So many of the children that are served by UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago have had a difficult beginning to their lives. Many have been the victims of intense physical and emotional traumas, many if not most times those abuses dealt by the hands of those closest to them, by the hands of those people that a child is supposed to be able to trust, by the hands of the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally and protect them.
When children are in abusive situations that result in them being removed from their homes, many times they are not just separated from their parents or adult family members, but also from their brothers and sisters who have frequently suffered similar abuses. This is particularly difficult – brothers and sisters are often each others’ support systems when living in abusive situations. Being separated from one’s support system is a trauma all on its own. Hugh Joseph recognizes this. He recognizes the terrible toll that trauma takes and understands its aftermath.
Hugh is involved with a child who was removed from his biological parents because of the abusive environment in the home. This isn’t a new story; Hugh works with lots of kids in this situation. However, this story is a little bit different. This child has four brothers and sisters who were also removed from the home but are not on Hugh’s “assigned caseload”. That’s not necessarily anything new by itself, either. What makes this story so different, and makes Hugh’s involvement so different, is that Hugh makes it a point to be part of all five of these kids’ lives. He talks to them, laughs with them, and does what Hugh does…he makes them feel worthwhile. He makes them feel hopeful that they can be loved and that maybe, just maybe, it will be ok to trust someone again someday. You can read it on their faces. Their eyes light up when they see him.
Hugh Joseph does this every single day. This is who he is. He brings the light of the Shooting Star into the eyes of the children served by UCP Seguin; not just those on his caseload, but into the eyes of every child that is fortunate enough to be touched by his kindness, goodness, and overall decency.
Close your eyes and imagine leaving the place that you have called home to dive into unknown waters. How scary must that be? Where will you work? Who will help you to learn things? Will you have your own bedroom? Will your roommates like you? Will you have friends? Who is your case manager going to be? Are you going to be ok? What if you aren’t happy? Who will help you? Imagine that the first friendly face that you see is welcoming you to the rest of your life. If you were starting a new life, Tina Golas would be a good person to introduce you to that life and for many reasons that most people don’t even know.
Tina’s role as Intake Administrator is just that – her role. She makes sure that intakes take place and she does her part to fill vacancies. But Tina does so much more than that; she doesn’t just process cases, Tina forms relationships. She listens. She cares. Tina touches lives.
If you ask Moe, who has no relationship with his family, what he likes to do, he will tell you that he likes going places with Tina. He knows he likes to go places with her because when Tina first met him, she learned that he loves horseracing. He told her that he would like to go the races, and as she often does, Tina said, “I’ll see what I can do”. I wonder how many other people over the years had said those exact words to Moe and never remembered to see what they could do. Maybe lots. But Tina remembered and when she heard of an upcoming national event that was scheduled to happen at Arlington Race Track, she made arrangements to take Moe to the races. And she took him. And they had a blast. And Moe will never forget that she did that for him. Moe learned how to trust a little bit that day. His faith was restored just a little bit and all because Tina said “I’ll look into it” and she meant it. She did this quietly and on her own. She didn’t announce it.
Moe is only one person touched by Tina’s selflessness. Ask LaTina, Joey, Isaiah, or Robbie when each of them last had lunch with Tina. It probably was fairly recently. So many people who first met Tina during an intake meeting have kept in touch with her because she let them know how important each and every one of them is – and she meant it.
Over the years, Tina has gently and thoughtfully welcomed so many people to the rest of their lives. She has been the competent case manager, compassionate social worker, and concerned friend to so many people. It is impossible to imagine the number of lives that Tina has touched.
Using her own favorite phrases, we congratulate Tina Golas by saying, “cool beans”, “you rock”, “yay you”. You are absolutely a Shooting Star!
The place where most of us feel most comfortable is in our own homes. In fact, there are certain terms that are almost synonymous to the word home. Some of those terms include warm, inviting, relaxing, happy, and safe. When any of those terms no longer apply, for whatever reason, we feel insecure and uneasy. Our sense of well-being is disrupted.
