Category Archives: Stories & Musings

Tales, thoughts, & introspections as we learn & grow.

Networks @ 25… Wrapping up our year of celebration!

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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Networks is … helping people to grow where ever they are.  My first memories of Networks go way back to the 1990’s.  Not long after I received my Master’s degree and was having problems finding a job, I realized I would need to plan my own destiny and figure things out for myself.  So, I decided to apply for a grant and I asked Networks to look over the proposal because I had never written anything similar before.  I still remember Harriet Gordon sitting with me on my apartment floor reading through piles of printed pages to make sure everything was in order.  Back then, I was using a computer, but it was necessary to have several copies of the proposal, and for a blind woman with very little computer experience, it was no small feat.  But Harriet came over and proofed everything and I actually did get the contract.  Since that time, I have often sought help from Networks, and now I am part of it—helping others in their efforts.

    – Suzanne Erb; Accommodations Specialist, Networks

———-

Networks is…..

Never ending encouragement and positive support

Equal opportunities for all

Teamwork

Way of Viewing the world of accessibility … Universal Access and opportunities

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Ready and willing to provide training and support

Kind, caring and knowledgeable

Sharing of hopes and visions

   — Tracy Lapreziosa; Assistive Technology Lead, Networks

———-

Several years before there was a “Network” Mike and Rosa asked me what I saw for my son’s future.  Mitchell was almost 8 at the time.  I shared my vision of what I hoped his future would be and little did I know at that time that Networks would play a role in making my vision a reality.  I saw my son living as independently as possible in a place of his own, having a real job and making spending money.  He liked being around people and was already a part of his community, but I hoped for more.

When Networks was founded, I sometimes was invited to present at training sessions as  a parent to give my perspective to trainees; primarily employees in the ID system in Philadelphia.  Mike felt it was important for them to hear from real people living with children and adults with disabilities and what we would need and expect for the future.  Keeping a finger on the pulse and bringing reality rather than just theory into the classrooms was always important to Mike.  Just presenting theory was never enough.

When Mitchell reached transition age I happened to run into Mike one day near my office, a block away from Networks’ office downtown, and we caught up.  He offered to get involved with Mitchell’s transition and our district agreed to contract with Networks to do just that.  Networks staff got to know Mitchell during the spring and used the extended school year time to do community based assessments and job development for him based on his skills and interests.   They saw the strengths and potential in a young man who most people only saw his multiple severe disabilities.

Mitchell came out of that summer with a job he still has today; 17 years later.  Additional work opportunities were developed for him when he was leaving school.  At about that time, I was asked to serve on the Networks board where I still serve today.  While we have all changed over the years since then, Networks has maintained it’s philosophy supporting a ‘can do’ attitude.  As we celebrate a quarter of a century of Networks, my hope is that while changes continue to occur in the organization and the ID system and service areas expand, the basics of the beginnings of Networks will carry forward as the guiding principles of the organization for the next 25 years!

Ruth Landsman; Long-term Friend, Advocate, and Networks’ Board Director

———-

Networks is… opportunity, possibility, dignity and choice. Networks is… passion, hard work, creativity and discovery. Networks is… holistic, honest and open-minded. Networks wholeheartedly believes in each individual person and their potential. Other people ask, “why?”. Networks asks, “why not?” Why not do everything we can to provide people the supports they need to live their best lives? Networks is… giving it your all even when meeting resistance from The Way Things Have Always Been. Networks is… progressive and forward-thinking. The only way to be.

Nikita Arnett; Transition and Research Liaison, Networks

———-

Networks is a group of beautiful people, working to serve others in the ways they are inspired to help.  It’s about empowering, healing, supporting, making connections…and I don’t even know the half of what all these wonderful folks do!

Jeremy Duke; Wholistic Practices Team Member, Networks

———-

At its core, Networks is an organization of people devoting their lives and careers to help other people.

