June is Pride Month and we celebrate our LGBTQ foster families for making a difference

(Pictured Joshua and Cassandra at Josh’s high school graduation 2019)

Joshua (he/him/his), a proud member of the LGBTQ community, entered the foster care system at sixteen to escape an abusive home life that he repeatedly ran from to keep himself safe. Once in DCF guardianship, Joshua was placed in Solenit, a psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescent males between the ages of thirteen to seventeen with complex psychiatric needs. Solenit offered educational programs, work experience opportunities, and rehabilitation, including therapeutic recreation and occupational and music therapies. The program model was designed to focus on treatment strategies which are trauma informed and gender responsive.

Although exposed to other youth that exhibited unfavorable behavior at Solenit, Joshua settled in and made the most of his time there knowing it was a temporary placement. He secured a paid internship at a veterinary hospital and was offered a permanent position after completing the internship. He focused on his studies in the education program, and through responsible behavior, he earned increased privileges and the freedom to explore life off-campus.

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The Pieces of Wonder (POW) Center for Behavior Services celebrates first anniversary

behavior analysts and registered behavior technicians

(Pictured Pieces of Wonder (POW) Center for Behavior Services staff)

One year ago today on June 12th we celebrated the Grand Opening of the Pieces of Wonder (POW) Center for Behavior Services in Forest Hill, MD. The POW Center provides early intervention for children up to the age of six who have received a diagnosis of autism and have been recommended for intensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services.

Today a year later, we are celebrating the center’s growth! We have increased our professional staff to include four Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and seventeen Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) to provide necessary services to over thirty area families.

The POW Center was the first of its kind in Harford County and provides access to families and children who would not otherwise have access to these types of services. “Our staff is helping children learn to talk and communicate, learn life skills like toileting and getting dressed, and social skills such as making and playing with friends,” said Kristen Colyer, Director of Children’s Services in Maryland. “We’re transforming the lives of the children that we serve and I’m proud to be a part of that service.”

“Our mission is to build strong communities by empowering individuals, and I can’t think of a better way to build community than to work with kids so that they can grow to be healthy, powerful adults,” said Lou Giramma, IPPI CEO.

Learn more about the Pieces of Wonder (POW) Center for Behavior Services HERE

Listen. Learn. Lead.

Diverse group of staff at a conference

Below is a letter from our CEO, Lou Giramma. A similar communication was sent to the entire IPPI community.

The work The Institute of Professional Practice, Inc. started nearly 40 years ago was rooted in the need for a seismic shift in the way the world engaged with citizens living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The shift required new principles, new ways of thinking, new methods of care, new innovations in purpose and practice—in short, it required a paradigm shift in disability culture. The founding professionals of IPPI rose to meet that challenge.

Today, in communities across the globe, people are taking to the streets, mourning the senseless loss of black men and women at the hands of the police. The world is calling for another seismic shift—the end of years of oppression and systemic racism. IPPI denounces police brutality, acknowledges systemic racism, and is committed to being anti-racist. Racism and senseless violence against people of color cannot be tolerated. We believe we must aspire to create a world where we all belong; where we are all valued for our intrinsic strengths, and where we embrace difference as being valuable and not the object of fear.

Just like 40 years ago, I am asking IPPI professionals to come together to create a more just and equitable community. Our community is diverse, and diverse representation at all levels of organization have not yet been achieved. There is much work to do. We must start somewhere.

In the coming months, IPPI will embark on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work. We will start by making space for a conversation, with the help of an expert. My hope is that the conversation will be a starting point to:

  • Listen to the concerns and ideas of everyone in our community
  • Learn from the work that is being done to change systems of inequity
  • Lead transformational change in ourselves and our agency

I will send out an invitation to this conversation in the coming weeks. All are invited and encouraged to attend. We will make necessary accommodations, if necessary, to ensure your participation.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” There are people in our community who are suffering injustice. We see you, we hear you, we stand with you. It’s time now for us to reach out, listen, learn, and take action.

I am grateful to each and every one of you for your tireless work caring for yourselves, your families, each other and the people we support. Let us continue to take care of one another and embark on this work together.

What inspires our foster families to open their hearts and homes to foster youth in need?

May is National Foster Care Month that’s why we’ve asked a number of our foster families to share why fostering was the right choice for them. We are very grateful for all of our incredible foster parents who make a profound difference in the the lives of the youth they support. They are living our mission to build strong communities by empowering individuals every day.

To learn more about fostering with IPPI and other ways to support foster youth and families Click Here

(Pictured Jennifer Cosme) 

Jennifer Cosme: One day, while waiting my turn at the DMV, I was seated next to a young boy who was talking with two other kids about how hard it is to be a foster child. He was worried about remaining in his current placement, hoping that his new family would let him stay. Witnessing the worries of someone so young broke my heart. I decided I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. I was determined to do my best and offer a safe, welcoming place in my home for youth in foster care.

