Blue River Services, Inc. (BRS) is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1959 by six families that believed that all people are capable of learning when given the opportunity and appropriate support services. With this guiding philosophy for more than 58 years, BRS has consistently expanded its services to meet the needs of community members and help people with disabilities and the general public overcome barriers to independence.
BRS strives to reach its motto of “People Serving People” by providing exceptional services for all ages, from infants to seniors, in all areas of life and levels of ability. The agency offers services through 13 departments, and in fiscal year 2017, served 17,000 individuals in 33 Indiana counties.
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From the energy of high-flying comic personalities, to spirited staff, consumer accolades, guest speakers and awards, the 2018 Blue River Services All-Staff In-Service was shrouded in superhero distinction.
When the agency’s nearly 400 employees gather in one room, as well over half did at Lincoln Hills Christian Church in Corydon September 12, the magnitude and impact of teamwork is palpable. It’s then that everyone is not only reminded of Blue River’s mission, but shown.
“As we grow up, we have a choice to make as to what we will do with our working lives,” said Daniel J. Lowe, President and CEO, who welcomed everyone to the mass agency training event. “You have chosen to work to help others live complete and fulfilled lives. Giving one’s own being to the service of others … People Serving People … To me, that is one definition of a hero.”
His words resonating with this year’s theme, “Be Someone’s Superhero,” Lowe also acknowledged the dedication of staff and their passion to serve.
When summoning the crowd to stand if they had been with the agency at least five years, a wave of people responded. To the surprise of many, as the ante went higher –10, 20, even 30 years – there were still people standing. Something Lowe called a true testament to those "who have chosen to dedicate their lives and careers to improving the lives of others and making our world better for all.”
Although there are 151 employees who have been with the agency more than five years, the most notable milestones this year included those of Brian Bowen and Phillip Spaulding, who both reached 20 years with the agency; Kim Perry, Director of Industries, who celebrated 25 years of service; and Julia Baylor, Director of Children’s Services, who marked an astonishing 35 years. Even President Lowe, the agency-equivalent of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon (minus the trench coat and fedora hat), has been working, behind the scenes, manning the BRS Bat-Signal to summon a beacon of service for the last 34 years.
Since its humble beginning as a five-room crusade school for children with disabilities in 1959, Blue River Services has woven more than 20 programs and services into the communities of 33 Indiana counties. There, staff members team up to break down barriers to independence and help people lead healthier, happier lives in positive environments.
Whether more akin to The Avengers or The Justice League is debatable, but one thing is discernable – together, Blue River Services helps make Southern Indiana a great place to live by facilitating success for all residents, no matter the challenges they may face. The force behind the agency’s ongoing mission, and its many achievements along the way, was exemplified as Lowe announced the winners of the Spirit of Blue River Awards, which are bestowed upon employees whose outstanding qualities far exceed those of their everyday duties.
From 38 employee nominations, three winners emerged – Mary Fetz, Production Manager for Corydon Blue River Industries (CBRI); Jennifer Sieber, Child Care Manager at Rainbow’s End Child Care Center and Preschool Corydon; and Jamie Stump, Residential Supervised Group Living Manager at McGrain Street Group Home.
In her nomination under the Day Services Programs, Fetz was recognized for “how dedicated she is, not only to her job but to others” and her “caring soul” at the CBRI sheltered workshop where adults with disabilities work alongside general laborers to fulfill light manufacturing contracts for local businesses. In an era when workshop employment choices for individuals with disabilities are facing serious threats, Kim Perry, Director of Industries, said the work of Fetz is even more important.
“Those who are not directly impacted may not realize the benefits of sheltered workshops for individuals with disabilities,” said Perry. “While there are some for whom community employment is a good fit, and we encourage and provide opportunities for that, there are others who need a safe, productive workplace. Removing this opportunity would be a detrimental step backward for the people we serve who love their jobs, staff, co-workers, and value the sense of accomplishment their work provides. That’s why it is crucial to make every day count, and Mary pours her heart and soul into that every day.”
