• ‘Nurse Patty’ celebrates 25 years of service

    A lot has changed at SERV Behavioral Health System Inc. over the past three decades, yet some things have remained constant. One of them is the presence of Patricia Delgado, RN, BSN. Affectionately known as ‘’Nurse Patty” by consumers and her co-workers, Patricia has served as a Nursing Services Coordinator in SERV Centers for more than 25 years. Whether educating staff on prescription medication, fighting the healthcare bureaucracy, or advocating for consumers, she has proven time and time again to be a compassionate leader, and her commitment to our mission and those in our care has never wavered.

    Recently, Patricia celebrated a milestone anniversary, and we caught up with her to learn more about her time at SERV and what has kept her so passionate about her career for all these years.

    Q: When did you begin working at SERV? What attracted you to the organization?

    A: I started with SERV in 1995, at the beginning of May. Prior to that, I was working in a hospital in the area for 15 years. I remember, one of my co-workers at the hospital had left to pursue a career at SERV, and he highly recommended the organization to me. Also, a lot of the patients I was working with were in SERV programs, and I knew that if I went to SERV, I’d be able to establish better relationships with them and interact with them one-on-one in a more normal environment.

    Ultimately, it was about job satisfaction. I wasn’t getting a lot out of the hospital, and I wanted to do more than just paperwork. SERV offered me the opportunity to be more involved with consumers, advocate for them, and help them get the services they deserve.

    Q: What has changed in the time you’ve been at SERV? What has stayed the same?

    A: Where do I begin? So much has changed. We have really grown significantly as an organization. We have so many more group homes and apartments than we had when I started. We have also been able to expand into new areas and upgrade our facilities and programs. Because of all this, we have been able to help more consumers live independently, work, and go to school.

    What’s stayed the same are the mission, vision, and values. Even though we’ve gone through a lot of changes, we remain devoted to those we serve.

    Q: What are some of your fondest memories?

    A: What I truly love is helping people who were institutionalized for many years see that they can live in the community and lead fulfilling lives. I have so many memories of helping people realize their dreams and become the best versions of themselves. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be there and advocate for the consumers. For many consumers, we are home, and they look to us as family, even though staff maintain therapeutic boundaries. We know we have done and continue to do the best we can for the individuals in our care. In many instances, we have worked with consumers who have terminal illnesses and provided compassionate care for them up until their final days. The memories I’ve made with them—and all the consumers I’ve worked with—will stay with me forever.

    I also really enjoy the client conferences, holiday parties, and events we hold for consumers. We always look forward to these celebrations every year. One year, I remember, the consumers rented tuxes and limos to go to our event. They budgeted for it and everything. We’ve always had great Halloween parties, as well, with pumpkin carving contests and costume contests. It’s extremely rewarding to see everyone so happy and excited.

    If I were to call on one particular memory, it would have to be a sweet 16 birthday party we held for a resident. The resident had always wanted a sweet 16 party, but never got one, and we were able to make that dream happen for her when she was in her fifties. We made the party rock and roll theme, bought her clothes from the times, and decorated the house. We really went all out, and the consumer had an amazing time.

    Q: What is the best part of your job? What keeps you wanting to come to work every day?

    A: That’s easy. The residents! And the staff! My job is incredibly rewarding, and I’m happy to have made an impact on so many lives and met so many amazing people.

    Q: What are you looking forward to in the future?

    A: I would love to see us able to provide more services in a setting to meet the physical challenges of the aging population. I’m also excited to help more people and to see co-workers progress in their careers.

  • After more than a decade of service, Tina Pond discusses her experience as a DSP at SERV

    For Tina Pond, a Residential Counselor in SERV Achievement Centers, there is nothing more inspiring than witnessing a consumer achieve a goal and reach a new level of independence.

    Tina has been a dedicated member of the SERV team for more than a decade. When we heard she recently celebrated a milestone anniversary, we reached out to learn more about her time with the organization and what has kept her so passionate about her career for so many years.

    Q: When did you begin working at SERV? What attracted you to the organization?

    A: I have been working at SERV for 10 years now. I started as a part-time team member. I was looking to earn some extra money doing something I enjoyed. The manager at the time knew me through one of her friends that I worked with at another job. She was very impressed with my longevity in the field (18 years) and my devotion to the individuals we serve. When I told her I was interested, she was happy to oblige. I moved to full-time staff not too long after that.  

