Staff Highlight – Donna Strause

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Our staff highlight for January is Donna Strause, one of the Service Coordinators who transitioned over to our agency from UCP Connections to Independence about 8 months ago. She lives and works in Selinsgrove, PA area, but is originally from Middleburg, PA. At the age of 52 she proudly graduated from Albright College with a degree in Applied Psychology with a 3.80 GPA (way to go Donna!)

Donna often finds herself surrounded by family and pets! She is a mother, a grandmother of three (ages 15, 12, and 9), and a foster mom to many animals through SOAR Rescue. She says her family is her heartbeat and frequents her grandchildren’s sporting events cheering them on! Outside of her family, Donna loves to workout, scrapbooking, and she makes it a goal to read each night before going to sleep. She is a vegan and prides herself on never eating another sentient being again.

Her biggest goal in life is to retire which she is looking forward to doing in a little over 3 years. Although we’ll be sad to see her go, we’re excited for whatever comes next. Donna says that if she weren’t a Service Coordinator she would teach daycare or pre-school, perhaps even get her Graduate degree in Counseling for at risk children and children with mental health issues.

Donna has been a Service Coordinator now for over six years. Currently, she serves Northumberland, Snyder, and Union Counties. Visiting her consumers is what she likes most about working at AUCP and the most challenging part is the paperwork that accompanies the job.

We are so glad that Donna joined us in 2019 with her skill and expertise. Anyone that meets Donna will find out very quickly that she is compassionate and kind.

Bellow’s Fund – Tracey Palmer

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At 7 months old, doctors diagnosed Tracey Palmer with Cerebral Palsy on her left side. Despite the doctors reporting that she would never be able to walk, with the help of her mom, Tracey began to walk at the age of three. Starting at the age of 5, Tracey has had over 200 surgeries, and that still didn’t stop her. Today at the age of 56, Tracey walks using a left leg prosthetic, holds two degrees, one in Animal Science and the other in Medical Technology, and is very active in her church as a Youth Director.

Tracey has never felt respected in public when she was using her wheelchair, so when she was presented with the opportunity to get a segway through her insurance, she was all about it. Using the segway gives her the ability to look into the eyes of whomever she’s talking to, go up and down ramps easier, and it is lighter to transport. The segway also plays a huge role in helping her keep up with the teens in her youth group when she attends youth conferences.

Unfortunately, like any battery operated equipment, Tracey’s segway battery eventually died. Since the cost of a replacement battery would have been close to $1,000, Tracey knew she would not be able to afford it. When looking into assistance to replace the battery, she found out that her UPMC insurance and Community HealthChoices plans would not cover the cost of a new battery because it was not seen it as a “medical need.” This is when her Clinical Nurse Case Manager from the UPMC Community Team, Rebecca Cullen, reached out to AUCP to see if we could submit an application through the UCP Elsie S. Bellows Fund, a national program offering grants to help people buy Assistive Technology equipment.

After the application was submitted and approved, we were able to purchase a new battery for Tracey’s segway and now she can keep up with the youth from her church and continue doing what needs to be done. We were delighted to work with Tracey and Rebecca and be able to meet her needs in partnership with the UCP Elsie S. Bellows Fund.  If you, or someone you know, is in a situation similar to Tracey, you can contact AUCP today to find out how to submit an application. Please contact, Jocelyn Hartman, at jhartman@scalucp.org or by phone at (814) 915-4055.

December Staff Highlight

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For the month of December, we’d like to introduce you to Kristine DePalma, Team UPMC Service Coordinator, as our Staff Highlight. Kristine has worked at AUCP for a little over a year out of our Monroeville office serving the northern part of Westmoreland county and the northeast part of Allegheny County. She has a BA in Psychology from Ohio University.

Kristine is originally from Ohio, but currently lives in Greensburg, PA with her husband, Aaron, and their 3 four-legged felines; Mynie, Luckee, and Jonny. Just last month Kristine and Aaron celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary (Congratulations!) When Kristine isn’t spending time with her family or hard at work, she enjoys going to the beach, crocheting and crafting, watching movies, reading and writing books, listening to music, and even singing! She says that her goal in life is to walk the path ahead of her the best she can and be true to the future God has in front of her.

