Spirit Newsletter

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Each year Heritage Christian honors two community partners with awards, one in the Buffalo area and one in the Rochester region. This year the Community Partner Award recognizes St. Brendan on the Lake Roman Catholic Parish and Home Leasing

Home Leasing

Debt and financial strain affect employees at work with stress and health-related challenges, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s one of many reasons why Heritage Christian Services has supported its employees to achieve better financial health and wellbeing.

The most recent initiative is Heritage Gardens in Henrietta, which is Home Leasing’s new apartment community constructed with people from HCS in mind. While entry to Heritage Gardens is open to all income-eligible applicants, its original vision was to offer quality, affordable living to both direct support workers and people served by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

This Home Leasing project adds to Heritage Christian’s efforts to assist employees with their personal economic development. For example, HCS offers an agency-funded retirement plan, a 403B option, free tax preparation and a first-time homebuyers club, tuition assistance and more.

As the agency grows to assist more people, a capable and reliable workforce must grow as well to meet the needs. Anything that can be accomplished to help employees is a win for the people they serve as well. †

Watch Home Leasing’s Community Partner Award Video.


St. Brendan on the Lake

St. Brendan on the Lake Roman Catholic Parish Sometimes a spur of the moment decision can result in an amazing new beginning. That was the case when Rabecca Ortiz, manager of an HCS Without Walls day program in Buffalo, decided to pay an impromptu visit to St. Brendan on the Lake Roman Catholic Parish. A lifelong friend of hers, who also has two grandchildren who choose services from Heritage Christian, suggested that she visit the church, thinking that the women that she supports would enjoy being a part of the community there.

When she and the women who attend the day program – Missy Weiser, Lisa Downing, Lesile Bohall and Nicole Susco – stopped in to introduce themselves to the staff at St. Brendan, an instant friendship was formed. “The staff at the church knew that the ladies were interested in volunteering at the parish, so they decided they would ‘give us a try’,” said Ortiz. “That ‘try’ has developed into a deep friendship that goes well beyond the time that the women spend there volunteering.”

It’s now been two years since the women first arrived to help clean the church, but to the Rev. Józef Dudzik, it feels like their partnership has existed for much longer. “We want to express the gratitude that we have,” said Dudzik. “Their dedication and work ethic show through in the time and care of every project.”

But beyond the time and talent that the women give in their volunteer work, true and lasting friendships have been formed. “Father Józef prays for the women each week during Sunday service, and likewise, Leslie invites Father Józef and the staff at St. Brendan to join her in devotions each week,” Ortiz noted. “We celebrate holidays and birthdays together, and the staff at the church even came out to Camp Kenan this summer to spend time with the ladies.”

What has left the most lasting impression on Ortiz is how each woman is valued and recognized as an individual by their friends at the church, not just as a group that comes to volunteer. She also notes that the friendships that women have formed at the church have changed their lives in tangential ways, by giving them the confidence and courage to be comfortable and open with other new people that they meet as well.

“This program has not only proven its success in the fact that it allows personal growth in skills and learning, self-confidence, purpose and pride but has become such a blessing in immeasurable ways,” Ortiz said.

Watch St. Brendan’s Community Partner Award Video.

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We wouldn’t be where we are, nearly 35 years later, without strong partnerships. In fact, the first home we ever built was on land donated by United Church of Christ in Webster. This edition of Spirit celebrates the power of those relationships – and the ones we create every day by working side-by-side.


The work we do together is big and meaningful. It is not work that is easily described through the success of projects and tasks, but the sum of our parts BUILDS COMMUNITY! In the pages that follow you’ll read about many of our accomplishments and about the partners who have made a difference with us. You’ll learn about award winners and donors and volunteers. You’ll read stories about how people have grown and been offered new experiences. And you’ll see satisfaction in the faces of people who are thriving because they are employed – like Adam Whiteman, pictured on the cover, who works in asset protection at Wegmans. Hopefully you’ll be inspired and encouraged.

It’s good work that we’re doing. All of us.

Thank you for standing with us.


Marisa Geitner, President & C.E.O.

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The agency recently honored Marc O’Mara and Renee Pradia with its top awards: The Anne Wolf Memorial Award and the Jobina Bruinsma Memorial Award. Both awards recognize Christian leadership and outstanding advocacy.

O’Mara has worked at HCS for 19 years as a direct support professional and is known for his steadfast dedication. Pradia has served as a direct support professional at HCS for 12 years and is known for how she focuses on what is most important to each person.


Watch Mark’s Anne Wolf Memorial Award Video.

Watch Renee’s Jobina Bruinsma Memorial Award Video.



Congratulations to Foundation board member Geoff Cook for winning the 2018 Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Genesee Valley Chapter. He was recognized for his volunteer efforts at Heritage Christian, the Seneca Waterways Council of Boy Scouts and more.





