When Steven Oill saw a job advertisement for a family support services coordinator at Community Human Services in Glenville, he was immediately intrigued. One of the top requirements was you had to be the parent of a kid with a disability, Oill said. `So I thought ‘I qualify for that, what else do they do?’ and it was things that I’d already been doing at my son’s old pre-school.`
Before working at CHS, Oill worked at St. Catherine’s Center for Children in Albany. He had run group homes, been a supervisor at the shelters and said he `really enjoyed it.`
CHS works to `provide or facilitate services for families and individuals, including education, counseling, referral or other support, by bringing together professional staff, volunteers and broad community support,` according to its mission statement.
`Support and advocacy are big,` said Oill. He said advocates are typically thought of as the people who act as the `bulldog in the situation.`
`At CHS, we believe (in doing) the opposite of that,` he said.
Oill helps families get to know the law. Regulations, he said, are accessible to anyone.
CHS holds individual and group meetings every week, even if they have to be done over the phone.
`We help parents network with other parents who are having the same concerns,` said Oill. `When you realize you’re not alone, it’s very comforting.`
The hard part for parents is that having a child with a disability is an emotional issue, Oill said. Because of that, Oill works with the parents to `really get in tune with their emotions` before meetings with their child’s school.
CHS is certified, through Saratoga County Family Support Services, to provide parents with emotional support through support groups. Right now, CHS has two support groups, but Oill said he helps parents find groups specific to their needs, if the ones offered don’t suffice. If he can’t find a group that exists, he will try to help the parents create a group, even if it’s just two parents.
`Two people getting together who have similar concerns, that’s a support group,` said Oill. . `To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s two people or 20.`
CHS holds educational trainings once a month. Oill leads some of the training classes, like a class on preparing for school vacations. In this class, Oill teaches parents how to make the vacation more enjoyable, both for the parents and the child.
`I was meeting with a young grandmother who had custody of her grandchildren,` Oill said, `and she was concerned about a school vacation coming up. I worked with her and showed her what she needed to do. She thought it was very helpful and that it went much smoother than other vacations.`
In the class, Oill advises parents on every aspect of the vacation, from brainstorming activities to making a schedule, to dealing with negative behavior. But Oill said the most important part of the vacation is to `have fun. It sounds so clichE but it’s so true. It’s really good for your kid because then they feel like you want to be with them. And when they feel like you want to be with them, they feel better no matter what their situation or disability is.`
If the topic of the class is more complex, Oill may bring in a speaker. In the past, CHS has held classes on preparing an estate when you’re a parent of a special needs child. For a topic like this, Oill said CHS can bring in lawyers and insurance companies.
The classes and support groups help bridge the gap of the community, said Oill. The purpose of CHS is to bring together parents with common concerns, helping them to see they are not alone in their worries.
`I’m really proud of the work that I do because it’s very unique,` said Oill. `I’ve been in human services for almost 20 years now and this is the first time I’ve seen something like this.`
CHS also has a childcare program, so parents can attend classes and support groups. The program is small, Oill said, but he hopes to see it grow as CHS gets more funding.
Oill said CHS has really grown over the last three years. Over the last three years and has started to work even more with families and the school district.
`I want school districts to feel like they’re not always happy about dealing with the FSS (family support services) program but they respect it and it’s done well. If they can walk away saying that we’re fair, that we’re reasonable, then that’s a good day’s work,` Oill said.“