Guest Voices – May 2022

B-4 there was COVID, there was King’s: Bingo key to New Danville

“I wish more people knew what we actually do. What we do is phenomenal. We help so many people,” Cassie Raether said. She is the manager of King’s Bingo in Webster, TX; New Danville is one of five charities that benefit from the bingo hall’s net proceeds.

“Frankly, I’m not sure where we would be without the support of King’s Bingo,” said Eva Aguirre, president and CEO of New Danville. “The past two years have been a challenge, but their support had a tremendous influence as we navigated the pandemic situation. I learned that no matter what is going on in the world, people will still play bingo.  Thank goodness for that! Not to mention the many years of support we received from them in our fledgling years as a nonprofit.”

Patricia Greenfield CEO and Founder of Texas Bingo Solutions echoed both Cassie’s and Eva’s sentiments. Texas Bingo Solutions oversees the financial and accounting functions of several bingo halls, including King’s Bingo. “I have a wonderful job.” she said. “Because of Cassie and her team, who work tirelessly, the hall is profitable and all of the profits from the conduct of bingo are distributed to the Kings Bingo charities that are doing great work with that money in the community. We know you can do so much with the money. Bingo is a social thing for everyone. People have fun, make friends and help charities. I wish more people knew about the charity component.” New Danville has partnered with Texas Bingo Solutions since 2012.

Cassie has been the manager at King’s Bingo for six years. She started working with them not long after they opened in 2012 as a second job. Her role changed over the years until she was named manager after three years there. “My role is to make it as enjoyable as possible for people to spend their money while having fun, all for good causes. Our entire team has fun meeting and exceeding our revenue goals by creating a dynamic environment for our players. Everyone has a wonderful time and then we get to support charities. What a great job!” King’s Bingo has a special imprint of New Danville.  The wood letters that spell out “bingo” in the hall were made by Wranglers in woodshop class. Starting in May, they will also begin to occasionally show New Danville’s new, original music video, Wranglers’ Ballad to help players better understand what they are supporting.

Guest Voices – April 2022

Joe Cutillo: CEO of Sterling Construction on Volunteerism

Volunteer Appreciation Week is in April 17-23. New Danville benefits from its dedicated volunteers, as all nonprofits do. Whether the volunteer serves regularly at Jazzy Junque (our upscale home décor resale store), occasionally at a special event or as a program/class assistant, or as part of corporate-related team that takes on significant on-site projects, we appreciate all that they do to make us successful.  In the past year, the corporate team of Sterling Construction has visited New Danville to tackle day-long projects three times. Joe Cutillo, CEO of the company, shares his perspectives on volunteerism in this month’s “Guest Voices.”

I can’t help but look at volunteerism from various perspectives:  as a leader of a major company, as an individual who is part of the human race, and as a member of the community. Those views fit into all my ideas about volunteerism, but for our involvement with New Danville, I also look at our team’s efforts as a father.

I believe that all people are giving and want to help others who are in need. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things that we can do with our time. It has been said by many that the volunteer always gets more from the experience than the people who benefit from the volunteers’ efforts; I believe that to be true.  I’ve seen it with every project that we undertake.

Our corporate team began volunteering as a team once per quarter. I was not sure how dedicating a day of service would be received by the team. I could not be more pleased or proud of the team for how quickly they adopted the notion of a day of service.  Now they ask “Where are we going next quarter? What do we get to do this time?” in anticipation of our next effort. I hope, and believe it to be true, that their experiences encourage them to adopt the notion of service on a personal level and begin to involve their family and friends with volunteer opportunities in the community.

Volunteering provides the opportunity to learn, too. Many of my team members learned a lot about the challenges of special needs adults by working on site.  I think the average person does not realize the realities of life for a special needs person. I was one of those average people until my wife and I learned that our son was on the autism spectrum. We had a lot to learn. I believe my team has learned a lot by coming to New Danville.  Any time you serve a population with different challenges than your own, you learn something important. Since we began helping at New Danville, several people have shared that they have friends, relatives or family members with special needs. They want to talk about it; that is a good thing.