These days it seems that such an occupation is becoming less and less “fashionable”.   Starting with the “me decade” of the 70’s, success has been increasingly defined in terms of personal achievement and self-service.  Yet Networks has been steadfast, continuing to pursue Mike and Rosa’s original vision with consistent and remarkable success.  While my contribution has been marginal, I am proud to have been a part of the family for these 25 years.

Paul Bartolomeo; Attorney, Friend, Inaugural Board Director, and Board President

———-

And last of all, Tracy offers us a look back at this 25th year and how we have celebrated…

Networks: Celebrating 25 Years!

While it’s certainly time to celebrate, it launched us into a year of reflection, sharing, and gratitude to all those who helped us realize our vision and joined in our journey to where we are today.

Where to begin?

Rosa started us off with a launch of the historical video of the “birth” of Networks sharing how it all came to be!    We began meeting regularly eagerly planning fun surprises and ways to show our thanks to our supporters.

In January, we honored our 2nd most senior individual still at Networks, George Callaway.   Did you check out the video?   We expressed our gratitude to Anthony Gallasso a former Networks team member for leading and guiding George to his employment at Networks.

March began with a giant thank you to the Assistive Technology Advisory group participants who helped guide the direction of our focus and delivery of Technologies for Independence and Control.  The group included friends of Networks and others in and outside of the field to bring objective insight and considerations of our AT work.

Jessica shared a beautiful description of our Wholistic Practices in June to celebrate our work in this area.  Alternative modalities such as massage, meditation, energy work, breathing techniques aromatherapy and much more are real options for EVERYONE, not just tree hugging folks!

In September, Shauna shared how our Community and Organizational Development has evolved and changed to meet the needs of those we serve and support.   Styles and topic areas have changed with the times as we assist groups of varying sizes.  Networks may be small but our ripple effect has been instrumental in bringing change and growth to many over the years!

Throughout the year, staff members, board members, Networks friends and supporters have been sharing personal thoughts of what Networks is to them.  As you read each one, it is evident how much Networks has impacted not only those we support with our services but our own team members and our personal supporters.

And, of course, we will end the celebration year, with good eats, games, music, dancing, singing, playing, sharing and reminiscing at our Anniversary Party in Philadelphia.  Looking forward to the energy of a room filled with love and gratitude!

Plans are in full swing for the future of our next 25 years!  This coming year will be filled with more trainings, plans for expansion, and helping other organizations.

 

Networks @ 25 – 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 Networks’ folks…. their perspective on what Networks is! ♥️

———————————–

Networks is a lot of things but for me, Networks is an idea.  It is an idea that every single being must be fully included, heard, respected, and treated well and wholly… all in creating and visioning a more equitable and just society and world.  Networks is a safe place to ask “Why?”, “Why Not?”, and even admit, “I don’t know… but let’s figure it out.”

When I came to join Networks nearly 15 years ago, I was a bright-eyed energetic 20 something and thought I knew it all.  I think they brought me into the “family” for my tendency to (sometimes) be a spitfire.  As I moved through the days, weeks, months, and finally years of being with Networks I came to realize I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and where I had the opportunity to stretch and grow (sometimes painfully!).  I was given a solid foundation in my previous “lives” with other organizations and employers in various positions.  

My greatest teachers were those who worked (and work) at Networks, who are affiliated with Networks, and whom Networks has had the honor to “walk along with” (individuals, families, teams, etc.) over the years – and even those who have pushed back against Networks and the work we do.

Networks is a BIG, bright idea that is now 25 years wiser.  I am honored to call Networks my employer, my teacher, my family.

(Jessica Stover:  Director of Training and Consultation)

———————————–

Ever since I can remember, there was Networks. My mom, Michelle Sparling, started working for Networks when I was a baby.  So for me, Networks is family. I grew up going to beach retreats where Rosa taught me to float and where Mike taught me to surf.  It was during a Christmas party at Networks that I first learned I loved BBQ chicken pizza.  Going to the Valley Forge office and drawing ridiculous pictures of Mike on white boards was always fun, but most importantly, learning that EVERYONE deserves to be treated as an equal.

