G.A. Learning Center Students Create Anti-Bullying Display at Crown Street Roasting Co.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. To recognize this, teachers and students at the G.A. Learning Center (GALC) recently partnered with Crown Street Roasting Co. and the county Department of Mental Hygiene’s Suicide Prevention Program to raise awareness of the serious effects of bullying. Every day thousands of young people experience bullying from their peers while at school, after school in their neighborhoods, and through social media and texts.

As a way to support bullying prevention and heighten its awareness, students from GALC, staff from Family Services of the Chautauqua Region (FSCR), and the owners of Crown Street Roasting Co. have installed a window display to teach customers and pedestrians the value of kindness.

“It’s our duty as teachers to promote kindness, giving, and teamwork as much as we possibly can,” said Lucia Guarnieri, reading specialist at GALC. The theme of the display, borrowed from the popular Pixar/Walt Disney filmUP, is ‘Lift Each Other Up.”

The students who participated in the event collaborated with others to design and install the window display. To reward each of their efforts, the students were treated to hot chocolate and a pizza party. They received a certificate for being “Bullying Prevention Specialists” as well.

“As adults, we often do not provide students the opportunity to have a voice; to make an impact,” said Dr. Kristin Garaas-Johnson, GALC Director of Education. “We’d like to give a special thanks to our community partners at FSCR who spearheaded this outreach opportunity for us at GALC as well as Mike and Sarah Bigney, owners of Crown Street Roasting Co., for this opportunity,” said Garaas-Johnson.

To learn more about G.A. Learning Center, visit www.gafamilyservices.org or call 716-665-2772.

G.A. Learning Center and G.A. Family Services are a part of Lutheran, a Christian organization that offers a continuum of care that supports an individual’s journey through life with compassion, dignity, and respect.

G.A. Learning Center Celebrates NYS School Breakfast Day

On September 25, students at the G.A. Learning Center celebrated the power of school breakfast to feed brains and bodies as part of New York State’s inaugural School Breakfast Day. Along with schools across the state, GALC highlighted this critical meal through social media, fun giveaways, and education with the students.

School Breakfast Day was created this year as a way to showcase the state’s “No Student Goes Hungry” initiative, a comprehensive program to provide students of all ages, backgrounds, and financial situations access to healthy, locally-sourced meals.

“School breakfast is a great way for students to start their day. It doesn’t take much time and the return can be great,” said Dr. Kristin Garaas-Johnson, Director of Education at G.A. Learning Center. “We provide our students at GALC access to breakfast when they arrive at our school from surrounding districts and it means a lot to them. We’ve also partnered with 5&2 Ministries in the area to make sure access to nutritious meals can carry over into the home when they leave in the evening or on weekends,” said Garaas-Johnson.

Today, one in five children in New York come from families that struggle with hunger yet only 29% of students who are eligible for free or reduced price school breakfast in the state are accessing the meal. Due to this low percentage, over 1,400 schools in every corner of New York State will be expanding their school breakfast offerings to include unique Breakfast after the Bell (BAB) programming. Studies show that schools that offer a BAB program such as Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC), Grab and Go to the Classroom, or Second Chance Breakfast, have improved academic performance and reduced disciplinary problems.

“Every meal matters when you’re a hungry child,” said Rachel Sabella, Director of No Kid Hungry New York. “Making breakfast a part of the school day means thousands of kids in New York will have the chance to get the morning nutrition they need to learn. That’s good for kids; it’s also good for New York,” said Sabella.

To learn more about G.A. Learning Center, visit www.gafamilyservices.org or call 716-665-2772. To learn more about 5&2 Ministries or how you can help hungry children in the classroom’s of Chautauqua County, visit www.5and2ministry.com or call 716-664-1011.

G.A. Learning Center and G.A. Family Services are a part of Lutheran, a Christian organization that offers a continuum of care that supports an individual’s journey through life with compassion, dignity, and respect.

G.A. Family Services Foster Care Program to Host Free Kids Carnival

G.A. Family Services Foster Care Program has announced that they will be hosting their first annual Kids Carnival on Sunday, May 19, in cooperation with Raymour and Flanigan in Jamestown. The Kids Carnival is free, open to all families, and is being held in celebration of National Foster Care Month.