As a company leader, I am always looking for ways to develop a sense of camaraderie and team. Volunteering does that. It provides a day of focus and we can see the results of our efforts on the same day. In the busyness of projects, travel, meetings and the million things that go on in people’s personal lives, it is helpful to separate from the rush and focus on service. Not only does it help develop a team mentality, but it provides fun stories that become part of the company culture, like the story of the two guys who painted themselves into the center of the bridge at New Danville. We still laugh about that.

Whether as an individual, a group or as a company, we are all called to help others. We are part of the community, as individuals and as a company. Sterling Construction has 3,500 employees across several states. The day of service concept has worked so well for the corporate team that we are now encouraging it throughout the company by using internal and social media to promote the idea and the benefits that come from it.  You just have to get started and let the ripple effect happen.

Everyone has causes that are important to them. I’ve learned it is more important to take action and get started with volunteering than to worry about picking the perfect organization to get started with.  

Guest Voices – March 2022

Melissa Varney: Following her heart’s call

I came to New Danville five years ago when I looked for a new job after my husband and I came to the area for his job. I looked at their website and loved what I saw, especially the job opening notice for a direct support professional. It provided a way to stay in a field that I love, but in a different environment with wonderful conditions.

I have been in the special needs field for many years, something I knew I wanted to do since high school. While in Colorado, I worked in schools with students who were medically fragile or were violent/aggressive. Even after a student injured me so that I needed surgery, I could not ever see myself doing anything else for work other than working with special needs. These people are my heart.  I could see myself in a different environment though, and New Danville was it.

One of the most incredible things about New Danville is how empowered the staff is to develop the classes and programs in ways that accommodate the various ability levels of the Wranglers. No one is left behind. We are able to align our own interests and abilities with the classes we teach and how we teach them. We can use visuals, discussion and hands-on projects which provides a way of learning no matter what type of learner each Wrangler is.

I never stop thinking about the Wranglers. I seek input from family members and friends on different classes to offer and how to deliver them in ways that the Wranglers will enjoy, and benefit from. When the Wranglers leave happy, proud and have a better sense of self-worth at the end of the day…well, that’s a good day and why New Danville does what it does in the way it does it.

Early on I knew that someway, somehow, I would be in this field. And then I had a son with special needs. My work in the field has made me a better parent, I believe. If I were to cross-stitch a sampler for the wall with words of wisdom, it would say “Patience is key.”

Guest Voices – February 2022

Christin Allphin, new chairman of the board

I was first introduced to New Danville back in 2008.  My boss at the time took me out to see the property and then we attended Tea on the Lawn (now called Spring Thing, which will be April 22).  We literally sat on blankets in the field, wore our big hats, and had tea sandwiches on China plates.  I met so many great clients of New Danville and learned all about who New Danville was. And of course, walked away with my first, but not last, handmade pen. Since that time, I have been thankful to watch the growth of this organization from just a barn and a day program to a thriving community.  I have been with Woodforest National Bank, for what will be 15 years this year, and have been blessed to have the opportunity to have been involved through the journey.  These past couple of years have been stressful for so many, but I am so proud of what the team at New Danville has done to persevere and pivot to provide the services so many rely on.

This year I am honored to be in the role of Chairman of the Board for New Danville, and I am excited to be a part of a great board and team to help bring even greater growth and new ideas. We have some big plans in store that we hope to implement to transform New Danville by our 20th Anniversary Year in 2025.  So, stay tuned for all of the exciting things to come!

Guest Voices – January 2022

Perspectives on Jazzy Junque since its inception

Thirty-seven years of combined experience leads to memories and perspectives on the establishment and operation of Jazzy Junque, an upscale home décor store in the Outlets at Conroe shopping center. Nanci, Gay, and Carol have been with the store since its beginning, and before.