Networks isn’t just a business, it’s a family. When I was in high school, Mike passed away. I remember being very confused and wondered what would happen with Networks. For my whole life, I knew Networks as Mike and Rosa.

In college, I decided to study Psychology. I loved working with people and growing up I had incredible examples such as my mom, Rosa and Mike. I wanted to do something like them. I wanted to work with people, I wanted to change lives like I saw them doing. In college, I had to complete an internship. I asked my mom if I could do an internship with Networks.  I absolutely loved it! I remember thinking how cool it was that I grew up a child of Networks and now I was interning with them!

After I graduated college, Jessica Stover asked me if I wanted to help with event planning for Networks. I was going to be WORKING for Networks! I no longer was a child learning how to float in the ocean, drawing pictures of Mike on the white board, or eating BBQ chicken pizza while the adults played “cut throat Santa” (a fun version of gift giving), I was an employee of Networks for Training and Development!

Networks to me, is family. Ever since I started working for Networks I’ve thought to myself, “I want to make Mike happy.” I think to myself, “If Mike were here, would he be pleased with how I am handling myself? Would he be impressed with me?” Networks, isn’t just a business, Networks is home.

Surfer Life

The ocean was clear
The tide was still
Surfers sitting on their boards,
waiting for a wave.
I thought of you.
The sky was blue
The clouds were serene
The sun piercing down its rays,
I thought of you.
I stepped in the water
My heart beating fast
The waves were coming with force.
I closed my eyes,
and thought of you.
I gripped the board,
taking a breath,
and laid it on a wave
Knowing you were there.
My body against the board,
looking at the open blue water
waiting for the perfect wave.
I saw you smiling from behind
As the wave rolled under me
I kicked my feet
pushing me forward
my heart was pounding
I stood to my feet
I thought of you.
I heard your voice
your laughter was loud
I knew you were with me
just like when I was a little girl
holding my hand cheering me on
I felt you there
thatʼs why I thought of you.

(Laura Sparling McCall:  Social Media and Marketing Coordinator)

———————————–

For me, the seeds of this Networks dream were sown more than 25 years ago over a slice of pizza in center city Philadelphia.

Our founders, Mike and Rosa, had a dream to help people and I was asked to help with tax and business setup.

Many slices and stories later, here we are still celebrating the Networks dream.

(Michael Fittipaldi: Former Treasurer, Board Member, and Friend)

———————————–

Networks is a small organization, but we are big in passion and commitment to what we do. I have seen that all at Networks truly believe in what they preach and practice: People with disabilities, any type of disability, should be fully involved in every aspect of their community. True full community involvement allows people to live the quality of life they should have, and I have seen how that effects people, both the person with the disability, and their family and friends, in a very positive way. It has been very rewarding to have worked for Networks these past 19 years and I look forward to continue helping with Networks mission for many years to come.

(Doris Kalina: Director of Administrative Services

———————————–

A place I call home.  A place for believing, trying, practicing, learning, experimenting, stretching and growing.  It’s a place for sharing, guiding, and giving, too.  Really, when you think about it, isn’t home a place to do all these things?

I remember when I began working at Networks, more than two decades ago.  I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” Working the “Networks Way” was different than any place I had worked. It didn’t take long, however, to get into a groove and figure out how I fit into such a unique place, but I sure had lots of learning to do, and that’s one of the great things about Networks.  It is a place to continually learn and not rest on our laurels.  It is a place for standing up for what’s right, for people, and for situations. It is also a place to work with a great group of people!  Over the years, we have all had some great times working and playing together, living life, raising families, and being there for one another all the while, doing what we love, in a place that we feel we can make a difference.  That is what home is all about! 

(Michelle Sparling:  Employment and Transition Director)

———————————–

The pediatricians examining my three-year old son delivered what they presumed was very bad news.  There are special places for children like this, they concluded solemnly, and once that was settled I could think about starting over, having other children, enjoying a new life.  They saw only one barrier to achieving this sensible outcome, and that was my unreasonable attitude:  I had spent the diagnostic evaluation telling them how well-adjusted, bright, funny, and interesting this child was.  Fortunately, a hefty dose of realism was within their healing mandate to provide: they wrote a script for psychological counseling and treatment, to begin at once.  For me.   

