HIGHER WAGES! Most direct support roles start at $17.25+

Fall 2022 Spirit Newsletter

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How many of us have watched a movie, read a book, or seen a TV show where the hero perseveres through unimaginable challenges, and is rewarded for it in the end?

If we have learned anything from the past couple of years, it is that these stories of perseverance are not limited to the realms of fiction. Those looking for real-life people who have faced uncertainty, moved mountains, and made an indelible impact on someone’s life, look no further than the people of Heritage Christian Services — people of possibility.

Through times of illness, tragedy, division and difficulty, people have persevered. We’ve talked throughout this pandemic of a “light at the end of the tunnel,” and while it is difficult to say whether we are there or not, it is our faith and continued resiliency that keeps us moving forward.

We must continue to take diligent, bold steps to support restoration throughout our agency and our community. In August, we demonstrated our commitment to restoring respect to the caring industry by raising the wages of all of our frontline staff, rewarding them for their work and allowing us to better compete with other industries like retail and fast food. Despite insufficient funding, we are driving wage up for our caring professionals, commensurate with the essential work they do. When I began in this profession, support professionals made well above minimum wage. We must restore that respect through advocacy and wage advancement. It is one very important step in protecting our services going forward.

Another important step is understanding the growing number of people – including immigrants, people of color, people from all backgrounds – who are shaping the future of quality care in our country. We must have a role in restoring rights to those historically marginalized and position them for success when they choose a caring career. People should not have to sacrifice their own well-being when choosing a career dedicated to the wellbeing of others! Our commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility seeks to improve our culture at Heritage Christian. Through our Women of Color summit and ColoRise events, we gained a better understanding of the issues those from marginalized backgrounds face, so we may support them in restoration, healing and future success.

Though the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t as bright as we hoped it might be, our vision is clear. We will improve the care provided to those we serve by improving the ways in which care professionals are respected and recognized. We move forward with faithfulness and calling, knowing that our work at Heritage Christian Services is far-reaching and purposeful and accepting our role in ensuring an even better tomorrow.

Sincerely, Marisa Geitner

President & C.E.O

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Bob Terry restored his independence from guardianship, and is one of the first in the history of our agency thanks to a program called “supportive decision making.” What this means is Bob is able to select who can help him with certain decisions, such as health and finance. He has autonomy over his own decisions, and lives independently.

“I was lucky,” Bob said. “Everyone agreed to help me once they understood what the process was.”

The challenge would be getting his supports to understand the process, especially his mother Tracy.

“As a mom, my focus was always on his safety,” Tracy said. Though she pushed Bob from a young age to do things independently, the idea of him leaving the group home setting was too much for her initially. “I didn’t even want to hear [about supportive decision making].”

Tracy credits Bob’s patience in the face of opposition, especially from someone so close to him. It wasn’t until Tracy spoke to people in the agency who were close to both her and Bob that she finally understood.

“I felt like my motherly instinct was holding Bob back,” she said about her epiphany. “At the end of the day, what I wanted most was for him to lead a full life.”

Through the court system, and with the support of his family, Bob was able to overturn his old terms of guardianship, granting him independence.

The road to restoration and independence from guardianship is a major step for anyone, including adults living with intellectual or developmental disabilities. In the latter case, however, restoration of independence from guardianship is an achievement that highlights wrongful assumptions people make about what adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities can achieve.

Unfortunately, helping someone restore independence can be a divisive decision for everyone involved in that person’s life. Bob is very happy that everyone in his life came around to supporting him. He has lived by himself for five and half years now, keeping himself busy and working part time at CDS Life Transitions.

“I like to stay active,” Bob said, talking about his love of games and just going on adventures near his home. With his independence from guardianship, Bob has more freedom to do these things than before.

While this is not the goal of every person we support, Heritage Christian Services is committed to walking alongside every person, staff or supported person through the journey of their life.

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Home Purchase on Joanne Drive

Having the option to age in place, with loved ones nearby, is one of the most meaningful endeavors we can support.

Earlier this year, we began renovations to the first home that Heritage Christian Services opened in western New York on Hoover Road in Sanborn. To support the women who lived there during the renovations, our agency purchased a home on Joanne Drive in the same town. What was supposed to be a temporary home for the women who moved from Hoover became a full-time residence when they fell in love with the home. With this decision, the newly renovated home on Hoover Road will serve as the home for those moving out of the home on Oxbow Lane in Lewiston. This home on Oxbow Lane, which was acquired years ago from New York State, has included shared bedrooms and an inaccessible floor plan. This transition to the new home on Hoover Drive will allow for a higher quality experience for all and an environment that will allow people to age in place.

