The World Around Us

from Mike Hyland, Venture President & CEO


Good morning Venture.  As you surely know, the world we live in has changed drastically in the past week as we have watched communities descend into chaos and senseless violence play out on live television after a man in Minnesota lost his life due to the actions of a person whose job is to help people.  The violence is frightening and obscures the important conversations about who we are as a country and how we need to truly find equality and safety for all.  During such a difficult time in our society, I am reminded of how this agency and others like it stand as beacons of hope.


Venture is, has always been, and will always be a safe place for all of our employees.  Everyone is important, every idea is an opportunity to make us better, and everyone’s experiences matter.  We celebrate our diversity and are grateful that we employ people from over 30 countries, each one of those professionals working to make a difference in someone’s life.  Our strength as an agency comes from people who are all different from each other working together to do the same thing: help those who need it.  I have watched in amazement for over two months as our nurses have worked tirelessly and seamlessly to keep people safe from the pandemic.  One department of people of different ages, different experiences, different beliefs and from different countries all doing the same work in order to help others.  This is one example but it highlights what happens here every day and that is what defines us.  Not our differences but the way we benefit from them in service to others.


The agency will continue to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone we employ and support.  We all come from different places but we ultimately end up being the same.  It is what makes us successful and is what we can all depend on when things around us get far too complicated.

Have We Been Abandoned?

Post by Mike Hyland, Venture President &CEO


Today marks 72 days since the COVID-19 virus was officially declared a pandemic.  We have seen stories of great compassion and great tragedy as well as a glimpse at what some call the emerging new normal.  What we have not seen is our leaders in Washington D.C. providing a single dime for people with disabilities and the skilled professionals who support them.  Trillions of dollars have been appropriated and not one red cent of it has been designated for Medicaid-funded providers of community-based disability services.  Unfathomable?  No, it is disgraceful.


The risk that the virus poses to people with developmental disabilities is enormous, even more so than the risk posed to the general public given the high incidence of medical conditions that people with disabilities often have.  Yet, inexplicably, the federal government has designated $0 of the Public Health & Social Services Emergency Fund to Medicaid-funded providers of group homes and community supports. To date, only about $87 billion of the $175 billion appropriated to this fund has been committed or distributed and the vast majority of those commitments have been made to Medicare programs.  It is crucial that Congress direct the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately address Medicaid-funded providers’ critical financial needs by allocating these funds to agencies that comprise the safety net that supports people with developmental disabilities.  It has already been far too long a wait for this relief.


There is a glimmer of hope, however. Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act. The legislation includes, for the first time, critical resources for disability service providers.  These provisions have a long way to go before becoming law of course, and must survive Senate negotiations ahead of a final vote.  This vote is unlikely to happen before mid-June but it is essential that the Senate also include meaningful financial relief for provider agencies so that we can all continue to ensure that the people we support have the staff and resources needed to remain safe.  It is well beyond time that people with developmental disabilities and the agencies that support them are prioritized in the same way as the many other sectors that have been given billions of dollars in financial relief.  To do anything less would amount to complete abandonment by the leaders in our nation’s capital and a sad dismissal of a population that has been inappropriately marginalized for many, many decades.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed just about every facet of our lives from how we work to where we can go and even how we celebrate holidays.  Social distancing is new terminology that we are unlikely to ever forget and wearing facemasks in public has become commonplace now.  Something that hasn’t changed however is the remarkable dedication of people who have chosen careers that help others even in the darkest times.  Each day we see stories of overwhelmed doctors and nurses who work grueling hours under brutal conditions and EMTs who bravely assist people who are both sick and terrified.  Let us also remember an extraordinary group of professionals doing heroic things on behalf of others around the clock: those working in group homes.


Under normal circumstances, working in a group home presents many challenges, often without warning.  Coupling those challenges now with a virus that has stricken tens of thousands of people in Massachusetts creates a situation unlike any we have seen before.  Still, these exceptional people keep showing up every day to care for and help the individuals who need them now more than ever.  The folks who live in Venture group homes have seen their lives totally disrupted by COVID-19 and have essentially been isolated for more than 30 days now in an effort to protect them as much as possible.  That is more than a month of not being able to go to day programs, work, community activities, or other social gatherings with friends.  Most importantly, the people we support cannot even visit in person with their families right now.  The job of a direct support professional is hard enough without a national health crisis.  Now, the staff are also asked to fill the void left by the pandemic while somehow letting the people in our homes know they are safe.  That is asking an awful lot of people who have their own lives and families and yet it is a challenge our employees have taken on with the amazing skill, compassion, and professionalism they have always shown.  It is genuinely inspiring.