It is this kind of incident, played out by any number of well-meaning people in our lives – medical professionals, family members, school staff, neighbors – that can demoralize a person with disabilities (yes, even a small child) and their parents.  It is all too easy to start doubting ourselves in the presence of deeply entrenched belief systems wearing the protective camouflage of expert knowledge, common practice, common sense, or what “everyone knows” to be true.  Who do we think we are, anyway, to argue, to annoy, to insist that the world needs to change?

Being part of a community of like-minded people becomes urgent.  You can’t be a parade of one wearing an inclusion heart on your sleeve and carrying the banner for diversity.  You need a circle of friends who share your vision.  So I began watching and listening for the messages and the actions that let me know I was in safe company, and would not have to defend or explain the attitudes that, in the eyes of my son’s diagnosticians, called for corrective treatment.  Every time I met such people, it felt like a homecoming to a family I had not known I had.  It was a great relief to be among others who understood my and my son’s experiences, and who connected, shared, advised, laughed, brainstormed – and, at crucial moments, just showed up for us. 

Is it any wonder that these homecomings began to multiply, person by person, into an entire community?  While my son was still in his teens, many of the people I had gravitated toward during his early years were in the initial stages of organizing a community, Networks for Training and Development, now known to many in Pennsylvania and beyond simply as “Networks.”  That single word hints at how it works:  you don’t need to be an employee of Networks to identify yourself as a member of this evolving community of practice, values and support.  Through Networks, the “unrealistic” expectations that got me into trouble with my son’s diagnosticians continue to be nurtured rather than dispelled.   It remains my destination when I want to think clearly and breathe free.  

Happy 25th, Networks!   Please keep a light in the window for all of us!     

(Pat Amos: Longtime Friend, Collaborator, and Board Member)

———————————–

Networks is… a family.  My involvement with Networks began when my parents founded the organization when I was 12 years old, and I’ve seen firsthand how close-knit everyone at Networks has been throughout the years, with a feeling much more like family than simply co-workers.  They treated me like family when I was a teenager, they welcomed me in as a family member when I began working with them while in college, and they’ve continued to support and accommodate me as family does when my life took me to new places and in new directions.

(Michael Landes: Webmaster)

Networks @ 25! …Honoring our Assistive Technology Advisory Group…

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.

——————————

A Thank-You to our Assistive Technology (AT) Advisory Group…

Several years ago, Networks established the first of 4 advisory groups.  This and subsequent advisory groups were born out of a need and wish to look more deeply at the work we have offered to people, teams and organizations with deep heartfelt desires to assist in creating lasting change and to provide alternatives to the status quo of traditional support systems.

The AT Advisory Group (connected to our service area, “Technologies for Independence and Control”) was a guiding light as we re-thought deeply (and sometimes painfully), “Should we continue to do this (specific) work… how can we re-offer our skills to others… what areas should we (and should we not) focus…” and more.  During the beginning of this Advisory Group we, at Networks, were seriously thinking about our focus and the delivery of Technologies for Independence and Control in the face of questions at that time coming from the outside world.  We chose to invite not only friends of Networks, but also people in and outside of the “field” who would bring to the table highly objective insights and considerations of this very work.

While some on this Advisory Group have since moved on after offering us their personal and professional assistance, we wish to sincerely thank each and every person who was a guidepost along the way.

Each advisory group functions a bit differently – with a different scope and set of goals – all offer us, and the world at large, unique considerations.  Their opinions and points of view continue to be invaluable and create opportunities to push ourselves further organizationally and dream of a future which is bigger, brighter, and more inclusive than it is today.

To read more about our service area, “Technologies for Independence and Control” and to also see who is currently members of this AT Advisory Group, please read further here: http://www11.networksfortraining.org/services.php#technologiesforIndependenceControl

Networks @ 25! …Honoring George Callaway…

Networks @ 25 logoCan 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.