Jennifer Sieber, hailed as the “spirit of Rainbow’s End Corydon,” stood out in the Children and Family Services Division for her tireless efforts to “make the center the best it can be and still strive to make it better.” No doubt, it takes a strong will to guide the learning, environment and safety for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children who call Rainbow’s End their second home.
“I am so proud of Jennifer and her work that earned her this award,” said Julia Baylor, Director of Children’s Services. “She goes above and beyond each and every day.”
In all five nominations for Jamie Stump, there was an ongoing theme – she might indeed be Superwoman. From leader and role model, to mother-figure and cornerstone for residents and staff, Stump took home the award in the Residential Services Division in honor of her ceaseless positivity, enthusiasm and compassion.
“Jamie is the living example of the spirit of Blue River,” said Tim Beitzel, Director of Residential Supervised Group Living. “She has done so many extra things for the residents, I can’t keep track any more. She is truly dedicated to the service of others.”
The day’s events continued with a video made by consumers who celebrated Superhero Day at Blue River. In each clip, consumers shared who their favorite superhero was and what they liked most about them. Many attributed the same qualities to Blue River Services’ staff, including Jareth Snyder, who participates in day services at Salem Blue River Industries.
When asked if there was anyone at Blue River who was a hero to him, Snyder warmly responded, “All of them!” “Because they keep this place open for us to have a job.”
Several other consumers attended the in-service to receive a certificate of recognition in commemoration of more than 30 years with Blue River. Proudly showing off their certificates were Lisa Schultz, Bobby Plummer, Michael Ashabraner, Bill Ballard, Lynn Pelfrey, and Bryan Ackerman, who celebrated with program director Kim Perry. Also in attendance was Bryan’s mother, Judy Ackerman, who spoke about the services her son started receiving in 1987.
“There have been staff changes, but Blue River remains the same environment and a pleasant place to work,” said Ackerman. “Bryan is so proud of his paychecks, (noting to the amusement of the crowd that he keeps Goodwill and Salvation Army in business). I thank you all for the jobs that you do.”
As part of the in-service training, Blue River employees also were introduced to two new heroes -- guest speakers Kerry Magro and Clay Dyer.
In his moving presentation, Magro discussed the benefits of people with disabilities in the workplace and personally demonstrated the results of commitment. Growing up with autism, Magro, didn’t say his first word until he was two and a half years old, but he was determined to overcome his struggles. That determination began his journey making a difference in the lives of others by serving as a role model for the disabled community and educating businesses, schools, parent groups, and student clubs, among others. It’s also what led him to Blue River to deliver a powerful message: “It takes a village… no matter if it’s in your family life or in your work – we all need a collective unit to achieve excellence.”
The sentiment definitely resonated with Afterschool District Coordinator Shannon Hunsucker and her team, who were hard-pressed to engage students at Medora High School.
One of the many success stories of the day, Hunsucker, Riley Morris and Kellie Barger, who oversee the Blue River after school enrichment program in Medora, shared their struggles and eventual triumph in capturing the interest of the sometimes stagnant teenage mind. In addition to the homework assistance, advanced placement college courses, electives and life skills offered through the program, the challenge of finding something the group really enjoyed led to an entertaining film project, which is certain to secure future enrollment.
And then, Clay Dyer took the stage. Securing everyone’s attention at once, Dyer spoke. Even 55 minutes later, the room was stock-still, silent, captivated by his awe-inspiring, ever-comical rhetoric.
For a man born without any lower limbs, no arm on the left side and only a partial arm on the right, his personality is massive. Through his clever storytelling (and maybe in part due to his pro fisherman status), an enamored room of professionals couldn’t help but initiate a celebrity-esque Q&A.
Undoubtedly though, it was his D.R.E.A.M. acronym -- Determination, Resources, Effort, Attitude, Motivation -- and “If I can, you can” attitude, that we will continue to carry with us as we return to our respective duties in the various corners of Indiana. His astounding perseverance an everlasting reminder that you don’t have to have superpowers to be a superhero, you don’t even have to have hands or feet.