Wani, a former student of Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, has spent most of his life in silence, unable to communicate with the world around him.
Born Deaf, losing both of his parents at a young age coupled with a string of misfortunes, has landed Wani in a nursing home for the past 16 years. The trouble is that Wani, who is only 52 years old—and extremely smart and capable—doesn’t belong in a nursing home: he belongs back in the community. Wani deserves to begin a new journey, experience meaningful relationships and let the light back into his life—a light that has been dark for quite some time now.
When Patricia Gormley, Medicaid Services Coordinator, and Christine Oddo, Associate Director of Mill Neck Services, Inc.—an organization that gives Deaf and Hard of Hearing people access to employment and community services—found out about this, they made it their first priority to break Wani free. Free of feeling trapped; free of thinking this was all that life had to offer; and free of living as though he was already gone.
Upon first meeting, Wani aimlessly walked the halls of A. Holly Paterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale. We headed over to a quiet area to chat, when Wani politely pulled up an extra chair for me—he aptly noticed there wasn’t enough seats for the three of us—and motioned for me and Christine to sit down. Wani stared back at us with heavy eyes—eyes that had seen a lot of hurt, eyes that had given up hope. “I’m just tired today,” he said to us, his fingers flowing through the air to communicate in American Sign Language.
Christine brought him the good news that she was going to visit the new Epic community home in Port Jefferson Station that he would be moving to soon. “It’s really lovely,” she said. “I think you’ll like it.” She went on to explain about the Mill Neck Services program he could join, Day Habilitation—a program for people who are Deaf and have other disabilities, helping them to become more independent through socialization, communication and leisurely activities. Wani’s lips curled up into a smile for the first time all day: it suited him.
Wani was adamant that he wanted to be around Deaf people. Who could blame him? No one knew sign language at the nursing home except for Nick, a security guard. But Wani, who grew up in Harlem, N.Y., was unfortunately accustomed to being unable to communicate with the people around him. “My father died when I was nine; he didn’t know any sign language,” he explained. “My mother signed fluently but she died four years after my father. Then, I went to live with my aunt who knew some sign, but not much.”
When Wani was 19 years old, he attended Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf—a school that helps Deaf children to unlock their potential through quality education. “I really enjoyed it there,” he said. But while in school, the tragedies that Wani endured during his childhood caught up with him. He was thrown into an unfathomable depth of depression. Unable to think of a way out, Wani suffered a self-inflicted injury that caused him to have seizures, ultimately landing him in an extended care nursing facility.
“My mother and my father were gone and I was so scared and alone,” Wani recalled. “I didn’t have Mill Neck’s phone number; I kept looking through the phone book.” Christine signed “I’m sorry” with her hand circling her heart. “But we’re here now.”
“I trust you,” Wani replied. “I know you’ll get me out of here.”
Wani’s story is leading example of the isolation and helplessness a Deaf person can feel when they aren’t given the right tools and resources. But Wani’s story is also one of strength and perseverance. His future finally looks bright: Mill Neck Services will make sure it stays that way.
For more information on Mill Neck Services, Inc. or how to help individuals just like Wani, please call 516-922-3818 or visit millneck.org/our-services/community-services-for-adults-and-children/.
Disclaimer: All stories regarding Mill Neck Services participants have been reviewed and approved by respective subjects.
The students of Mill Neck’s Deaf Education Center (DEC) experience hands-on learning at its finest this summer. From touring the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay to volunteering at Sunrise of Glen Cove Assisted Living Facility to meeting the Stony Brook University football team, students have the opportunity to discover their interests while engaging in experiential learning.
New York State has approved a new graduating credential for special education students. The Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential is a certificate that is intended to indicate a student’s readiness for entry-level jobs. Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf has created a comprehensive summer program where students have the opportunity to participate in work-based learning experiences, including job coaching, shadowing, community service, internships and more.
