Author Archives: Rosa McAllister

Networks @ 25…. more stories from the heart!

Networks @ 25 logo

Can it be??!!

Unbelievably, yes, Networks is now 25 years old!

While it’s certainly time to celebrate, it is also important to remember all those who have traveled with us, helped us, challenged us, cheered us on, & joined with us over these amazing 25 years.  You helped us realize our vision & assisted us to become more of who we are today.

Photos of Networks from the past 25 years with a 25th birthday candle in the middle

Together we have

  • fought injustices & discrimination
  • encouraged others to find & raise their voices
  • re-imagined schools, workplaces, communities, & lives
  • assisted groups to coalescence around important issues
  • found solutions (or at least some parts of solutions) to change the world to embrace ALL people.

We are still going strong & look to the next 25+ years of hard but exhilarating work.

But first, we will be taking time each month this year to look back, honor, & celebrate.

This month we are overjoyed to bring you some thoughts from a few more of Networks’ folks…. their perspective on what Networks is! ♥

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What is Networks to me?

Wow! So many thoughts come to mind – and memories. I first became involved with Networks while “looking for another way” to do things. I knew there had to be better ways to interact with, teach, and support people than I was being shown. At Networks I found people with similar values, passions, and beliefs. All people should be valued, and be fully included in their communities, and are deserving of respect. I came to as many Networks’ trainings as I could.

 When I was approached about coming to work at Networks I was ecstatic… Unfortunately, events in my life made it impossible for me to accept at that time. The folks at Networks understood, and I was thrilled to be able to join them a year later. I started out helping those who were moving out of Embreeville State Hospital to envision and plan for lives in their new communities. It was a privilege to be part of this project.

When surgery resulted in my losing the use of my voice for some time (a little over a year) my friends / colleagues stepped up to help me find a way to have a voice. They also stood by me while I explored new areas of expertise, and began working with the technology at Networks. As a result of these experiences I discovered a new passion – ensuring the accessibility of technology for all users. Networks supported me as I explored this new passion, and secured my Masters degree (with Networks’ help and support) in Information Technology in Education.

This October it will be 22 years since I came to Networks. I have not only found like-minded colleagues, but I have also found friends and family. We have worked and played together, sharing smiles, laughter, and tears. Thank you Networks for not only providing a place to support people the way they should be, but also for providing an environment where people are encouraged to learn, grow, and explore new experiences / passions, while working together to make our communities welcoming to all!  

(Diane Kehoe: Director of Technology Services)

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Networks is…  creating opportunities for everyone to be the best version of themselves. I first learned of Networks when I was an intern with the Philadelphia Department of Intellectual disAbility Services. Initially, this internship was supposed to last two months. However, thanks to Networks’ programming and support, I was able to stay on and work in the department through graduation. 

 Over the course of my two and a half years at IDS, I had the chance to participate in disability rights workshops, help develop employment and Lifesharing PATHs, and create written and video spotlights on a number of self advocates. These work experiences have had a lasting impact on my life. In fact, after leaving IDS I worked for a Supports Coordination Organization (SCO) in Philadelphia for three years. If I had not worked at IDS or worked with Networks, that would not have happened.

 Without Networks, and the incredible people I’ve met through the organization, I wouldn’t be who I am today. When the Networks team comes together to solve a problem, they do so with a level of creativity, thoughtfulness and understanding that is par to none. Because of my experiences with Networks, I make a conscious effort to always use inclusive language and strive to include everyone – regardless of ability – in conversations and in projects. They have truly left a positive impact on my life that has made me a better person, employee, wife, sister and friend.

Networks is working to make the world a better place. I consider myself lucky to be a part of the organization – and am thankful for everything they do to support individuals with disabilities, like my brother, Arik. Here’s to 35 more years of groundbreaking work! 

(Alyssa Shaffer: Wise Guide and Board Member)

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Years ago, I visited the Valley Forge office and noticed the lovely collection of wands on Rosa’s desk.  Of course, a wand is often associated with magic, which is easy to associate with the work of Networks, but there are other definitions of the word “wand” that I think work too.

When a wand is a device admitting a beam, Networks supports you in finding your path.

When a wand is a target in archery, Networks is a place that people have grown to know as a place to come for answers and support.

 When a wand is a security device, Networks will listen fully and respectfully.