My strategy was simple; treat a child with respect, work to build their confidence and trust, and most importantly, do it with love. I do love what I’m doing, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment. Seeing a smile on a child’s face, or getting a hug for some little thing, I know in that moment, I am making a difference and the feeling is priceless. I chose to be a “foster mom”, for me, it’s not a job but a calling.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not always perfect. I have had those days when all I want to do is cry and give up. I had a little one, who challenged me every single day, since the day she was placed in my home. One morning I reached a tipping point. I woke up so disappointed, tired, angry and frustrated that I decided to call IPPI and ask them to come and pick the child up because I couldn’t handle the stress any longer.

That morning I brought my foster daughter to a respite providers home, as I had to work. You can imagine my surprise when the young boy from the DMV answered the door. The same young man who had broken my heart with his story and inspired me to become a foster mom. Once again he influenced my actions and impacted my decisions. I resolved not to give up on this young girl, to take every step all of the way through this journey. Now, every morning when we wake I say to my girls, “Let’s start our new day!” and we do.

(Pictured Marie and Merone Lima)

Marie Lima: When I think about children, I think of my own. To know a child has suffered abuse or neglect in their home breaks my heart. I’ve found that is isn’t hard to open yourself up to these children. My goal is to help them navigate their unique situation, and facilitate meeting their needs socially, physically, and emotionally in a therapeutic way, the best I can.

(Pictured Diane and Herb Curtis)

Diane Curtis : I do this work because I feel like I want to give back to the community. As a child I spent time in a foster home and understand how that feels. As my own children grew and left home I became a bit lonely as I was used to having my daughters living with us. I decided to do some respite work and that progressed to fostering youth in need. I’ve spent over 30 years working with children with autism. The gift of supporting kids is a talent I feel I was blessed with.

(Pictured Carmen Ayala)

Carmen Ayala: I have been a foster parent with IPPI for the past 16 years, and although it has been challenging at times, it is a very rewarding experience for me. Being a foster parent gives me the opportunity to help a youth have a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a family. It allows me to teach, to guide, and to help youth build hope and purpose for a brighter future.

Being able to be part of this journey and witness this positive growth in the youth is the reason I love being a foster parent. Carmen works as a licensed realtor in CT and NY with the Century 21 Scala Group in Bridgeport, CT.

(Pictured Susan Jackson-Mack and one of her sons)

Susan Jackson-Mack: I started doing this work long before I knew about foster care. As children, we were taught to share what we had with others who needed help. That family legacy of giving back continued to influence me through adolescence, adulthood, and continues now as the pendulum starts to swing towards retirement.

I feel fortunate and blessed to have been a foster mother for 28 years. My sons, daughter and grandchildren are very special to me. My kids told me they don’t like to be referred to as foster children, simply my children, and I agreed with them. We stopped using the term foster a long time ago. We share so many stories and experiences that neither one of us would have had without the other. I think we are lucky we found each other. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

(Pictured Linda Jackson)

Linda Jackson: Since I was a child, we’ve always had additional people living in the house with us. Some were relatives, and others were family friends who later became family. Many people in my family have been, or are currently, foster parents, so fostering felt natural to me.

As a foster parent for over 20 years, I’d chosen to foster teenage girls. I decided to work with this population because I wasn’t the best teenager and I also know this is a hard group to place and maintain in a foster home.

Though there have been some difficult times, I’ve never had a disruption and credit much of my success as a parent to my upbringing, my family, and the agency I am licensed under. In addition to fostering Linda serves as the Associate Director, YSM Diversity Office; Director of Educational Outreach Programs for Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT.

IPPI donor named Bridgeport Hero by Bridgeport Patch

Louise Maldonado

(Pictured Louise Maldonado)

IPPI CT Quality Enhancement Manager, Stephanie Esteves, said during a conversation she shared with her Aunt Louise that IPPI was seeking support in our efforts to protect our caregivers and the individuals we serve in these challenging times. Her Aunt Louise immediately volunteered to sew masks for IPPI support staff and has been donating regularly. Recently I told her we had a need for isolation gowns and she immediately volunteered to sew for us. She is donating her time and her materials. My uncle says she works all day on the things we need so that the people we support and their caregivers do not go unnoticed. Thank you so much Louise for making a difference in the lives of so many!

Read the full article in the Bridgeport Patch HERE

If you would like to support our efforts to to protect our caregivers and the individuals we serve, please consider a Donation

The role of psychotherapy in a time of fear and uncertainty

women with face mask

Psychotherapy In “The Plague Year.”

In 1665 the author Daniel DeFoe (“Robinson Crusoe”) wrote his “Journal of the Plague Year,” a breathtaking, tragic account of the devastating bubonic plague that struck his native city of London. Read Defoe’s journal Click Here

How little things have changed in 355 years! The pain and suffering recounted by the author in those ancient times is a fact of everyday life in this contemporary “Plague Year.” The anguish that DeFoe so eloquently expressed is now being experienced by us.