Every crisis brings an element of fear and a public health emergency increases that fear exponentially.  People working in essential jobs have always found ways to rise above that fear and help those in need.  We remember first responders in blizzards and hurricanes and we remember firefighters who race into buildings from which others are fleeing. We also remember medical professionals volunteering to go to war ravaged countries to treat strangers.  It would be more than sad if people don’t remember what our direct support professionals are doing around the clock during this crisis; it would be shameful.  Let’s all make it a point to recognize them and thank them whenever we get the chance.


~ Mike Hyland, President and CEO

Autism Awareness Police Patches

In honor of Autism Awareness month, (April) the Town of Charlton Police Department will be selling Autism Awareness police patches.  Proceeds from the sale of the patches will be donated to Venture to support our community autism services and programs.  Patches will be on sale through the Charlton Police Department:

To purchase a patch:

Send $10 or a check made out to ‘Charlton Police Explorers’ and a self addressed stamped envelope to:

Autism Patches
c/o Charlton Police Department
85 Masonic Home Road
Charlton, MA 01507


The department will also eventually be hosting an autism awareness training seminar in conjunction with ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement) and the Worcester County District Attorney.  The seminar is for local police officers to learn and refresh the knowledge needed to protect and communicate when it comes to interacting with people living in our community with autism. Thank you Charlton PD for your community support!

COVID-19 Community Update

Dear Parents, Guardians and Providers,


I am writing to let you know the steps that Venture Community Services is taking to respond to the threat of COVID- 19 illness. In addition to typical disease prevention techniques and protocols, Venture is implementing the following steps to prevent the spread of the virus to the people that we support and the staff who we employ:


  • Purchasing additional cleaning and sanitation supplies for each program that Venture operates
  • Purchasing additional personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks for each program that Venture operates
  • Implementing additional COVID-19 specific cleaning protocols. These protocols were developed by the Director of Nursing with specific adherence to medical cleanliness guidelines and will be implemented on each shift
  • Implementation of professional deep cleaning of each day habilitation program site twice weekly. This cleaning will supplement the daily cleaning that already occurs in these programs
  • Implementation of professional deep cleaning of our residential programs that support medically fragile individuals weekly to supplement daily cleaning that already occurs in these programs
  • Implementation of sanitation and wipe down of each agency van before and after each use. Sanitizing supplies and hand sanitizer will be stocked in each vehicle in case it is needed during use
  • Staff training in the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and flu and appropriate response to these symptoms in our day and residential programs. Literature about this topic has been posted in each of our programs
  • Staff training in proper hand washing techniques. Literature about this topic has been posted in each of our programs
  • Limiting outings in the community where large groups may gather
  • Upon signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and/or flu, individuals’ PCP office will be contacted for further instruction about treatment
  • A COVID-19 response team will convene upon positive or presumed positive diagnosis of COVID-19 to respond to the needs of the specific program and individual receiving supports. This team will consist of senior staff from agency operations, nursing and clinical services
  • The Director of Nursing is developing a Quarantine Protocol, should the need arise, to effectively quarantine individuals for the recommended 14 day period

We are confident that these steps will aid in preventing the occurrence of COVID-19 in our programs, for the people we support and our very dedicated work force. Venture is also collaborating with other agencies and the Commonwealth.   In order to keep you updated on the latest developments, we will be posting updates on our website venturecs.org and on our Facebook page.


Best regards,

Mike Hyland, President & CEO

Just Leave the Special Olympics Alone

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

The 2020 federal budget proposal contains countless line items and notations, as is expected in any document so large and overwhelming.  Even in all that minutiae however, one particularly disgraceful item stands out: the call to eliminate all funding for Special Olympics.  Once again it seems that people with disabilities are in danger of being cast aside and left behind so that money can go to others.  Enough already! 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed a budget that would end federal funding for Special Olympics.  As offensive as that proposal is all on its own, her rationale for minimizing the importance of this intentional neglect is absurd.  DeVos stated that Special Olympics “is well supported by the philanthropic community”.  This is true but what the secretary is missing is the whole point of a not-for-profit status.  The Special Olympics, just like provider agencies, is permitted by law to fundraise because the government readily admits that the work is underfunded in the first place.  Taking away those relatively few dollars is a public rejection by DeVos and others of the value of Special Olympics and other organizations that support people with disabilities.  In fact, her proposal would negatively affect close to 300,00 children across the country.

