Manchester Group Home turns to gardening as a way to cope with stress during pandemic

The garden project started back in May of 2015. At the time, SERV’s Manchester Group Home, an all-female home, housed three consumers, and those three worked with staff members to plant vegetables in a patch of dirt behind their residence.

Five years later, that patch of dirt is lush with tomatoes, cucumbers, mixed lettuce, and green peppers.

“I look forward to preparing the home’s garden and watching the veggies grow each year,” said Joseph Koch, Facility Manager.

When asked about all of the effort that goes into the garden, Koch recognized maintenance worker Kevin Stokes. He said that in mid-May, after the last frost for the Manchester area, Stokes worked “especially hard” to get the garden ready, pulling weeds, turning over the soil, and planting vegetables.

The consumers at Manchester Group Home also play a major role in tending to the garden. They take turns watering the plants and harvest the vegetables once they’re ripe.

Gardening has always been touted as a relaxing recreational hobby, and amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, consumers and staff have turned to the activity as a way to cope with stress and boredom.

House Manager Janetta Jackson said that gardening has been a rewarding experience for the consumers, as it has forced people outdoors and promoted teamwork in a time when many are feeling isolated.

“The consumers also enjoy watching the garden grow and eating the vegetables,” Jackson added.

The consumers at Manchester Group Home have handled this crisis well, according to Jackson. In addition to gardening, they have also turned to baking and arts and crafts to help combat stress and boredom while the state remains shutdown.  

SERV awarded emergency grant from LTCF

SERV was one of 14 nonprofits in the Lawrence community to receive a special emergency grant from the Lawrence Township Community Foundation (LTCF) at a virtual ceremony on Thursday, May 21.  

The $4,000 grant will help SERV provide personal protective equipment, arts and crafts, and games to group homes in Lawrence Township. SERV will also use the funds to expand telehealth services.

Ashley Smith, SERV’s Director of Corporate and Individual Giving, attended Thursday’s ceremony on behalf of the organization.

“We are so grateful for the Lawrence Township Community Foundation for rallying together to help local nonprofits in need,” Smith said. “Their generosity will help us to provide protective equipment to staff and consumers. It will also allow us to purchase more games and activities for consumers who are dealing with stress and anxiety during this challenging time.”  

SERV was “one of the only first time applicants awarded a grant,” according to Smith, who applied for the grant in April.

The LTCF has provided funding to nonprofits serving the Lawrence community twice a year for 18 years. In total, the foundation awarded $50,000 on Thursday—a record amount.

“The Board Members were very concerned about the impact of the virus on Lawrence residents,” said Rachel Cantlay, President of the all-volunteer organization.  “While we have sparingly used some of the money for special projects, like Community Conversations and Hurricane Sandy, the volunteer board unanimously agreed that with the terrible results of the pandemic on the people of Lawrence, now was the right time to go all in.”

Cranford Group Home gets creative during shutdown

How do you stay busy and ease your anxiety while confined to your home during a global pandemic?

For the residents at SERV’s Cranford Group Home, there’s only one answer: You have to get creative.

Since Governor Murphy issued his stay-at-home order in March, the residents at the Cranford Group Home have been flexing their creative muscles, engaging in various activities to stay busy and stimulate their minds. One of the most notable, a group coloring exercise, took place recently, on May 6.

Staff members Amber Garcia (SRC), Karen Williams (RC), Julius Oyawusi (RC), Julia Gabriel (RC), Geraldine Obiri-ibe (RPM) led the activity, which many residents found “especially relaxing.”

“With drastic changes in routine like those throughout this pandemic, residents tend to withdraw, but activities like this coloring group really brought everyone to the table,” said Paul Dougherty, Director of SERV Centers, Union County.

This crisis has been unprecedented, but there’s a silver lining, according to Dougherty.

“This pandemic has given staff and residents the opportunity to remember and carry out activities and hobbies that they had previously enjoyed, and it has given us the opportunity to share them with one another,” he said.

Doughtery added that many residents are also establishing healthy routines. He said one resident is reading more, one has started exercising, and one has even decided to quit smoking.

Currently, the residents and staff at Cranford Group Home are planning a spirit week, during which they will participate in a themed activity each day.

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.