The entire world is now enduring the “Plague” of the Covid-19 pandemic; one that has horrific implications for our physical and mental well-being. Unprecedented in modern times, this infection requires those of us in the helping professions to be especially conscious of its impact and to address the concerns of our patients with compassionate psychological treatment methods designed to help lessen the anxiety and suffering that they bring to our attention.

A colleague has suggested that a timely topic for this week’s blog would center around coping strategies for us to employ during this tragic episode in our collective lives. Since that conversation, I have given the matter a great deal of thought. The suggestion is timely and I will address it here from my own perspective, that of my profession as a therapist.

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IPPI clinical therapist Peter Burmeister shares his thoughts on consciousness in the time of pandemic

A Psychotherapist’s Ruminations in “The Plague Year”

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933, during “The Great Depression.”)

The current Coronavirus pandemic gives us a unique opportunity to reflect upon our existences. It is surely safe to say that no one is unaffected by the germ that has stricken multitudes and proven deadly to others. Those who have contracted the illness may be facing a long period of convalescence, and for all of us, healthy or ill, facing mortality passes into our consciousnesses, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

The fact that death will eventually come to each of us is now palpable and immediate. Many of us, perhaps all of us, are afraid.

The words of President Roosevelt quoted above are most apt for these times that we face. Fear paralyzes. The only remedy is to move forward, boldly, in the face of fearsome obstacles.

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New IPPI Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) program in Massachusetts is up and running

Fitchburg, MA – Team members Bianca McDonald, Licensed Practical Nurse (top left) and Samantha Hill, Direct Support Professional (bottom left) of our new Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) program in Massachusetts’s are living our mission to empower individuals every day in a new residential program.

The new ABI program opened its first house this past October in Fitchburg, MA. It is home to four individuals with an acquired brain injury (ABI), who previously lived in nursing or rehabilitative facilities. Prior to the individuals moving in, IPPI staff, worked behind the scenes, meeting with individuals and their families, to include them in the process of building and furnishing their new home. They viewed photos and videos of the construction, chose the paint colors for their rooms, and participated in choosing furniture for the shared areas of the newly constructed home.

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The Learning Academy, IPPI’s approved special education school, is opening its 3rd location in Stamford, CT

Meriden, CT The Institute of Professional Practice, Inc. (IPPI) announced that its Learning Academy, a state-approved, private special education school will open a third location in Stamford, CT next week, Monday, February 3, 2020. IPPI currently operates schools in Stratford and Naugatuck, where the agency supports students (ages 5-21) referred for both academic and social/behavioral needs.

“We are thrilled to open a third Learning Academy location in Stamford, CT,” said Lou Giramma, CEO of IPPI. “The Learning Academy’s unique approach has proven to be transformational for the young people we support. Through evidence-based practices, our teams are helping students achieve successful outcomes every day.”

The Learning Academy will occupy 20,000 square feet in the River Bend Center in Stamford, CT. The space will allow IPPI to provide services for up to 30 school-aged children. “With the addition of this location, IPPI’s Learning Academy will now have the capacity to serve up to 140 students,” said Dr. Elizabeth Sellinger, IPPI’s Director of Education and Behavior Analysis Services. “The Stamford location has been completely retrofitted to accommodate our needs and the anticipated needs of our students. Its welcoming atmosphere is functional and conducive to learning and helping our students achieve their goals.”

A ribbon cutting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 2020 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM at 5 Riverbend Drive in Stamford.

About The Institute of Professional Practice, Inc.

The Institute of Professional Practice, Inc. (IPPI) is a multistate human services agency headquartered in Central Vermont whose mission is to build strong communities by empowering individuals. For more than three decades, IPPI has provided treatment and supports to people living with developmental disabilities and special needs throughout New England and Maryland. For more information, Website | Facebook

IPPI foster parents share the rewards of fostering at Open House

Eight IPPI foster parents recently shared their experiences as family care givers with those considering fostering at IPPI’s Permanency Services Foster Care team’s Fostering and Adoption Open House, hosted by Dperv’s Top BBQ in Hamden, CT.

This seasoned group of foster parents collectively represented over 100 years of experience fostering youth in Connecticut. When foster parents were asked why they open their hearts and homes to foster youth, the overwhelming response was knowing they were making a difference. They witnessed the real life transformation and positive impact on the youth in their care.

One foster father shared that he proudly watched his foster son, an honor student, graduate college, start a career, and a family. He was deeply touched and honored when this young man named his first born child, a boy, after his foster father.

It was a great evening of positivity and celebration and we couldn’t be happier that two of the attendees have started the application process to become foster parents.

To learn more about fostering with IPPI click here