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After Nearly 35 Years Lisa Neff Says Goodbye to Residential Administration
By Meaghan Ayer

In the late 1970s Lisa Neff began her career of helping others at an Ohio agency for troubled children. The agency had a group home and treatment foster homes for children with developmental disabilities, runaways, and those coming from abusive households. After spending 10 years creating a safe haven for children in need, she headed to the East where she settled in Maine.

This is where Lisa’s journey to Waban began. After working with the Child Welfare Institute at the University of Southern Maine creating training packages for residential support professional trainings, Lisa then moved to YWCA in Portland where she ran the Low Barrier girls shelter and an off-site residence for women. Wanting to continue her work in residential programs, she took a job as the Residential Director for an agency in Bath serving adults with developmental disabilities. This was Lisa’s first introduction to a residential and day program serving only men and women with a developmental disability, and eventually is what led her to Waban.

Lisa joined the Waban team in 2004 as the Adult Habilitative Director for Waban’s day program that was in the process of relocating, combining, and becoming what is now Life Works. She said that she’s always loved a challenge and welcomed the role of helping to teach others. “It takes a team; you have to meet people where they are and try to help them grow.”

The habilitation center was a place where members could focus on their fine motor skills, interact with friends and peers, and have the support of professional individuals. A few years later she took on a more applied role as a Residential Home Administrator for one of Waban’s homes. She felt that working directly with the members and staff gave her a better chance to capture what their needs were. “For me, you can make more of an impact,” she said smiling and shrugging her shoulders.

When asked how she’s kept a professional, yet caring relationship with her residents all these years Lisa stated it came with her many years of practice, “You learn along the way.”

Her own personal system of checks and balances has helped to keep her from over stepping boundaries when it comes to her staff and members: “Ask yourself if you would do something for one person, would you do it for everyone?”

At the end of the day, in this specific line of work, you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t care. Having a close, personal relationship with a member, whether you’re a direct support staff or a home administrator is inevitable, but you can still remain professional. Lisa was careful to stress that point, saying that there were plenty of times where she felt herself having to stop and think. Even now, as she looks forward to her retirement, she says the most rewarding part of the job is being able to have the close, personal relationships with her residents. Those relationships have taught her that her job and the job of her staff, is to support Waban’s members in their daily journey of having a normal, yet unique life. “When you see people comfortable in their own home, then you know you’ve done something right,” Lisa said.

The statement seemed so simple, but she was right. The people she has served in her 35 plus years in residential services, have taught her that it’s important to give both her staff and her clients opportunities to grow and change and learn. Waban has been proud to employ Lisa for the past 12 years and will miss her optimism and veteran experience as she says goodbye to her Waban family and accepts a well-deserved retirement.

To learn more about Waban's Residential Services please visit:
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A Part of the Progress: Being an Educational Technician III in a Therapeutic Preschool
By Meaghan Ayer

Melissa Chrusicel has been an Educational Technician III at the Fraser-Ford Child Development Center for nearly eight years. She began her career there after her son attended the center almost 10 years ago. “I felt obligated to help kids the same way they helped my son,” Melissa said. Seeing how the program changed her son and the impact it had was so moving she wanted to give that same opportunity and guidance to other children.

As an Educational Technician, Melissa is responsible for the supervision of children assigned to her within one or more Special Education classrooms. Additionally, it is her job to introduce new learning strategies based on the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) while working directly with the Special Education Teacher.

Melissa didn’t originally start off as an Ed Tech III, or even an Ed Tech for that matter. She came to Waban with a degree in Accounting which gave her enough college credit hours to get an Ed Tech II certification. After working with the students year after year and attending Waban’s trainings, Melissa had earned enough teaching hours to qualify her for an Ed Tech III certification. “I got my Ed Tech III around the fall of 2015. I wanted to take a more leadership role in the classroom while sharing my knowledge with new staff,” said Melissa.

The day we spoke Melissa had a wonderful experience with one of the students who she doesn’t normally work with. “He started singing along with the song on his iPad.” She continued, “Everyone turned around to watch him and the room just went quiet.” What made this moment so special is that the child had only recently started at the Center and came to Fraser-Ford almost non-verbal. “Seeing them making strides – it’s the little things,” she said smiling.