    Q: What has changed in the time you’ve been at SERV? What has stayed the same?

    A: During my time at SERV, I have watched a lot of team members and residents come and go. But what has stayed the same is that the team members are extremely hard-working, caring, and have a lot of empathy for this population. They also are very supportive to each other and all of our residents. This is truly a great team of staff and residents.

    Q: What is the best part of your job?  

    A: It gives me great joy to see the individuals we serve succeed at even the smallest task—how excited they get and the smiles on their faces when they feel that sense of accomplishment. A lot of people in this world today take things for granted. This can be the simplest of things like eating, communicating with others, walking, or going to work every day.

    The majority of the population we serve would love to do all of these things independently, but they either can’t or they need assistance and/or adaptive equipment. So, of course, it is absolutely wonderful and inspiring to see them achieve a goal or reach a new level of independence.

    Q: What keeps you wanting to come to work every day?

    A: Knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life. For many of the consumers, we are family, and they look to us for support and guidance. I always try to focus on a person’s ability rather than their disability. It is my duty to help them achieve their dreams and reach their full potential.  

    Q: What are some of your fondest memories?

    A: Oh, I love watching one of the consumers react and get excited over fireworks on Independence Day and all of the lights on Christmas. Once, I also had a non-verbal individual give me a hug out of the blue. The individual would normally never do something like that, and it was shocking to myself and my co-workers who witnessed it. Another time, during a trip to a pumpkin patch, a consumer had picked his pumpkin and began hugging it because he was so happy that he was there. There are so many memories I could list, but these three things stand out.

    Q: What are you looking forward to in the future?

    A: Many more years of continuing to make a difference in the lives of those we serve.

  • Business Transformation Services: SERV’s heroes behind the scenes

    March 16, 2020: That’s when it all started.

    With the global pandemic forcing the closure of many facilities, SERV’s Business Transformation Services (BTS) team sprang into action.

    First, they focused on facilitating work from home and other corporate pandemic measures. This included a massive build and rollout of laptops, as well as an expansion of VPN technology use and instructional activities.

    They were also tasked with reviewing and revising security priorities. Unfortunately, hackers love a crisis. So, the BTS team prepared to secure and privatize SERV’s new work environments in the face of threats.

    Adjusting to the new normal wasn’t easy. But SERV’s heroes behind the scenes worked tirelessly to ensure the transition went as smooth as possible.

    “We were instantly challenged after doing a COVID-19 impact analysis,” said Bob Donahue, Senior VP of BTS. “To keep pace with the pandemic, we accelerated our decision-making framework while maintaining alignment to our immediate corporate priorities and long-term goals.”

    According to Donahue, the BTS team needed a “course correction,” which called for a resequencing of project plans and tasks without disrupting SERV’s frontline workers.

    The correction involved working with vendors and project teams to establish new, innovative plans that shifted the workload toward more technical aspects that could be handled by the BTS team and non-direct caregivers.

    “We were asking employees for an extraordinary effort in this time of crisis,” Donahue said, “and they delivered.”

    SERV’s BTS team consists of Mark Bensel, Senior Systems Application Analyst; John Mellon, Senior Network Engineer; Yaqoob Yousafzai, Senior Desktop Engineer; Mike Keating, Desktop Support and Helpdesk Engineer; and Stacey Padovano, IT Project Coordinator.

    Right now, the team is working on several major business platform projects. Among them are a new phone system (8x8), a new requisitioning and accounts payable platform (SAP Concur), a migration to Quickbooks online and Raisers Edge/Blackbaud Fundraiser Software, and an implementation and buildout for Project Management Office and Netsmart Telehealth services.

    The team also remains focused on cyber security and plans to offer security awareness training for staff in the coming weeks.

  • Consumers from Mercer County day-trip to Six Flags Great Adventure Wild Safari

    SERV Foundation Grants Program funds first educational and enrichment activity for consumers

    On August 11, 55 consumers and staff from Mercer County ventured out of their group homes and apartment sites and loaded into vans for a day trip to Six Flags Great Adventure Wild Safari.