Taking trips all over the island, DEC students have enjoyed learning about possible future career paths. A tour of the Planting Fields Arboretum was given by Director Vincent Simeone, who welcomed the students as neighbors from a fellow Gold Coast Estate and explained the various jobs and responsibilities. Students toured the green houses, grounds and sensory garden, where they planted seeds that will grow in the fall. The students were very encouraged to hear that the Planting Fields has already employed a past student of Mill Neck. After the tour, they enjoyed a picnic on the grounds.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, the DEC students volunteer their time at Sunrise of Glen Cove Assisted Living Facility. The residents’ faces lit up as they saw the students walk through the doors. Some students stayed on the ground floor, where they set up a nail painting station for the women of the facility to enjoy a nice manicure. Others went to a different floor to engage the residents diagnosed with dementia, where they played games and danced Zumba.
“It’s so great for our residents here to have young kids come and volunteer their time,” says Diana Blacharski, Life Enrichment Manager at Sunrise. “They really enjoy it.”
The students also took a trip to Stony Brook University to meet players on the Seawolves football team: they have been studying American Sign Language as a Foreign Language. The students and players communicated with each other, throwing footballs and high fives.
A Safe Place for all Deaf Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
Individuals who are Deaf with developmental disabilities often have a hard time feeling like they belong. It isn’t as easy to socialize with friends or participate in meaningful group activities within the comfort of a safe environment.
Because of this, Mill Neck Services, Inc.—whose main goal is to empower Deaf and developmentally disabled individuals to become more independent—created a one-of-a-kind project called Signs with the Times Café. Mill Neck Services recently received a $5,000 grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries to help with program funding.
This Café—the sole program of its kind on Long Island—opens its doors to all individuals who are Deaf with developmental disabilities throughout the community. A variety of activities are offered on- and off-site that engage and connect not only the Deaf population, but the community at large.
Under the direction of two extremely passionate coordinators—Diana Pelchuck, who has been Deaf since she was three years old, and Nicole Shaw, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Studies and a master’s in Teaching ASL as a Foreign Language—the program’s participants enjoy casino night, movie night, visits to museums, sports and more.
Offering a sense of comradery and an inviting environment to individuals who daily face adversity and social isolation, this program breathes new life into a once stagnant feeling of belonging.
While the impact of the program on these individuals is significant—gaining confidence, exploring new experiences, establishing friendships within the Deaf culture and more—hearing individuals are also profoundly affected just by simply engaging with and being introduced to Deaf culture.
The Cafe is currently held at Mill Neck Services’ Day Habilitation Center every Wednesday evening and one Saturday a month.
Lutheran Friends of the Deaf is pleased to announce that a new interpreted worship service opportunity will be available to people who are Deaf through a new partnership. Beginning on Sept. 11, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection (420 Stewart Ave., Garden City, N.Y.) will have an American Sign Language interpreted service each second Sunday of the month at 11 a.m.
Nancy Mark Attributes her Son’s Success to the Mill Neck School
Nancy Mark reluctantly waved goodbye to her then 3-year-old son, Charlie, as he traveled by bus for more than an hour each way to the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf campus, where he would be attending Mill Neck’s Early Childhood Center (ECC).
The ECC provides early and intensive assistance to hearing children, ages 3 and 4, with a range of special communication needs, including speech and language delays and disorders, cognitive and motor deficits and autism-related disorders.
Charlie, who was diagnosed with speech delay as well as no receptive or expressive language skills at the age of 3, was not very fond of getting in and out of his car seat. “He was frequently extremely frustrated and it was very challenging to control his meltdowns,” Nancy says.
She stood there each morning with a heavy heart, watching that giant yellow bus drive away with her most precious cargo, her mind swirling with worry. But one thing eased her anxiety a bit: “I knew he was going to one of the best early intervention pre-school programs on Long Island.” And for that, she was hopeful.
“We were relieved that Charlie wasn’t diagnosed with a lifelong disorder,” Nancy admits, “but we knew we faced a significant challenge to get him on track academically, and we were concerned about the impact of the delay on his social/emotional development.”
Within three weeks, Nancy noticed a significant improvement in Charlie’s language. “I visited the school to see how they did their ‘magic’ and I was blown away by the teachers’ intensive focus and techniques.”
Charlie was mainstreamed into a remedial kindergarten class at the age of 5 in his hometown of Port Washington. “The transition was very smooth,” recalls Nancy. “Charlie began reading early in his kindergarten year and was fully mainstreamed into a regular kindergarten class within eight months.”