Congratulations to Lida Merrill, director of our Faith Community Inclusion team, on receiving the 2018 Henri Nouwen Award! This prestigious award recognizes her for ensuring that people with disabilities are welcomed, supported and engaged in learning and living lives of faith. It is given by the Religion and Spirituality Network of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.



In 34 years, HCS has grown from one home to serving more than 22,500 people a year, and at the heart of that growth is a core group of long-serving employees who have rarely been recognized with awards and recognitions. They’ve always been appreciated, though, and that’s why they’ve been inducted into the inaugural Spirit of Excellence class. We worked closely with agency founders, and in particular with former HCS President Bob Pieters, to select this group, and they are all certainly worthy of our honor and our gratitude: Jane Kitchenman; Bob Pieters; Ruth Benjamin; Ron Little; Diane Sturmer; Maureen Phillips; Nancy Dwyer; Ann Meyer; Kathy Schlegel; Terry DeMar; Kris Garcia; Julie Owen; and Joanne Case-Green.

To read about their specific accomplishments, visit HeritageChristianServices.org/blog.

As with these inductees, future Spirit of Excellence members will have significant tenure within the organization and have demonstrated great impact through their devoted support.

Above: The inagural Spirit of Excellence class.

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From offering job coaching to high school students to providing dozens of new housing opportunities, Heritage Christian and its partners have reason to celebrate.

“We’re meeting people’s needs, which is causing us to grow,” said Drew Bielemeier, senior vice president of operations. “We’re being creative and stretching ourselves to try new things.”

For years, the state has pulled back on opening new certified homes. In those homes people typically live with five or six roommates and receive 24-hour staff support. Recently, though, HCS received funding for three new certified homes that will serve 18 people.

In addition, the agency works with people who would like to choose the number of roommates they have and decide what staffing works best for them. In the last seven years, 28 people have moved from certified homes to more customized homes – and that gave 28 other people the opportunity to live in certified homes operated by Heritage Christian.

More customized homes are planned, including one where a donor gave $125,000 to ensure people with complex medical needs had the opportunity to live independently.

In the past, HCS served mainly adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Today, the agency offers behavioral services, self-directed plans and job coaching to young people with disabilities – and is preparing to open its fourth child care center to serve children of all abilities.

“More than one-third of the people we support with a self-directed plan are under the age of 18,” said Julie Owen, director of customized supports. And the number of people interested in mapping out the supports and services that are most important to them is growing as well. Already HCS supports more than 300 people with self-directed plans.

Thanks to a grant from our partners at the Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation, HCS’ Employment Alliance is sharing its work preparedness expertise with high school students at Edison High School in Rochester.

A grant from the Walter Hubbell Employment Services Fund is also helping the Employment Alliance provide a job coach for people who are moving beyond a job and into a career.

Heritage Christian is also focused on its own employees. In fact, the agency invested more than $3 million in raises and other monetary rewards to help retain and attract dedicated staff members. It also partnered with Home Leasing to open Heritage Gardens, which is affordable housing adjacent to the campus of the Pieters Family Life Center.

All of that makes a difference because 30 percent of employees have been at HCS five years or longer – and that percentage includes employees in our newer services that haven’t been available for five years yet.

“We know that keeping our staff members means we are able to offer better support,” Bielemeier said. “We’re proud of the relationships we’re building every day.”

Watch a video that shows Heritage Christian’s impact by the numbers.



Last November the day program at Ellison Park moved into a space inside Expressive Beginnings Child Care in Webster and brought with them a new opportunity for partnership.

“We believe that the diversity that the day program contributes is so important because we want the children and families of EBCC Webster to be a part of a context where each person’s uniqueness is appreciated and valued,” said center director Kelly Giudice.

The people who attend Ellison have given presentations on bullying and Martin Luther King to some EBCC classrooms, and during the summer camp season they helped serve lunches. In the process, real relationships have formed.

“It’s been so positive, it’s great to see the kids call people by their name and say hi,” said day program manager Lezlie Singleton. For example, one woman reads to a class of preschoolers on Wednesdays. “The kids really enjoyed Ms. Lisa coming to read to them. At the end of the year they invited her to their graduation and gave her a card and flowers, which she hasn’t stopped talking about!”



Mara Wright told her Employment Alliance job coach that she loved working with food, and when a job became available at a DiBella’s Sub shop, it was a perfect fit. Wright has worked at DiBella’s now for seven years, and works mostly independently from her job coach.

“When we can find a company that really wants to work with people and respects their individual gifts and talents, then we’ve found a place where people can really flourish,” said Maria Kirkpatrick, associate director of the Employment Alliance in WNY.

“We love the partnership that we have with Heritage Christianˮ, said Lisa Dowd, manager at DiBella’s. “Mara is hard working, kind, courteous and always willing to do whatever we ask of her!”