To ensure all have a chance to age in place, our agency is continuing to look into renovations and/or construction on residential homes. The three homes in process right now are Names Road, Hoover Road and Scribner Road. Names and Scribner are two new builds that we hope to complete in 2023. The renovations to Hoover will also be complete in 2023.

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DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Theodore Ellstrom

Some people donate money, some donate goods, and some, like Theodore “Ted” Ellstrom, donate their time and knowledge to enrich the lives of the people who choose Heritage Christian Services. At the inception of the agency, Ted was instrumental in securing the land for the home on Jennifer Lane, the first home built in Webster by Heritage Christian Services. Our agency may not exist without his gift.

Once the home was built, he rallied for the people who lived there to become a part of his church’s Sunday services, the Wednesday music on the lawn events and the Friendship group. Ted passed away on August 9, 2022, leaving behind a legacy of generosity that has helped shape Heritage Christian Services into the agency it is today. He wanted everyone to feel welcome in the community.

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The 2022 Gail Otto Community Service Award recipient, Aaron Horning, is familiar with Heritage Christian Services through his professional work at Douglas Electric Co, Inc., and has also volunteered his time and services to do work as needed at different sites.

In 2015, he joined the Heritage Christian Young Professionals Group, serving as a Heritage Christian ambassador and participating in volunteer events like Springdale Farm’s Christmas with Santa and several social nights to benefit Heritage Christian Stables. He has also done work at different Heritage Christian homes and day programs, including tearing down a deck and pool and beautifying the landscape. His most recent commitment has been to the foundation’s Golf Classic committee where he has secured sponsorship support and donations for the silent auction, while personally supporting the organization with financial gifts.

We are so incredibly grateful for Aaron’s time, talent, expertise, electric humor and most of all, his kind heart.

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Heritage Christian Services Foundation hosted its 32nd annual Golf Classic at Monroe Golf Club this past August. The event, presented by Lawley Insurance, had more than 165 golfers from Rochester and Buffalo in attendance. The event raised $165,000, surpassing its goal. Proceeds from the event will benefit several initiatives including helping to increase staff wages, as well as programs through the Employer Resource Network, Heritage Christian Stables, respite and more.







The Heritage Hero Run + Stroll + Roll was held at Seabreeze Amusement Park in Irondequoit and, for the first time ever, in western New York at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island. Collectively, the event welcomed more than 600 participants and raised more than $114,000. Be sure to mark your calendars for the 2023 Heritage Hero events – Saturdays, Sept. 9 (Rochester) and Sept. 16 (Grand Island).


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Employer Resource Network Bestowed Moving Mountains Honorable Mention

Heritage Christian Services was recognized with an honorable mention in the National Association of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) Moving Mountains award for our work in offering career success coaches to our frontline staff.

Heritage Christian Services named to Rochester Chamber of Commerce Top 100

Heritage Christian Services was named to the Rochester Chamber of Commerce Top 100 list, and joins a tremendous lineup of the fastest-growing privately owned companies in the Greater Rochester region.


Samantha DeMart named 40 Under 40 Honoree

Congratulations to Samantha DeMart, associate director of communications, for earning recognition as a Buffalo Business First 40 Under 40 honoree.





HCS Honored as Compass Agency for 22nd Year

For the 22nd year in a row, Heritage Christian Services was honored as a Compass agency by NYS OPWDD, a designation given to human services agencies who have demonstrated the highest quality of services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.




Pieters Family Honors Staff

Four staff members were honored at the Pieters Family Award of Excellence luncheon for their unwavering support of people with disabilities and their lasting contributions to the field. The event, hosted by Bob Pieters, honored Rita Veiro, Charles Caruana, Caitlin Sheldrick and Mike Pilato.

Community Partner Award given to Jewish Senior Life

Congratulations to Jewish Senior Life for winning Heritage Christian Services’ 2022 Community Partner Award, and their continued support of our agency and its goals.


Jobina Bruinsma Memorial Award

Congratulations to Sarah Scheffelaar, the residence manager at the home on Clover Street in Brighton, for being recognized with the Jobina Bruinsma Memorial Award.





Anne Wolf Memorial Award & Justice Center Code of Conduct Award

The Anne Wolf Memorial Award was presented to Shonda Williamson, medical liaison at the home on Selkirk Drive in Greece. Shonda was also presented the NYS Justice Center’s Code of Conduct Award.





Amy Marie Tessoni Advocacy Award

Congratulations to Emily Weldon, medical liaison at the home on Gates Greece Townline Road, for winning the Amy Marie Tessoni Advocacy Award.





Eunice Hanson Excellence in Nursing Award

Congratulations to Stephanie Hayes, registered nurse, for winning the Eunice Hanson Excellence in Nursing Award.





