Thursday, November 17, 2016

10 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health Through the Holidays

We've all experienced holiday stress or depression at some point.  Here is a practical guide on how to manage it.  Simply making time for yourself can make a huge difference.  Happy Holidays, truly!

Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping
Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression.

The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it's no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few.

But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression

When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.

4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

  • Donate to a charity in someone's name.
  • Give homemade gifts.
  • Start a family gift exchange.

6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.

7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Try these suggestions:

  • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.

9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Some options may include:

  • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
  • Listening to soothing music.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Reading a book.

10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Ticket to Work Program, how to make it work for you

The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) assesses the disability-related limitations of Virginia residents with disabilities who apply for services and assigns them to one of several categories according to the severity of their limitations.  To maintain a balance between the number of applicants for services and the number of open cases they can serve effectively, DARS closes categories and establishes waiting lists as needed.  This process is called Order of Selection.  Currently, applicants in all categories are being placed on waiting lists.  This has happened before.  As they are able, DARS Counselors offer services to applicants to reduce and eliminate the waiting lists.  Individuals currently seeking services are encouraged to apply and will be served as soon as possible.  It is important to note that DARS continues to serve thousands of open cases across the Commonwealth.

The Ticket to Work program may offer another alternative to those who are on waiting lists for DARS services if they receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  The Social Security Administration has developed the Ticket to Work program to offer support to disability beneficiaries whose goal is to transition off cash benefits to employment and self-sufficiency.  The Choice Group is a service provider (Employment Network) in the Ticket to Work program.  In an effort to offer services to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries across the state, we are promoting Ticket to Work services in a variety of ways:

1) DARS clients:
Under the Partnership Plus program, we are able to offer ongoing supports to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries whose cases are closed successfully by DARS if their goal is to work their way off cash benefits, while still having the option to keep their medical benefits.

2) Individuals who are not DARS clients:

  • We can help eligible individuals understand the effects of earned income on their benefits and their eligibility for any work incentives, determine a vocational goal, develop a resume, prepare for interviews, request accommodations, transition into jobs that are a good match for their skills/interests/abilities, and provide ongoing supports for a total of five to seven years (depending on the program).  If the individual is on a DARS waiting list, and DARS subsequently contacts them to offer services, we will collaborate with the client and DARS to “unassign” the Ticket and facilitate a transfer to DARS services.  
  • The Choice Group is also part of an exciting new Social Security initiative to reach out to beneficiaries in the Commonwealth to provide them information about the Ticket to Work program and offer them the opportunity to participate.  

3) Administrative Employment Networks:
The Choice Group welcomes the opportunity to work with other service providers who are not Employment Networks under the Ticket to Work Program.  The Tickets are assigned to us, we provide administrative support and mentoring to the service provider, and the service provider continues to support the beneficiary transitioning to employment and self-sufficiency.  This is an excellent way service providers can learn about the Ticket to Work program, and offer their clients the option to participate, without becoming an Employment Network.

4) Federal Contractors:
Under recent amendments to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal contractors have goals to recruit, hire and maintain employment of individuals with disabilities throughout their organizations.  The Choice Group can help by referring them qualified applicants, as well as supporting current employees with disabilities so they can successfully maintain their employment.

5) Referrals:
The Choice Group actively provides information about the Ticket to Work program to a variety of community partners so they can pass it on within their networks and to their clients as appropriate.

If you would like to get more information about The Choice Group’s Ticket to Work services, please visit our website or call our main office at (804) 278-9151 or toll-free at 1-877-374-5312.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tidewater Autism Summit

Rachel McGregor from The Choice Group and Rita Dee with Norfolk Project SEARCH attended the Tidewater Autism Summit in Virginia Beach last Saturday!  Their goal was to provide information on The Choice Group's supported employment  and vocational counseling services to families, individuals and other professionals in the field!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Nathan is a Valued Employee & Coworker

When meeting with Heather about telling his story, Nathan insisted his manager, Tracey, be in the photo with him!

Nathan is a very personable and hardworking individual.  He has been working at Arby’s in Fredericksburg since March of this year, and his Choice Group Counselor, Heather, along with all of his coworkers agree that his smile and laugh are infectious.  