The Kids Carnival will be held from noon to 4:00 pm in the Raymour and Flanigan parking lot and inside the showroom at 1001 Fairmount Avenue at the Jamestown-Lakewood town border.

“We’re very excited to host this event for the families in the area,” said Kara Kloss, Family Resource Coordinator. “We wanted to do something to celebrate the love that families share with their children and hosting the event during National Foster Care Month means a lot to us. We’re blessed that Raymour and Flanigan has agreed to help,” said Kloss. The staff of the foster care program hope to raise awareness for the growing need of foster homes in Chautauqua County.

The event itself will feature yard and carnival games, bounce house, raffles, face painting, fire truck and ambulance tours with the Celoron Volunteer Fire Department, music, chicken dinners, and more. The foster care program will also have adoptable stuffed animals available on a first come, first served basis.

“This stuffed animal adoption is something we wanted to do to explain adoption and foster care to children in an easier way,” said Kloss. Families can “adopt” a stuffed animal companion to bring home and play with. It also gives the foster care staff an opportunity to explain the benefits and resources available for those interested in fostering or adopting children in need from the community.

According to the most recent federal data, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States ranging from infants to 21-year-olds in some states. G.A. Family Services Foster Care Program and others like it help provide interested parents or families with the right resources and information to bring these children into their home either temporarily or permanently.

“We are a great resource for anyone wanting to foster, adopt, or just learn how they can help,” said Ericka Garcia-Allison, Director for Community Based Services. “There are a lot of misconceptions about foster care and adoption. We encourage anyone with questions to get ahold of us to learn more. Having the right information can make a huge impact for us, our program, and especially for the children of Chautauqua County who need a little help,” said Garcia-Allison. The G.A. foster care office receives an average of 4-5 phone calls a day with referrals of local children in need of a safe, loving home.

To get involved or learn more about the Kids Carnival, foster care, or adoption of local children in Chautauqua County, visit www.gafamilyservices.org or call 716-708-6161.

G.A. Family Services was founded on a tradition of caring and compassion toward youth and provides a full continuum of services for at-risk youth and their families.

Over 70 Employees Honored by Lutheran and G.A. Family Services

Lutheran and G.A. Family Services held their annual Employee Recognition Dinner at Moon Brook Country Club on Monday, March 18, to honor 74 employees for varying years of service to their respective organizations. The event was spring bumble bee themed recognizing “un-bee-lievable” contributions to the work environment.

“It takes a lot of people and a lot of roles to make the work we do at Lutheran and G.A. Family Services possible,” said Tom Holt, president and CEO. “To be able to recognize so many new and familiar faces is a blessing. They make a commitment to us and it means a lot,” said Holt. Lutheran provides independent housing, assisted living, skilled nursing, medical-model adult day healthcare, and rehabilitation to adults in the region. G.A. Family Services offers a broad range of youth services including an 853 learning center, residential treatment program, foster care and adoption services, and community-based support.

Members of Lutheran and G.A.’s leadership team presented awards to the attending employees to thank them for their continued support and hard work. Six employees retired over the last year including James Mohan (11 years of service), Debra Spangler (12 years of service), Delores Overturf (14 years of service), Kristine Marasco (16 years of service), Susan Seastedt (19 years of service), and Darlene Anderson (39 years of service).

“Our retirees have amassed over 100 years of service collectively. While it is sad to lose them, we’re honored to have had their compassion and leadership during their time with us,” said Holt.

Employees recognized for two (2) years of service: Patricia Baker, Jawara Battle, Matthew Erickson, Isaiah Faison, Maritza Fred, Debora Hasson, Sean Johnson, Eric Martin, Robert Paterniti, Morgan Schumacher, Curtis-Lee Smith, Mara Batson, Patricia Estus, Kim Ray, Linda Troutman, Evan Abplanalp, Nichole Arguelles, Mariel Augustine, Katrina Bishop, Nicholas Bollman, Nikkita Clark-Brightman, Cody Frederick, Amanda Garcia-Birt, Shannon Gunnell, Jeff Ireland, Elizabeth Kennedy, Miranda Kiesinger, Debra Mattson, Lynn Nalbone, Natalie Nalbone, Emily Norton, Roxanne Spengler, Chelsea Szczesny, Harriett Zayas-Blanco, Kelly Powell, Edwin Rodriguez, and Cherish Wright.