    The SERV Foundation Grants Program for Consumer Enrichment funded the trip, which Rapps Pharmacy is underwriting. This marks the first time the program has issued a grant to support an educational and enrichment activity for SERV consumers since its introduction in 2019.

    All program sites can apply for grants to plan and implement activities through the SERV Foundation. Activities can include sporting events, bowling trips, picnics, trips to stores or restaurants, or any initiative with a perceived benefit.

    “I cannot thank the SERV Foundation enough for providing us this grant and allowing us to take a large group of consumers to Six Flags Great Adventure Wild Safari,” said Kelly Rufe, Director of SERV Centers Mercer County. “It was truly an amazing trip, and all the consumers were extremely excited to get out of their residences for the day to see exotic animals…I strongly encourage others to take advantage of this wonderful program.”

    Residential Coordinator Peter Pudlo first pitched the idea to go to Six Flags Great Adventure Wild Safari earlier this summer, as a way to get consumers outdoors for some much-needed entertainment during the pandemic. Pudlo also helped plan the trip with other staff members.

    “It’s heartening to see so many of our team members taking the initiative to find new ways to entertain consumers and boost morale during this crisis,” Rufe said. “There’s not many activities we can do without risking exposure, and this drive-thru safari was a great idea.”

    During their self-guided journey through the safari, consumers observed and were educated about more than a thousand exotic animals from six continents. At the park, most of the animals roamed freely across 350 acres of 11 simulated natural habitats—though predators remained behind fences.

    According to consumers, some of the highlights included elephants, rhinos, tigers, and lions. The consumers also saw a baby giraffe named Sierra, who was born in June, and her mother, Muraya.  

    At the end of the day, the consumers had a picnic before heading back to Mercer County.

  • NJACP honors SERV team member Michele Bradley during DSP Hero Awards

    On September 18, in honor of National DSP Recognition Week, the New Jersey Association of Community Providers (NJACP) hosted its first DSP Hero Awards event, wherein they spotlighted individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

    Among the heroes recognized was SERV team member Michele Bradley.

    Michele has been with SERV for more than a decade and has dedicated her life to our mission-driven work. She currently serves as supervisor of the SERV Achievement Centers’ day program in Mercer County.

    When nominating Michele for the NJACP DSP Hero Award, Evan Townsend, the Regional Director of SERV Achievement Centers, wrote, “Michele has gone above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has taken the lead on supervising all of the Progressive Achievement Center staff members and has been covering two group homes.

    “Because of her commitment, her strong communication skills, and her fair leadership style, Michele earns the respect of everyone with whom she works. I always know that I can count on Michele to provide the very highest level of care, which allows me to focus on managing general operational concerns and e-learning efforts for PAC.”

    Michele is one of the many SERV DSPs who have demonstrated heroic levels of selflessness and compassion during this unprecedented time.

    Throughout the week, COO Bob Bacon, Director of Behavioral Support Kristina Escobar, and Regional Director Evan Townsend sent emails to team members in SERV Achievement, paying tribute to them and thanking them for their hard work and dedication. In Thursday’s email, they wrote, “As essential workers, you’ve been working on the front-lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing compassionate care to those who need it most.

    “From organizing barbeques to hosting arts and crafts and game nights, you have gone above and beyond to maintain a positive environment for consumers during this crisis. You are the heart of our organization, and the services you provide are making a real, lasting impact on the lives of countless individuals.

    "We cannot thank you enough for your tireless work and dedication. You are invaluable to our mission and organization, and we appreciate you more than we could ever express. You are our heroes!”

  • NJPRA to recognize two SERV team members at fall conference

    New Jersey Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (NJPRA) will recognize Rachel Mathis and Yulisa Aquino at the association’s 40th Fall Conference, Resilience Through Reinvention, later this month. This honor is a testament to their devotion to the consumers and SERV’s mission-driven work.  

    Rachel Mathis serves as Senior Residential Counselor at the Brookhaven group home, where she works directly with individuals with a wide range of levels of independence and varying degrees of insight into recovery. She joined the SERV Team in 2002.

    When asked why she nominated Mathis, Kelly Rufe, Director of SERV Centers of NJ—Mercer County, said, “Rachel goes above and beyond each day to build on the strengths and capabilities of the consumers. She not only supervises the staff at the group home, but she also makes it a priority that every resident feels as if she is a part of a family. Rachel has worked with these residents for years to ensure that they are well taken care of and that the home in which they reside is comfortable, warm, and inviting.” 

