A Silver Lining

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the staff at Turnstone to physically close the center, they found a way to open many other doors for today and tomorrow.
May 6, 2020
Jennifer Blomquist
Jeffrey Crane

For the first time in our 76-year history, our method of service and interaction is really being challenged, but that doesn’t make our mission or our services any less important,” says Stasha Carrasquillo, chief marketing officer for Turnstone Center for Children & Adults with Disabilities in Fort Wayne. “We’ve really taken that to heart in how we continue providing the critical services and support we know are so important to so many people.”

On March 17, Turnstone’s doors had to be closed to clients and the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What could have ended up as a disastrous situation has actually turned into a very positive one.

“We didn’t miss a beat,” says Denise Hughes, chief program officer at Turnstone. “We established a process right away in all of the program areas to ensure that at least weekly, if not more often, contact is being made by program staff to their specific clients to make sure their physical, mental and emotional needs are being met. Any time there is a need, be it food; be it utility payments; we immediately refer them to our social services department. Our social service team is making calls and ensuring our clients’ needs are being met. At the same time, social service team members are also taking calls from the community. People who aren’t our clients are welcome to call to inquire about getting help, too. I’m just really proud of all of our staff. They’ve done an awesome job of stepping up.”

Turnstone has a long history of providing numerous services to adults and children with disabilities, such as speech, occupational and physical therapy. The facility on North Clinton Street is home to seven programs and services that serve people of all ages. The campus also features an impressive, state-of-the-art fieldhouse and recreational center for a variety of adaptive sports for beginners up through Paralympic competitors.

As a nonprofit organization, Turnstone has been blessed with several decades of strong financial support from the Fort Wayne region.

“Seventy-percent of our annual budget is supported by donors, local philanthropy organizations and grants,” says Carrasquilllo. “The other 30 percent comes from billable fees that we are not able to bill for right now since we don’t have people in the building. We’re not only looking to some of the relief efforts coming down the pipeline, but our development team is still working with the relationships we have with our donors who are able and interested to help and taking some of those efforts online as well.”

Carrasquillo and her team say the digital age has been a saving grace to the Turnstone mission. Now, instead of meeting face-to-face with clients, the staff can interact with them and provide services in a virtual manner. Telemedicine is also being introduced for the first time at Turnstone to clients whose services make them eligible.

“For a great number of our clients and even their caregivers and families, we are an integral social outlet,” says Mike Mushett, Turnstone CEO. “Now that is being disrupted. People are more socially isolated in their homes and a lot of our clients live by themselves or with one caregiver. We are offering virtual programming that addresses social isolation. Our staff has really embraced that. We all recognize that this needs to be a priority.”

“We’re staying engaged with our clients by putting our staff in front of the camera,” says Rena Shown, chief development officer at Turnstone. “They’re doing this from their homes and that creates more of a connection with our clients as well because they’re seeing our staff in a little bit of a different way. So, while we might be physically distancing ourselves, we don’t need to be socially distancing ourselves and we’re using these videos to keep that social connection in place.”

The videos can be specific to each client, depending on that person’s age and needs and offer creative solutions to the way various activities can still be done.

“Our health and wellness and our sports and rec staff are doing things like wheelchair basketball drills that anyone could do in their living room or in their garage,” says Carrasquillo. “We have a staff member who is doing a live online adaptive yoga class. Our early learning center serves children of all abilities, ages 2 to 12. We can’t work with the kiddos in our classrooms right now, but our staff has done a great job of making videos where they sing the songs that are sung at the center and they work on basic self-help skills like showing the kids how to properly wash their hands, something that’s very important especially now with the pandemic.”

And then there’s Milo.

“One of our occupational therapists has a golden retriever therapy dog named Milo,” says Hughes. “So, some of the video content she’s creating has included Milo in it just like he would be included in the therapy she does at Turnstone. And we have a form on our website where people can send letters to Milo since they can’t see him in person right now. The notes from the kids have just been heartwarming with them telling us how much they miss Milo and they can’t wait to come back to Turnstone and give him a hug.”

While no one at Turnstone would have ever wished for the center to be closed for many weeks, the staff agrees there are definitely positive things that have come out of this ordeal… a silver lining, if you will.

“It’s very likely that virtual Turnstone will continue even past COVID-19,” says Carrasquillo. “I think we’re going to see that in society as a whole. A lot of the ways we’re adapting and coping right now, are just going to become the new normal. We want people to know that Turnstone is here to serve needs and we have the adaptability and the commitment to make that happen. We’re always here for everybody no matter what.” 

Turnstone Center for Children & Adults with Disabilities

Address: 3320 N. Clinton St. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805

Phone: (260) 483-2100

Website: turnstone.org

Products & Services: Turnstone is northeast Indiana’s only free-standing nonprofit organization providing a comprehensive continuum of support services addressing the unique needs of people with physical, visual, neurological and developmental disabilities and their families.

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