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June Volunteer Highlight: Makenzie Ovenstone

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

As a Black Hills Works volunteer, Makenzie Ovenstone fills a vital need by teaching staff ASL (American Sign Language) in several homes where the people we support have hearing loss as well as other disabilities. Importantly, her unique skills help DSPs communicate more effectively with the people they support.

Makenzie works at CSD (Communication Service for the Deaf) as a community support specialist. She learned about the need for ASL instructors at BHW when staff contacted her agency for advice on how to best help some of the people we support. She didn’t just provide advice, but generously offered to come directly to the homes as a volunteer!

Makenzie’s enthusiasm for her volunteer role is undeniable. She says, “I love to see everyone doing their best to communicate with hearing loss adults without frustrations at the end of each session. I also love to teach ASL!”

Most recently, Makenzie has volunteered at Quincy Apartments for almost a year. She has taught Terri Elkins and staff ASL in order to help them communicate with Kevin Carpenter, a person supported.

During her time at Quincy, she says, “I always see in Kevin’s eyes that he enjoys joining the signing sessions and quizzing his staff. He feels proud of himself to teach his staff . . . I love to see that!” 

Kevin is not the only one who enjoys Makenzie’s sessions. Terri Elkins, DSP at Quincy, says “Since Makenzie has volunteered . . . we can better communicate with Kevin. She has had amazing patience with teaching us as we were all pretty new to sign language and now we can sign to him and he lights up!”

Makenzie also sees how much staff have learned. She says, “Volunteering at several different homes, I have seen staff’s energy and enthusiasm with learning during their ASL sessions.”

Through her generous gift of volunteering, Makenzie has made an enormous difference in many people’s lives. Terri happily says, “Makenzie is an amazing person and we are so grateful to her.” Thank you, Makenzie!

Meet June’s Spotlight Award Winner…Tracy Witte!

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

As some of you may remember from the December 2021 Workplace that Tracy was approved for a Habitat for Humanity house. For Tracy to qualify for a home, she worked extremely hard over the last couple of years to pay off her outstanding debts and become more financially responsible. But she didn’t stop there.

Once Tracy found out she was approved, she really buckled down and got to work on the requirements for Habitat. In just 5 months, Tracy completed all 250 hours of volunteer time with Habitat for Humanity and the required financial and homeownership classes. And she did all this while continuing to work, being active on the BHW Technology and Human Rights committees, and being involved in community activities. Shaun Archer, Tracy’s ISC, even commented on how impressed the staff at Habitat were with Tracy’s drive to get this done quickly.

Her hard work and determination certainly paid off! Tracy gets to move into her new home around July 1, and she can’t wait! She is already looking forward to taking care of her new home and making it her own.

Congratulations, Tracy, and keep up the awesome work!

Shared Living: Sharing Home and Heart

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

Shared living, one of Black Hills Works’ newer housing options, offers you, as an “independent contractor,” the opportunity to support an adult with disabilities in your home.

Independent contractors can be family members or community members. All independent contractors are carefully screened and certified to ensure a good match.

For Joe and Toni Sabrowski’s, participating in the shared living program was just the next step in a life-long journey to help their son, Patrick, live his best life.  Patrick was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, and Joe and Toni have always embraced his potential.

“Even while working in a satisfying career, I hoped for an opportunity to better help Patrick navigate through this world. Shared living provided that opportunity,” said Joe.

“Being able to stay part of a family and have that support system has unquestionably led to the best life for Patrick,” said Brad Saathoff, CEO of Black Hills Works & BH Services, when asked about Patrick’s shared living arrangement. “His family loves him beyond words and that support system has contributed to all that Patrick has been able to achieve.”

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about disabilities as limiting, but Patrick is truly teaching us as much as we are teaching him,” said Joe. “Shared living has given us that gift. We are so proud of all Patrick has achieved.”

There are currently 21 people who are participating in Black Hills Works Shared Living Program. Like the Sabrowskis, the individuals supported are receiving care and sharing in life’s experiences in a private home.

“The individuals and families who have opened their homes and hearts as independent contractors have given a priceless gift to those they support,” said Amanda Diers, Director of Shared Living at Black Hills Works. “They become a family, share in memories, learn new skills, and find a new purpose. I’m truly grateful.” 

Are You Interested in Opening your Home and Heart?

If you would like to learn more about how you can change a life by participating in shared living, please contact us at 605-718-6288 or [email protected]. We have people supported who would very much like to be part of a family. We will take great care in ensuring a great match and will provide you with the training and certification needed to be successful. Thank you for your interest!

Meet May’s Spotlight Award Winner…Josh Dvorak!

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

As with many of us, Josh has faced some intense challenges over the years. Unfortunately, the pandemic really exacerbated those obstacles and challenges for Josh, taking him to a place where he was unrecognizable to his family and friends for a while.

Since January 2022, Josh has shown REMARKABLE progress and extraordinary growth. He walks into the Range Road campus with his best foot forward and strives to be the kind, gentle, caring, and giving person that comprises his true nature every day.

Josh continually displays the qualities of a good neighbor and a valued friend. He helps all his friends, from assisting them at bingo to holding open the door, welcoming them into the room with a warm greeting, a pat on the back, and a heartwarming smile. He is the first one to ask you how your weekend was and generously offers to share his lunch.