In terms of progress, each child is different. They have different diagnoses, behaviors, abilities, and personalities. When I asked Melissa what the quickest progress she’s seen a child make while attending the Center she began describing how one student learned “requesting”. A young girl she had been working with wasn’t able to fully verbalize her wants and needs in a way that was positive nor could be understood. This is a common behavioral trait that is hard to break in young children with special needs, but Melissa and the other staff worked closely with the student and were able to help her learn other ways of demonstrating her wants both verbally and non-verbally. Within a few months the student’s behavior improved and she was able to articulate her wants in a positive way which helped to decrease behavioral outbursts and frustrations. Melissa added that she’s even able to ask for things out of sight now, which is a big step forward.

Of course each day isn’t like the last and each day isn’t always filled with successes and progress. Some days come with tantrums and tears; it’s not anything you yourself didn’t do as a child, but for the students at the Fraser-Ford Child Development Center it’s different. The behaviors happen when they are triggered. Sometimes it’s just simply out of frustration, other times it’s because the child doesn’t know how to express the way he or she is feeling. “Our job is very difficult, but not all days are like that,” said Melissa. She never dwells on what happened and tries to remember that they’re just kids, “It’s not their fault, you need to have patience.”

Melissa’s biggest piece of advice for those thinking of becoming an Ed Tech III is to give the kids time and understand that once you’re able to pin-point the behaviors and understand why they happen, then you’re able to work with the student, address the root cause of the issue, and then work to alter the results. Being able to help a child express their feelings in a positive way and still get the same outcome as before is a major achievement. Having worked with nearly 70 children over the course of her time at the child development center, she’s seen just about everything, but the most rewarding part is the bonds the staff and students create. Building relationships with students is important in this line of work. “When kids feel safe they build that bond and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she said. “You know what they’re capable of, so you know when to push them and when to pull back.”

Melissa has built that special bond with a student named Natalie. She’s worked with Natalie for two years now and knowing that she’s graduating this year really hits home for Melissa. She’s seen the progress Natalie’s made over the past few years and how hard she’s worked in refining her skills and can’t help but feel a little emotional. Spending almost 40 hours a week with the same child allowed Melissa to watch her grow into a smarter and more confident individual while still remaining a happy little kid. What more could you ask for?

Becoming a part of a child’s success, progress, and knowing that what you do every day is a positive step forward in their education and overall well-being is what makes being an Ed Tech III so rewarding. Natalie is just one of the many students who have touched Melissa’s life, but the admiration she has for her is one that she will never forget. “I like knowing I was a part of her progress. I’m going to miss her so much.”

*For more information about the Fraser-Ford Child Development Center please contact Sarah Mehlhorn at (207) 324-7955 ext. 641 or visit

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23 Years and Counting: The Dedication of a Direct Support Professional
By Meaghan Ayer

Carrie Hagan is a veteran Direct Support Professional at one of Waban’s residential homes. She’s been serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities for 23 years. During that period of time she has built many relationships with the men and women she serves, creating quite the extended family.

Carrie began working for Waban when there were only three residential homes and two more in the process of being finished. Now in 2016, there are 25 residential programs that are the homes for more than 90 adults. She began at Waban’s Morrells Mills medical waiver home where she worked for 10 years. She then moved to Riverview, an assisted living program, where she’s worked for the past 13 years.

“We are here to bring out the potential in the individual,” Carrie said very matter-of-factly. She went on to explain that a Direct Support Professional’s job is to help maintain and build skills that provide independence. While working in assisted living homes the support staff spends their time helping members with daily activities such as grocery shopping, cooking, and getting back and forth to personal appointments, day programs, and community activities.

The conversations Carrie has with the four men living at the Riverview home are quite comical. One of the members likes to tease her about doing her paperwork, saying that he could do it better and faster than she can. Of course she doesn’t take it to heart, in fact it was one of her favorite anecdotes to share. She emphasized that the conversations, the little jokes, and teasing are what makes coming to work fun, “They’re the best part of my day.”

I asked Carrie how she’s done it for so long and she said, “It gives you a better understanding of what life is and being grateful for what you have. It’s the reward of the job.” She went on to talk about how she remembers everything about her members, how they become an extended family and how helping them to reach their daily goals are truly the best part of the job.

