Embracing CRi

We are proud & excited for the opportunity to introduce you to some amazing people -- including some of our very own CRi superheroes πŸ¦Έβ€β™€οΈ


Stories of Engagement & Volunteerism During a Global Pandemic brought to you by the generosity of our community partners at Cigna.

June 21, 2020 - While the COVID-19 pandemic shook the entire world in an unprecedented way, the silver lining has been all of the amazing acts of kindness, generosity & social connection displayed at the community level throughout the past 15 months. This week, we would like to acknowledge the efforts, kindness & connections that were spread across our local community during COVID-19 with a few stories. 

To the donors, volunteers, mask-makers, painters, companies, landscapers, friends, & family who have stepped up to support us this past year, thank you. We are able to support so many because of your efforts & we couldn't have done a fraction of it without you. 

 πŸ™ŒπŸ½ COVID-19 Shots for Neighbors in Dale City 

After all of the residents & staff at one home in Dale City, Virginia received their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations this past February, nurses realized there were extra doses available that would need to be administered soon, or would expire. That's when CRi jumped into action. 

Staff members went into the community & knocked on the doors of their neighbors homes, inviting them to come over & receive a COVID-19 shot. This was at a time where shots were extremely limited & many neighbors were struggling to find an appointment, so most jumped at the chance & went to get vaccinated. 

The ability to provide vaccinations for so many neighbors in the community opened lines of communication between CRi residents & staff that had never been present before. Not only was this an excellent step towards protecting the health & safety of the neighborhood, but it also created new friendships between neighbors. People who had previously been strangers were so thankful for the opportunity to receive their vaccinations & expressed their gratitude & appreciation for the work CRi does in their community each day. We are grateful for new neighborhood connections & friendships that keep us safe & supported during a global pandemic, & beyond. 

🧡 Million Mask Challenge: Local Craftivists Step Up 

The Million Mask Challenge stepped up during the precarious first months of the pandemic. With a mission to provide PPE to frontline health care heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Million Mask Challenge supported CRi at an extremely critical time by donating a 1,020 masks & 600 caps/headbands, made by local Craftivists, for CRi staff & residents. They were at the forefront of homemade masks & were able to provide residents and staff a level of protection at the very beginning when all masks were coveted & hard to come by. Because of the Million Mask Challenge, residents were able to see their families in person while following safety protocols, & staff had an extra (& colorful) level of protection. 

We are thankful for all the craftivists who took their time to make all these amazing masks for our staff & for the people that they support each day. They really loved the variety in design & colors, & many commented on just how comfortable they were. We are grateful for their acts of kindness that allow us to continue to support people safely. 

To support CRi in a similar way, visit our Volunteer Page or contact volunteer@mycri.org!

 πŸŽ¨ Local Artist Brightens Day Programs With Murals 

Local volunteer Genesis originally connected with CRi through the VA COVID Task Force, a group of high school, college, & graduate students who had created a group to respond to community needs for PPE. In addition to donating hand sanitizer, masks, & gloves, Genesis, with an interest in becoming an Occupational Therapist, wanted to do more. 

Genesis used her artistic skills & knowledge of the population supported by CRi to create two murals for each of the Newbrook Day Proograms (Fairfax-Chantilly & Loudoun County) while they were closed during the pandemic. The goal of the murals was to evoke calmness for one program & excitement for the other. She was able to work creatively with very loose guidelines for both projects & limited supplies to create two completely different pieces of art that spoke to the unique needs of each day program; creating spaces that are not only utilitarian, but beautiful & engaging for individuals, staff and visitors. She even recruited friends & family to complete the murals. 

Genesis has left a lasting imprint on both adult day programs that staff & individuals will enjoy for years to come. Her work has become a highlight to those who have seen it & those who have heard about it. In fact, attendees of the program who have not yet been able to see the murals talk about how excited they will be to see the murals once they all return, in-person, to the program. We are thankful for friends like Genesis. Her generosity leaves behind lasting pieces that will continue make a difference in ambiance & environment for years to come. 

To support CRi in a similar way, visit our Volunteer Page or contact volunteer@mycri.org!

 πŸ’ͺ🏽 LDS Missionaries Support CRi's Mission

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Washington DC South Mission found themselves inundated with missionaries from around the world that had been called back stateside due to the pandemic. It was a stroke of fate that CRi connected with the church. With over 200 missionaries looking to engage in weekly acts of service & many nonprofits unable to accommodate in-person volunteers, this amazing group of missionaries were hard-pressed to find service opportunities. 