Jazzy Junque started as a once-a-year sale of home décor items for the benefit of New Danville 14 years ago. After five years of hard work and successful sales, the decision was made to go set up a year-round storefront. Nanci and Gay started with the operation in its original format and are still on board today. Carol joined the team after the store opened.

Nanci related the moment when she said to another volunteer, “the thrill is gone.” They were pushing a sofa down the sidewalk in the shopping center, preparing for the annual sale. They knew that an ongoing operation was the answer.  The three shared stories of the “early years” when hardly anything was turned away because there was treasure in each and New Danville needed the funds. Carol said, “We painted or glued or whatever it took to get items into good condition.” Fast forward and the store space has expanded, including an expansion two years ago, and the need for storage to hold inventory has never been greater.  Quality items come from individuals, estates, and more, providing a constantly changing inventory for shoppers to choose from.

“We are a team, a family, a tribe,” Nanci said, “and customers have become friends over the years. The volunteers work hard because we all believe in the cause.”

The store contributed more than $150,000 in net proceeds in 2021 to New Danville. President and CEO Eva Aguirre said, “Our commitment is to focus on providing quality programs and fair prices to our clients. Our priority is to serve our clients, not make a profit off of them, which means that Jazzy Junque, our special events, and fundraising initiatives are essential for New Danville to complete its mission.” When asked about anything about serving at Jazzy Junque that might have come as a surprise, Gay said, “We’re too busy to be surprised about anything.  We always have so much going on.” It is also no surprise that the Jazzy Junque team is always looking for volunteers. (People interested in volunteering can fill out the contact form here.)

Guest Voices: Dec 2021

Finding New Danville Products in Special Places

Ernesto and Jodi’s B&B on Lake Conroe has 189 excellent reviews, largely because of their special attention to their customers’ needs and comfort. New Danville products produced by Wranglers are part of their success. “We’re proud that we can support New Danville while also spreading the word about their great services,” Ernesto said. “We even had a customer from Germany who wanted to know how to buy New Danville’s sugar scrub.  We directed them to New Danville’s store. All the great personal touches are Jodi’s idea,” he said with a proud smile.

The couple have had their B&B for about three years. As they were getting it prepared for the market, they visited Jazzy Junque to look for furniture and home décor items. There they met Odette D’Agostino, one of the co-founders of the store, who told them about New Danville. They were sold. They continue to buy products and spread the word about New Danville.

Jodi is a graphic designer and Ernesto has had a long career in the foodservice industry, including overseeing events as large as for 6,000 people. “We’re failures at retirement,” Ernesto said with a broad smile. “I don’t think he’ll ever really retire,” Jodi added. “He likes to be busy. He has been all his life.”

“I got an adrenalin rush from all the challenges in putting together huge events,” he said, “but I also really enjoy being able to be so attentive to the various needs of those who stay with us. We continue to learn and adapt.” He pointed to a variety of New Danville products, including lotions, creams, natural insect repellant, as well as several décor items from Jazzy Junque and items created in the New Danville woodshop, all that serve the needs and comforts of their clients.

“Odette introduced us to the New Danville team. We met with Eva, Randy, and others. Everyone was receptive to our ideas of products and smaller product sizes. They wanted to be there for us like we are there for our clients, and we appreciate that.”

Guest Voices – November 2021

Bryan Gill, Program Manager

I had been away from New Danville for a few years, having accepted a job in north Texas in 2018. I worked here from 2015-2018. When I returned to work here in September 2021, I barely recognized it with all the changes. Wranglers recognized me from before though, and I knew I was home again.

I have a special needs daughter who is now a Wrangler. After I moved away in 2018, I looked for a place for her that compared to what I knew then – New Danville.  Nothing compared.  As a dad, that concerned me.  My view of New Danville is that of dad and of the employee.  I believe the perspectives serve each other. I understand what parents and guardians are going through when they ask questions or go on a site tour. There is a form of empathy that can only be gained by being in the life situation that they are in. I also understand the difference between what we offer and what other places do.