 When a wand is a beauty tool, Wholistic Practices provides centering, physical and emotional healing through reiki and other types of bodywork.

 When a wand is a stick giving length or leverage, Networks’ many training opportunities give our communities confidence and knowledge to live fuller lives.

Networks is a place to go with a question, and to be empowered to find answers. Networks is wands.   

(Gerry Arango: Longtime Friend, Supporter, and Consultant)


Networks is comforting, loving, joyful, and easy….. and yet also struggling, demanding, hard, and sometimes riddled with gut-wrenching questions.  Networks is a kaleidoscope of shared dreams.  Networks is swirling blurry visions and crystal-clear pointed direct steps. Networks is hand-holding and hugging, while also kicking-in-the-butt to action.  Networks is outspoken and humble, shining examples and always most comfortable in the background.  Networks is an amazingly 25 year old ride of truth.  Networks is my family, my home, my history, my present, and my forever future. 

(Rosa McAllister, Co-Founder and Organizational Advisor)

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Networks is more than a job. It’s family. I have been connected with Networks since 2000. I was looking for work at the time. OVR got me in contact with Networks and I started looking for work. There were quite a few times that I almost was able to get a job but for one reason or another it didn’t work out. There were many trials and tribulations but one constant was always Networks.  

 It took over four years to finally get my job.  Getting my job changed my life. Before my job I didn’t really do anything except watch TV and movies. It gave me purpose and I felt like a productive citizen. It made my life complete. Getting my first paycheck felt amazing. The most important part of Networks are the people. The people at Networks are what makes it what it is.   

(Andrew Vizuete: IT Support and Service Specialist)

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So what is Networks?  As I sit here writing, I am just about to leave an inclusive surfing event in North Wildwood. While at this event, I really saw what Networks is……..

 Networks is about dreaming to live life to its fullest, whatever that may be.  This came to me as I stood in the water, watching and listening to a young lady waiting for her turn to surf.  She says to her mom that she wants to be alone in the water.  Her mom says no, she will stay together.  The look of sadness was evident on this young lady’s face.  A few minutes later, it was her turn to surf. Finally, she got a wave and for those few seconds, as she rode the wave in, she was in the ocean on her own.  Her smile was contagious.  There was a moment of pride when she said, “I did it, I did it by myself!” and the smile on her mom as she said, “Yes, yes you did!” Networks is about EVERYONE living the life of their choice.  Living with whom they want, living where they want, and working where they want.   

(Joe Murphy: Supports and Technology Coordinator)

Seems like a blink of an eye… a Networks’ story

Mike and I “birthed” Networks for Training and Development, Inc. (Networks) officially on November 12, 1992 driving to Harrisburg, PA to submit our incorporation papers. Two days later, we got married. “All balls in the air”, we liked to say! Little did we know at the time what a motto and mantra this would become for our journey with Networks and our life. We were skittish and hopeful, madly in love with each other and the dream of what Networks might be, headstrong, and yet careful.

In the beginning, even though we were fully incorporated as a 501 C3 charitable non-profit, we were supported under Horizon House, Inc’s wings for almost two years until we felt skilled enough to fully “fly from the nest” on our own on July 1, 1994. It was an invaluable time for us — a way to learn the ropes gradually ourselves and build an infrastructure that could last, all while doing our work and maintaining the contracts we had. We couldn’t have done any of this without the backing and support of Mike Covone and Kathy Sykes (from then Phila. OMR), Nancy Thaler (from then PA OMR), and my old friend, Wayne Chioda (then Ex. Dir. of Horizon House, Inc.). Jeff Willush and Mary Joy Kaiser Reinartz, of Horizon House, jumped in and helped us tremendously over those two years to hone our organizational skills, guide us to set up all the needed processes and protocols, and ready ourselves for the real work ahead on our own. Leslie and Alan Seese became our fiscal advisors and accountants. And loving friends Paul Bartolomeo, Mike Fittipaldi, Jeff Petraco, and Beth Barol became our first Board of Directors. All shared our hopes and dreams but also gave us the reality checks we so needed.