 Since they began in August 2020, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Missionaries have volunteered 16 times with CRi for a total of 177 hours. They have focused mostly on outdoor yard work & property beautification, but have also helped prepare one of our properties to go up for sale by cleaning out the shed, painting the walls, & deep cleaning the whole interior. This saved our organization considerable time & money, & this was so very appreciated. This past winter, they were pivotal in helping to sort through the thousands of donated cards & soaps, & assembled them as holiday gifts for staff & residents. 

They have been a go-to group to tackle any challenge & it seems that there truly is no task too big or too small for this group of generous & engaged volunteers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Missionaries have truly been a COVID blessing. 

{Stories written by Janet Davison, Volunteer Manager & Allison John, Philanthropy & Communications Manager}

   πŸ‘‰πŸ½Provide support & Embrace CRi this summer - DONATE TODAY! 


This week's story is made possible through the generosity of our community partners at United Bank & Virginia Housing. 

June 14, 2021 - COVID-19 challenged the disability support community, & the world, in ways no one could have imagined. Social isolation, program closures, health & safety concerns, staffing shortages, & policy changes are just a few examples of the pandemic's impact on an industry that already works harder than many to support some of the region's most vulnerable populations. 

"People were sad at times, plain & simple," states a Program Manager at a group home for adults with disabilities operated by CRi in Woodbridge, VA. "It was hard for us because these guys are like our family, too. Some of the people we support only have one or two family members who come to visit them, in general. Imagine seeing the same loved one every Sunday for 15-20 years & then, all of a sudden, you are forced to go 60 straight Sundays without being able to see or hug them," he says. "It was hard." 

He went on to explain that the isolation from families was extremely difficult on some people CRi supports because, regardless of how staff tried to explain what was happening, many were unable to truly understand why their loved ones stopped visiting. Many didn't understand the implications of a global pandemic. They felt like their families left them & that just wasn't the case. 

"It was hard on all of us for a long time," he says, "and we saw a slight uptick of negative behaviors in our program as a result. I'm happy it's looking like it's almost over. They deserve for it to be over." 

The Direct Support Professional (DSP) workforce in America faced several challenges prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a national turnover rate of 50% & vacancy rates upwards of 15% for full-time DSPs. CRi didn't see near that turnover rate during the pandemic & is thankful for the dedicated staff who remained true to the mission & our people during one of the scariest times in our history. Regardless of our relative retention successes during that time, however, the impact of COVID-19 on support staffing is undeniable. 

A survey of the direct support workforce conducted by the National Association of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) & the University of Minnesota found a range of difficulties facing DSPs during COVID-19 reports that 34% of DSPs reported working more hours since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Additionally, some shelter-at-home orders closed schools, which put many Direct Support Professionals in situations where they may be asked to work longer hours with less access to childcare. With school closures, some DSPs provided care for their children in addition to working, which caused stress in their lives. 

Others had to balance working in a profession that requires close personal contact with others, while fearing bringing the virus home to older family members or those with underlying medical conditions. These staff are UNDENIABLY health care heroes & CRi couldn't be prouder to have them on our team. We couldn't have gotten through this without them. 

Another challenge we faced was providing support to people while day programs were closed. At the beginning of the pandemic, CRi did all it could to find ways to safely support people from a distance by providing virtual sessions, limited in-home support, & services through support staff in residential settings. 

"The pandemic might have shut down the world, but the needs of the people who we support each day never stopped. We had to find ways to safely support them. It was our duty," states Wendy Kilmer, who Manages CRi's South 7th, The Springs, & North Lincoln programs. 

"Anxieties were high & we worked hard as a team to find techniques to help everyone destress. It was hard for them to miss out on their day support programs. That's normally where they get much of their community socialization. It was hard on us, too. They become family & we want everyone to be successful & happy," she says. 

In March of 2020, just before the day program paused, Newbrook Loudoun supported 34 individuals with disabilities & mental health needs. As restrictions began to ease this spring, CRi received repeated requests from families for help & decided to offer necessary support services to six people who could meet mask & social distance guidelines. 
{That number has increased since the time of this interview}.

"We knew we had to do something. We had to open, if even for a handful of people. The families needed our help & people needed our support," said Quinta Emefele, who manages the Newbrook Loudoun Day Program, located in Loudoun County, VA. "Due to so many factors, now we are offering services at a larger cost to the organization, but it's necessary. It's the right thing to do."  

She goes on to say that CRi & Newbrook have gone above & beyond to make sure that those individuals who really need the supports during this time have them, especially those who have the skills to social distance & wear their mask. "It makes it easier to bring people back together to provide the support & skill building that they need," she says. 

And that's the story of CRi during this pandemic. As challenges have presented themselves over the past 15 months, leadership & frontline staff have banded together to continue to rise above hurdles & continue to support the most vulnerable of populations. 