Safety is a big deal. It is to me as a dad, and I know it is to the parents and guardians of all our clients. As the program manager, I aim to protect that. The quality and engagement of the staff is incredible, which helps explain the smiles on the clients’ faces. It was impossible to not notice their expressions when I returned to New Danville for my interview. The smiles, I believe, are an indication of how the culture of respect here affects the clients. Our clients know they have a disability; they don’t need to be reminded. Our goal is to reveal and remind them of their abilities.

Even if I won the lotto, I would want to be close to New Danville. Maybe buy a house across the street or something. My daughter and I love this place that much.

Guest Voices – October 2021

About a decade ago, several parents of residents in New Danville’s Meadowbrook community came together to build a concept that would provide New Danville residents with a variety of experiences that built relationships, expanded socialization opportunities, and furthered the concept of community in New Danville. The bricks of commitment, creativity, and conviction were bound together with a mortar of compassion. They built a nonprofit called Legally Authorized Representative Alliance (LARA).

L-R:  Diana Egley, Kathy Hertzog , Connie Mahaffey

LARA president Diana Egley said, “New Danville clients, like anyone else, want to feel valued and to be able to contribute, as well as develop strong relationships. LARA was created to help make that happen.” Diana was one of the founders of LARA. “We have been purpose-driven from the beginning,” she said.

Originally created to serve the needs of residents, LARA’s efforts have benefited both the residents and the day program attendees.

Connie Mahaffey, one of LARA’s founders, said, “The Wranglers (day program attendees) and residents see LARA members as friends. They come to us with ideas and sometimes come to us with questions. Those relationships are built by doing so much together. This year, we will take residents who are interested to Crighton Theater to see a production of Elf.

LARA has adapted the many things its volunteers do to the needs of New Danville clients and the conditions of the times. Needless to say, their plans, like everyone else’s, have changed significantly in 2020 and 2021. “We have kept our plans open for 2022,” Diana said, “until we know what conditions will allow.”

Adapting and being flexible have been a key element of LARA’s success. Kathy Hertzog joined LARA about a year after its formation. She said, “In the beginning, we held dinners in the residents’ homes so people could get to know each other and build a stronger sense of community. Residents realized that LARA volunteers were truly interested in their successful independence.”

Connie added, “The dinners in homes later became monthly birthday bashes. Each month we have a party to celebrate all the resident birthdays of the month. We have dinner, bingo, and various games that provide opportunities to win gift cards and other prizes.”

Kathy shared that many things people take for granted are new or unknown to the clients. “As friends to the clients, we provide a safe, accessible resource of information or outlet for sharing.”

Over the years, LARA has hosted parties; taken field trips to Buccee’s, Disney on Ice, and various theater productions; held Christmas Market events; and much more. “We want them to be able to do something they would never have the opportunity to do otherwise,” Diana said.

No matter what 2022 and beyond holds, it is clear that LARA and its supporters will continue to bring fun, socialization, relationships, and independence to New Danville residents and clients. The most important thing they always deliver is love.

Guest Voices – September 2021

James Scott, Direct Support Professional

I learned a lot about working with people with IDD in high school. Not where I attended, but where I worked. It was while working with special needs students at College Park High School that I learned about New Danville. I started here full-time in 2009, though I worked part-time here for a bit before.

I was not unfamiliar with special needs – I have a nephew who is an adult with IDD – but knowing about it is not the same as working with it. The Wranglers have taught me so much about myself and life. My nephew knows that I work here and I think he likes that.

After a career stint in the pharma industry, I took a job at the high school where I served as a job coach, helping students and employers in ways that provided meaningful jobs to the students. The work was so rewarding, but, all of it has been and is.

People ask me to name which of the many roles that I have had at New Danville is my favorite. I can’t do that. I love it all, but I do have a special appreciation for the team that was the lawn crew many years ago. A team of Wranglers took care of cutting and edging around here. Can you believe that? They took such great pride in the work. Eventually, there was too much to be done for a devoted crew to handle.