Being a caring volunteer is Josh’s next goal. He would like to volunteer at Feeding South Dakota and Fork Real Café, and has been working hard towards making that goal a reality! He assists staff with gathering donations that stock the food pantry at the Range Rd. campus. He unloads the pallets, sorts the donations, and puts all the food away in its proper spot.   

Congratulations, Josh, and keep up the awesome work!  

May Volunteer Highlight:  Judy McCarthy

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

For the last five years, Judy McCarthy has been providing an invaluable service to people supported in the CSS Department at Black Hills Works. Judy, an employee with Western South Dakota Community Action, devoted time on three Saturdays this year to help over 20 people supported complete their tax paperwork. When asked why, Judy shared, “The people you support are such great people! I just love working with them!”

In previous years, Judy and some of her colleagues assisted people supported at their office with tax paperwork. Unfortunately, that was not an option this year. But Judy knows how vital of a service this is and didn’t want the people we support to go without this assistance. She has a strong desire to help those that need help and is happy to offer what she can. “She treats our people with such respect, and Judy is just a caring and devoted person,” shared Robin DeBoer, ISC for CSS.

While trying to thank Judy for her support, Judy turned around and raved about Black Hills Works and our staff. “You have excellent employees and provide such wonderful services to the people you support and the community. What would we do without Black Hills Works to help people supported to have a normal life?”

And what would we do, Judy, without amazing people like you? Thank you, Judy, for sharing your skills with us every year! You make an incredible impact, every year! Thank you!

Assistive Technology Leads to Life Transforming Solutions

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

Thanks to you, 898 creative, life-changing, cost-effective assistive technology solutions were created by our team in 2021. Each solution is only possible thanks to the generosity of private donors, like you. Your impact has been life-changing for hundreds of people with disabilities.

Wondering what exactly is “assistive technology” is and how you have helped?

Assistive technology is commonly defined as any piece of equipment, device, or service that promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish (or, had great difficulty accomplishing).

Solutions include true technology or purchased adaptive equipment, purchased with donations, like iPads, remote supports, lifts, communication devices, and adaptive dinnerware. Other solutions, however, are built from scratch using. For example, our team built an adaptive “sled” using PVC pipe, old skis, and a chair, that allowed persons with disabilities to join other skaters at the ice rink. Thanks to B9Creations, the team can also use a donated 3D printer to custom build person-centered solutions.

Shad Bebout, a person supported by Black Hills Works, has embraced technology, using his tablet to turn on lights, start a slow cooker, adjust blinds, use the thermostat, and communicate. He is a valued employee at Caramel Creations, a job made possible thanks to assistive technology. Being employed has allowed him the resources needed to invest in technology, and generous community donations make access to technology possible for others.

“The impact of technology, even in normal times, cannot be overstated,” said Tammy Murner, Director of Innovation & Assistive Technology. “We support people who, because of technology, are creating art, writing books, cooking meals, working, and living independently. The generosity of our community has literally opened up a whole new world for so many more people. The impact is enormous.”

DSPs: Making Life-Changing Impacts

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

Black Hills Works is thrilled to announce the release of its new career website, aimed at providing prospective employees the tools they need to learn more about what it means to be a direct support professional (DSPs). It’s a career that is life-changing, both for the DSP and the people they support.

Simply, DSPs are at the heart of what we do at Black Hills Works. They help adults with disabilities live, work, and play. They work in homes, at jobs, and within the community, helping the people we support to achieve their goals and overcome various challenges they face. DSPs play a critical role in helping to empower and equip adults with disabilities receiving services with the opportunity to lead independent, meaningful, and full lives. Through person-centered approaches that promote self-determination, the responsibilities of a DSP are vast. This work can include providing support for relationship-building, financial management, personal care, household tasks, transportation, communication, advocacy, and so much more. It’s a job that is intimate and transformational for both you and the people you support. They are so important to the mission of Black Hills Works, we provide robust on-the-job training, leadership development, certifications, and credentialing opportunities to provide opportunities to build skills and income potential.

If you would like to learn more, check out our new career website, and apply today!

April Volunteer Highlight…Carol Bailey, Reina, Joan Struble & Crunchy!

June 28, 2022 | Black Hills Works Newsroom

Did you know that interacting with a friendly pet can help with many physical and mental issues? Pet therapy can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can release endorphins that produce a calming effect, which can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state. Pet therapy can also make you feel happier, decrease loneliness, and reduce anxiety. Watching Reina and Crunchy interacting with people that we support provides the proof!

For several years, Carol and Joan have shared their pet therapy dogs with Black Hills Works. Reina and Crunchy visit the Learning Center and Plant Street a couple of times a week, and you can see the smiles that accompany their visits. Kenny was smiling and laughing while Reina did tricks for him. “She is nice and cute,” Kenny shared. Kathy couldn’t get enough of Crunchy, and her laugh was contagious!

“I enjoy seeing the responses of the people supported,” shared Carol. “You can see the comfort while they play, and the improvement of eye-hand coordination for some of the folks!” When asked what she enjoys about bringing Crunchy to visit, Joan shared, “It touches my heart to see their hearts connect with Crunchy. I get to have relationships with the people supported through Crunchy, so we have lots of friends to visit!”

Thank you, Carol and Joan, for sharing Reina and Crunchy with us and brightening our days!