Paul W. Hanson Excellence Award

Congratulations to Sarah Vogt, residence manager at Respitewood in Webster, for winning the Paul W. Hanson Excellence Award.





VK Tarneja Empathy Award

Congratulations to Kameka Keller, community services coordinator, for winning the VK Tarneja Empathy Award.



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Heritage Christian Services raised its base starting wage for residential direct support workers. Most full-time residential direct support employees now earn a minimum wage of $17.25 an hour. Frontline residential staff also have the opportunity to earn up to $19 an hour for working certain shifts, including overnight, weekend and at certain locations. 1,739 frontline workers are benefitting from this boosted minimum wage.

The agency has also applied a 5.4% cost of living adjustment (COLA), which will positively impact the majority of our staff.

Heritage Christian made this change to continue efforts towards stabilizing the workforce. The agency is committed to ensuring that employees remain engaged in the work that they do and receive a wage consummate with their high-quality work and dedication.

“The care professionals in our community deserve more than minimum,” said Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O of Heritage Christian Services. “We are happy to work with entities at the local, state and national levels in advancing a well-compensated and equitable workforce.”

Employees and care professionals across the nation confront race and gender-related wage disparities. Geitner said, “This next step in increasing the wages of our frontline staff reflects our ongoing commitment to supporting and furthering diversity, equity and inclusion throughout our organization and industry.”


Governor Kathy Hochul continues to demonstrate her commitment to the success and wellbeing of people in direct support roles. Recognizing the challenges the direct support workforce has faced, she has advocated for four rounds of healthcare worker incentive payments to reward them for persevering through uncertainty. Two of these payments have been received so far. Heritage Christian Services is committed to the financial wellbeing of our frontline staff, and we are happy to see that same commitment reflected by the governor.


We are excited to announce we’ve launched a new and improved employee recognition program, called Heritage High Five. Staff members can give and receive recognition for work well done, and tie those recognitions back to our company values.

Supervisors also have the opportunity to attach points to recognitions which staff members can redeem for gift cards, electronics and household items. Special days like employment anniversaries and birthdays can be celebrated on Heritage High Five, with the opportunity for colleagues to quickly and easily share well wishes on an electronic greeting.

The response to this new program has been tremendous. In the month of August, our first month on the new platform, 73% of our full-time workforce were active in Heritage High Five, and supervisors sent an average of six High Fives each. We look forward to the program continuing to grow and anticipate adding employee survey capabilities in 2023.


Lisa Kulp has been promoted to director of community initiatives. Kulp, who previously served the agency as associate director of behavioral services, is ready for her new responsibilities.

“Stepping into this team of dedicated and hard-working care professionals is truly an honor,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working alongside them, as we provide much-needed supports to people in need throughout our community.”


The 2022 Women of Color Summit, presented by Eleversity, welcomed 285 attendees from across the state and beyond over the course of three dates. The virtual event’s theme, Authenticity in Action: Restoration in Practice, focused on experiences impacting women of color and featured keynote speakers LaKendra McNair, senior vice president of community banking marketing activation at M&T Bank for the mid-Atlantic region, Wanda Cooper, director of community impact at the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, and Angela Douglas, co-executive director of Vera House.


Several people we support were able to reunite at Rotary Sunshine Camp in Rush this summer, some after more than two years apart. It was wonderful to see so many in-person connections coming together once again.





Tim DeFeo has been promoted to director of facilities, overseeing daily operations of our maintenance, over 100 Heritage Christian Services properties and a staff of 20 across the Rochester and Buffalo-Niagara areas. Dan Stewart, who previously served in this capacity, has moved into a new role as director of property development.

“Tim has been instrumental in the agency’s growth, success, and footprint expansion,” shared Anna Mulcahy, senior vice president of finance. “[With] his experience within the organization and before joining the agency, Tim brings a wealth of talent and knowledge to his role.”

Tim has been a valued member of the agency for 11 years, holding a key supervisory role leading the facilities team and working to enrich quality of-life experiences at HCS through site maintenance and renovations. He also has been formally trained in Lean Six Sigma statistical process control and abatement processes.


Springdale Farm is pleased to announce Debra Carson as the newly appointed director. Carson has been employed at Heritage Christian Services since 2014 and previously served as manager of the Springdale Farm day habilitation program. She brings years of experience with her to help welcome back the animals that we relocated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Carson says: “After five years of continued support as a day program manager at Springdale Farm, I am blessed to have the opportunity to support the farm as the director. I’m looking forward to the opportunities going forward here at Springdale!”

The farm is also actively seeking other positions to support the return of animals to the site. Learn more at jobs.heritagechristianservices.org/ morejobs.