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.

——————————

George Callaway smiling and looking at the camera

George Callaway

This month we are thrilled to honor George Callaway, the 2nd most senior person still at Networks!  George is probably the best known Networks’ employee and has served us in more ways than any of us can count — copier of reams of training handouts, transcriber of many workshop evaluations, teacher, trainer, jokester, techie extraordinaire (especially phone systems), shoulder massager, great hugger & consoler on tough days, transportation guide (especially mass transit systems), and so much more!

Image of Anthony Galasso sitting a computer desk and smiling

Anthony Galasso

And George would not be at Networks if it were not for his good friend and Networks’ former employee, Anthony Galasso.  It was Anthony who George 1st visited and helped, and helped yet again… leading to George being employed by us.  It was Anthony who was George’s 1st job coach.  And it was Anthony who remained there with George long after he moved on from Networks continuing as George’s good friend and champion.  We can never thank you enough, Anthony, for all you gave us…. including George.

Love you both forever!

And here’s a fun version of George’s story!  Enjoy!!

https://youtu.be/yeq7mVPifhc

What is NOT assistive technology?

Recently on a listserv (Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology – www.qiat.org) , a question was posed which caught my eye, “What is and what is not assistive technology?”

WHOA!  That could be a pretty heavy question…!

question marks

What?

At Networks we think everything is assistive technology (AT) and are always looking and exploring different, new, and creative AT, accommodations and adaptations.

What unrolled on this listserv and the responses were nothing short of fantastic and did not disappoint.  If anything, it spurred us to think even more deeply and fully confirmed so much of what we’ve known for years.  We’ve been in situations where a support person didn’t feel AT should be afforded to a person because they saw it as a “crutch”  (my brain was boggled!) where, in fact, it was (in the end) a full support for the person in question to do their job (yes!  a paid job in the community earning a competitive wage!) more effectively.  There are still SO many misconceptions and false beliefs surrounding assistive technology, accommodations, and adaptations.  Part of this is, potentially, just CALLING it assistive technology — these two words alone sets apart things as special and only for a particular group of people…  But, this is a conversation (and posting!) for another day.

We compiled nearly all of the thoughtful responses below.  But, before you read further, ask yourself…  what IS and what is NOT assistive technology?  We hope you’ll leave you thoughts in the comment section & let’s get the conversation started!


What is Assistive Technology, Accommodations, and Adaptations?

 AT is….

  • a game changer
  • access, transforming
  • problem-solving access
  • about asking “how can we…?” and “what can she/he do with the right support?”
  • about discovering new strategies and tools to expand access and opportunity
  • about building the best toolbox
  • a team effort, including the person
  • a process of involving more than just the person to access potential
  • goal driven
  • a dynamic process
  • evolving and constant research
  • (can be) magical
  • a journey, not a destination
  • a tool
  • a process
  • a tool used by a person
  • to express themselves and interact with the world
  • dynamic and ongoing
  • everything
  • a set of words that creates something “special” for a person / creates a separate group (not good!)
  • a state of mind, analogous to the maker movement
  • a state of mind is not all that compatible with the status quo and business as usual

 AT is not….

  • a crutch, cheating
  • quantifying deficits
  • about justifying why something has always been done a certain way
  • done
  • always high-tech
  • a magic wand
  • one size fits all
  • causing an unfair advantage
  • an immediate fix
  • a destination
  • a specific device/app/piece of equipment
  • the complete solution
  • a persons identity [i]
  • a product
  • thinking for a person
  • making connections between ideas for a person
  • analyzing information for a person
  • completing an assignment for a person
  • providing an unfair advantage for a person
  • a one-time event
  • without continual attention

[i] Unless the person using the AT defines it that way

Adapted from QIAT (Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology) Listserv, November 2017

 

OCTOBER – National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Yes, it’s that time of year, again. October was the time to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. For old curmudgeons who have been celebrating it for many years, it can be easy for us to have a rather jaded view of the whole affair. In many respects, I feel as though we have made very little progress in our efforts to provide people with disabilities the basic right to work in the fields of our own choosing, and to be paid on a par with our peers. In fact, the numbers indicate that we still have a very long way to go before we can truly say that we can walk into any employment situation and know that we will have an equal shot at obtaining any job for which we are qualified. But, if we take a closer look at our own history, we can see how and why this issue matters.