"Right now we are even picking up people at their homes for free & finding creative ways of transportation that might never have been thought of before," Emfele says. "That's how important it is for us to get back to supporting people as best as we can. It doesn't matter how we do it -- & It's challenging, to say the least, but we embrace it. It's incredible to be a part of." 

{Story written by Allison John, Philanthropy & Communications Manager}

  πŸ‘‰πŸ½Provide support & Embrace CRi this summer - DONATE TODAY! 


This week's story is made possible through the generosity of our community partners at NFP Golden & Cohen.

June 7, 2021 - "Learning about each other, where we come from, who we are, what we love, that's what it's all about," says Quinta Emefele, Program Director at Newbrook Loudoun.

This is one of the most unique parts about CRi -- Embracing culture.

Emefele knows better than most that a core caveat of person-centered planning is understanding the culturral background of each person supported. "Person-centered planning is imperative & helps create positive community roles & choices for people with disabilities. It's our main focus everyday at CRi, & it helps us to learn & grow," she says.

Sharing culture is an excellent way to expose people to new experieces & allow for new choices - especially through food, hobbies music, & language.

"What's around you is a HUGE part of your culture," adds Ursla Mkeh, Program Director at CRi's Lake Jackson home. "We want to make sure our people are exposed to many different things & ways of life so they can feel empowered to make better choices for themselves & for their lives. They learn from us & we learn from them to kind of make our very OWN culture."

At CRi, staff works hard to consistently find new ways to meet people where they are, to learn about eachother's backgrounds, & to help each program shape their own unique culture.

Upon a visit to CRi's Lake Jackson home during the spring & summer months, you will find a large, bustling garden full of lifein the backyard. If you are looking for a traditional small "American-style" garden, however, you might not find it here. Many of CRI's direct support staff are from African countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, & the Ivory Coast, & make it a point actively share their cultures with the people they support each day. This has an amazing impact on the food they are able to grow, cook, & eat together as a program.

Many CRi programs have outdoor space that they use for therapeutic gardening. Gardens are often planned as a team in the late winter/early spring & then crops are planted a little later. Programs routinely incorporate much of what they grow in their daily meals, which helps cut down on food costs. 

Before the pandemic, homes/programs took turns running a weekly farmer's market where they could showcase their crops in the community & sell them to make money for their gardens. In these gardens, many programs choose to grow crops like cassava root, banana leaf, stinging nettle, sweet potato leaf, & other traditional african herbs. You will also find tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, & cucumber at many, as well. The blending of traditional American & traditional African gardens helps to create a new, hybrid culture all of it's own -- something we are really proud of.

"We love to grow food from both cultures, American & African -- That way, we can cook foods that are important to each us & when we break bread, we learn so much more about each other," Mkeh states. Lake Jackson residents are also very active in cooking the meals that are important to them using ingredients from the garden.

"They love the food, they love to cook it, too. They request it now," says Mkeh.

Whether it's through daily dance parties, the introduction of new music, food, or language, Mkeh knows very well the importance of connecting culturally with the people her program. "Being culturally competent & really understanding people at their core is one of the most important things we can do for someone," she says.

"It's harder to connect & care for someone if you don't know their likes, their family, where they are from," she says. "We have to truly understand them. We have to build our own culture with them. It's just a critical part of of building a relationship that supports the whole person -- And that's why it's so important to us that we share & learn from one another. That's what makes CRi great."

We couldn't agree more.

{Story written by Allison John, Philanthropy & Communications Manager}

πŸ‘‰πŸ½Provide support & Embrace CRi this summer - DONATE TODAY! 


This week's story made possible by the generosity of our community partners at Morgan Franklin Consulting.

June 1, 2021 - It's been a long & challenging year for Mary Groschan.

"It was just surreal," says Mary. "It's been very sad, there's no other real way to put it. We had no idea when this started just how long it would last. We were unaware of much it would affect us all, especially our loved ones."

The same can probably be said for her son, Ryan.

"I'd never been away from him for that long," she says. "Not ever. I missed him terribly."

Ryan has been with CRi, receiving support services, for almost ten years. A longtime resident of Loudoun County, Ryan is an outgoing, animated, loving 36 year old who resides in a group home run by CRi in Loudoun County, Virginia. Until March 2020, he was also receiving CRi's Newbrook Day Program support services, as well.

To protect against COVID-19, a statewide emergency order last March prohibited Mary & other families from visiting loved ones group homes & care facilities across the state. They were unable to see, touch, hug, or be in the same room with their families for the better part of a year, something that Mary says would have been unimaginable before the pandemic began.