Fast forward eight years to present: Charlie is 13 years old and about to enter eighth grade with solid A/B grades across the board. “I am a strong student,” says Charlie. “I love watching basketball and I am very active in both tennis and skiing.” Charlie plans to attend college and pursue a career in sports management.
To help more children just like Charlie, please call 516-922-4100. For more information about the Mill Neck Manor Early Childhood Center, click here.
This year’s Early Childhood Center (ECC) graduation was one to remember. Not just for the 50 preschool graduates and their families, but for the entire ECC staff. “This graduation fell on a very special year—the ECC’s 25th anniversary year,” says ECC Principal Suellyn Giserman.
Many changes have occurred since the school’s inception 25 years ago. One, in particular, was the number of graduating students, which jumped from only 22 in 1991 to now 50 this year. “For us it’s always a bit bittersweet because we get attached to you and to them,” she said with a full heart to an audience filled with proud family members, friends and staff.
After Giserman’s welcoming remarks, a mother of two children, both of whom were among the graduates this year, made her way to podium to reflect on her long road and emotional journey. “There aren’t any words that can explain my gratitude toward the ECC staff that have touched my children’s lives,” she said. “Mill Neck is a place that makes things possible that you never thought were possible.”
The audience then turned in their seats with anticipation as 50 little graduates proudly walked down the aisles, some happily waving to their families. As the children gathered around the stage, they sweetly performed the ABC Song, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Wheels on the Bus” at the top of their lungs. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Right after, the lights dimmed as a slideshow appeared on the projector screen. The children squealed with delight as they recognized their faces and the faces of their friends.
At the end of the ceremony, the graduates accepted their diplomas from Giserman and Social Worker Cecelia Lynch. Cheers and applause roared throughout the auditorium as everyone jumped to their feet to celebrate the graduates and dance as Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” floated in the background.
The Mill Neck Family joins friends, family and staff in congratulating our little graduates and wishing them the best of luck as they head off to kindergarten and their new school adventures!
Founded in 1991, the Early Childhood Center (ECC) provides early and intensive assistance to children, ages 3 and 4, who may have deficits in speech, language/communication, cognitive and gross and fine motor development. Most children who attend the program graduate and attend kindergarten in their home school districts. The ECC is part of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, which also includes Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, founded by Lutheran Friends of the Deaf in 1947. For more information about the Early Childhood Center, please call 516-922-4276 or visit: millneck.org/our-services/early-childhood-center-2/.
Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf goes beyond in-classroom learning and provides their students with real-life learning opportunities. This summer, Deaf Education Center students went on many experiential learning excursions. One of which was learning how to cook. Each week, the students, along with staff, would go to different grocery stores to practice shopping following an itemized recipe list. Once they have purchased their items, they would then head to the school’s Life and Sciences kitchen to cook and eat together as a group.
“I want them to learn how to make simple recipes that they can do on their own,” says Maria Limperis, a teacher at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf. “There are so many learning factors that play into this activity, including literacy skills by writing and following a list; learning about reusing ingredients to make another meal; navigating directions to each grocery store; working on cooperation and team building; learning how to use equipment and more.”
Joel Pastrana, a high school student at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, finds this particular activity to be extremely enjoyable. “We all get together and work as a team. When we go home we can cook because we have done it already in school.”
Lutheran Friends of the Deaf (LFD) Reverend Thomas Dunseth recently traveled to the city of Macau, China. Rev. Dunseth’s first stop was at the graduation ceremony for the Concordia School for Special Education in Macau where he is currently the President of the Board. He was responsible for presenting certificates of merit to three Concordia School teachers.
For the next stop, Reverend Thomas Dunseth visited the Pu Choi Center of Fu Hong Society for Special Needs in the city of Macau. The Pu Choi Center provides comprehensive vocational rehabilitation services for adults with mild or moderate mental handicap (some of their clients are Deaf). With financial aid provided by the Social Welfare Bureau, the center is able to cater for up to 100 service users. Using diversified working modes, one-stop services including workshops, supported employment, on-the-job training, and programmed trainings, the center gradually enhances the work skills and adaptive capacities of the service users and finally helps them get engaged in open employment.