Over the years that ensued, we were blessed with amazing colleagues, partners, funders, and staff. We grew in contracts and areas of work. We spread our wings beyond Philadelphia. And we learned much. But we always tried to stay small, flat, and intimately connected to our founding values and mission. And we always tried to envision together an amazing future – of more fun, more challenges, more learning, and a time when Mike and I would be in very different roles…. or maybe not involved at all. We had always hoped that Networks would last beyond us, both literally and figuratively, and so always used creative strategic planning with our team to develop together possibilities and realities. Thank goodness we did this.

In early 2000, Mike and I travelled to Hawaii for two back-to-back conferences where we were presenting. From the moment we stepped off the first plane in Honolulu we knew this was somehow to be a part of our future. This was confirmed over and over during our two-week stay on Oahu and Maui. We came home to PA invigorated and immediately started dreaming of how to get back to HI, and how to help Networks grow in new directions that were less dependent on us. We spoke openly with everyone and shared parts of our own private “PATH”… a five-year plan where our roles would be somehow different, Networks would be honing new leadership, and our various services would be more autonomous and known. We tried to keep “the plan” ever present in our minds so we might not miss possibly connected opportunities. And, as so often happens, the universe was listening and more and more connections came to us.

Staff leadership skills were increasing everyday and some new extraordinary folks joined our ranks as staff, consultants, Board members, collaborators, and funders. In 2004 our son, Michael, got married and accepted a teaching position along with his new wife on Maui. Our connections were growing more obvious! Soon after, while visiting Michael and Megan on Maui, we stumbled upon an incredible opportunity to buy a condominium there, which “the kids” moved into as their home. Together, the four of us planned how we would gradually come more often and somehow eventually move there, too. Our grandson, Ethan, came along and added to the joy. It all just seemed like an amazing dream that was gradually falling together in a magical puzzle.

Contracts and incredible work opportunities grew and grew within Networks. Our staff were well known and our reputation and collaborations grew stronger across the country and the world. Some of us started a new wing of Networks, Wholistic Practices, and I started attending massage school in Maui when I was there and via distance learning when I was not. With this, I started coming to Maui more often and staying longer. Michael and Megan found their own home and moved out of our condo. Mike and I travelled to Maui in August 2009 to set up our own home. And unknown to most, I changed my drivers’ license and officially moved to Maui with the plan I’d visit PA now several times a year but otherwise live here. Mike would use the next year to gradually shift his roles and move to Maui the following September. As perfect as everything was falling into place, things shifted dramatically on October 4, 2009. I had just come home to PA and insisted we go to the NJ shore for a “last surf of the season”…. little did we know how true this would be.

Hours later we were at the emergency room and then travelled to the nearby trauma center. Mike had broken his neck while diving back out for another wave, was rescued by onlookers on the beach, resuscitated, carried off the beach on his beloved surfboard, and rushed to the hospital. I knew it was bad. Friends and family immediately assembled at the hospital. Calls came in from around the world. And Mike stayed with us for several days until his last gift could be made…. donating all of himself, saving the lives of 12 others, and greatly effecting the lives of hundreds more. We celebrated his life as he would want — at a friend’s wonderful restaurant with great food, wine, and beer and with hundreds of friends and family singing, playing music, laughing, hugging, and remembering this silly amazing man.

Immediately within Networks, our team assembled – Board and staff – and made plans to carry on, do the needed work, and to support one another as everyone grieved. Funders, colleagues, supporters, and even competitors reached out to us to offer their help, their love, and their support. Shauna Roman and Jill Gromen stepped up to the lead within Networks. And I stuck to our last plan, driving cross-country in Mike’s “surf mobile” and shipped it to Maui, returning home on Christmas Eve.

Somehow time passed, the work got done and well, contracts continued, new work and connections blossomed, and Networks shifted yet again into a new revised and strengthened organization. Shauna accepted the role of Executive Director and has carried it out with the grace and strength of someone born to lead. Other staff stepped up, too, taking on new roles, going back to school, stretching themselves, seeking additional certificates of achievement, and digging in deeper to their true selves. New partnerships have come our way, some old friends have parted company to pursue new adventures, and our work has deepened and expanded.