Before March 2020, Ryan spent every day at the day program, developing & refining vocational, social, & other skills daily. He spent every weekend with his family, out in the community, connecting & spending time together. He regularly attended local events & enjoyed outings & connecting with people.

And then the pandemic hit.

"We were always out & about. Ryan is so social -- he loves to interact with people & be active. I more than missed us, having our time to connect, you know?" Mary says. "COVID definitely had an impact on us... on everyone. It was heartbreaking not to be able to hug him for so long. We're family."

The role of family members in the lives of people with developmental disabilities & mental health needs can be critical, as routine & consistency can be key factors for growth & meeting new goals.

CRi does its best to provide consistency & help people connect with their loved ones, something that became increasingly important as the pandemic restrictions tightened in the spring of 2020.

Rena Alexander is the Program Manager at Brambleton, a group home run by CRi in Loudoun County, Va. She has been there for so long & knows very well the role that family connection plays in the lives of the people she supports.

"We did the best we could do with what we had, & the families really stepped in during such a difficult time of transition," says Alexander. 
"The families are rockstars."

Rena went on to explain that not being able to communicate with family members in a natural way for so long, not being able to visit parents/guardians, not participating in normal rituals & routines all had a serious impact on the people that CRi supports.

"It's been so hard on them, it's heartbreaking," she says. "Early on, we noticed an uptick in behaviors. We knew that it was a direct result of being isolated from their families, loved ones, & communities for so long."

"We knew we had to be creative & find ways for the families to continue their connection, support, & routines with the loved ones we support. We knew we had to find safe ways for people to be with their loved ones, even if it was only virtually. They needed that connection."

At Brambleton, like many of CRi's programs, family members spent the pandemic going above & beyond to help provide support & normalcy as best as they could. Residents used smartphones, laptops, & tablets to video chat with their families when they were unable to get together. During the winter, when restrictions prevented indoor/face-to-face contact with loved ones, Brambleton family members purchased & donated space heaters for the garage, which allowed them to have safe, socially-distanced, in-person conversations with their families for the first time in nearly a year.

They also arranged two different holiday drive-by parades, participated in window-waves, weekly donations of hygiene items & cleaning supplies, & provided food for the home during special events & holiday seasons. The did this all on their own, organizing events & taking action all through a formal group chat & email chain. 

"After the heaters were purchased, it allowed us a little relief," says Mary. "It was the best feeling just to be able to see him. Even being in the same room was amazing. Seeing him for the first time, even though I couldn't yet hug him at that time, was a feeling I'll never forget."

During the pandemic, a pipe burst at the Brambleton program, forcing residents to temporarily relocate to a hotel for a little over a week while the house underwent repairs. During this time, family members arranged a schedule on their own time to drop off food, games, hygiene & comfort care items to the hotel for the program. They wanted the hotel to seem a bit more like home. Their generosity & quick action provided heartwarming support to their loved ones & staff, & helped to offset some of the associated unbudgeted expenses during the relocation.

"This type of support is immeasurable," says Rena. "When the families are able to come together in support of the program like they did here during the pandemic, it's touching, it's inspiring. Their loved ones feel that comfort, you know?

She goes on to explain that the families play a key role in helping to create a consistent & nurturing environment. "It makes us all stronger when they join forces & dedicate their time & resources to the individuals & staff -- We're like an extended family," she says.

The unwavering support that the Brambleton families provided during COVID was something that took place at a number of CRi programs. Family involvement was abundant during the pandemic & played a key role in mental health & wellbeing of many of the people that CRi supports. 

When asked how she feels about CRi & the role it's played in Ryan's life this past year, Mary summed it up by saying "Brambleton isn't A home for Ryan... It's HIS home. 

"Everyone there goes above & beyond to ensure that my son & all of the other people living there are always surrounded by family, even when he can't physically be with US. 

"The way they have embraced our loved ones & become so close to them has allowed my son to thrive in a way that I couldn't have previously imagined. I owe everything to Rena & the staff there for creating such an inclusive environment. They are his family -- they're OUR family... And I wouldn't ever want him anywhere else." 

{Story written by Allison John, Philanthropy & Communications Manager}

πŸ‘‰πŸ½Provide support & Embrace CRi this summer - DONATE TODAY! 

Join us throughout the month of June, as we partner with the community to share personal stories reflecting the impact your generous support makes in the lives of at-risk youth & those with mental health needs & developmental disabilities in our community each day.

Check out our social media at @mycrinow for weekly stories during the entire month of June!

  πŸ‘‰πŸ½Provide support & Embrace CRi this summer - DONATE TODAY!