Rev. Dunseth’s final stop was with the Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in Hong Kong. LSS is an agency of the Lutheran Church-Hong Kong Synod which is a long time church partner of both the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and LFD. The Hong Kong Synod Lutherans operate the only Deaf school in Hong Kong (Lutheran School for the Deaf), and the LSS operated several Deaf centers. Rev. Dunseth took the time to visit with one of the centers in Hong Kong where Deaf people are served. LFD/Mill Neck Foundation for Deaf Ministry gave a grant during the 2015-2016 grant cycle called ‘Get Moving Healthy Life.’ This was to encourage Deaf people in Hong Kong to be mindful of their bodies and souls which God has given them. Highlighted in this project was focus on care for the whole person: eating right, getting plenty of exercise, as well as church going and Bible study.
LFD develops and disseminates resources for deaf ministry, congregations and training for religious interpreters. Originally founded in 1947, LFD is a Recognized Service Organization within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. LFD is the founding organization of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations.
Two Young Brothers Set up Shop to Help Students with Disabilities
When Amanda Cerami, an employee of Mill Neck Services‘ Community Habilitation program and Medicaid Service Coordinator, met blind 6-year-old Anthony Dones in 2008, her life was changed forever.
Anthony didn’t grow up like other children his age. Diagnosed legally blind and with osteoporosis, he wasn’t focused on life’s superficial offerings. He didn’t fret over video games, or beg to stay up past his bedtime to watch his favorite cartoons. Anthony, who was receiving services from Mill Neck at the time, learned at an early age what is really important in life: the intangible.
“Anthony taught me how to appreciate the simple things that most people take for granted, like being able to see what he wears every day, knowing what he looks like, and when he visits a beach being able to see what’s in front of him,” Amanda said. “This 6-year-old boy taught me how precious life can be and inspired me to want to help others.”
From there, Amanda began working at Mill Neck Services in the Community Habilitation program, which is designed to help individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing and have other disabilities, to learn independence skills and improve their socialization skills. She also works as a Medicaid Service Coordinator for Mill Neck, a program that helps hearing children and young adults who have intellectual disabilities adjust to life and build long lasting relationships. “I enjoy encouraging our individuals, supporting their participation in recreational activities and watching them get excited when they learn something new or master a task,” she explained.
Amanda’s passion and dedication for her work naturally spilled over into her family life. “One day, I told my family that I would like to help put a group together that would benefit both groups of individuals in Community Habilitation and Medicaid Service.” Amanda’s brothers, Tyler, age 9, and Nicholas, age 5 – who previously attended Mill Neck’s Early Childhood Center for speech – both jumped at the chance to help. “It was important to me that Tyler and Nicholas understand that not everybody has the same opportunities as they have,” Amanda explained.
Amanda, Tyler and Nicholas decided to set up a lemonade stand to help such an important cause, raising around $160 for the individuals at Mill Neck. “They really enjoyed running the lemonade stand, and would like to continue to do it. Thanks to their efforts we are putting together a fishing trip outing for the group in July.”
A special thank you to Owen and Michael Perfetti for also participating in the lemonade stand.
A gentle breeze and plenty of sunshine greeted the golfers who participated in Swingin’ Summer, a benefit tournament held on June 27. The annual event took place at the luxurious Cold Spring Country Club, with proceeds supporting the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, which provides programs and services locally, nationally and around the globe for children and adults who are Deaf or have other special needs.
Golfers made their way to the course following a hearty brunch at the clubhouse. During their round of golf, they also enjoyed contests, refreshments and a barbeque lunch on the course. Later, they were joined by other guests for the Champions Dinner, featuring awards, silent auction, numerous raffles and, the highlight of the evening, recognition of honorees. Each of the 2016 honorees were recognized for their selfless dedication to the Mill Neck Family’s mission, whether this dedication has existed for a quarter century or began more recently.
For Marianne Artinian, support for Mill Neck began more than 25 years ago. Mother and grandmother of Mill Neck alumni, Artinian is currently the Administrative Assistant at Mill Neck’s audiology facility, Mill Neck Services Center for Hearing Health. During her often humorous speech about Artinian, Dr. Susan Antonellis, Operations Manager of the facility, had a number of serious reflections to share. “Her smile and beaming personality surrounds the office.