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Evelyn Miller – a faithful donor to Heritage Christian Services, a Leadership Circle member, a mother, grandmother and great grandmother – recently celebrated her 100th birthday! She has accomplished so much in her lifetime and is always looking for ways to give.

Miller and her family came to know the Pieters and Bruinsma families almost 40 years ago, when they were just starting Heritage Christian Services. She said, “We just wanted to belong somewhere, and we finally did. It was really exciting!”

Her daughter, Mary Ann, now lives in a home on Hillrise Drive. When asked why she gives to HCS, Miller said, “We really had faith in what HCS was doing and I still do.”

She believes people have a responsibility to do their part to help others. “I hope that my donations, even if they are small, help HCS reach and care for people that don’t have the resources for services.”

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Volunteer Spotlight

Geoff Tucker

Geoff Tucker has been a volunteer with Heritage Christian Stables since 2009. After retiring from his job he wanted to fill some time. He has always loved horses and thought the stables would be a good fit.

Over these past nine years Tucker has made connections with riders, fellow volunteers and riding instructors through encouragement and friendship. He continues to volunteer twice a week, all year around. He was even the judge for the annual Heritage Christian Stables Stall Break event.

Those who work with Tucker say he is dedicated, has a great sense of humor and is fun to be around. Tucker encourages anybody who has a little time to come see what Heritage Christian Stables is all about and volunteer. Thank you Geoff for choosing to volunteer with the stables!

Watch Geoff’s Heritage Christian Stables Video.

Heritage Happenings



HCS International Ministries volunteers recently served children and adults at a retreat camp in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. They also helped match people with suitable wheelchairs. This mission follows the work of 11 people who worked with area neighbors to accomplish a wheelchair distribution plus built two homes in the Central Highlands of Purulhá in August.



causewash.com ■ donate a car ■ gifts in kind ■ thrift store purchases ■ employer matched gifts ■ monthly donations online

With the parable of the mustard seed in mind, we recognize how even the smallest seed can grow to fill a countryside. Many people support Heritage Christian Services in little ways that are realized as a tremendous collective contribution. A gift of any amount shows your belief that all people deserve dignity and respect. For ideas, visit: Heritagechristianservices.org/donate/more-ways-to-give.



Please recognize the hard work and dedication of a Heritage Christian employee by sending a High Five. To forward your appreciation to the staff member and supervisor, visit the link at the top of our new website. In addition, we launched a second website with direct support job seekers in mind. If you know people who should apply, share with them: jobs.HeritageChristianServices.org.



Left to right: Day of Caring volunteers make a difference by helping with everything from gardening to building benches, Donors support HCS in a variety of ways, like raising $106,000 at the Heritage Hero 5K + Mile Stroll & Roll, International Ministries in Purulha, Ruth Mann, Dena Spence, Nakia Hall and Olivia Glover celebrate at the 2018 Annual Dinner.

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Economists and market experts predicted a shortage of human services workers for years – including nurses – and that prediction has come true. Heritage Christian Services is recruiting RNs, LPNs and on-call nurses.

“While some nurses carry on with patients day-to-day, perhaps not having an opportunity to get to know people, our nurses get to experience the joy of being in people’s lives throughout their lifetimes,” said Ruth Benjamin, a 30-year Heritage Christian veteran and director of health management and research. Benjamin said that unlike some medical settings, the HCS nursing staff is a total team network where colleagues are encouraged to rely on each other with the same dedication and trust as they extend to people they support.

As a show of her sincerity, Benjamin recently held for her staff a capping and pinning ceremony of olden charm. The donning of a nurse’s cap was once symbolic of a nurse’s passage from studies to the profession. Benjamin added to her staff meeting by encouraging the nurses to create caps and then take part in an uplifting ceremony.

Benjamin said, “To bring other nurses into…the family of Heritage means everything to me. And I think these times together just build a better team.”

Watch the nursing team capping ceremony video.

Left to right: The nurses of Heritage Christian Services together for the capping and pinning ceremony, Ruth Benjamin caps Charmaine Pemberton alongside Jane Kitchenman, a retired agency RN.

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The Spaghetti Dinner and Basket Auction, presented by Parkview Health Services, was a record breaking success, raising $22,000. More than 140 theme baskets were raffled off and over 400 spaghetti dinners were sold.  We are grateful for the support of: Integrity Auto  ■  West Herr Automotive Group  ■  Wegmans



More than 200 guests attended the 2nd annual Boots & Barrels at the Heritage Christian Stables and raised over $60,000 for the program. The event featured a barbecue dinner, craft beer tastings, line dancing, auctions and live music. Special thanks for the generous support of Lawley.