So why is Special Olympics so important?  Because since the ‘60’s, the organization has opened doors and opportunities for people with disabilities in ways that never existed before.  These people were finally given the chance to participate in organized activities that improve health, confidence, and self-esteem while at the same time creating genuine relationships and inclusion.  People with disabilities who were shuttered away for so long now have a bevy of programing choices that span across the world and offer participation and achievement for individuals who were denied these opportunities for generations.  Special Olympics has also worked tirelessly to confront and end the stigma that people with disabilities have always had to endure, giving them a public platform to celebrate their efforts and successes.  It is truly baffling that some in government would choose to make this work even harder than it already is.

Unfortunately, it’s not an unusual step from Secretary DeVos and the administration in D.C.  It’s the 3rd year in a row they’ve proposed slashing funding for Special Olympics, though the first attempt to end funding outright.  It’s difficult to fathom just what those people have against people with disabilities.  The almost $18 million spent annually on Special Olympics is irrelevant in the $4 trillion federal budget, making the annual attack on this crucial funding even more ridiculous.  It’s time that those in power stop seeing the disabilities community as low hanging fruit for budget cuts.  Thankfully, the proposal is not very likely to pass in Congress when the budget is finally done.  What’s troubling, however, is the yearly need to still stand up and try to defend the relative pittance that an organization like Special Olympics gets from the government to provide precious opportunities for so many people.

Join Our Human Rights Committee

Your Opportunity to Make a Difference! We currently have space available to serve on our Human Rights Committee.

Looking for: 


~ A psychologist or master level clinician 
~ An attorney, law student, or paralegal 
~ Registered Nurse or LPN or physician
~ General committee members 


Learn more here: https://venturecs.org/learn-more/human-rights-committee/ or contact Robby Dookhran at rdookhran@venturecs.org

This Can’t Be the New Normal

It’s difficult to observe the recent spate of violence in our country and not be shaken.  Last week, we watched law enforcement track down someone who mailed bombs to people he never even met.  Thankfully, no one was hurt in these attempted assaults but that relief was short lived. 

On Saturday, we learned that a bigot entered a synagogue in Pennsylvania and brutally murdered almost a dozen people who were simply there to embrace their religion.  To call this attack horrific is to engage in gross understatement. 

In the past few years we have been forced to watch in horror as people in our country are killed at concerts and at schools and in offices.  While the people who perpetrate this violence are responsible for their actions, we too have a responsibility; we can’t let this become the new normal in our country.

The voice is a powerful tool.  It informs and expresses but it can also lead.  Those of us who have a voice are required to use it to improve things and not to make our situation worse.  For far too long, the daily discourse in this country has been driven not by respect and reason but by anger and abuse.  Whereas people once disagreed, they now just seethe. 

It seems that disregard has replaced discussion and hatred has replaced tolerance.  There are countless people around us who need help and they may never get it so long as rancor defines so much of our conversation.  It is absolutely incumbent upon those with a voice to use that voice to ensure this doesn’t happen.

A return to civility is the only means by which we can recreate safe places where people can disagree and then compromise to advance the greater good.  Our society has devolved to a place where too many people have decided that someone with a different perspective is wrong and dangerous.  Sadly, many of these people are in powerful positions in state and national government. 

It is absolutely necessary for anyone who leads to role model the importance of acceptance and inclusion so that our future is better than our present.  People have the right to be safe when expressing their views and when disagreeing with someone who sees things differently.  It remains concerning that what was once such a tenet of basic freedom is now so endangered.

Lastly, vitriol must be rejected at every turn now.  This anger drives too much of our dialogue and it makes everything worse.  It causes people to react instead of listen and dangerously inflames too many conflicts that don’t need to be conflicts at all.  We must all beware of agenda-driven commentary and grating, thinly-veiled rhetoric that blames victims for what happened to them.  The violence we see unfolding around us is not an opportunity for one side to prevail against another.  Instead, it is a dark reminder that we have created a climate where people who have differing ideas, beliefs, or even just opinions are enemies of each other. 

If this is in fact the new normal, the future is much bleaker than it needs to be.  Let everyone be committed to using a voice and speaking up to make that future as bright as it should be.

