Lydia Expands her Social Circle
Lydia is a newer participant with Pathways to Independence, however, she has gotten a running start on “expanding her social circle,” as she calls it. Lydia has a great full-time job in the St. Louis County government where she serves as the receptionist in the recorder of deeds office, however, she was missing a social connection to others after her recent major life change. “I felt isolated, I did not have any friends and I wasn’t learning new and different things,” Lydia says about how she felt before she joined PTI.
During her first few experiences at PTI Lydia said, “I felt nervous and awkward, but the more I got involved, the more I felt welcome, like I belonged.” Now, she says, “I’m happy and I feel like I’m moving forward with my life.” The PTI staff has developed a safe environment at PTI activities where Lydia feels comfortable accepting suggestions and encouragement to interact with others. “There were times I was on my cell phone. I was encouraged not to do that and interact with the group. The staff is very supportive and understanding.”
Along with participating in PTI’s social activities in the community, Lydia has participated in the Relaxation and Yoga classes offered at PTI taught by program specialist, Beth Gill. Beth is a Certified Yoga Instructor along with being a Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist. This combination of training offers unique supports for PTI’s participants. After taking these classes, Lydia says, “I am relaxing more and I’ve learned mindfulness techniques and used them in life outside of the class. I feel like I am calmer and in a good mind set.”
Lydia directly sees the improvement in her life and her outlook since becoming a PTI participant. She is a member of the planning committee for PTI’s Trivia Night Fundraiser. “I am involved in the Trivia Committee because I want to give back to the community that inspires me.” Lydia says that being involved with PTI these past six months has “helped me grow, see a world of opportunities and learn to be more positive.”
Philip Joins his Community!
Philip (pictured left in yellow) said he joined PTI because, “I needed to break out of my shell. I was feeling socially awkward and not sure how to approach new people.” Philip is a 33 year-old from St. Louis City with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), like many of our newer participants entering our program. Asperger’s Syndrome is now classified as Level 1 Autism. In fiscal year 2012, only 12% of PTI’s participants were adults with a Level 1 Autism diagnosis, but in fiscal year 2016, that percentage increased to 36%. This growing group offers unique opportunities, and challenges for PTI to further expand and enhance programming in response to that increased need. This involves PTI staff getting training that is uniquely designed to working with adults with Autism. Both program managers, Jessie Steinberg and Rose Piel are now Certified Autism Specialists.
While Philip sometimes struggles to communicate with others and articulate his feelings, he can see immense progress in his social skills since becoming a PTI participant, and he absolutely loves the program. He states that in the year he has participated in PTI, “I am more confident talking to new people. I always walk up to the Seven Eleven near my house, and lately, I feel much more comfortable talking to the cashiers and getting to know them better.” While this may seem like a small victory, getting people like Philip independently out in their community and having interactions with businesses in their neighborhood is a big deal. Philip now has a place in his neighborhood where his presence is known, a way to practice financial transactions on his own and a place in the community where he feels safe walking to independently.
The PTI staff reinforces and provides coaching for these types of community integration skills. Philip feels that the staff is at the heart of his progression in the program, “I love being around them [the PTI staff]. They have such infectious personalities and positivity.” In particular, he says, “I really like Ray [a part-time PTI staff]; I loved going to the ‘Guys Night Out’ last year. I felt like ‘one of the guys.’”
This sense of belonging is a feeling so many of our participants crave their entire lives. PTI not only provides a supportive environment where that is possible, we also teach the skills necessary to develop that feeling of belonging outside of our programming and in the community.
Matthew Speaks on his PTI Experience
Good evening, my name is Matthew McCord, I am a participant at Pathways to Independence. My parents are here tonight. I want to thank them for all of their support.
Pathways has made a big impact on my life. Growing up, I felt different from my classmates and siblings. Although I have a very supportive family, I felt nervous around new and big groups of people.
My mom found Pathways to Independence three years ago and I decided to give it a try. At Pathways events, I sometimes feel like I’m in a different world. I feel supported and I feel understood. It felt great to be accepted by a new group and have everyone introduce themselves to me at my first event.
Through Pathways, my ability to talk with others has greatly improved. I’ve learned how to ask people questions and get to know them better. The Pathways staff helps me feel more comfortable at the events and encourages me to talk with people I might have things in common with.
