A Message From Brian Hall, Executive Director, Autism Delaware
Published: August 1, 2022 by: Autism Delaware
Dear Families and Allies in the Autism Community,
In April, I posted a letter offering to share the challenges we have faced over the past two-plus pandemic years, with the goal of correcting some misperceptions about our service delivery. What follows are some points we want to share about what Autism Delaware has been doing for the last two-plus years and how, through it all, we have maintained our deep commitment to continue serving individuals and families affected by autism.
Thanks to the support of our great staff and the dedicated families in the broader community, Autism Delaware was able to remain open and fully staffed during the pandemic so that we could continue to provide service. In fact, we were the only social services organization in the area to do so. We dedicated most of our financial resources to personnel so that they could continue to serve families. And even though our physical facilities had limited access, our people worked with families through Telehealth, Zoom, phone calls, and any other remote options that were available. Family Services staff fielded more than 6,000 calls from families needing help. Adult services Direct Support Personnel continued to work with POW&R participants when possible, providing them alternative approved Division of Disability services after businesses where they worked had to shut down because of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, we made hard choices that impacted the lives of the families we served. We asked some POW&R families to reduce their service hours in order to help other participants get some service hours. We also prioritized serving individuals who had achieved paid employment and had become vital assets for our community partners as a goal. With our many partners we tried to maneuver through these new challenges together as a community and did our best to keep everyone involved safe and productive. With the help of outside resources, we made sure that everyone was fully equipped with Personal Protective Equipment and complied with strict protocols to ensure everyone’s safety.
The profound impact of staff shortages. The entire disabilities services community, including Autism Delaware, has faced staffing shortages that affect our ability to provide our full scope of services. We are aggressively working to retain and recruit staff through the following activities:
- Participation in job fairs.
- Posting ads on social media and job sites.
- Retention bonuses that we offered to all staff based on years of service, not on predetermined criteria from DDDS. We were one of only two social services agencies to do this.
- Creation of an internal referral program for our staff because we know they are our best recruiters of new talent.
- Increase in salaries: During the pandemic, our adult direct service personnel received merit increases and a new starting wages rate.
- We also paid the health insurance coverage for personnel who were directly and indirectly impacted by the pandemic.
- Most recently, we increased our mileage reimbursement to match the federal rate.
All of these initiatives are starting to pay off as we’re seeing more and more applicants come through the door, including folks who left us and have decided to come back.
I am feeling very optimistic about our future. Autism Delaware is primed to reinvigorate or expand programs to include some long-standing favorites:
- Look for a revival of some of our most popular larger social/rec programs, such as: Beach Picnic at Cape Henlopen’s Main Beach Pavilion, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, from 12:00-2:00 PM. There will be food, arts/crafts, and games. Registration required with a minimal fee per family; A Day at the Blue Rocks, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022 at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington at the 3rd base picnic deck. The event begins at 12:30 PM. Registration required – Tickets are $18 per person and the price includes the picnic buffet; Halloween Train Ride, Thursday, October 20, 2022 at 6:00 PM at Wilmington & Western Railroad. There will be a hayride car and two coach cars. Guest are encouraged to wear costumes and the ride will be one hour long. Registration required with a per person fee.
- Preparations for a year of activities are underway leading up to our 25th anniversary in 2023, in the hopes of gaining greater visibility and recognition throughout the broader community. Some new programs and services will be a part of those activities.
- Our website is undergoing a complete redesign, focusing more on the services you have supported for many years.
- We have expanded our Family Services Intake capacity to help us more efficiently serve more clients.
- We expanded our parent-to-parent training by adding another facilitator so that we can offer a more regular schedule of workshops.
- Come out and participate in our annual family reunion…the Walk for Autism! Oct 8th and 15th (see website for further details).
- A job search is underway for an advocacy professional to be our voice in Dover and fight for legislation that supports our community.
- We have increased our scholarship funding so that we can financially support more adults with autism and students preparing for a career serving people on the spectrum.
These are exciting times and I cannot say it enough: Without years of strong support from a great staff and the autism community, we would not be in the position of hope we currently enjoy. And we are confident that your continued support will help us realize our visions. I would like to offer you the opportunity to help us help you! We need volunteers for activities and committees that happen throughout the year. We can do more together.
Thank you all for bearing with us these last few years. It has been a tough time for all of us, but better days are ahead.