East Windsor Group Home celebrates consumer's birthday in quarantine

birthday cake with sparklers

Throwing someone a memorable birthday party is never an easy task. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and it’s almost impossible.

However, the SERV family accomplished this feat on Wednesday, April 22, when they hosted a party for Desiree—a consumer in the East Windsor Group Home. 

All month, Desiree had expressed concerns about her birthday, worried the pandemic would spoil her special day. So, you can imagine her surprise on Wednesday, as she wandered through a house decorated with balloons to find some of her closest friends gathered around an ice cream cake, ready to sing to her.

“In times of crisis, we see how important it is to support our consumers and one another,” said Residential Coordinator Danielle Spinella. “Birthdays are special milestones, and even though we are on lockdown, we wanted to have a memorable celebration for Desiree.” 

“Small moments of joy, like blowing out birthday candles in the company of close friends, are not only important, but they are also crucial to holding on to any sense of normalcy right now. After more than a month of quarantine, we are all feeling a touch on edge, and Desiree’s party certainly helped to lighten the mood at the home,” she added. 

Spinella has worked alongside Sabrina Delgado, SERV’s Coordinator of Behavior Support Services, at the East Windsor Group Home since Governor Murphy issued his stay-at-home order in March. When asked to comment on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, both commended the actions and dedication of fellow staff members Yasmeane Richardson, Shabree Young, Joseph Kayfoain, Prince Sabatto, David Karpilee, and Winston WIlliams. 

“I can’t say enough about the SERV staff. They’ve all worked so hard to maintain a positive environment and provide the best care to consumers throughout this crisis. They truly are heroes,” Delgado said.

From organizing video chats to planning birthday parties, the staff at East Windsor has no doubt gone above and beyond to keep consumers occupied during this pandemic. 

Though they hope to return to some version of their normal schedule soon, the staff is prepared to face another month of quarantine and social distancing. 

SERV welcomes 'Flat Stanley'

Meet Stanley, SERV’s newest resident. He stands approximately 7 ½ inches tall, wearing red and yellow shoes, with his green button-down shirt tucked into orange slacks, his polka dot tie done up in a Windsor knot, and his brown hair parted in a neat style.

This colorful paper cut-out is based on Stanley Lambchop, a character in the popular children's book series  “Flat Stanley” by author Jeff Brown. In the stories, Stanley is pancaked by a falling bulletin board and then goes on many adventures. He sneaks under doors, sails like a kite on the breeze, and is mailed in an envelope to far-off destinations.

Now, Stanley has found his way to SERV, and the children in the DCF program are sending him on new adventures.

“After reading the books together, the children and staff in SERV’s DCF program decided to participate in the Flat Stanley Project,” said Kristina Escobar, SERV’s Director of Behavior Support Services.

“Right now, with everything that’s going on in the world, it’s important to stay positive and find creative projects to occupy our free time. This hands-on activity is a great way for the children to connect with other consumers and stay busy during this crisis.”

On Monday, the children in SERV’s DCF program mailed Flat Stanley to another group home. They are asking the consumers who receive him to take pictures and then write a positive letter before sending him to the next home. 

“The children are so excited to discuss, track, and write about their flat character's journey and adventures,” Escobar said. “We will keep the project going until Stanley visits every SERV location, and we hope everyone welcomes this opportunity to connect with us.”

SERV consumers thank local healthcare heroes

A package containing dozens of cards arrived at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton on Monday, April 6. On one card, two smiling bumble bees buzzed above a sunflower. On another, rays of sunlight illuminated the words “Stay Strong,” which were scrawled in bold, blue ink.

This was the work of SERV consumers from group homes in Mercer County. Over the past week, these artists have spent their shutdown time hunched over desks, drawing and crafting messages they hoped would bolster the spirits of essential workers and patients dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

Kelly Rufe, Director of SERV Centers Mercer County, oversaw the project, working in partnership with the Medical Center’s Director of Patient Experience, Margaret France.   

“During these challenging and uncertain times, it is important to remember the power of moral support and giving back,” Rufe said.

“Our consumers in Mercer County wanted to thank the heroes on the frontlines for all they are doing. They also hoped their cards would bring smiles to the faces of the patients who are suffering.”

Lately, Rufe has been paying close attention to the emotional well-being of consumers as they cope with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Though some consumers have expressed anxiety and distress, she said, the staff has helped to alleviate many of their concerns through activities and insightful conversation.

“It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it continues to have on all our lives,” Rufe said.

“Whether it’s watching a movie, completing a crossword puzzle, or getting out for a walk and a little fresh air—sometimes we need to break from the reality of our situation, and even the simplest things can provide some respite.”

In the coming weeks, Rufe plans to arrange several new activities for the consumers in Mercer County. One in particular that she is excited for is a trip to a drive-through Tulip Trail at Holland Ridge Farms in Cream Ridge.

Chalk the Walk: Spirits remain high among consumers despite COVID-19 pandemic

Hearts, rainbows, and well-wishes decorate the sidewalks and driveways of Willingboro, New Jersey.

Like footprints, these colorful drawings and positive messages were left behind by the children in SERV’s DCF program. As the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve ventured out into the community to participate in Chalk the Walk—a national movement focused on spreading joy, optimism, and inspiration.

“Since we’ve all been practicing social distancing, we have to find new ways to connect with friends, family, and the community,” said Kristina Escobar, SERV’s Director of Behavior Support Services.

“Chalk the Walk is the perfect way to bring people together during this trying time,” she said. “With each sketch or note we leave on the sidewalk, we are spreading happiness and hope, and we are reminding our neighbors that we are in this together.”

But chalking the walk isn’t the only way the children in DCF homes are keeping their spirits up. While some prefer the outdoors, others have found solace in the kitchen, baking their favorite treats such as chocolate chip cookies and red velvet cupcakes.

On Friday, March 27, several of them came together to throw a surprise birthday party for Program Manager Juliana Ike.

The party was a “huge hit,” according to Ike, who said she was "overwhelmed with joy" when the children suprised her.

"I feel very appreciated and valued working at SERV," Ike added.

The pandemic has not distracted consumers from their personal fitness goals, either. In fact, many participate in an hour-long workout class every day, wherein they perform push-ups, sit-ups, and various bodyweight exercises. They’ve also gravitated towards playing sports and going for long walks.

In a recent email to staff, SERV’s CEO Regina Widdows wrote, “To say I’m proud of our staff would be a tremendous understatement. While this situation continues to rapidly change, what remains the same is [their] focus on our organization’s mission and [their] desire to provide the best possible care to our consumers. Despite all the challenges [they] face in [their] personal life—and I’m sure there are many right now—[they] arrive to work each day with passion and enthusiasm. For that, I am extremely thankful.”

Escobar echoed Widdows’ sentiment when describing the actions of staff. “Everyone has really stepped up,” she said. “The staff has been truly amazing, and they are all working non-stop to make sure the consumers are happy and to keep the chaos of the outside world at bay.”