As a Utilities Maintenance Worker, Nathan’s tasks include keeping the dining room and kitchen areas tidy.  When he first started training, Heather was there to show him how tasks were to be completed— his previous experience with cleaning and maintenance certainly helped!  This method of training, as opposed to verbal direction, helped Nathan to learn and be successful in his position.  Together, they created a checklist for him to follow when cleaning the dining area.  This always helps him to thoroughly and efficiently complete the task, something that is very important to Nathan.  He greets guests and helps his coworkers wherever he’s needed, and his other duties include stocking the drink station, washing dishes and taking out the trash.  However, greeting and assisting guests has become his favorite, especially when he sees “regulars” walk through the door.

Heather now does follow along visits once a month.  She sometimes assists with learning new tasks (last month it was filling the sauce dispensers) and answering any questions he may have such as when it’s appropriate to ask for time off versus an adjusted schedule. 

During his employment, she's noticed his improvements in job performance, but also that he seems to be coming out of his shell.  He has developed great working relationships with his managers and coworkers.  Upon her last visit, Nathan, along with the rest of his coworkers, was excited to tell the story of how they surprised him with a birthday party when he came into work one day! Complete with cake, cards, and gifts, his coworkers kept saying how happy they were to do something for him on his special day.  Tracey, one of Nathan’s managers spoke to Heather about how valued he is at Arby’s not only for the work he does but his always positive personality.  

Nathan shares his infectious smile and humor throughout the many activities and organizations he’s involved with in his community.  Just last summer, Nathan competed in the Special Olympics on a softball team who won the gold!  Of course, he brought it in to show everyone at work! 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Williow Lawn Craft Beer Harvest Benefits The Special Olympics!

Willow Lawn will host its Third Annual Craft Beer event on November 4th from 6-9pm: Craft Beer Harvest benefitting The Special Olympics. The event will take place in the Square at Willow Lawn and the parking lot adjacent to the stage. This event will feature 14 craft beers, food samples, live music from Richmond’s own The Jangling Reinharts, contests, kids’ games & crafts, fun giveaways, prizes and more. 

Beer will be available for $6/each. Craft Beer Harvest Beer Glasses will be available for purchase for $15 and includes one drink ticket. Proceeds will benefit Special Olympics Virginia. Additional event features include a Stein Holding Contest at 8pm, a $1000 shopping spree prize drawing as well as a Kids Zone with games and crafts. 

Beer List:
1. Palm King Southern Tier - Pumpking 
2. Legend - Winter White 
3. Ardent - Honey Ginger 
4. Starr Hill - Last Leaf 
5. Strangeways - Albino Monkey 
6. O'Connor - El Guapo Agave 
7. Lickinghole Creek - Magic Beaver
8. Legend - Brown Ale 
9. Isley - Choosy Mother PB 
10. Hardywood Singel 
11. Devils Backbone - Vienna Lager 
12. Center of Universe - Slingshot Kolsch 
13. Bold Rock - Virginia Draft 
14. Ardent – IPA 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Federal Hiring Goal for People with Disabilities Exceeded!

When the nation was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2010, Obama made a pledge to increase the amount of people with disabilities employed by the Federal Government.  They've exceeded their goal and employees with disabilities currently make up 14.41 percent of the Federal workforce! Advocacy and implementation of inclusive hiring are among The Choice Group's highest goals, and we love to share good news when we hear it!  We've come a long way since the signing of the American's with Disabilities Act and we've come a long way since 2010!  There is still more work to do, however, but we are happy that the issue of inclusion is now on the forefront of the major issues that face the nation today, and we will continue to advocate for this cause!

Feds Exceed Disability Hiring Goal
Published October 28, 2016
By Michelle Diament

Six years ago, President Barack Obama set an ambitious goal to ramp up hiring of people with disabilities. Now, the administration says it has surpassed even its own expectations.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management said this week that the federal government added more than 154,000 employees with disabilities between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, including 109,575 permanent part-time or full-time hires.

That’s above and beyond what Obama pledged in 2010 as he honored the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At that time, Obama issued an executive order calling on the U.S. government to be a model employer by hiring an additional 100,000 people with disabilities within five years.

With the gains announced this week, total federal employment of people with disabilities is at 264,844, a figure that accounts for 14.41 percent of the government’s workforce, according to an annual report produced by the Office of Personnel Management.

That means there are now more people with disabilities working for the federal government — the nation’s largest employer — than at any other time in the last 35 years, officials said.

“This administration has consistently demonstrated a commitment to providing equal employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities,” said Beth Cobert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. “We remain committed to supporting the federal government’s efforts to be a model employer for people with disabilities, and I look forward to continue building on our progress.”

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