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And who is Networks today? Are we the same organization started on a whim and a dream by Mike and I 24 years ago? In many ways we are the same wild and unabashed group of rebel-rousers refusing to play it safe or by the traditional rules. We still look to the cutting edge, the untried, and the “why shouldn’t we?” initiatives… especially when our passions and values tell us we must, show us that something is terribly wrong, or that others are not willing to try. That’s when Networks has always shined. We still do. But we are also a real organization that is almost a quarter of a century old. We have a proven track record of effectiveness, a group to turn to when you feel there’s no one else, and a well respected mature non-profit that has weathered and grown through situations some thought would end us. Not! And like many we support and call our teachers, these life lessons have instead enriched us beyond what we ever could have imagined.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Networks, what our next chapters will entail, and how we will continue to grow! What a wonderful and amazing ride this has been….

feet encircling found treasures on the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With much love,

Rosa

 

 

The importance of lunch!

Grief can be all-consuming, a darkness that while initially feels horrible can actually become a crutch & an all too familiar blanket to keep out others & life. Knowing the very real pangs of grief & the weird pull it can have on you, I have studied it & have tried to understand it on many levels. I also now see it in many others & have made it part of my work with others. Joanie is one of many of those I have regularly tried to assist over the last three or so years. Joanie has lived through & past many loved ones – most notably are both of her parents who she lived with since childhood & who died within a year of each other, two very close friends died after suffering long battles with cancer, a brother died suddenly in a car accident, & then her closest companion for many years, her dog died. Joanie was referred to me for massage & when we initially talked she complained of a very sore neck, back, & chest. She also said she had frequent stomach issues, including a tightness & insatiable gnawing. We agreed to meet at her house for her first session… I later found out that Joanie hadn’t left her house in weeks other than to go to the grocery store, which she only frequented late at night or very early in the morning when the chance of running into others was slim. She easily recognized that she was sad & was purposefully staying away from others even to the point of shunning others’ offers of help. And gradually, Joanie admitted that she liked the aloneness & even the sadness, as it had become a part of who she now was & she felt safe in this. Our “massage appointments” gradually included lunch, & then laughter & discussions about all kinds of things came in. At one point, Joanie kind of timidly called me her friend & not just her massage therapist to which I smiled & thanked her & called her my friend, too. She began sleeping more & just at night, cleaned her house a bit more, wore different clothes on our scheduled days, & started preparing new foods for me to try. And she stopped complaining about her neck, back, & stomach so much. One day she called me asking if I knew someone she could help, maybe doing errands or helping around the house. I was thrilled she was asking, as I had shared several times how helping others helped me tremendously when I was at my very saddest. I promised to think of someone & get back to her but before I could, Joanie stopped by my home one day….. a huge surprise for me, as I had never seen her just spontaneously go out! She was so excited because a neighbor had come by the other day to ask how she should trim her mango tree, which led to Joanie going over to her yard & not only trimming the tree but also giving her neighbor pointers on her papaya tree & several other bushes. Joanie laughingly complained to me that the yard was such a mess & there was so much to do, it might take her a month to fix it all! The next week, Joanie called me to apologetically cancel our regular appointment. She had forgotten about it & booked herself with her neighbor… who was taking her out to lunch to thank her for her help. I responded that I was thrilled for her & asked how she was feeling. Joanie complained loudly how sore her neck & back were but then added with a laugh that it was a “very good sore”. Joanie has since joined the local senior center where she is taking various classes. She also offers her yard service to those she meets there & it seems many take her up on her offer. She tells them all they must pay her with lunch. Sometimes we still meet for lunch (when she has the time!). At one recent lunch, she told me that she now “just misses” everyone she has lost but likes better those new people she has in her life. And then she complained again about all the demands on her from others & how sore she was!!

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Aloha Oe’, Millie!

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I was introduced to Millicent through another massage therapist. She knew Millicent & her family but did not feel comfortable providing bodywork to her because she had late stage ovarian cancer. I visited Millie at her home & offered to massage her feet, to which she responded with tears saying her feet hurt so badly. She apologized for the condition of her feet & toenails but I just said that everyone here in Maui has nasty feet! She chuckled with me but seemed embarrassed so instead I suggested we get a pan of warm sudsy water & just let them soak. She loved this idea & said she hadn’t been able to get in the bathtub for so long & missed just lying in warm water. As her feet soaked, I massaged her hands & then her neck & scalp. Millie purred like a kitten! This started a 2 year ritual between Millie & I, where our monthly visits were a combination of soaking (yes, gradually getting her into a bathtub again), chatting, massaging, giggling, & singing old songs. Millie said that everyone was so afraid to touch her as she became sicker but all she wanted was others to hold her. She was afraid to ask. Millie’s granddaughter, Lokelani, was the first to ask if she could sit with us… & so she learned how to massage her Tutu’s neck just the way she liked it. Next came Sam, Millie’s son & Lokelani’s father. He joined us after I massaged his shoulders one day after work & asked if he could do the same for his mother. Soon our visits transitioned to many of us around Millie’s bed which was now center-stage in the family’s living room…. all singing, laughing, & massaging one another.

