Rebecca Aungst

Rebecca Aungst

I’d like to offer a special and sincere “thank you” to a group of people working tirelessly behind the scenes to protect one of our community’s most vulnerable populations.

Though our administrative offices remain closed, the employees of Skills of Central PA remain hard at work supporting hundreds of people with intellectual disabilities, mental-health challenges and substance use disorders.

Skills operates more than 90 community homes throughout central Pennsylvania, where our employees provide support around the clock, every day of the year, for people living with intellectual disabilities. These homes function just like your home or mine.

There is work to be done – dishes to be washed, groceries to be purchased, cleaning to be done (lots of cleaning, lately). There is teaching to be done – how to properly wash your hands, how to take your temperature, how to sanitize surfaces. But there is also fun to be had.

Our direct support staff and people we support are going outside for walks (practicing proper social distancing, of course), having movie nights, putting together puzzles, baking cakes and cookies, and coloring Easter eggs. Despite COVID-19, life must go on, and in our community homes, it certainly is.

In addition, Skills offers psychiatric rehabilitation services for people struggling with mental-health challenges, and we also offer substance use treatment services.

Less than a month ago, we were able to provide many of these services face-to-face for the people we support. Not so today.

Moreover, the uncertainty and fear caused by COVID-19 is causing people to feel more stress and anxiety, which can increase mental-health challenges.

Fortunately, technology allows our employees to continue working with the people they support, offering assistance via telephone or video.

While this solution is certainly viable, our employees are looking forward to a time when we can once again have in-person interactions with people, where a simple smile can make a world of difference.

At the same time, approximately 7% of our employees have been furloughed due to the temporary closure of some Skills programs. Because they are large group settings, our adult day programs and vocational training programs have been closed since March 13 and will be closed until at least April 30, likely longer.

Through these programs, we help adults with disabilities and mental-health challenges develop the skills needed to succeed at home, at work, and in the community.

While many employees from these programs have been cross-trained and are now working in our community homes, many others are not able to do so and remain out of work.

We miss these co-workers deeply, and I am dedicated to getting them back to work as soon as possible, but only when it is safe to do so.

In the meantime, I am truly thankful for their dedication and their patience.

Please join me in thanking the employees of Skills of Central PA, and all of the other human services employees in our area who are hard at work behind the scenes. In addition, let’s support all of our employees who have been temporarily sidelined due to workplace closures. I truly believe that brighter days are ahead.

For now, let’s continue to support those who have been affected in whatever ways we can.

Rebecca Aungst is president and CEO of Skills of Central PA.

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