Employees recognized for five (5) years of service: Renea Fiorella, Cathy Linkous, Jill Manka, Liketia McAffee, Katie Snyder, Jorge Torres, Tammy Benware, Alisha Bochman, Gary Golden, Laura Olrogg, Jamiesha Reynolds, Wendy Strickland, Kristen Washburn, Amy Erickson, and Heidi Stanford.

Employees recognized for ten (10) years of service: Kimberly Cotter, Amanda Frye, Nicole Abbey, Sue-Ann Holler, Candice House, Breann Johnson, Marlene Sanders, Michelle Madison, Rosalie Zanghi, and Brenda Johnston.

Employees recognized for fifteen (15) years of service: Robert Gebhard, Douglas Bailey Jr., and Katrina Jones.

Employees recognized for twenty (20) years of service: Susan Swanstrom, Michele Twichel, and Janet Powell.

Employees recognized for twenty-five (25) years of service: Daphne McWhorter.

Employees recognized for thirty (30) years of service: Wendy Linamen.

Employees recognized for thirty-five (35) years of service: Darlene Foster.

Employees recognized for forty-five (45) years of service: Debbie Basile.

At a previous event earlier in the year, both organizations recognized their respective Employees of the Year for 2018. Evan Abplanalp, Physical Therapist at the Lutheran Home and Rehabilitation Center, was recognized by Lutheran while Nicole Green, Shift Supervisor at the GA Residential Program, was recognized by GA Family Services.

“Evan’s nomination for Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year were a testament to his compassion and care for the residents he serves. From providing rehabilitation care to telling the joke of the day in the hall, Evan raised the spirits of all those around him on a regular basis,” said Katrina Jones, Vice President of Human Resources. “As for Nicole, she is known to those around her to give 110% every day. She is motivated, focuses on her goals with the youth she serves, and still finds time to help coworkers in need. Nichole was recognized by a coworker for being an inspiration and she is very deserving of this honor,” said Jones.

Lutheran and GA Family Service Employees Donate to Pennies 4 Paws

The employees at Lutheran and GA Family Services held an employee pet photo contest during March and April to help raise money for the Chautauqua County Humane Society’s Pennies 4 Paws campaign. Over 60 employee pet entries came in with over 1,200 votes being placed by staff, residents, and visitors to the Lutheran Campus in Jamestown. Third place went to Peggy Young, RN, who submitted a photo of her dog Sophie Anne, second place went to Deb Darling for submitting a photo of her grand-dog Walter, and first place went to Stephanie Reichardt who submitted a memorial for her dog Buster. Voters could donate $1.00 for one vote, $5.00 for ten votes, or a jar of peanut butter or spray cheese for five votes. Over $400 and over 100 jars of peanut butter were donated to the shelter from the contest. Pictured from left are Peggy Young, RN, Brian Papalia and “Dot” from CCHS, Stephanie Reichardt, and Deb Darling. “Dot” came to the Lutheran Campus with Brian as part of the Expawditions program at the shelter. Expawditions is a program designed to give animals a day off from the kennel environment and get them into the real world. It also gives people the chance to get some dog time, even if they don’t have a dog of their own. Call the Chautauqua County Humane Society at 665-2209 to learn more about Expawditions.

Area Church Congregations Donate to G.A. Family Services Foster Care Angel Tree Program

Staff at G.A. Family Services held a recognition luncheon earlier this month to honor and thank several area churches for taking up monetary collections or hosting an Angel Tree at their parishes for the 2018 holiday season. Gifts or monetary donations made to the G.A. Foster Care Angel Tree Program support over 100 area children in foster care.

“We cannot thank you enough for your kindness and generosity that you and your congregations have shown to the children in our program,” said Kara Kloss, community resource coordinator for G.A. Family Services. “A lot of these children have been through some very difficult situations. Thankfully they’re in safe, loving homes now and have a community like you to wrap their arms around,” said Kloss.