Before finishing our discussion she shared a memory of working in the home, one that really stuck out to her. She and the four gentlemen she works with at Riverview were eating dinner outside one day during the summer and they had heard the Ice Cream Truck go by. Michael, one of the members she’s worked with the longest, turned to one of his housemates and said, “Matt, your phone’s ringing in your room.” It’s a silly story and a simple one at that, but to this day she still remembers how hard they all laughed at Mike’s bad ears and the infamous Ice Cream Truck jingle.

This line of work, her members, and the organization mean so much to Carrie because she feels as though everyone deserves to be treated equal regardless of their disabilities, “Everyone just wants to be who they are and have a place in the world.” At Waban, Carrie is able to give her members their own special place in the world and that makes a difference.

*For more information about our Residential Programs please contact Gervaise Flynn at (207) 363-7955 or visit
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The Healing Nature of Adventure
By Meaghan Ayer

Therapeutic Recreation is integrated into Waban’s Life Works day programs through art, health and fitness, cooking classes, and Adventure Group. Life Works is a CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) accredited and community-based, Monday through Friday, day program serving adults with intellectual and other disabilities. Taking note of the uniqueness of each individual, the program promotes independence through life skills training, community integration, socialization opportunities, and therapeutic activities. During Adventure Group, individuals participate in outdoor activities such as kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, hiking and more.

The person who helps make the Adventure Group possible is Rebecca Fisher, Adventure Group Coordinator and one of the team leaders at Life Works. When asked what sparked her interest in this type of work Rebecca shared that, “In college I began working with groups and different people who participated in programs like the Special Olympics and I just fell in love with it.”

Rebecca is originally from Pennsylvania, but attended Unity College in Maine where she declared Adventure Therapy as her major. After receiving her BS in Adventure Therapy, she completed the Wilderness Medicine and Rescue Semester through the National Outdoor Leadership School. Rebecca has six years of experience developing and leading programming in backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, and rock climbing for people with disabilities. Needless to say, she’s perfect for the job. Although she’s only worked for Waban for six months, she says it feels like forever, “It’s kind of like a family here.”

Each day the Adventure Group leaves Life Works at 8am and doesn’t return until pick up at 1pm. Throughout the day there are two different programs happening; most are physically demanding. The Adventure Group is based around environmental education and integrating outdoor activities to create a therapeutic and challenging daily experience. “I try to pick a theme every month related to a skill [for example endurance]. Like if we go hiking, they want to see how far they can hike,” said Rebecca, explaining what a typical day is like for the Adventure Group.

Life Works is a year round day program giving participants the opportunity to stay active outdoors each season. Whether it’s snowing, raining, or the sun is shining, they are outside and enjoying what the local community has to offer. When the weather is just too much to handle, they retire to the TREE Center, an outdoor learning center connected to Waban, and take part in environment education programs where they learn to track animals, calculate their carbon footprint, test the water quality of Bauneg Beg Lake, and average out monthly weather recordings to send to local Meteorologist, Todd Gutner.

When I asked Rebecca if she had a specific memory of working with the group that meant a lot to her, she just smiled. The week before I sat down to talk with her the Adventure Group had spent the day at the TREE Center’s Climbing Tower. It was Chris Heywood’s turn on the tower, and Rebecca was climbing right beside him. Chris’s climbing challenges were somewhat unique since he has no mobility in his legs and relies on a wheelchair to get around. Chris made it very apparent though that he did not need his legs in order to climb the tower.

Rebecca paused in her story to discuss her love for climbing. She feels as though it’s a metaphor for life, especially when it comes to overcoming obstacles. She said, “Many people probably look at him [Chris] and assume he can’t do this or he can’t do that because he’s in a wheelchair.” But, Rebecca only sees the things he can do.

Not only did Chris fearlessly take on the climbing tower, but he scaled the entire 45 feet all the way to the top. “I wanted to cry,” Rebecca said thinking back to the smile on his face and how proud he was to have accomplished such an amazing feat. “The way they [Adventure Group] view the world is so different. A lot of them always see the positive in everything. They just make me think more positively.”

Each day isn’t like the next, and some days come with amazing accomplishments like that of Chris Heywood’s, but other days are more challenging. While it can be temporarily frustrating when it feels like she’s not getting through to an individual, Rebecca has experienced and knows that opportunity, triumph, and incredible satisfaction lie on the other side of that challenge. For someone thinking about a job as a Direct Support Professional or someone who wants to utilize Adventure Therapy, her biggest piece of advice is this: “Change in behavior takes time, a lot of people take it personally and get discouraged because they don’t see a change in a day, but give it time. Nature is healing.”