Rebecca Meagher has been promoted to senior director for Expressive Beginnings Child Care. Meagher is excited for her new responsibilities.

“I am honored to be given this opportunity and excited to take this next step,” Meagher said. “I look forward to the future growth and development of Expressive Beginnings, [and] with our team of directors and the support of Heritage [Christian Services] we will accomplish great things!”



Expressive Beginnings Child Care Greece welcomes new director, Caitlin Ditch. Ditch began her career at Expressive Beginnings Webster in 2011, and recently served the role of behavior specialist for all three locations before accepting her new position.

“I believe that when met with positive, nurturing relationships, and a supportive environment with proper supports in place, all children are capable of flourishing to their highest potential.”

Expressive Beginnings Webster also welcomes Stacey Warren as its director. Warren joined Expressive Beginnings in 2012 and had served previously as early childhood program advisor.

“Through relationship building, positive interactions and an emerging curriculum we have the opportunity to shape the minds that will someday go out into this world and make their mark. I am so honored to be able to be a part of such a magical process.”



Tiffany Basamon, MSN, RNBC, CNL began as Heritage Christian Services’ director of nursing in July 2022. Prior to joining the agency, she served at URMC as the assistant director of ambulatory nursing for Medical Specialties and Informatics. On joining Heritage Christian Services, she said, “The small, intimate community here and the ability to translate and make change, that’s a really exciting opportunity.”

She cites her brother as the reason for working in the field. He was born with a very rare genetic disorder called Kniest Dysplasia and diagnosed with moderate intellectual delays.

“I was his mother hen from the moment he was born, and he inspired my journey into healthcare,” she said. At age 6, she recalled staying up all night to supervise the RNs and make sure they weren’t sleeping during their shifts.

Tiffany holds degrees from SUNY Geneseo (BS), University of Rochester School of Nursing (BS, MS) and Roberts Wesleyan College (MS), and is expected to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in May 2023.

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Thanks to the generosity of our partners and donors, people touched by HCS have the opportunity to learn and grow and to be respected for their individual gifts and strengths. Thank you for making a difference.

Hoselton Auto Mall and Toyota have both given $10,000 to support Heritage Christian Services and our mission of building accessible homes for those we support to age in place. Two grants were also provided by ESL Bank, and one from KeyBank.

KeyBank Rochester Contributions Committee granted funds in support of the Women of Color Summit. The Summit, hosted by Heritage Christian Services’ Eleversity division, provides an uplifting environment for, by, and about women of color that promotes equity, education, and professional development.

We are grateful to the Walter Hubbell Employment Services Fund and the Rochester Red Wings which, over the last nine years, have generated $285,000 in support of our Employment Alliance.

Eleversity’s DEI Educational Event Sponsors

Wegmans Food Markets • Mower • Greater Rochester Health Foundation • M&T Bank • Monroe Community College • Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP • St. John Fisher College • The Community Foundation • Excellus BlueCross BlueShield • WNY Women’s Foundation • Finger Lakes Performing Provider System • Bryant and Stratton College • CARES of NY, Inc. • Evergreen Health • The YMCA • Best Self Behavioral Health • Coordinated Care Services, Inc. • Goddard Riverside • Paychex • Action for a Better Community • Center for Dispute Settlement • Trillium Health • United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes • Starbridge • PathStone Foundation • Common Ground Health • Positive Steps • Lawley Insurance • The Commission on the Status of Women

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A memorial event was held at Springdale Farm on September 15, to celebrate the lives of people we support and staff who lost their lives during Covid-19. Many were not able to hold traditional services during 2020 and 2021; this was the agency’s way of finally bringing everyone together. People from western New York held their own memorial event on September 29 at the Clarence Town Park Large Pavilion, for those who could not attend the Springdale event.

Mary Beth Ferguson’s life was marked by her warm, welcoming heart, and she embraced people and new adventures each day with gusto. She passed away on May 8.





Carlos Baez inspired many of his friends to remember to just keep on going. He passed away peacefully on July 3, surrounded by his friends and family.




Melissa “Missy” LeSage had the strongest laugh, and a courageous spirit. Missy passed away on July 14, surrounded by her family.





Donna Matthews, a friend to many, a breast cancer survivor since 2017 and a music enthusiast, passed away August 31.


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Memorials and Honorariums

Often people will make a donation in memory of a loved one who has passed away. The agency sends the bereaved family a note of sympathy and informs them of the gift, without disclosing the amount. People also mark joyous occasions – like birthdays, anniversaries and weddings – by donating in honor of a friend or family member. Sue Hoh, donor relations manager, can help you through the process. Call her at (585) 340-2045.