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.”   

‘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.

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!”

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.