I’ve also been able to share my interests with others. Twice, Pathways participants and staff have come to hear me sing with the Meremac Concert Choir. It felt great to have people there to cheer me on. On March 5, the choir is going to perform at Webster University before we perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
In the future, I want to live on my own in my own apartment, have a relationship and continue to share my interests with others. Pathways has given me to tools to achieve my goals. Thank you all for supporting Pathways to Independence tonight.
Chris Delivers a Speech at Trivia Night
I’m Chris, a participant with Pathways to Independence. Thank you for choosing to support this organization that has helped me so much over the years. Before Pathways, I was always at home by myself in my room. Since I joined PTI, I’ve been going out, doing activities and making more friends. I have a much fuller life.
The PTI staff has made a huge difference in my ability to talk to others. At PTI events, I’m more outgoing. I feel more comfortable approaching people instead of the staff prompting me to do so or waiting for people to come to me. The staff always helps me with any issue that comes up. I always look forward to going to PTI events because I know I’m going to see the people I’ve come to know over the years.
Soon, I will be starting a new chapter in my life. I am studying and doing clinical work to become a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and start my professional career. I currently work at a nursing home and I often come in early to talk with the residents and learn about their lives. I feel like through being a part of PTI, I have gained the confidence, conversation and time management skills in order to accomplish this goal. Thank you again for supporting this great organization that makes a difference in the lives of people like me.
Three Years, Three Amigos
(from left to right) Daniel, Chiles and Stuart
Stuart, Chiles and Daniel met at Pathways to Independence (PTI) over three years ago and have only become closer over the years. PTI has been helpful in keeping the three in contact. Chiles mentions “I started inviting Stuart and Daniel to small groups because we made a connection” and now they communicate often through text messaging and Facebook.
The Social Focus program allows participants to take the lead in the planning process of their own social events in the community with the guidance of a PTI staff. The participant works with a PTI program staff to invite other participants, choose a place and time, coordinate transportation, budgeting and many other aspects required of getting people together to socialize. The PTI staff meets the participant where they are and steps in where needed.
Stuart recalled a recent outing: “We recently went to Tom’s Bar and Grill and it was a lot of fun! My sister took a picture of the three of us and called us the ‘3 Amigos.'” Daniel and Chiles both remember this outing as very enjoyable. It’s clear that all three of them cherish their friendship and memories. Stuart expresses that his friendship with Daniel and Chiles “makes me feel special.” PTI staff have helped Stuart, Chiles and Daniel find the people they can talk to about their life and things they enjoy. The three of them are proof that at PTI, good food and good friends always means a good time.
When they want to plan a small group, all three of them said that the PTI staff are vital to that process. Chiles says that PTI program manager, Rose, has helped him plan small groups by calling people he suggested to invite and determine the places he’d like to have small groups. He notes that “Rose has helped pick a time that works for everyone.” Stuart has also learned some tips along the way when it comes to planning small groups and has some advice: “I’ve learned that you have to call at least week in advance, instead of at the last minute.”
Stuart, Chiles, and Daniel all say the PTI staff taught them important social skills and help to facilitate their conversations. Daniel comments “the staff has definitely helped initiate and guide conversations.” Chiles says PTI staff have assisted him in his conversation skills on a reactive basis “if something pops up, Pathways has helped me.” The PTI staff coaches Stuart to be more socially appropriate at events which has translated into success in other areas of his life. “The staff has helped me learn to keep my comments to myself” and “some of the rules are you have to be nice to people, respectful of others and everything else will fall in place.”
The three of them agree that PTI has increased their self-advocacy and now they have an easier time talking to people, both inside and outside of PTI. For many, PTI allows its’ participants feel more comfortable in their communities. “I’ve learned to be more open to people and I don’t isolate myself as much.” says Stuart. Daniel testifies that “Pathways has helped me get out of the house more and do more interesting things.” Lastly, Chiles wants us all to know that “Pathways has given me the opportunity to meet people with different interests and backgrounds.”
Ashley and Crystal: Both Skills and Friendship Blossom
Crystal and Ashley met many years ago, long before they joined PTI as participants. The met briefly and then when Ashley’s mother broke her ankle and needed help, Crystal and her family had just moved in across the hall and were there to help Ashley and her mother.
Crystal discovered PTI and joined first. She says, “Before PTI, I was very shy and was always in my room by myself. I didn’t have many friends, but I wanted to meet more people. Once I joined PTI, I was stand off-ish at first, but I was encouraged by Rose and the other staff to interact with the group at Social Growth events.”