The Angel Tree Program is an annual event for G.A. Family Services Foster Care. “Wishes” from foster children are placed on the back of the ornaments and hung on a tree with the help of their foster parents. Community members at the Angel Tree locations can pick an ornament and help make the wish come true for that child. G.A. Family Services staff collect all the gifts for Santa Claus himself to deliver them at a special Christmas event.

Employees at the Lutheran Home and Rehabilitation Center hosted an Angel Tree along with area churches: Seventh Day Adventist Church, St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church, Panama Baptist Church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Bethlehem Lutheran, Bethel Lutheran, and Tree of Life Church.

“It is amazing to see and feel the love you all have for these kids,” said Kloss. “It is truly special, you are truly special, and we value the friendships and relationships we have made along the way,” she said.

First Lutheran Church Donates $1,000 to Foster Care Program

After a very moving presentation on our G.A. Family Services Foster Care program to the Lutheran Clergy recently, the First Lutheran Church of Jamestown made a $1,000 donation to our foster care program through proceeds from their community outreach thrift store. The staff at Lutheran and GA are shocked and so very grateful for this generous gift!

First Lutheran was organized by Swedish immigrants in Jamestown in 1856. The First Lutheran Church Community Outreach Center Thrift Store is located on the third floor of the First Lutheran Church, corner of Chandler and Center Streets. Items can be donated to the thrift store and all proceeds go back into the community to area nonprofits and other social organizations.

Store hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 am to 3 pm. To learn how to donate, call 716-664-4601.

G.A. Family Services Honors Staff at Award Ceremony

Administration at Lutheran and G.A. Family Services honored various employees who demonstrated dedication and strong leadership as well as act as role models within their departments. Five employees were honored this month at a company retreat and award ceremony held at G.A. Learning Center surrounded by peers and program managers.

“Year after year, our youth services staff continue to amaze and impress us,” said Tom Holt, president and CEO of Lutheran and G.A. Family Services. “Whether they work for the school, our residential treatment program, or with foster care and adoption families, our staff make a big difference in the lives of children every day. These individuals in particular stand out on a regular basis and deserve credit where it is due,” said Holt. Award recipients were as follows:

James Brentley, Shift Supervisor, was the recipient of the Ernest N. Bastian Award. Ernie Bastian was one of the first Child Care Counselors at the Children’s Home. He was a great role model and mentor to many staff and youth. The Ernest N. Bastian Award is presented to a person who demonstrates excellence in childcare, demonstrates excellent communication skills, advocates for youth, and maintains a positive attitude throughout the year. This is James’ second consecutive year receiving this honor.

Victoria Boria, Teacher at G.A. Learning Center, was the recipient of the Harry J. Sands Award. Harry Sands was the founder of the G.A. Learning Center and was the Director of Education for many years. The Harry J. Sands Award is presented to a person who demonstrates excellence in education, demonstrates a strong commitment to learning both academically and behaviorally, is a positive role model, and achieves multiple goals and milestones throughout the school year.

Abigail Pickert, Resource Aide with G.A. Learning Center, was the recipient of the Lion of the North Award. The Lion of the North Award is presented to a person who demonstrates strong leadership, character, innovation, and sets an example for safety. The award and associated criteria were selected in honor of the G.A. namesake: Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus.

Ericka Garcia-Allison, Assisted Director of Community Based Services, was the recipient of the Lutheran Experience Award. This award is given to an employee who exemplifies all 25 of Lutheran and G.A.’s core values.

Christine Grys, Caseworker for the Regional Permanency Program, was the recipient of the Ann McInerney Award. Ann McInerney was one of the creators of the Therapeutic Foster Care Program for G.A. Family Services and was a great leader, advocate, and role model to our staff, youth, and families. The Ann McInerney award is presented to an individual who demonstrates excellence in the foster care program through advocacy, relationship building, and leadership.

“Congratulations to all of our award recipients and to all of the staff at G.A. Family Services for hard and rewarding work they do every day,” said Karl Wiggins, vice president of G.A. Family Services. “We are blessed to have them with us,” he said. All award recipients were nominated by their peers or managers with a selection committee reviewing and selecting the winners.

G.A. Family Services to Host First Annual Walk for Kids

G.A. Family Services Foster Care of West Seneca has announced the first annual Walk for Kids to take place this September at Canalside in downtown Buffalo. The Walk for Kids is a free, family-friendly event to raise awareness and show support of foster care families throughout western New York. Aside from the walk, the event will feature fun games and activities, food, and information on family-related services available in the area from a variety of different agencies.

