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Friendly connections

Marquis Care residents, Albertina Kerr clients find common ground


Kerri Fiero had an idea about how to help the residents at Marquis Care in Oregon City, and the results have been so successful that she confesses to being overwhelmed that it is working out so well.

Looking at her residents, Fiero, the activity director at Marquis Care, realized that many of them had a real need to help others and to give back to the community where they were once a vital part.

So, last February she established a plan to connect residents with clients at Albertina Kerr, a nonprofit organization that provides a range of mental health services for children and also provides care and skills training for people with developmental disabilities. by: PHOTOS BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Pictured are Heidi, a client from Albertina Kerr, Kerri Fiero, activity director at Marquis Care, and Delphine, a client from Albertina Kerr.

“We have a community inclusion program for adults with developmental disabilities, and this partnership with Marquis Care gives our adults the opportunity to engage with the community and an opportunity to socialize, talk and share their stories,” said Amy Miner, marketing and communications manager for Albertina Kerr.

Now, two days a week, five to 10 Albertina Kerr clients come by bus to Marquis Care, and interact with about a dozen residents there, playing bingo, throwing horseshoes and engaging in other fun forms of recreation.

“This gives our residents something to look forward to and they are giving back to the community in a meaningful way. They get so excited — it is about friendship and sharing,” Fiero said.

And the Albertina Kerr clients get to come out, interact socially and build friendships as well, she added.

Forming a partnership

It all started because Fiero’s sister, Kathi Smith, is the program manager for the Clackamas County Albertina Kerr Community Inclusion Program in Oregon City. Fiero knew that all the funding had been cut for the Albertina Kerr program, and that left the clients there with no fun activities. She also knew that she had access to the Vital Life Foundation, a program formed by the Marquis and Consonus Foundation in 2008, that in part donates money to nonprofits through volunteer activities.

So Fiero’s idea was that the two organizations could form a partnership that would benefit everyone involved.

“Marquis has always given back to the community, so we formed the Vital Life Foundation as a vehicle for empowering our employees and residents who want to give back. We fund raise so we can give to schools or nonprofit organizations that are meaningful to our residents,” noted Mary Amick, foundation director.

She further explained that employees and residents earn $10 an hour for every hour they spend volunteering; when they get to 20 hours, the foundation writes a check for $200 to the nonprofit.

“When the organization verifies the hours, we send another check for $200, in the volunteer’s name. For every employee or resident volunteer, we match up to $1,000 per year, per person,” Amick added.

Miner noted that the Albertina Kerr organization will use the funds to provide services to children, adults and families in Oregon with developmental disabilities and/or mental health challenges.

Celebrating victories

The best thing about the partnership, noted Fiero’s sister, is that the Albertina Kerr clients enjoy building relationships, while learning life skills at the same time.

“They are learning that there are friends out there, and they learn so many skills, like etiquette, and even math skills through playing bingo. We base our program on goals, through individual support plans, and for some of our clients, their first goal is to go to Marquis Care,” Smith added.

“They celebrate one other’s victories and Kerri gives them tasks and leadership roles. They learn how to encourage one another; it is therapeutic recreation and it is fun,” Amick said. “The Albertina Kerr clients have goals to expand their lives, and they are learning to trust, to communicate and to take instruction. It is not just companionship, they are improving their quality of life.”

It is the individual success stories that warm Fiero’s heart. One young woman from Albertina Kerr wouldn’t speak when she first came to Marquis Care, she would only look down.

“Now she says ‘hi’ and is actually verbalizing words. She is also using words back at her group home; they are only little words here and there, but that’s big, for her,” Fiero said.

Another young woman first brought her dolls to Marquis Care and would only talk to them.

“Now she doesn’t bring the dolls; she doesn’t need them,” Fiero said. “She wants to come here and talk to her friends.”

She had to use a kind of reverse psychology on one client, Fiero said. “She was a high-functioning client, but she refused to do anything for herself. So I put her with someone she has to help and it’s going really well. She will actually help two or three of the residents with projects — that is giving her motivation.”

These small steps show her that the program is beneficial to both groups, Fiero said, adding, “We have happier people, and they have happier people.”