Ashley soon followed suit and became a PTI participant as well. She says, “I have always been outgoing, but before Pathways, I struggled with being socially appropriate, handling conflicts and communicating my feelings. For example, I’ve learned how to better communicate with my co-workers and managers to solve conflicts in the workplace, specifically through the Successful Communication in the Workplace Social College.”
Resolving conflicts, compromising and utilizing problem solving steps have been issues for both Crystal and Ashley throughout their friendship. PTI staff have coached them to resolve many of their conflicts that typically come up between friends over many years. “Our friendship has not always been perfect; we’ve had fights and clashes over the years. We have used the PTI staff, especially Rose, as a resource to help us solve our conflicts and find ways to prevent arguments in the future,” Crystal says.
Ashley has experienced the sense of community and support from the PTI community of participants, staff, supporters and families. “Not only has PTI helped me with social skills, it is a supportive community that has helped me with my educational goals. When I was studying for my CNA license, the staff and other PTI supporters helped me pass my test.” When she gave a speech at PTI’s Annual Trivia Night where she talked about her upcoming test, supporters came out of the woodwork to help in any way they could.
Earlier this year, at PTI’s Annual Picnic, Crystal and Ashley gave a speech about their friendship and how PTI has positively affected both of their lives. They were both able to share their experience with PTI and how they use our organization as a resource for so many aspects of their lives. Crystal ended the speech by saying, “PTI is not just for the participants, it is good for the whole community. PTI advocates for people with disabilities and helps us show the public that we can contribute too.”
Center for Hearing & Speech and PTI: A Social College Partnership
PTI’s Social College derived from the Conversation 101 classes that were a staple of the Social Growth program for many years. During the 2013 review of PTI’s strategic plan, it was decided to create the Social College program. Later, PTI reached out to the Center for Hearing and Speech (CFH&S) to act as consultant instructors for the program. Each Social College course is four classes long and a PTI staff, who is familiar with the participants and their goals for independence and social success, is always present to facilitate the group and for additional support.
Gina Cato, Chief Speech-Language Pathologist at the CFH&S says, “When people reach adulthood, they don’t have as many resources available to help with their communication skills… The partnership with Pathways gives adults social language experiences within a peer-group format, which means they can practice new social language skills immediately with their peers in the group and long-term through Pathways’ group activities. The partnership creates the best environment for participants to learn and use communication skills.”
A sampling of the Social College courses Gina and/or her colleague, Kimberly Hufstedler, have taught in connection with PTI include: Successful Communication in the Workplace, Friendships to Dating: A Communication Crash Course, Hidden Social Expectations, Nurturing Friendships, Managing and Communicating Feelings and Emotions and Healthy Disagreements.
Gina says, “It’s rewarding to observe or hear about participants using the skills they learned [in Social College]. I’m grateful I see that often.” The goal of this program is to see the participants take the skills they learned in class to PTI events in the community and then in their daily lives outside of PTI.
Mindfulness Programs to be Expanded through PTI and St. Louis Arc CONNECT Partnership
PTI began to offer Yoga and Relaxation classes in November of 2015 in order to offer new techniques for participants to manage social anxiety. The goals are to help participants release tension in both their bodies and minds, increase self-confidence, self-awareness, self-control, improve physical strength and give participants the tools to transfer methods from the classes to their daily lives.
PTI staff and yoga instructor, Beth Gill, has instructed these classes for the past eight months. She says, “All of the participants have come in with an open mind and leave class with better self-worth, self-respect and a kind attitude towards themselves and others…Participants’ strength, posture and memory recall have improved after just a few sessions.”
Brian, a PTI participant, has taken Yoga and Tai Chi classes in the community on his own, but finds that “Beth is a really empathetic and thoughtful yoga teacher. She meets the participants exactly where they are… She is able to teach multiple skill levels in the same class, gives positive feedback and expresses corrections in a non-judgmental way.”
Tatum, a PTI participant who takes the Yoga classes regularly says, “My goal in taking the classes was to reduce my anxiety.” Not only have the classes given her tools to work on this goal, Tatum has experienced many other benefits as well. “I’m a lot calmer and I’ve gained confidence. [The Yoga positions] help me focus on something besides myself. I’m also standing up straighter and my balance has improved.” Further, she reports using some of the breathing and meditation techniques at home or out in the community when she experiences stressful situations.