The 28th annual Golf Classic raised more than $160,000 through its sponsorships, auctions and cash call. More than 160 golfers participated in the day of golf at Monroe Golf Club– including longtime agency friends Steve and Sarah Tasker.



Thank you for the support of:


ESL Charitable Foundation  ■  Kasperski Dinan & Rink CPAs, LLC ■  ePlus    DELL  ■  Douglas Electric ■  ImageNow by Mahar ■ M/E Engineering, P.C.   Medline Industries  ■  Northwest Bank ■  Rochester Lead Works  ■  Sage Rutty  ■  The Bonadio Group ■ Toshiba Business Solutions  ■ Vision Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram ■ Wahl Media  ■  Western Concrete



Heritage Christian Services was excited to partner with Seabreeze Amusement Park to host the Heritage Hero 5K + Mile Stroll & Roll. It was the first 5K run and mile walk to start and finish inside of Seabreeze! More than 600 people came out to run, stroll and roll and raised $106,000 for the Foundation. Race director Kelly Nash said, “The Rochester area is saturated with 5Ks and having our event at Seabreeze definitely added some excitement and uniqueness to our race. The staff at Seabreeze were equally excited about this debut and the runners, walkers and rollers loved it!”


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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.

The Office of People With Developmental Disabilities awarded Heritage Christian Services a $100,200 grant for five years to provide supportive services to families that care for a family member with a developmental disability who lives at home.

The Hoselton Foundation provided HCS with a $15,500 grant to repurpose a walk-out basement at an HCS program site into a repair and maintenance shop for wheelchairs, allowing Heritage Christian to more quickly and efficiently service the wheelchairs of the individuals we support.

HCS’ International Ministries program received support from The Chapel’s Kingdom Come initiative, which will allow Heritage Christian staff to continue the organization’s mission and serve individuals with developmental disabilities in developing countries.

Through a grant from the ALSTOM Signaling Foundation, HCS will be able to provide scholarships and subsidies to individuals in the therapeutic horseback riding program.

We are grateful to the Walter Hubbell Employment Services Fund and the Rochester Red Wings, who, for the fifth consecutive year, provided funds to Heritage Christian Services’ Employment Alliance to support employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A donation of $500 was made for each individual that played for the Red Wings in 2018, for a total of $33,500.

Bob and Marie Pieters recognized four staff members, nominated by their HCS peers, with the Pieters Family Award of Excellence: Joseph Starling, Christenia Hemstreet, Kelly Horschel and Teresa DeMar. The special guests were recognized for their unwavering support of people with disabilities and for their lasting contributions to the field of human services.




Many corporations have philanthropic programs in which they match charitable donations of their employees. Consider asking your employer how your gift to the Heritage Christian Services Foundation can have twice its impact!



Salt Road is a busy place. It boasts a residential home, a day program and Heritage Christian Stables, so when United Way Day of Caring comes around, they appreciate the help!

This year 75 people came together from Excellus BCBS, Excellus EPMO2, Paychex, Webster Chamber of Commerce and Xerox to pitch in at all three sites. Landscaping was weeded and mulched, fences were repaired and painted, doors were stained, stalls were cleaned and much more, including building a brand new bench.

“Xerox has been coming for years and they have a group of people who are great builders and problem solvers. I will give them something we want built and they just draw up the plans and give me a materials list,” said Lorrie Renker, director of the Heritage Christian Stables.


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Vincent Morreale has always found different ways to express himself, but his passion for art is something that blossomed after the Club Adventure respite program partnered with Shawn’s Gate Art Studio in Lewiston to offer a program on Friday night.

His mom, Rose, said his artwork has helped him find a new voice.

“It’s interesting because his paintings can show you the kind of mood he’s in. There are darker and harsher strokes if he’s not in a good mood, but if he is in a good mood, it’s rainbows and bright blue skies,” she said. “I have a window into his thoughts and feelings more now than I ever have before. If we’re having trouble communicating, I’ll ask him if he wants to draw me a picture and that really helps to give me insight into what he’s thinking or feeling.”

Barb Gray, the owner of Shawn’s Gate, said she opened the studio in large part so that people of all abilities could create art together in a community that was inclusive. “Here in the studio, you’ll find seasoned artists working right next to people who are just learning, which is something that’s not very common in the art community.”

As for her friendship with Morreale, she said they connected on a deep level right away. “Vincent and I bonded almost immediately in his first session, and now my weeks are different when I don’t get to see him. He’s a great student and a great teacher. He teaches me more than I teach him.”

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Christopher Wesley, a man known for his love of music, the outdoors and especially for the love he had for his family – passed away in April. He was 53.



Joe Klosek, passed away in May. He was 51, always made it a priority to stay close to family and loved to dress like the Fonz.



Barbara Klisz, passed away in June. She was 28, and she enjoyed making dog treats and toys to donate to local animal shelters. Her infectious smile will be missed.