Her favorite part of working at AUCP is the team work. She says the support she gets from her coworkers is priceless. The most challenging part of her position is both setting and meeting expectations. If Kristine wasn’t a Service Coordinator she would like to be a writer, teacher, or trainer. We’re glad she works here because she is a great team player and is active in other committees throughout the company. Kristine is known as having a friendly attitude and her kindness spreads across the agency.

Community Fund Success Story

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A few months ago we received a Community Fund application for one of our participants, Joyce Wilbur. Due to Joyce’s lymphedema and knee surgeries, she was having problems with swelling in her legs and was in need of a certain type of compression stockings. Unfortunately, her insurance was unable to pay for them and after reaching out to other community resources, she was still left without the stockings that she needed. That’s when her AUCP AmeriHealth service coordinator submitted an application on her behalf.

Upon reviewing Joyce’s unique situation and seeing that these compression socks were something that she needed for her health and safety, AUCP was able to provide a grant through their Community Fund to pay for the compression stockings. After receiving the stockings, Joyce was very pleased and so grateful. Compression stockings, although a seemingly small need, make a huge difference in her everyday life. She says that they have helped with the swelling of her legs and she is able to walk more with them on. This is great news for Joyce and now she is able to focus more on her everyday needs and health with her coordinator.

 

If you would like to learn more about AUCP’s Community Fund or would like to review the application process, click here.

November Staff Highlight

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Our November staff highlight is Jessica Pulliam Petrunak from Windber, PA. Jessica has been with the agency for 5 years starting out as a Service Coordinator, to Lead Staff, to Supervisor, and recently promoted to Programs Manager.

Jessica graduated from Penn State University with an A.S. in Human Development and Family Studies and a B.A. in Organizational Leadership with a minor in Sociology. She has been married to her husband, Mike, for 8 years and they adopted a dog named Willie 3 years ago (pictured above.) Some of her favorite hobbies include cooking and crafting. Her biggest goal in life is to never stop learning and evolving as a person. Her colleagues would say that if she didn’t work at AUCP, she should work for Google, but Jessica says she’d love to teach at a high school or college level.

Her favorite part about working at AUCP is that everyday is completely different and it keeps her on her toes. The thing she finds most challenging about her position is the same thing she finds most rewarding and that is supporting staff through their own challenges and barriers.

Ask any of her coworkers and they would agree that Jessica is often the first person they turn to when in a pinch or need assistance in navigating through a difficult situation. Jessica is a wellspring of knowledge and can quickly generate new and useful ideas. She is well respected amongst our staff and is a compassionate and tactful leader. We appreciate her humor and ability to create an atmosphere of growth.

Participant Highlight – Michael Kiel

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When he was just 19-years-old and a college sophomore, Michael Kiel just so happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. On a mid-April night in 1993, Michael was shot in the side of the neck outside of a convenience store, leaving him completely paralyzed from the neck down. This occurrence may have changed the entire trajectory of his life, but it did not change who he is at his core.

Michael has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Rehab Counseling. Today, he works as a Rehab Specialist for the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation at the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown, PA. His job is to work with other individuals with disabilities that are attending vocational school and he assists the students in identifying life obstacles. In his free time, Mike enjoys playing chess with his nephews and being with his friends and family. He has come to realize that who he is with is always more important than what they are doing. 

Over the last 20-some years, Michael has had a lot of time to think about his perspective on life, find a special sense of humor, and share his story with those around him. As a way to cope with his injury, Mike began to write about his life events before, during, and after his spinal-cord injury. In August of this year, he released his first book, “Challenge the Moment”, which is available for purchase on Amazon and in-store at Classic Elements in downtown Johnstown. This book serves as a memoir full of stories of his life and is said to be “brutally honest and painfully descriptive,” and at the same time “relentlessly positive, funny, and charming.” Michael says it offers a broader perspective on life and encourages the readers to enjoy the journey along the way.

As an agency that works with people with all forms of disabilities, whether they are disabled since birth or due to some sort of tragedy, we have to agree with Mike that perspective is such an important attribute to how one goes throughout their life. When we asked Mike what piece of advice he would give to our readers, he responded in the following quote:

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” 

– Kurt Hahn

Thanks for being willing to share your story, Michael – there’s so much to be learned from the stories you’ve allowed the world to experience through your words.