Beth observes the participants using the relaxation techniques from class at PTI events in the community. “I see moments of frustration arise in our participants that have been coming to yoga and then I watch them take a deep breath and pull through in a kind and positive way.” Also, Beth says, the participants who have taken the relaxation classes “treat each other with respect and have developed some friendships that might otherwise have never blossomed.”
Starting in late August, PTI is partnering with St. Louis Arc’s CONNECT Group to offer “Yoga for Life: Stretching Towards Independence.” The five-week yoga workshop will “foster confidence and skills for independent living for adults facing social challenges.” The class will include one hour of yoga designed for adults with autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression with 30 minutes of social time at PTI’s Inspiration Point space. The partnership will enhance St. Louis Arc members’ opportunities while exposing each person to a new community resource. PTI members will benefit from exposure to new people and practice under a second instructor.
PTI and MERS MO Goodwill Industries: Social Success in Employment
Michael began his Pathways to Independence journey in November of 2015 seeking an environment to develop his social skills, specifically beginning conversations with new people. “I wanted to initiate conversations with new people, get out more and be more independent,” he recollects about when he first got started at PTI.
Michael heard about PTI’s programs through the MERS MO Goodwill Industries Autism Employment Program (MMGI-AEP), which supports adults diagnosed with autism in finding job placements in the St. Louis area. MMGI-AEP training programs provide individualized learning strategies and practical hands-on work experiences that “change lives through the power of work.” “Social skills are vital to the success of employment, as work is a social environment,” says MMGI-AEP Coordinator of Autism Services Jennifer Glassmeyer, “Pathways is able to provide a service for our clients that helps to enhance their successful outcomes in their employment settings by allowing practice and support in achieving their goals.”
Several times a year, PTI and MMGI-AEP get together to host a social event for MMGI-AEP participants with PTI staff. This partnership provides a unique opportunity for their clients to not only refine their employment skills, but also have a chance to try PTI’s social programs. “Jessie and Rose have been amazing with our clients,” says Jennifer Glassmeyer. “They really get the importance of what we are hoping to achieve with each client. They further the progress in each of our client’s areas of need. We are very fortunate to have this partnership with Pathways to allow for the continued social growth of our clients in a setting that we are unable to offer ourselves.” Last year, MMGI-AEP and PTI partnered for ten events serving 33 participants. Michael was one of those who attended a couple of these social events through the MMGl-AEP and PTI partnership before deciding that PTI’s programs were a good fit for his social goals.
Michael continues to enjoy his work as a dishwasher at Nordstrom’s Café, thanks to the MMGI-AEP employment program. He also states that the conversation skills he has gained through PTI “have helped me communicate better with my co-workers.” When he isn’t working, Michael has enjoyed moonlighting as a thriving PTI participant for the past nine months. He said that he particularly enjoys the day trips, where he can utilize the new social skills he has learned through PTI over an extended period. “I have gone on day trips to Springfield, Illinois and Herman, Missouri” says Michael, “It’s nice to get out and visit new places.”
In the future, Michael states, “I’m looking forward to getting out in the community more, making more friends, and just being as social as possible!”
Christy Embraces her Asperger’s Diagnosis
Christy has the somewhat unique experience of being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a form of autism, in her 30’s. She says the diagnosis has “empowered me to ask for help if I need it and learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome.”
In the six months Christy has been a Pathways to Independence (PTI) participant, the program has become an important part of her life. She moved to St. Louis City in January of 2014 to live with her brother. Soon after, “I met someone who helped me discover I had characteristics of AS.” She
was diagnosed soon thereafter. “As a result, my family and I actively sought out groups to help me socially.”
Feeling like she is a part of a community is important for Christy. Joining PTI is one of the ways Christy made an effort to improve herself. “I hope to gain independence and be better integrated into the community,” Christy said. By throwing herself into the PTI program a few times each month, she has increased her awareness of and become an active participant in her new city.
With PTI, “I feel like I have a social group. Even though it is still early, I see that expanding the more I get involved.” Christy says, “I’m naturally a soft-spoken person. Through PTI, I’ve learned to speak up so that people can hear me. My confidence has grown and my ability to participate in conversations and initiate them has improved tremendously.”
In just a few short months, Christy has embraced her diagnosis, joined a group where she feels she belongs and is well on her way to strengthening the tools necessary to live with AS. She says, “I don’t feel any different now that I have , it’s just who I am.”