*For more information about Life Works and Adventure Group please contact Melissa Hall at (207) 363-7955 or visit
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The Bond Between Case Manager and Client
By Meaghan Ayer
            “I feel really lucky to have Liz in my life,” Angie says earnestly with her hands clasped in front of her. Angie has been a client of Adult Case Management here at Waban for some time now, and has worked one-on-one with Elizabeth Keith for two years.
           Their first meeting was quite the introduction and coincidently one of their favorite memories together. Angie had been cat sitting for a friend and somehow lost track of the little feline. To make a long story short, as Elizabeth approached the house to make her first connection with her new client, she was greeted by a frantic Angie who announced that she had a cat in her ceiling. Turns out removable ceiling panels are a cat’s best friend.
           When asked, Elizabeth stated her role in Angie’s life as her Case Manager is to connect her to community programs, help her to manage her finances, make and keep medical appointments, and make sure she is in a safe environment. Her goal is to promote a successful independent life. “We strive to put ourselves out of a job,” Elizabeth said with a laugh. But in all seriousness, it’s true.
            Adult Case Management is a community-based day service program that provides services to adults 18 and older who have been diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability. Adults receive services such as a yearly, individualized care plan that is reviewed every 3 months, monitoring at their place of residence, coordination of services, and advocacy. It’s a case manager’s duty to help to build and support an independent life for each individual they serve. Case Managers like Elizabeth work with clients such as Angie to provide them with the same opportunities any other independent person might have regardless of their disability. Case Managers begin by helping to plan their clients’ goals; daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. One of Angie’s main goals when she first began working with Elizabeth was to be able to find affordable and independent living. As a woman in her early 30s, living on her own wasn’t something she had ever experienced. She had always lived at home with her parents or with a sibling. It was time to branch out on her own and with the help of Elizabeth’s planning and financial management, Angie now lives on her own with only five hours of in-home support. Her in-home support staff helps her with tasks such as doing laundry and washing dishes.
While Angie’s independence has increased in terms of housing, she feels more connected to the community since working with Elizabeth. They’ve been working together to find day programs that offer interesting activities Angie can participate in with her peers. This is a major part of Adult Case Management. The program is dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals served by promoting independence and integration in their communities.
            While at day programs Angie has learned to knit and crochet and has found a new sense of pleasure in health and nutrition. Over the past few years Angie has lost 138 pounds and is working towards being able to cook her own meals and go grocery shopping on her own. “I like getting out and doing things,” said Angie when I asked her how she feels about her new found independence, “I’ve been learning a lot.”
            Elizabeth admitted that Angie has taken over the scheduling of her transportation to and from her daily activities and all of her medical appointments, “She takes local transportation all on her own!”
            Although Elizabeth feels that Angie is improving and handling her independence well, they still talk at least three times a week and she has “eyes-on contact” at least once a week. Though it sounds very clinical, it’s not. Elizabeth stops by Angie’s apartment to make sure there’s nothing affecting her safety or wellbeing, and then they chat about what’s been happening in her life. Angie is an avid volunteer at a nursing home and loves visiting the local animal shelter. Eventually she hopes to get a job working with animals or return to working in the fast food business.
            Angie and Elizabeth will continue to have a professional relationship as long as Angie decides to participate in a day program or feels as though she needs help managing her in-home care and finances. When I asked Angie where she sees herself two years from now she said she would like more in-home support in order to learn to cook and go grocery shopping, but still remain independent. She wants to continue to work with Elizabeth and hopes she will find a job that will allow her to save up enough money to purchase a bicycle.
            Angie’s dreams of becoming more independent and saving up to purchase something of her own may seem like simple requests and milestones that many people her age have already accomplished, but that doesn’t matter. Waban believes in the principles of normalization, integration and building self-empowerment in the least restrictive environment. Case Managers understand that no two individuals are the same and therefore neither are their goals. It’s people like Elizabeth who provide a foundation for their clients and show Angie and others that as long as you are willing to work towards it, it’s never too late to achieve a goal.

*For more information about Waban’s Adult Case Management Program please contact Morgan Jones at (207) 363-7955 or visit  For more information about eligibility, contact the Office of Adults with Physical and Cognitive Disabilities at 1-800-269-5208.
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