefits later on. You may not have a question now, but I guarantee you will down the road.
After finding out the basics and if they are affordable for you and your family, look into any additional perks that are not only beneficial to you, but are at zero cost!
Ask what discounts your employer offers! Here at Wildwood, we offer our employees discounts for Bj’s Wholesale Club memberships, auto/home insurance through Liberty Mutual, pet insurance through Nationwide, cell phone contracts and more! Have you asked your employer what discounts they offer? Don’t hold out, find out today!
Along with discounts, check to see what reimbursement options there are for you as well. Thinking of joining a gym? Through Wildwood’s CDPHP medical plan you can get reimbursed up to $600 per family for gym memberships.
If you dig a little deeper into the CDPHP medical plan, you will learn that you can earn life points for gift cards by completing wellness activities through Cafe Well. These activities can include personal health assessments, getting annual physicals, flu shots, webinars and more!
Sound familiar? Our wellness plan at Wildwood has the same idea! However, instead of redeeming gift cards, you receive a discounted rate for your medical premium. Don’t have CDPHP? Don’t fret! You may be able to access similar benefits with your insurance.
You may be reading this article as a supervisor looking for counseling services, trainings and self-help tools for your employees. See if your employer offers an employee assistance program or EAP! Wildwood provides EAP to all of our employees, free of charge. The EAP includes not only the services listed above, but legal assistance, financial coaching, educational planning and that is only scratching the surface. See if your insurance includes EAP, you will not regret it!
After briefly touching on a few notable options, do you feel ready to take the next step? How will you maximize your benefits?
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Five years ago, my husband told me I should apply to work at Wildwood School as a teaching assistant. I wasn’t sure about it. I wasn’t sure that I would be a right fit for a role such as this. Was I good enough?
A month later, I found myself sitting in an office interviewing for an open position as a teaching assistant. Predominantly driven by the notion that I needed to have a job in which I was provided benefits, I was looking forward to this interview. I was not aware that a few years later, I would find myself in a high school classroom creating my very own lesson plans for crafts and engaging with individuals I would have a relationship with for what could be a lifetime.
I received a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Art. Shortly after that, I went for my Master’s Degree in Art. I have always loved writing, and exploring several mediums of art such as photography, painting, felting, and so many more. I certainly didn’t realize how valuable this would be to me while working at Wildwood. I have gained so much more immediate knowledge of artists and techniques simply by creating lessons for my students. Both the class and I have learned some really great new ways of making art and a lot of background information on several different famous artists. My goal was to give them the opportunity to express their creativity in a way that they found both productive, and a means of communication and representation.
I worked alongside the Art Teacher at the school, gaining insight on useful teaching techniques for my future endeavors. We often collaborated as I was simultaneously able to expand my teaching experience during my time as a Teaching Assistant. We both loved the idea of incorporating more Art into the students’ education so it certainly seemed to work out well for everyone. I was extremely grateful for the unique opportunity I was given.
I was astounded to see the work that these students have created. I often admired the way that they are able to let go and create a masterpiece. Their expression comes from a different place—much different than a place of creation for the sake of creation. It is something difficult to put into words. It became a way of communication. I could suddenly feel some of the things that they wanted me to feel. By the simple stroke of a brush, or the number of objects on their paper, or the way things are arranged, I was able to learn so much more about them.
My students were so involved in just the process itself. In my own work, I have always made art centered on process alone, but this was different. The materials they chose to use had benefits that were both sensory as well as a means of personal representation. They didn’t need to justify a deeper meaning of their work. It was already there on the surface—in the colors they chose, the marks they made, or the scale they chose—there it was
I seldomly interfered in their work. I wanted to allow them to be who THEY were as both an artist and individual. If they wanted to make something completely different than what I was asking, I didn’t mind. As long as they were engaged in the process of making. I wanted to see their idea come to fruition—and I was never disappointed. I admired their enthusiasm!
I have no doubt in my mind that my time as a teaching assistant has transformed me as a person. It helped me grow in ways I didn’t realize was possible. I have overcome a lot of personal challenges and I am able to do things I never could as a person and an artist. It was during my time as a teaching assistant that art is a vital resource for a lot of people. It helps create a way of expression when no other way is getting the message across. I think we can all learn from the people we support when we just observe and let them be creative.
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Since Wildwood was founded, college students have made up an important part of our Workforce. Many of our longest term employees started at Wildwood during summer months or working part-time while going to classes.
Today, as finding quality staff gets increasingly challenging we are turning once again to college students. This summer we need staff for the Wildwood School Summer Extension program, better known as Camp Wildwood, and there are part-time openings in both Community Habilitation and In-home respite, and some potential substitute positions throughout the agency.
We have already been active at college fairs and in visiting college classes to let students know about Wildwood, about what we do and how they could be part of it. Human services, social work psychology and other people-oriented majors are ideal but all students who have an interest in working with people would qualify.
In many ways, working at Wildwood is the ideal part-time college job. You get to work with people, you get to learn new skills, you get to build your resume for a career in human services and you get the satisfaction of helping. Some jobs have very flexible hours, allow the staff to be very creative and focus on the interests of both the staff member and the person they're going to support.