It is rewarding to see Wrangler’s bloom. They are the most honest, open, fair-minded, unprejudiced, candid people. They see others for who they are. I appreciate that Wranglers trust me as a sounding board when they encounter people or situations that stresses them or seem confusing. It works because we are all family at New Danville.  Families aren’t perfect, but they’re special…and we’re family here.

Guest Voices – August 2021

John Massey, Direct Support Professional

It was great timing that led me to New Danville.  My daughter, Julia, was born a few months before I retired from Southwestern Bell in Houston.  After five years of being Mr. Mom, I was needing something new to do. My sister, Kathy Sanders, had gotten some miniature horses to start a program for special needs adults. She asked if I would like to learn about horses and help her get the program started. Loving the outdoors, it was the perfect retirement job for me.

I love working with the Wranglers, watching their growth and accomplishments. I enjoy watching them learn, and I feel that I have learned a lot working here, too. I learned about patience, though I come from a laid back, patient family; I learned more patience here. The most important thing I’ve learned is to be thankful for the little things in life and to be thankful for helping create a place where the Wranglers can come and be themselves.

My time at New Danville has shown me that there are so many high-functioning adults with special needs who need a place to meet new friends and learn new things.

Another thing learned working with the Wranglers is something I wish everyone, everywhere could learn:  tolerance. Tolerance of others, who they are and how they are would go a long way in this world. None of the people with special needs asked to be the way they are, but I believe when they get to heaven there will be no disabilities.

John Massey has been with New Danville since its inception. He works primarily in the animal therapy program, but also has led music and song with the Wranglers singing and signing while he plays guitar.

What began as a prayer ended up being a blessing

Sherry Franklin, Retired
What began as a prayer ended up being a blessing.

It was 2007 and I was looking for a part-time job to help fill some gaps as I tried to start my own business. I put the need on a prayer list and at a meeting with a church group I was told of a part-time position at a new business close to my home. That business was New Danville, which I had not heard of, so I applied for the job as a driver. I guess I have held a dozen roles since then, and each one has helped make me a better person. The Wranglers have a way of doing that.

In about three years, I was working full-time in the day program. I guess most people think of me as the “woodshop lady,” which began at about that time. One of our board members made pens and we picked up the project in our woodshop. And to think, we’re now looking at making distinctive executive pens as one of our job creators. It was in pen making that we created the “Ooops Box” where mistakes in making were placed. The Wranglers realized that it is okay to make mistakes.  Oooops.  Put it in the box and move on.

So much has changed over the years, and I am proud to have been part of it all.  People have said that I was a “Jill of All Trades,” and it felt that way at times.  I had the pleasure of doing so many different assignments. Each one had a way of shaping me and teaching me a lot about life and about others. There were times when I was driving routes that some of the Wranglers would get in the van and it was clear that they had had a rough start to their day at home. I was determined to help give them a new, brighter start to their day.  That gave me a brighter start to my days, too.

At different times over the years, people – friends and family – would encourage me to look at other job opportunities. I couldn’t. There is nothing like working here. It chokes me up when I reflect on how much this job, the Wranglers, and everyone I’ve worked with here has meant to me.  But, it’s family, so no wonder.

I didn’t know anything about this world, the world of adults with IDD, when I began working at New Danville. I’ve learned so much along the way. I’ve learned how to do a variety of jobs, and I’ve learned patience for myself. I wished everyone could learn what I have learned by working with the Wranglers and the New Danville family: be nice, slow down, strike up conversations with people with IDD – they are funny, insightful  — and listen. Listening…it goes a long way.

Sherry began her career at New Danville in 2007 as a part-time driver. Her work ethic, empathy and compassion moved her through a multitude of roles. She resigned in June 2021 but will remain in the hearts and lives of the New Danville family.

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