People with disabilities have often been working in one way or another throughout history. Unfortunately, the ways in which people with disabilities have had to earn a living involved begging and other occupations frowned upon by most members of their communities. In other instances, we were shut away in attics, often hidden away from society entirely. Of course, there have always been celebrated exceptions to this rule.

With the dawning of the Enlightenment, when education of children and adults with disabilities began to become a reality, people with disabilities began to insist on participating fully in the communities of our own choosing, and in a way commensurate with our abilities. Eventually, legislation finally caught up with those of us who believe that education and employment in inclusive settings is a goal to which we should all be able to aspire.. That is something to celebrate. Is the legislation perfect? No – but it is a start.

The Workforce Investment Opportunities Act (WIOA), offers us the opportunity to realize this goal. But it can only work if we all treat every day as if it were a day to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness.

  • Be an active participant in the movement. In every store you frequent, think about jobs that people with disabilities could do. Imagine someone you know working in that store. If you have a disability, imagine yourself working there, too.
  • As you go about your daily tasks, think about barriers that people with disabilities might face in performing some of those same tasks. Think how those barriers could be eliminated, and how their elimination might benefit everyone.
  • Think about how your company could employ people with disabilities. How can we all work together to make every day a day on which we can celebrate our triumphs but continue to work towards the full participation of people with disabilities in our communities of work ?

If we all join together, we can make a difference. See how many ways you can work towards making work work for people with disabilities. Be a part of the movement! And, if you are so inclined, please feel free to put ideas into the comments section. I’ll start with a few ideas of my own.

Every time I take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft, I let the driver know that I am going to work. I explain that I am going to attend a meeting, provide a training, or provide music. These drivers meet many people on a daily basis, and they can spread the word.

I also advocate for universal design in many situations where I encounter barriers. This includes everything from inaccessible kiosks to flat, touchscreen microwave ovens.

I’ll bet you can think of lots more. Let’s all work to make every day National Disability Employment Awareness Day!

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

 

 

So You Want to Go Back to School… (Lessons Learned)

I was recently asked to share some thoughts on my recent completion of my Master’s Degree. I returned to school for my Masters several years after completing my Bachelors’ Degree – 13 years. I love learning! I enjoy reading and acquiring new skills and information. This being said, I had struggled with the decision to go back to school – how would I EVER find the time! And what program would I pursue? When I found the program at Nova Southeastern University I could begin to see the possibility of my completing a graduate degree – all courses in this particular program were offered online. How critical this was to my completion of my degree I would not realize until later. The curriculum was just what I had been looking for – a good balance of technology for education and use of social media. I could see my using the information I was learning right away. And I did! It seemed that whichever course I was into at the time was correlating with something we were doing here at Networks. Lesson One – pursue your passions!

My biggest struggle in returning to school – getting my brain used to rigorous research and writing. It is amazing how “out of practice” we get at these things. It definitely took some adjustment on my part. But this was one of the things I enjoyed most about returning to school – it forced me to find the time to research, and keep up to date with, information relevant to my field. It is the one thing I am extremely pleased about with my alumni status from my graduate school – continued access to their library! Lesson Two – never stop learning!

Some think online learning is easy – it is not. Learning online is not for everyone. It takes discipline. You have to carve out the time to get the work done. The value of online learning comes in your ability to learn wherever, whenever, and however you need to. My father was diagnosed with cancer a short time into the program at Nova, and his care took increased amounts of my time. The fact that the Nova program was online is actually what made me able to continue. As long as I had an Internet signal I could take my work with me and get it done. My dad would actually ask me “so what are we learning this semester?” I think he enjoyed the stimulation of his mind as much as I did. He was my biggest cheerleader and sounding board that I had! I could not have completed the course without him. Lesson Three – we all need cheerleaders when we try things that challenge us! Even so, I did have to take a semester here and there as a break due to things happening here at home.