If you're a college student and you're interested, please contact Michele Hall our recruiter or ask anyone you know who works at Wildwood. If you're a family member and you know someone who might be interested, please talk to them about working for us. Some of our best staff got started in what they thought was going to be a part-time position and it turned into a lifelong career.
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Covering Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, Wildwood’s Transportation Department (lovingly referred to as the (Mighty Transportation Department) keeps everyone moving safely and on time.
Eleven drivers transport between 70-75 individuals every day to three Wildwood locations day program sites: Pinecrest, New Karner and Riverside.
Drivers do door-to-door service, and provide continuity and security through consistent daily routines and long-term relationships. The logistics involved in a daily operation of this size require regular monitoring and oversight. Someone is always in the dispatcher role to provide guidance and assistance that may be re quired throughout the day.
Drivers are an important part of the supports offered. More than just drivers, they are a part of the therapeutic team and their consistency, good humor and empathic nature goes way beyond driving a vehicle.
“Drivers can be comedians, psychiatrists, disciplinarians, caregivers and listeners- all in one trip!” James Kardell, Supervisor of Transportation and a 17-year employee says.
Drivers are trained and annually updated on all facets of their job. They are dedicated to providing high-quality, comfortable rides for all individuals. No aides are needed and many of the routes have been geographically consolidated to shorten ride times and be more cost effective. The Transportation Department offices are centrally located in Building #1 in Latham.
The fleet, which includes three buses and nine transit vans, is regularly maintained. In addition, the department makes sure that the rest of the agency's 102 fleet vehicles have regular oil changes and other needed maintenance. Centralized purchasing and maintenance also make significant savings possible.
During COVID, even though day programs were suspended, the department was very busy,” James Kardell says. “We helped deliver backpacks of food for the school, medical supplies and masks for the residential sites, picked up and delivered books for the Sharing is Caring program and even helped with grocery shopping.”
Participants not attending day service programs also impacted funding and created challenges. Even with these challenges, the transportation department was able to keep all their staff working and on the payroll. As participants started to come back to a split programming schedule due to COVID, routes were divided and two separate shifts were required.
With COVID restrictions starting to be lifted just this month, more people are now allowed to ride in each van and day programming has a single start and end time.
Les Arras, Director of the Transportation Department, is happy to report that programming is almost at full capacity and things are close to normal again. Arras provided road reports for all staff during inclement weather over the last two years. He always strives to have his department add value to the agency.
"Our department has come through strongly. We really are mighty and our strength comes from the great people we have working in our department.”
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Anxiety is a natural response to stressors and in some situations is an adaptive and appropriate reaction. It helps us identify and respond to danger and can help us face difficult challenges. We all experience periods of anxiety throughout our lives. I don’t think many of us can argue with that! However, when feelings of worry, fear or anxiousness are at a level that are impacting our daily life such as performance at work, school, or social relationships it is then considered a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the United States, with research showing that 18% of the general population has an anxiety disorder (ADAA, 2022). However, people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder may experience it at a greater level and frequency than others. Further, those with ASD are at increased risk for developing an anxiety disorder, with recent prevalence rates estimating 40% of youth with ASD have a separate comorbid anxiety disorder (van Steensel, et al, 2011).
There are several theories as to why anxiety and ASD often co-exist. One thought links some of the common characteristics of ASD, such as attention to detail, sensory sensitivity, and difficulties in social situations to increased anxiety. We know individuals on the spectrum are more detail-focused, which can be a great strength, but can also lead to challenges in transitioning from one activity to the next as well as coping with unexpected changes in routines. Further, research has shown that those on the spectrum have difficulty understanding that others have thoughts, feelings, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Being able to attribute mental states to others makes it possible to explain and predict behavior. Without it the world can be a very unpredictable place, thus leading to increased anxiety in various social situations and a need to have things “just so” in a predictable, structured manner as a way to cope with an uncomfortable feeling.
It has also been found that individuals with ASD tend to be more sensitive to various sensations, such as sounds, lights, textures. Sensory overload can trigger anxiety for some. Those with ASD may have increased difficulty integrating sensory information and may overreact to environmental stimuli. This can be seen when a student sensitive to loud noises holds his hands over his ears and screams in response to a fire alarm going off during a drill.
When supporting someone with ASD it is important to recognize when increased anxiety may occur and identify the triggers. Once this is determined behavioral interventions can be implemented with a focus on teaching the individual a variety of different emotional regulation and coping skills to help manage difficult situations. Interventions should be tailored specifically to the individual and incorporate the use of visual supports, as we know those with ASD process visual information much better than verbal input. It is also important to look at how we can provide structure and routine throughout the individual’s day.
Given that anxiety and ASD go hand-in-hand, Wildwood recognized the need to offer Direct Support Professionals training on this topic, which is offered as part of the “DSP Bootcamp.” This is an exciting opportunity for DSPs to increase their knowledge and learn applied skills in supporting those with ASD who also experience increased anxiety.