Activities at all locations throughout the Central Highlands enhance independent living skills and community integration. From the YEI! swim team for Special Olympics, to bowling outings, arts and crafts projects, pizza parties, sign language and cooking classes, the raft of activities abound and there is no end in sight! The YEI! marketing team had the pleasure of a half-day excursion visiting Washington Avenue Headquarters where we talked with Anna Pisano and Esly Pereyra, Ruger Airpark Industries where we chatted with Deanna Pagone, and AP@E where we talked to Michelle Stevens about everything that’s cooking. We wanted to see for ourselves what all the hullaballoo was about! And, boy, were we impressed!
We started our road trip at the Washington Avenue General Headquarters. Esly Pereyra and Anna Pisano are the ones behind the scenes there, coordinating activities of all kinds for the clients. Both women handle transitioning the guys and gals into the workplace, and helping them focus on goals and needs to prepare for integration into the work and volunteer force. The rewards are evident for all when witnessing YEI! in action in the community. Every day of the week is packed with activities: Tuesday boasts arts and crafts, Wednesday means bowling, and Fridays are PG-rated movie days. But it’s the monthly pizza party at Peter Piper that rockets to the top of the list in popularity—an activity earned when monthly goals are completed. We chatted with Anna and Esly about their experiences at YEI!
You both have been here for a while, and it’s clear you enjoy what you do. What are the benefits of community integration?
Socially, the integration activities are a great way for our guys and gals to meet people. One of our girls volunteered at Sharlot Hall and that’s how the people there came to know about YEI! She integrated by volunteering in the community! It takes time, but that’s how many people find out about us. Some people were uncomfortable at first with our integration into the volunteer corps and community outings, but these excursions enlighten our community and empower our guys! People are more welcoming now, because we take them out. Even kids at the high schools are more open.
That’s so great to hear! How does this help them prepare for other life skills?
We get them ready for any opportunity. The most important thing is socializing, like we mentioned. When they go out as a group in the community, they get to socialize with others which makes them feel important and good about themselves. They are able to tell the public how much fun they have at YEI!
What do you think is a highlight activity for the guys and gals here?
We take them to SNAP Beautiful Signers, a sign language group. The director there works to find places where the signers can go. It’s just incredible to see what they do. Beautiful Signers has 30 people, and we take 11 of ours. They perform in different places where they sign to music. One of the songs “See Me Beautiful’ is especially poignant; in the song they are asking people to see them as who they are. We also go to the D-Backs games through the American Lutheran Church. We’ve been going to the movies for years, but now, everyone in our group can ask for what they want like popcorn or soda because they have gone so many times, and it’s just great to see. The theater staff asks them what they want, and the staff now interacts more with them than they did before. These kids have so much pure love; they transmit it wherever they go.
Special Olympics is a big activity. Can you tell us a little bit about what is involved there?
Special Olympics events take place all year long at different times of the year for activities like swimming, bowling and bocce ball. Actually, volunteers are needed for the swim team and for other events! If you’re interested, give us a call!
Our visit to Washington Ave was coming to a close, but not without a quick trip to the workroom which was bustling with activity. Lucky for us, we had a chance to catch up with a few of the guys and gals who were eager to share what they enjoyed best about YEI! activities.
We heard this from those in the group: “I enjoy swimming, and I’m pretty good at it. It takes muscle practice! You can ride with us sometime to swimming activity at the Y; I’ll try not to push you in! Anna like to makes sure everyone stays in line.” Another voice piped up, “I like to go bowling, and I’m a pretty good bowler in the 80s and 90s. We always have something going on here.”
After our Washington Avenue General Headquarters visit, we headed to Ruger Airpark Industries, catching the crew right in the middle of a video teaching them sign language skills. Since we did not want to interrupt them practicing what they saw on the screen, we used that time as a chance to catch up with Deanna Pagone who shared her experiences about the importance of her role at YEI! Deanna is not alone in her mission: faithful and adorable yellow lab therapy dog, Emma, was right by her side.
Deanna, how long have you been with YEI?
I’ve been here 10 years as Activities Coordinator. We do so much for everyone here. We go hiking with Emma, eat at Peter Piper, play miniature golf, participate in sign language classes and cooking classes, and engage in activities around special occasions like the big Christmas party we have here every year.
What’s the best part about being Activities Coordinator?
I get to be outside and go places! There are so many activities we do to help the guys and gals socialize. For instance, we help the Coalition of Compassion and Justice where our crew serves meals for the homeless, and then we portion out dog food treats to the furry friends in the community who need that. We also help clients with independent living skills like cooking so they can make simple menu items like burritos and cheese crisps for their families. Sign language is also a skill that helps them integrate.
It’s hard to ignore the furball by your side. How long has Emma been a part of the team here?
Emma has been coming to work since she was 10 weeks old. We went through Pet Partners and they tested her with stressors and she did great! She was one of the youngest dogs that passed the test, so she’s trained for this. All she knows is coming to work here.
Other than seeing how adorable she is, what’s the best thing about having Emma here interacting with the guys and gals?
Having Emma here has really added to the personality of the group. If someone has a bad today, that person will come into my office and hug Emma. She’ll just love on them and lick their faces, and then all is okay. She just has the caring personality for this special group. She’s also a great vacuum cleaner!
Our visit came to a close, but not before the Marketing Team learned a little sign language for the seasons Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. We have a feeling we’ll be put to the test next time around. Before we left, we heard the parting words: “Don’t tell Mr. Newman we’re just sitting around watching videos!”
The next stop on the YEI! road trip took us east to a visit at AP@E where we talked with Michelle Stevens, a two-year Coordinator of the Day Program there.
Michelle, what do you do for YEI! in your role as Coordinator of the Day Program?
I work with the guys and gals to get them integrated in the community, working on their social skills, safety skills like “stranger danger” and other opportunities for community involvement. We clean up the parks and we have various volunteer activities. At Samaritan Village, a group of six of us visits and sings with the residents there. We also volunteer at Stepping Stones Agency, where we work in the store and help organize all the merchandise at that store.
How important is it for the group to socialize?
When people meet our guys, they quickly realize it’s just a blessing to meet them. They really enjoy it, and realize that they are just kind people and there is nothing to be afraid of. They are honest people—what you see is what you get! There are no ulterior motives in their actions and words. I learn something every day! It’s good for people to see us out in the community, which is how it should be.
What are some of the favorite activities that take place?
We’re real sports-oriented here, and that’s what we like the most. We go to Fain Park often and we play bocce ball, croquet, and soccer and throw the Frisbee around. Sometimes we go to Tonto Park. We do as many outdoor activities as the weather will allow! There’s a nice walking path around duck ponds on Lakeshore Drive and we just walk around, count the ducks, get some fresh air and sunshine. We recently went to the zoo and that was awesome! The bear was great—he played with this big ball, balancing it on his head and we sat there for 15 minutes watching his special show just for us!
Our half-day road trip came to a close. We were so lucky that we had the chance to tour not one, not two, but all three locations in one day! We left smiling and fulfilled, and were reminded about how wonderful it is to be a part of this organization that brings so much joy and benefit to our community. You know what Brad Newman says, “The Tour Will Make Your Day!”
If you would like to know more about how to become involved with YEI! or how to utilize their crews for tasks that would benefit your industry or organization, visit www.yeiworks.com. Be a part of the solution and make a difference in the everyday lives of those who are supported by the efforts of YEI! and its extended community within Arizona and beyond.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CALL OUR STAFF AT 928-445-0991:
Brad Newman: Executive Director
Pat Gallant: Operations Manager
Bill Loughney: Director of Industrial Services
Bill Bazzell: Director of Employee Development