    Rufe also mentioned Mathis’ positive outlook and the way she communicates with consumers. “Rachel speaks with the consumers in a way that ensures them that she cares, is reliable, and can openly communicate without feeling judged. The consumers that work with Rachel on a daily basis are motivated to attain recovery goals,” she said. “She prioritizes the needs of those she works with, which is evident through her positive outlook and willingness to help everyone and willingness to learn new interventions.” 

    In addition to her duties as a Senior Residential Counselor, Mathis works with consumers to promote health and wellness. According to Rufe, she personally accompanies all residents in the group home to medical appointments, sits in with them, and debriefs them after. She also works closely with the residential nurse to communicate medication changes and educate consumers on new medications. 

    Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Mathis’ devotion to the health and safety of consumers has never wavered. Since March, she has been educating consumers on hygiene and social distancing, while maintaining a positive environment in Brookhaven. 

    “She meets with each resident on a daily basis to instill hope, make sure needs are being met, and that they can still work towards achieving goals with changes being put in place due to COVID-19,” Rufe said.  

    Like Mathis, Senior Residential Counselor Yulisa Aquino has earned praise for her compassion and selflessness in the face of the pandemic. She has also gone above and beyond the scope of her position to help maintain an upbeat environment for consumers and staff at the Harvey group home, according to Paul Dougherty, Director of SERV Centers of NJ—Union County. 

    “During the peak of pandemic, Yulisa would call different supervisors to provide them with a joke of the day to help lighten the day and boost morale,” Dougherty said. “Though Yulisa has only been with us a short time, she has gone above and beyond to complete tasks not yet assigned to her, and she has become an asset not only to the residents of Union County, but also to the staff.”

    Dougherty also recognized Aquino’s work with consumers, noting that she has helped many see past their physical ailments, showing them that they can live fulfilling and productive lives.  

    “There was one individual in particular that she helped empower to become more independent," he said. "She has helped this resident realize that he is physically capable to make it to different places in the community on his own. And now, with staff’s encouragement, he does go out on his own and shows more confidence in himself.”   

  • Residential Counselors lead weekly groups for consumers

    For more than a year, the SERV team has been laser-focused on providing care to consumers while ensuring safety.

    This is no easy task, but Residential Counselors Sabrina Manasse and Diane Schaefer have been up to the challenge since day one of the pandemic.

    Every Friday, Sabrina Manasse leads relaxation and exercise groups for consumers in Middlesex. For these groups, she meets with consumers in their apartments, and she plans her lessons according to their individual needs.

    In other words, if she feels the a consumer needs to decompress, she will focus on stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or art therapy. However, if she believes they should get out and stretch their legs or break a sweat, she will encourage physical exercise.

    The classes Sabrina holds and goals she sets for consumers are always inclusive and attainable for all who participate. She also tries to make her groups as enjoyable as possible while still being productive.  

    Recently, for instance, she took a group of consumers to Johnson Park in Piscataway Township. After a brisk stroll around the park, they visited an animal haven, where they saw pigs, goats, alpacas, deer, a mini horse, and many other exciting animals.

    Much like Sabrina, Diane Schaefer meets with consumers at their apartments every Monday to hold her healthy cooking and baking group.

    For the group, Diane brings all necessary cooking ingredients to an apartment, where she works to create a healthy recipe with consumers. After they assist her in preparing the food, the group sits down to enjoy the meal together.

    With this group, the consumers benefit from learning easy recipes for healthy meals that they can continue to create on their own. Cooking and baking have also proven to be great activities for reducing stress.

  • SERV Achievement’s PAC program holds Memorial Day barbeque for consumers

    Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer—although it didn’t feel like it this year, as New Jersey faced record cold temperatures and heavy rain. 

    However, the team members in SERV Achievement Centers’ PAC program weren’t going to let the weather spoil their plans to hold a holiday barbeque for consumers.

    On Friday, as storm clouds moved across Mercer County, they decided to take the party indoors. Using only two small electric grills and a crockpot, they cooked up a feast that included hamburgers, sausages, hotdogs, beans, macaroni, and pasta salad.