The Walk for Kids will take place September 15 beginning with check-in at 9:15 am on the big green lawn at Canalside. Registration is open until September 5 by visiting www.gafamilyservices.org or calling 716-668-0490.

“This walking event is different from others because it is completely free to participate and come enjoy the fun,” said Amy Trabert, Data Analyst and event coordinator for G.A. Family Services. “The event is an opportunity to recognize the wonderful gift that foster families provide to children in need throughout the region. We will also have information and resources available for those interested in becoming foster parents,” said Trabert. Aside from G.A. Family Services, other agencies scheduled to attend include Berkshire Farm Center and Youth Services, New Directions Youth and Family Services, Gateway Longview Foster Care, Child and Family Services, Kid’s Peace Foster Care and Community Programs, Adoption Star, Every Child, YourCare Health Planners, Luggage with Hope of WNY, Foster Love Closet, and Native American Children Services.

The Walk for Kids was created by the staff at G.A. Family Services who recognized a need for a large-scale awareness event to pay tribute to foster families and the need for foster care. Involvement in foster care is not a requirement to attend the event; the event is open to everyone, especially families looking for a fun event for children to participate in. Everyone who registers will receive a walk goodie bag. After the one-mile walk there will be an after party with a bounce house, face painting, activities and games, snacks and food trucks, a DJ, and more. The event is rain or shine.

“We are taking registrations until September 5 and welcome the community to join us for this great event,” said Trabert. “Special thank you to Mattress Firm, Evans Bank, Upstate Pharmacy LTD., and Transitowne Auto Group for being our primary sponsors of this event. Without them and our other event sponsors and supporters this event would not be possible,” said Trabert.

To register or learn more about the first annual Walk for Kids or to receive information about being a vendor at the event, please contact Amy Trabert at 716-668-0490 ext. 5032.

Ecklof Bakery Cookie Sale to Benefit G.A. Family Services

For the seventh year in a row, Ecklof Bakery is helping raise much needed funds and awareness for children in need of a foster home in Chautauqua County. Located at 832 Foote Avenue in Jamestown, Ecklof Bakery will be selling heart shaped sugar cookies at the bakery from May 11-26 with proceeds to benefit G.A. Family Services Foster Care program.

“We love doing this cookie sale. Through the years, we have encountered many great kids in the community, on the sports fields, and other places. Their stories are very touching,” said Rick Ecklof, owner of Ecklof Bakery. “My son Chad and I are the guys driving this. We’re honored to do it,” said Ecklof. The Swedish bakery has been in business for more than 60 years.

The heart shaped cookie sale is held in May during National Foster Care Month. Over 400,000 children nationally are in need of foster care services. The cookies are heart shaped because the goal of the foster care program is to encourage the community to open their hearts to children in need of a loving home.

“We’re always looking for foster homes for children right here in Chautauqua County,” said Kara Kloss, family resource coordinator for G.A. Family Services. “The heart shaped cookies serve as a reminder to share the love! You can buy one or buy them in bulk for Mother’s Day, graduation parties, office meetings, and more. Every sale between May 11-26 helps our program,” she said.

Cookies are available at Ecklof Bakery for $1.00 each. For large orders, community members are encouraged to call 488-1516 to pre-order.

Lutheran and G.A. Family Services Hold Recognition Dinner

Lutheran and G.A. Family Services held their annual Employee Recognition Dinner at Moon Brook Country Club on Monday, March 19, to honor 91 employees for varying years of service to their respective organizations. The theme of the event was “Lutheran Employees Rock” and had a rock-n-roll theme.

“It is always an honor to be there to personally recognize our staff for their continued years of service to the seniors and youth in our community,” said Tom Holt, president and CEO for Lutheran. “We had a great mix of departments and anniversaries represented, myself included. Each employee plays a vital role in the lives of our residents in some way. To be among them all was an honor,” said Holt.

Members of the Lutheran board of directors, as well as the organization’s leadership team, presented awards to the attending employees to thank them for their continued support and hard work. Two employees, Jan Basile and Lew Meckley, celebrated their retirement at the event after 36 and 41 years of service.