I completed my degree – a Masters in Information Technology in Education – in August of 2015. My only regret was the absence of my cheerleader – we lost my dad to cancer one month before completing my degree. Not only was it a great sense of accomplishment, but it gave me knowledge and skills that I will use throughout my career. Due to the recent loss of my dad, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. My Networks’ family celebrated my accomplishment along with me – I also could not have done this without them. They reminded me of my next lesson. Lesson Four – take time to celebrate your successes!

If you have a dream that you would like to pursue, take the time to do it. I would have regretted not completing this life goal if I had not taken the opportunity to do so. Thank you Networks for the opportunity you presented me. Thanks also to my family and Networks for the support and encouragement you provided. For others thinking of pursuing their passions — is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? DEFINITELY

One Word!

2015 2016 written into sand with wave washing away written 2015At the start of 2015, many of us identified “One Word” we hoped to work toward, live up to, embody, strive toward and more…  Here are a few of our reflections (along with, maybe, our new word for 2016)…!

Jessica shared, “My word for 2015 was “creativity.”  I’ve been conscious of my need to create & the joy I get from drawing, doodling, painting, and more this year.  Each morning I try to begin my day with drawing something, doodling, or what have you.  It really helps me to ground me in my day.  If I can’t do that first thing in the morning, I’ve been making sure to do something creative throughout the day overall… or evenat the very end of the day.  My word has absolutely kept me in a state of presence and gratitude.  Creativity has lead me to reclaiming joy!  2016 will be my year (and word) of JOY!”

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Julie’s word for 2015 was determination!

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Rosa shared, “…dance! It’s for the actual activity that I want to do more of but it’s also the metaphorical meaning of “dancing” — meaning flexibility, impermanence, joy, lightness, etc.  …(I) have certainly held this mantra all year…. & boy, has it fit & taken me on many extraordinary adventures!!! Throughout 2015 I feel I have “danced” with so many new and interesting people, travelled to several exotic locations to literally dance & help others dance, & have looked for ways to bend & be more flexible as life sometimes happens.  The lovely blend of real dancing & the idea of dancing has clearly been a theme for me this year, & has pulled me back into my youth as well as pushed me forward into more of the now me.  I have visualized a need to sway more, jitterbug, or even samba through situations.  I have also needed to pick up my pace, do a stomp, take the lead, & more importantly / more often lean into my partners more to go with their rhythm (admittedly, not always easy for me).  I have connected with an amazing jazz musician who learned of my love of tap dancing & has asked me to dance with him on a few occasions.  And I now have a very colorful tutu that I ran 2 5k races in!  As to 2016, the word that keeps coming to me in many ways & from many sources is wholeness.  This represents to me a desire to go deeper & to find connections with various threads in my life, to better connect my many selves, & to find within me other ways to grow in fullness & oneness.

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Nancy Jo writes, “My word is helpful this year (2015)”

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Stacey shares, “…I believe my word is commitment!  I found at times, I wasn’t sure about something so I said to myself just make a decision to commit to it and own it. …Or keeping a commitment to someone or self.   It was about a lot of things…making and reaching goals, personal and professional. …Going places, Doing things, Seeing people, What clothes to wear, and so forth…make a decision no matter what and commit to it. 

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Michelle writes, “My One Word for the year has been “give.”  I had grand plans of “giving” in different ways each week, but life took me in a different direction!  Instead of quick “gives,” they turned out to be much more thoughtful, some very involved and time intensive, some required giving of myself in ways I have never done before!  The year has opened not only my eyes but also my heart to the real meaning of “giving.”

Next year’s word:  Pause — My new word is “pause,” and has two meanings for me.  One is to stop before taking action, to think, process, and make good decisions.  The second is to pause and observe the wonders around me and enjoy moments and create new memories, using all of my senses and abilities.”