    “Of course, it’s not easy to cook fifty hamburgers and hotdogs with a tiny grill in the breakroom, but I had a lot of fun doing it,” said Stephanie Vil, Assistant Program Supervisor. “I wasn’t going to let the rain stop us from having our barbeque—not on my watch.”

    Stephanie coordinated the barbeque with help from Supervisor Michele Stewart and her team members Faith Jalarue, Brandi Green, Darlinkboye Wawood, and Sydnei Griffin.

    “This was very much a group effort,” she said, “and I’m so glad we were able to work together to find a solution and make this a memorable holiday for the consumers.”

    The consumers in the PAC program laughed, watched movies, and played games together as they enjoyed the delicious meal the SERV team prepared for them. After dinner, they treated themselves to popsicles and ice cream.

    The PAC program reopened at fifty percent capacity in late April. Prior to that, as a result of the pandemic, the program had been limited to telehealth services since March of 2020. This barbeque was the first time they had gathered to celebrate a holiday in more than a year.

    Stephanie said that she is looking forward to planning another event for consumers soon. “Hopefully it won’t rain this time,” she added.  

  • SERV employee speaks out against police brutality and systemic racism

    “No justice, no peace!”

    “Silence is violence!”

    “Black lives matter!”

    Over the past few weeks, these chants have reverberated across the nation, as droves of people emerge from self-isolation and flood the streets each day to protest the senseless killing of George Floyd—an unarmed, African-American man who died beneath the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. 

    Protesters are not only calling for the end of police brutality, but also for real change when it comes to broader racial injustices African-Americans experience daily.

    Among those advocating for change is Francis Akintola, a 28-year-old Residential Counselor at SERV. 

    Born in Ibaban, Nigeria, Akintola immigrated to the United States in 1999, after his father won a Visa Lottery. Since then, he said, he has experienced first-hand “the rash of police brutality and systemic racism in our society.”

    “It’s no secret that the Black community is suffering,” Akintola said. “It’s sad that it took the death of George Floyd for this protest to happen, but I’m glad people are finally pushing for change and having these difficult conversations.

    “While we might not like to discuss racism, it’s a real issue that is affecting millions, and I’m encouraged to see so many people—people from all races and backgrounds—come together in solidarity to support this cause,” he added. 

    On Thursday, June 4, SERV released a statement against racism, violence, inequality, and discrimination. In it, the organization’s CEO, Regina Widdows, wrote, “We must remain committed to our mission and practice our core values daily. 

    “We must also continue to foster an environment that embraces diversity, growth, and cultural sensitivity—an environment where all people are seen and all voices are heard. Our identity is rooted in empowering everyone, and right now, it’s incumbent upon us to promote and support systemic change.”

    Widdows concluded her statement with a call-to-action. “The path forward begins with courageous conversation and unity,” she wrote. “With that in mind, I ask that you reach out to your team members this week to see how they are doing. I ask that you embrace all opinions, not just those that align with your own. I ask that you show compassion for those who are scared, suffering, or navigating unseen circumstances. And finally, I ask that you join me and everyone on the leadership team in continuing to advocate for real, lasting change.”

    Widdows’ statement resonated with Akintola, who said, “Right now, many people are struggling to find a way to voice their frustrations, and it’s uplifting to know we have the support of leadership. Her words truly were inspiring.”

    Akintola joined the SERV Team in December of 2019. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from William Paterson University. 

    In addition to his work at SERV, Akintola is a student at Rutgers University, where he is working towards a Master’s Degree in Social Work and serves as Co-Chair of the school’s Student Government.

    There are several different ways we can all protest peacefully, according to Akintola, who intends to continue using his voice and influence to shed light on the issues affecting people of color.

    “Whether it’s marching down the street, signing petitions, or posting on social media, there a number of ways we can all make an impact without resorting to rioting and violence,” he said. “We should all do our part to spread awareness, but we need to do it peacefully.”  

    Akintola and his classmates are planning to hold a social awareness event this summer, wherein they will discuss how to end systemic racism and prevent police brutality in New Jersey. During the event, they will offer local police officers a chance to express their opinions, as well.   

  • SERV thanks healthcare heroes at recent staff appreciation event