On an evening this past winter, a married couple being served in UCP Seguin’s intermittent CILA program found themselves in such a state when the heat in their condo went out and the repairman explained that he would not be able to fix it until at least the next day. Although the temperatures were not frigid, the couple was worried that they might have to leave their home until the heat was repaired. Mary Green knew that they did not want to leave their home and she was going to do her best to make sure that they didn’t have to go anywhere.
Mary left her shift on that cold winter day and instead of staying in her own warm home, she went inside just long enough to gather up some blankets. She loaded the blankets into her car and headed right back to the chilly condo of the nervous couple. Mary made sure they were all bundled up, herself included, and she stayed overnight with the couple to make sure that they were safe and warm. She remained at the condo until the following day when the heat was restored.
Mary’s presence was a huge comfort to the couple. Not only did it keep them feeling safe in their home, it also kept them from having to leave their home. Mary was never asked to do such a thing – she did it because she cares. She is passionate for her work and the people she works with. Her selfless act allowed two vulnerable people to feel secure and protected – the way that they always feel when Mary is around and the way that we all need to feel in our homes.
Thank you, Mary, for your compassion, consideration, and selflessness. You enrich the lives of the people you work with. You are a true Shooting Star.
Ana Diaz DeLeon
Imagine, if you can, being in a situation that inhibits your ability to relax and socialize with your peers. Imagine not understanding how to talk to someone that you would really like to get to know better. Imagine what it would be like to have people always wanting you to be doing a structured activity when all you want to do is hang out, listen to some music, and chat with a friend.
Although originally the brainchild of Richard Biggins, the continued success of the Stay Up Late can be largely attributed to the passion and dedication of Ana Diaz DeLeon, a strong-willed advocate who runs activities much the same as she runs her own life – full of contagious enthusiasm.
Ana immediately jumped on board at the calling for volunteers to help with this new and exciting program. She immediately saw an opportunity for the people served by UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago to participate in and enjoy a healthy and “normal” social event. Because Ana was so visibly and vocally eager to be part of this endeavor, and she plugged the event mercilessly, it was difficult for her co-workers, families, and the individuals she works with not to become infected by her fervor.
From the get go four years ago to the present, Ana has been and continues to create, plan, and develop the themes for the Stay Up Late dances. She volunteers so much of her time to make these events a success, going shopping during her off time to find just the right items to make the evenings memorable for everyone who attends. On the days of the events, Ana is up and out of her own door early in the morning, spending hours decorating, coordinating rides to and from the venue, providing transportation when none can be found, serving refreshments, mingling, and just generally being the “hostess with the mostest”. In addition to all of that, Ana also coaxes and encourages the shyer folks to come out of their shells – to be comfortable being themselves and to “dance like no one is watching”. At the end of each happily exhausting Stay Up Late dance, Ana stays up even later to clean up, still with a smile on her face as she is already dreaming up the next Stay Up Late night.
Not only is Ana an assertive advocate, she is FUN! Her passion for the individuals served by UCP Seguin is obvious, infectious, and most appreciated! Some night if you “Stay Up Late”, you might be lucky enough to see this Shooting Star. Congratulations, Ana!
Professional Job Knowledge
Encountering a person who not only believes in what they do but is also really good at it is not necessarily a common occurrence. And when we happen to be fortunate enough to meet one of those people, we want to scoop them up and keep them. If we don’t help those individuals to grow both personally and professionally, poof! They’re gone!
About a year ago, the Oak Park Mental Health Board posed UCP Seguin with a challenge; create a recreation and leisure program for young adults with developmental disabilities living in Oak Park. The Mental Health Board was willing to fund but there was much work to be done to get such a program up and running. There was outreach to gauge interest, open houses, and most importantly, building relationships and trust with Oak Park families. This was not an easy task. It would certainly take a special person to make such an endeavor a success and UCP Seguin was only given one year to make this work.
Enter Shantina Pugh. Shantina had not been a Residential Site Supervisor for very long and was already looking for new challenges. While she knows that there is always room for improvement, Shantina is one of those people who wants to learn, wants to grow, wants to give more. She loves her work.
One year later, ½ a dozen Oak Park young adults have made new friends. They’re out in the community without their parents, getting their nails done, eating out at restaurants, and hanging out at various neighborhood fests with friends. Just like they should be and just like they had wanted to.