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Did you have a “word” for 2015?  Do you have a “new” word for 2016??  Please share it with us!

Holiday Shopping the Easy Way with Suzanne Erb

Are you tired even before you start thinking about shopping for the holidays? Are you looking for ways to find those stocking stuffers without fighting the crowds, looking for parking, waiting for your ride, or you just don’t have time to do all that running around? Well, I’m here to tell you that I hardly do any running around during the holiday season, unless it involves music making and/or partying. I’ve collected a few tips and tricks that have made my shopping for the holiday season less stressful, and hopefully hassle free, and I hope they will help you, too.

How do I do it? I never have to leave my couch. I go online and save! Not only do I save on transportation costs, but I sometimes save on shipping, too.

Since I shop on line, and do not have the ability to look at the pictures, I make it my business to read all the fine print, particularly as it pertains to return policies, shipping charges, product description and reviews. I make sure to keep all those e-mail invoices, receipts and shipping confirmations I receive so that I will have a record of all my transactions. This enables people to return merchandise more easily should the need arise. I also try to find a telephone number in case I need to speak to a real person.

I prefer spending my money at stores that make sure that their websites are easy to navigate because I like to let them know that I appreciate their effort to make their sites disability friendly. If navigating the site is problematic, but I know that this website has specific items that I want to buy, I will try to find a phone number, if possible. Otherwise, I just close the page and move on.

There are many major chains that have made great strides in their efforts to offer blind-friendly websites. Many of them offer apps for smart phones that are easy to navigate and use. “Say Shopping” is an IOS app that is a great iPhone app that is good for people who are not good at spelling. Using your microphone, you can converse with the app and find products. It currently features products available through Target. In the November issue of Access WORLD, published by the American Foundation for the Blind, there is an article entitled “Holiday Shopping Using Your iOS Device” by Janet Ingber. This article is a review of two shopping apps that are completely accessible – the Apple Store app, and the Amazon app. She also reviews “RetialMeNot”, which is not a store; rather, it is an app that provides promo codes, coupons, and much more. Check out the article at the link below.
http://afb.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=bd3c8fefc9f905f5ccf41c577&id=e856797f9a&e=6ec4032e1b

In addition to the main chain stores and websites with which most people are familiar, there are companies that are somewhat off the beaten track for people outside of the blind community, but offer quality products at reasonable prices. These are companies owned and/or operated by people with disabilities who are entrepreneurs. While some of them may include the word “blind” in their name, they all sell products that are designed to meet everyone’s needs. It’s nice to be able to support one of our own, and it puts my “employment first” money where my mouth is.

blindmicemegamall.com” is a company featuring several stores in one large, accessible website. You can find everything from electronics to household items, books, jewelry, and more – a virtual “mall” that’s only a few keystrokes or clicks away. You won’t get lost at www.blindmicemegamall.com.

The AT Guys is a great place to find reasonably priced Blindness and Deaf-Blindness products. But don’t be fooled by the name. They have lots of items such as keyboards, headphones, speakers, and other accessories for the cheap geek in all of us. Their free app, available for both Apple and Android devices, called Blind Bargains, shows not only their bargains, but also other sites offering other bargains, as well. There is also a classified section, an audio section where you can find their podcasts, and a news section where you will find important AT news you can use, particularly if you are interested in AT used by people with print disabilities. Visit www.blindbargains.com.

Blind Alive is a company that specializes in wellness products for everyone by providing both verbal and video instructions for their workouts. They offer other products, too, including a special backpack that doesn’t put strain on your back muscles. For all of us who want to be healthy visit www.blindalive.com and feel good about yourself.

By no means has this been an exhaustive list of accessible shopping websites. I encourage you to Google stores you like and see whether their websites meet your needs. I encourage those of you who do not need to use accessible websites also to support companies that make their websites user friendly for all. Let them know you appreciate their effort. I wish all of you a joyful and accessible shopping holiday season!