The last day I saw Millie was at a nearby beach. Millie had been saying for some time that she needed to get to the ocean & so her family made it happen.   Her “boys” carried her into the ocean, cradling her in their arms, while many others joined in as always singing her songs & massaging her & one another. And, as always, Millie beamed & purred.

I was told that Millie passed one evening not long afterwards, while Sam was massaging her feet.

My Recent A.T. Ah-Ha Moment — (from Stacey Figueroa)

Recently my grandfather needed more bathroom cups.  However, I happened to be at the $1 store and they did not have normal size bathroom cups in plastic. (He can’t use paper because the Listerine eats through them  and they collapse when you pick them up.)  I noticed mini-cups clearly marketed for other enjoyment(!!).  But they were plastic and small and the perfect size for his morning needs. So I picked them up to hold him over.

Well… it turns out this was a perfect thing! He can pick them up without HELP! He does not have to tilt his head back as far, thus not choking. The cups are sturdy and do not crack like some bathroom cups, nor does the Listerine eat through them like the paper cups. Woo hoo!

When I saw him last night he asked me to pick up some more of THOSE cups. He said they were good to use now. I said no problem, I bought the last 8 packs at the $1 store today. 🙂 He was quite a happy Grandpop and my Mom was happy, too.  Mom chimed in and shared that it helps because she would set him up for the morning routine and by the time he was ready the Listerine would have leaked through the cups or she had to help him grasp the cups. Not any more!

So, a simple  smaller cup has added or extended a level of independence to a stroke victim and older man.  Another victory for keeping our eyes and imagination open… anything can be AT!

Just sharing….

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Miracles? Probably not, but…..

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Several years ago, I was asked by a friend to attend / demo our approach to body / energy work at a health fair in my local community… two colleagues, Marianne & Jess, joined me.  We set up a massage table & the adapted massage chair & several people enjoyed mini-treatments from us.  A couple of folks came easily up to us, a few kept coming back for more, & one man kept circling closer & eventually landed & was skittish but then melted! (I was later told that people who knew him were almost in tears watching him!  Apparently he is a very cautious man & rarely lets people in.)  A woman similarly kept coming by & watching but when asked was clearly not sure & would kinda run away (never said a word).  I kept talking with her with each round she made & offered my hand to her (my palm up) & she took it…. I put my other hand on top of hers & she put her other one on top of mine.  She then quickly pulled away & fled again.  She came back a few minutes later pulling a young woman with her.  This woman introduced herself as her nurse & said she had never seen her friend so interested in something.  I reached out my hand again & she took it & walked me over to the massage table where she climbed aboard & laid down face up, as she had seen others do.  I started Reiki with her & she reached out for her nurse friend.  Within a couple of minutes, the woman started showing signs to her nurse that she was having auras & was about to go into a seizure….. but she didn’t want to move off the table.  Not knowing what their usual process was when she seizured I asked if I should stop & the woman on the table said “no!” very emphatically.  Her nurse friend looked very surprised she spoke & so strongly & so I kept doing what I was doing.  I had recently studied CranioSacral Therapy (CST) so sat down at her head & did some very simple “adjustments” & a “stillpoint”.  The nurse kept watching closely but the seizure never happened.  After awhile, I finished & she slowly sat up.  She was smiling ear-to-ear & very calm.  Her nurse was blown away & said this never happens —- once an aura is that clear, a seizure happens & apparently her seizures are pretty substantial.  The nurse asked what I had done & I tried to explain Reiki & CST, as best I could.  I told her where she could go for more info.  From what I was later told, the nurse took a CST course at Upledger Institute.  I told this story at my CST II training at Upledger & my teacher was aware of cases where seizures were lessened in intensity & regularity by CST but not prevented or stopped while in the midst of one or as it was coming on…. but he certainly confirmed that it could.