ANCOR Advocacy Week

This week is Advocacy Week at ANCOR, our national trade association that represents more than 1,400 community providers of services to people with disabilities.  We are joining them in bringing much-needed attention to the issues that are facing the human services industry today – most notably, the workforce crisis in disability supports.

It is important to us to highlight the good work being done by the professionals in our industry every day – yet high turnover rate is destabilizing critical supports for individuals with disabilities.  Recruitment and retention challenges are leaving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities vulnerable to losing support in the most important aspects of their lives – work, home and health.

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are the lifeline of the industry.  They are frontline staff who are providing emotional support, facilitating recreational opportunities, teaching essential life skills, administering medical interventions, communicating with healthcare providers and families, and offering the support required for folks with disabilities to live as independently as possible. 

These professionals, funded primarily through Medicaid, help people live life like everyone else.  They accomplish this through job coaching, supporting daily activities like grocery shopping or transportation, and by offering critical care for behavioral needs such as helping someone through an anxiety attack.

Despite all this, difficulties attracting and retaining DSPs have reached a crisis level:

  • The national DSP turnover rate is 45%
  • 55% of DSPs who leave their positions do so within their first year on the job
  • Low wages and minimal benefits caused by fixed Medicaid rates are significant reasons for this turnover, although there are many other contributing factors

Lacking a stable workforce not only harms individuals with disabilities and their families, but also can lead to increased institutionalization and high costs to states and federal government.  Support from Direct Support Professionals helps people with disabilities live independently or with their families or peers rather than in costlier state-run institutions.

Join in the advocacy efforts by reaching out to your members of Congress!

For more information about ANCOR, click here.

Developmental Disability Awareness Month

This March marks the 28th anniversary of Developmental Disability Awareness Month.  The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities defines the goal of this annual campaign as “creating awareness about developmental disabilities, teaching the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life, and to sharing the stories of individuals with a disability to show that a successful life is possible”.   The campaign focuses on education, employment, and community living for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

In honor of Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we are sharing stories of inclusion all around us.  Here are some great examples of how our society is creating a more inclusive environment and bringing awareness to individuals with disabilities in our communities.

  1. Disabilities in television and film – popular television shows such as have featured people with disabilities increasingly in the past several years. Lauren Potter had a major role in Glee, Luke Zimmerman was cast in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Jamie Brewer starred in two seasons of American Horror Story, and J. Mitte portrayed Walter White’s son in the wildly popular series Breaking Bad.  Several new shows have been addressing disability issues and putting disabled characters at the center of the story, such as ABC’s Speechless, which features a high school student with cerebral palsy and Netflix’s Atypical, which tells the coming-of-age story about an 18-year-old with autism.  For more information about this topic, check out the article TV Depictions of Disability Have Come a Long Way on Buzzfeed.
  2. Apple is introducing inclusive emojis! The technology company has been praised for inclusion when it comes to skin tone and sexual orientation – now the folks at Apple have submitted a proposal for new accessibility emoji that will include service dogs, people using both manual and mechanical wheelchairs, people using canes, an ear with a hearing aid, and prosthetics.
  3. Adaptive clothing is catching on – popular and affordable brands like Cat & Jack for Target have introduced sensory-friendly clothing for kids, and are adding to their line by creating clothes for kids with other disabilities as a part of their Design for All initiative. These pieces are designed with many different disabilities in mind – including wheelchairs, sensory concerns, and abdominal access for feeding tubes.  Their sensory-friendly clothes are designed without itchy tags or seams and are constructed in soft cotton.  Other online shops are also popping up, such as Smart Knit Kids, which offers seamless socks, underwear, and tees for kids with sensory processing disorders.
  4. Opportunities for postsecondary education – colleges and universities all over the country are offering programs and courses with intellectually disabled students in mind. The REACH Program at the University of Iowa welcomes students with learning disabilities, autism and other intellectual disabilities.  This program offers a real college experience, with integrated housing, inclusive educational opportunities, employment training, and more.  Landmark College in Vermont was created especially for students with dyslexia, hyperactivity, and other learning disabilities
  5. Adaptive fitness opportunities are becoming more widely available – adaptive gyms are popping up all over! Unified Health and Performance in Lancaster is offering an inclusive environment for fitness.  People of all abilities are welcome at the gym and accommodations are made to create a great experience for everyone.  The gym also offers several adaptive group classes per week for both kids and adults.  For more information about their mission, check out the Worcester Business Journal feature article.  This Washington Post article also has a lot of great information about fitness for people with disabilities, and features a personal trainer who has autism.

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