“Jan and Lew have been cornerstones at Lutheran and G.A. Family Services during their time with us. We have relied on them greatly through the years,” said Holt.

Jan Basile began working at Lutheran 36 years ago as an Admissions Assistant after being recruited by a friend to come to the organization. From the beginning, she would work on morning census reports, resident discharges, resident room changes, and other vital information used throughout the nursing home. Jan’s handle on this information provided department managers with a snapshot of what was going on in the nursing home each day. Jan had perfect attendance all 36 years of employment with Lutheran, which is a remarkable achievement. Since retiring last fall, Jan has enjoyed spending time with her family and traveling.

“It was a bittersweet parting from the organization I had served for so many years,” said Basile. “I have formed so many lasting friendships with staff and residents. I thank Lutheran for taking a chance on me 36 years ago when I walked in with no experience in the medical field but a willingness and eagerness to learn a new job,” she said.

Lew Meckley celebrated his retirement after 41 years with Lutheran and G.A. Family Services. After beginning his career as a Direct Care provider on the boy’s unit at the G.A. Residential Program, he quickly climbed the ladder to Clinical Services Coordinator and then Director of Quality and Compliance. Lew has a BA in Psychology and a MA in Clinical Psychology, the latter of which he obtained while working full-time at G.A. During his time with the organization, Lew helped train staff, led the organization’s efforts to all-digital electronic records, and was tapped by NYS officials to provide insight and support as they began to transition their child welfare records into digital format. In retirement, Lew hopes to do some traveling and will continue to pursue his interest in hot air ballooning.

“I realized early the potential I had to train others and the impact that it could mean for our organization. I have a passion for training adults and inspiring them to do great things,” said Meckley. “A personal experience I had growing up led to a long career in youth services. Since then, it has been my goal to pay it forward,” he said.

Lutheran employees recognized for two (2) years of service: Kassandra Adams, Katherine Beyer, James Brentley, Kienna Brown, Stephanie Brown, Kurt Carlson, Elizabeth Case, Maria Castronova-Smith, Terrell Colburn, Jacqueline Confere, Donna Duckworth, Diana Dustin, Sherwin Espinar, Heather Fields, Debra Gardner, Erin Green, Jonathan Gregory, David Grice, Jennifer Haskell, Kelly Himes, Catherine Hunzinger, Kathleen Jackowski, Robin Knepshield, Beth Lanphere, Kelly Ling, Joseph Linkous, Emma Liuzzo, Timothy McMullen, Amanda Muntz, Pamela Riffel, Zoraida Rodriguez, Duane Stillman, Heather Summerfield, Lisa Sundlov, Faith Swanson, William Swanson, Vicki Troutman, Tara White, Maceo Wofford, and Jessica Woods.

Lutheran employees recognized for five (5) years of service: Tammy Adams, Renae Bean, Wade Chapman, Donna Ciancio, Ashley Courtney, Patricia Cunningham, John Enney, Nathanael Ferguson, Sandra Gilbert, Kathleen Guild, Sabrina Keith, Katie Lawrence, Tammy Malanowski, Shannon Maltby, Christina Miller, Christopher Miraglia, Danielle Orlando, Jeffrey Paula, Mark Polaski, Richard Shick, Aaron Skinner, Leah Snyder, Lucinda Taylor, Darla Vik, Carmen Walters, Jacquelyn Wilcox, and Alysa Williams.

Lutheran employees recognized for ten (10) years of service: James Bockrath, Janene Bockrath, Ryan Carnes, Lucia Guarnieri, Ronald James, Sandra Johnson, James Mohan, Denise Ohman, Karen Phillips, Mala Reichard, and Cynthia Steele.

Lutheran employees recognized for fifteen (15) years of service: Jason Beckwith, Karin Donnell, and Erica Richerson.

Lutheran employees recognized for twenty (20) years of service: Deanna Dahlgren, Peter Nalbone, and Pamela Nordin.

Lutheran employees recognized for twenty-five (25) years of service: Tom Holt, Shelby Riddell, Patricia Singer, Rhonda Teeter, and Shelly Quackenbush.

Lutheran employees recognized for forty (40) years of service: Lew Meckley and Brenda Waite.