 

Follow Mike on Social Media:

Facebook | Twitter  | Instagram

October Staff Highlight

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This month’s Staff Highlight is Corri McGinnis, from Team UPMC Healthchoices. Corri has worked with us for almost 3 year,

currently serving the Johnstown, Seward, and New Florence locations. She has a dual major in Public Health and Psychology from Slippery Rock University. One day, Corri would like to get a Master’s Degree in epidemiology and study the trends of diseases, as well as, our responses to public health concerns.

Corri lives in Strongstown, PA with her fiancé Jason, their 3 cats (Shadow, Foxy, and Mr. Fix It), and their two dogs (Gracie and Wrangler). Some things that Corri enjoys doing include going to concerts, seeing plays and musicals with her friends, as well as, being outdoors going kayaking, hiking, and biking. Her biggest goal in life is to travel as much as possible and experience new things. When they’re not working on house projects, Corri and her fiancé enjoy camping or planning their next vacation. This past June they traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee where they hiked a total of 35 miles and even got engaged!

Corri says that there are many things she enjoys about working with AUCP, but her top reasons include interacting with her participants and feeling like she is a part of a team that wants to make a difference in the community. The most challenging part of her position is the constant changes under the MCO’s.

There are so many wonderful things to say about Corri, she is truly a team player and cares about both her participants and her coworkers. With her cheerful personality and kind demeanor, Corri is a great benefit to our agency.

September Staff Highlight

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Each month, one of our favorite things to do is highlight one of our staff members. We take pride in the awesome work that they do and want to take a moment to show them off.

This month, we’d like to recognize Emily Chawtek. Currently, Emily works under the UPMC Community HealthChoices as a Service Coordinator in Blair County. Previously, Emily was our Referral Specialist walking individuals through the enrollment process and connecting them to available community resources.

Born in Pittsburgh, Emily now lives in Altoona with her husband, their 3 year-old daughter named Lucy (whom she’s pictured with on the right), and Bonzo the boxer. Emily graduated from Shippensburg University with a major in Sociology and a minor in Women’s Studies. When she’s not busy working, Emily enjoys crocheting, reading, swimming, and playing hide and seek. Her biggest goal in life is to travel as much as possible.

Emily has worked at AUCP for the past 7 years and says that her favorite part of being a coordinator is getting to know her participants and the resources Blair County has to offer. The most challenging part of her position is the paperwork! If she weren’t a coordinator she’d like to be a teacher.

Ask anyone and they would agree that Emily is phenomenal at any job that she does. She is known as having a super kind personality and her peers look to her for her honesty and helpfulness. Emily, thanks for all that you do. We enjoy having you as part of our team!

How Many Fruits and Veggies Do You Really Need?

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Many Americans still don’t get enough fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

If money and time are concerns, your favorite drive-through donut and coffee place in the morning and the closest fast-food chain for dinner might seem to better fit your schedule and budget, even if you know these foods aren’t nutritious. You may feel it’s just too hard to get the suggested five or more servings of fruits and veggies every day, and maybe you’ve even given up trying. In either case, results of a large global study should encourage you to reboot your efforts to eat healthier.

The study examined eating patterns of people across 18 countries and how fruits, vegetables and legumes (beans, dried peas and lentils) affected mortality and heart health. Results confirmed that eating these healthy foods lowers the risk for heart disease, heart attacks and early death. They also showed you can get such benefits with just three or four daily servings. Now, this isn’t to say that you should cut back if you’re getting more, but people who are getting little to none can aim to meet this more modest goal.

The studies offered other surprising findings. One is that eating more fruits, seeds and beans can be as good for you as eating more vegetables — that’s good news for those who just can’t wrap their taste buds around broccoli and kale. And when you do have veggies, it’s better to eat most of them raw to get the most nutrients from them. The exceptions are foods rich in lycopene (like tomatoes) and beta carotene (like sweet potatoes and carrots), for which cooking seems to enhance the “bioavailability” of these nutrients, or the amount of which can be absorbed by the body and used.


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AUCP 2019 Summer Picnic

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On Friday, July 26th we invited our staff and their family members out to Raystown for our 2019 Company Picnic. The day was welcomed by beautiful weather and the opportunity to get to know their coworkers from other offices through conversation and team building activities.

We also took a moment to recognize the staff that are celebrating their work anniversary milestones of 1, 5, and 10 years. (Pictured to the left) 

To end out the day we invited our staff to the WildRiver Waterpark at Lake Raystown Resort for a day full of water slides and relaxation.

To all of our staff, thanks for all of the hard work you do each day.

We hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did.

View more photos here.