She knows every person’s name: treats them like family. She is an advocate for the Deaf and hearing impaired. Most importantly, her wonderful contribution is the empathy she offers to all families that walk through the doors with their children who are newly diagnosed. Marianne is up there, front and center, with a kind word, some advice or a hug,” said Antonellis.
PBI Payroll owners, Joe and Valerie Giacinto, have been associated with Mill Neck since 2008 when PBI began processing the organization’s payroll. Over the years, PBI has repeatedly shown their support of Mill Neck. As noted by Kathleen Lagalante, Mill Neck’s Director of Human Resources, who presented the Giacinto’s with their honoree recognition, PBI not only hired candidates through Mill Neck Services, but “also showed they were all in by sponsoring several of Mill Neck’s golf events. Countless golf balls, tees, foursomes and even sponsoring holes were graciously donated from PBI over the last eight years.”
When not pursuing the next great shot, professional photographer Ken Thalheimer uses his time and talents as a volunteer docent at Mill Neck Manor. Whether leading a small gathering at the monthly Sunday tours of the mansion that stands on Mill Neck’s campus or guiding a group of 50 through the house, Thalheimer tirelessly imparts his in-depth knowledge, often sprinkling his talk with humor. He came to Mill Neck several years ago via a Designers’ Showcase® event and ever since, continues to give his time whenever called upon, including volunteering for the Mill Neck Manor Archive Committee.
Acknowledging that this event is the result of many helping hands, the Mill Neck Family of Organizations wishes to thank the golfers and guests, volunteers, committee members, parents and students for supporting another Swingin’ Summer and, by extension, the programs and services of the organization. Recognition is due to the following sponsors and contributors as well: BMW of Oyster Bay; General (Hole in One Sponsors); JLJ Enterprises; PBI Payroll; TNT Industries (Champions Dinner Sponsors); Bank United; Capitol One; Core BTS; Samuels Datacom, LLC; Wilson Elser (Eagle Corporate Sponsors); Glen Cove Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation; Celeste and Hank Pinkerton (Birdie Sponsors); Apple Bank; Fiduciary Investment Advisors, LLC; hint; R.S. Abrams & Co., LLP; Pickney Electric (Fairway Combo Sponsors); Mayor Peter and Mrs. Crisler Quick (Driving Range Sponsors); Christopher Jones, The Center for Wealth Preservation; McBreen & Kopko; Maspeth Roofing & Siding; Noodles & Co.; Ted B. Smith, Jr.; The Honorable Claire R. Kelly and Joseph J. DiBartolo; Tower Fasteners; Signature Bank; Richard Wehner (Par-Tee Sponsors); Applebee’s; Ayhan’s Shish Kebab; Bagel Café; Best Yet Market; Cheap Thrills Jewelry; Chipotle; Chocolicious Chocolatier; Carol Cook; Corporate Loss Prevention Assoc.; Cradle of Aviation; Eagle’s Nest – Vanderbilt Museum; Steven and Erin Ferrara; Fish on Main; Greenberg Cosmetic Surgery; Healing Arts Massage Therapy; Michael F. and Susan M. Killian; Locust Valley Florist; Locust Valley Market; Long Island Picture Frame and Art Gallery; Dilip Madnani, M.D.; Joseph L. Mancino; Mario’s Pizza of Oyster Bay; Megaris and Megaris Salon; Millcroft Farms Co.; Moe’s Southwest Grill; NuBest Salon and Spa; Old Westbury Gardens; Panera Bread; Safavieh; Marilyn Samuels; Sands Point Shop; Scentsational of Huntington; Kathleen Ray Smith; South Shore Golf; Spa Doc; Spuntino; The Garden City Hotel; Timber Point Country Club; Toshiba Business Solutions; Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement & Trust; Whole Foods and George and Carole Zivanow.
The Mill Neck Family of Organizations includes Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, founded in 1947 by Lutheran Friends of the Deaf, Mill Neck Manor Early Childhood Center, Mill Neck Services, Mill Neck Services for Hearing Health, Mill Neck Interpreter Service and Lutheran Friends of the Deaf. For more information, please call 516-922-4100 or visit millneck.org.
For more photos from the 2016 Swingin’ Summer Golf Tournament, please visit facebook.com/millneck.
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