Through Shantina’s hard work and sincerity, she earned the trust of the families and because of that, opportunities for many young adults with disabilities who live in Oak Park have been created. She plans to help to create even more opportunities for more people in Oak Park as UCP Seguin was given a year’s extension on the Rec and Leisure grant.
Shantina makes no secret about how important her own son is to her and how she would do anything to help to enrich his life. The families in Oak Park have gotten to know Shantina and they trust her; they are confident that she will take care of their children.
Congratulations to Shantina Pugh. She is a true Shooting Star!
Active Treatment Excellence
It was a bright, sunny day in July. The respite managers had organized an outdoor activity for the Children’s Department. The event took place at a nearby swimming pool, which excited many of the children – especially those who were already complaining of “summer boredom”. Ten year old Rey was no exception. Rey is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. One might cite the irony of such an activity. How was this young boy, who cannot walk, going to get in the swimming pool? Alex Martinez seized the opportunity and made a difference in the way Rey, and others, viewed his disability.
Alex is not Rey’s respite worker. Alex is assigned to work with Rey’s older brother however Alex took both young boys to the respite event that day so that Rey did not feel left out. Alex watched as Rey sat on the side of the pool, a look of sadness etched on Rey’s face. It broke his heart.
Alex, who was dressed in street clothes that day at the pool, gently picked Rey up out of his wheelchair and lowered him into the water. Still fully dressed in his street clothes, Alex got into the water, too. The other kids watched in surprise as Rey, with Alex holding onto him, began to excitedly tread water. Alex stayed with Rey the whole time…laughing, playing, splashing, until the other kids slowly edged their way towards Rey. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, Rey was included by the other children.
Alex could not have known the impact of his actions. There was a piece of Rey that came alive that day. A piece that had been buried deep beneath the sadness; the differences he perceives between himself and others.
In that swimming pool on that bright, sunny day in July, for just a little while, Rey was not a ten year old boy with Cerebral Palsy; he was simply a ten year old boy just like any other. He was not limited by his disability.
Alex Martinez, your actions that day made a positive difference in the life of a little boy – maybe even a life-changing difference. You are a true Shooting Star.
Coaching & Mentoring
We all know the frustration of wanting something that is just out of our reach. We wish someone would push the thing that we are trying so desperately to grab just a little bit closer, so that we might have a little bit better chance of getting a hold of it.
Gabriela Sierra did that for five ladies who wanted something more.
These ladies had the same goals and dreams that most of us have had at some point in our lives; they wanted to be independent. They wanted to do all of the things that most of us probably take for granted and in some cases, even dread – they wanted to grocery shop, take the bus, cook meals that they planned, and go to work. Gaby responded and made a commitment to do whatever she could to help these five ladies to break down their own barriers.
Gaby’s vision was that UCP Seguin open up a new kind of home – one that would allow for the people living in it to have a higher level of independence. It would be an excellent opportunity for these five young ladies to learn and grow. It would give them the chance to make their dreams become a reality. So with the support of a whole team of dedicated UCP Seguin staff, Gaby’s vision came to fruition and the SeguinSHINE program was born.
Gaby knew that this was not going to be an easy task – she knew that in order for the ladies to be successful, they would need to have lots of support from many people. They would need for people to believe in them. Gaby believed. She spent countless hours, during the week and on the weekends, teaching the ladies how to use public transportation to get where they wanted to go. Gaby believed and because she believed, she forever changed the lives of these ladies. Their newly found confidence can be seen when you watch them walk down the street together or when you hear about the “mean jambalaya” one of the girls now is able to whip up on her own. Because Gaby believed, one of the ladies is getting ready to move into her own apartment. Because Gaby believed, one of the ladies who has struggled with her depression says that now she is “happy all the time”.
Although she epitomizes coaching and mentoring for so many individuals at UCP Seguin, Gaby changed the lives of these five individuals. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”. Gaby saw what was lying within and encouraged five people to want more, to believe more, and to achieve more. This example only scratches the surface of all of the wonderful things that Gaby does every single day for the participants and employees of UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago.
We thank you, Gaby Sierra, for your efforts on behalf of all individuals served by UCP Seguin. You are a Shooting Star!