Happy Birthday Ryan!

Ryan Bday Collage 2017Ryan turned 26 today!

AJ Pinto wedding

At Adrian and Kristi Pinto’s wedding, August 2019

As I write those words, I find it difficult to believe that 26 years have passed.

It was just yesterday…..

Ryan was 4 months and starting Happy Hearts, the Barber Center child care program

located down the street from our main building. Its close proximity provided me the opportunity to visit during lunch and check in on him. And then he celebrated his first birthday with a “party” with his fellow classmates.

Soon after his diagnosis at 2, we were implementing ABA programs mornings, afternoons, and weekends.  He was a busy young man!!!! And so was I. It was “hard work,” but I do attribute much of his success to the intensity of the program in his very early years. He loved visiting his Aunt Tootie (Dr. Barber), sitting on her couch, and eating the special crackers she kept just for him.

From elementary through middle school, he was fortunate to have some strong

administrators (especially Mrs. Mosely) and caring teachers who challenged him to be the best he could be. By the time he was in high school, he was ready to say goodbye to school and move into the world of work. He volunteered at Bello’s Market as a Junior and Senior, and was offered a job there upon graduation. He continues to work there Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings, completing their maintenance needs. Hard to believe, but he’s been employed there 6 years! Afternoons find him working with our Transitional Work Service program in maintenance. He loves working! He has probably the best work ethic of any young person that I know.

Ryan 1 day old

Ryan when he was 1 day old!

Another facet of Ryan is his interest in and commitment to fitness. This summer, he was on the golf course after work and on weekends. I do laugh, it takes me three shots to get to his 250 yard drive! Ryan started young; he participated

 in the kid’s marathon at age nine, and has been running ever since. He completed the Barber Beast on the Bay for the 5th year in a row, and was smiling as he crossed the finish line, after running 10 miles!

As I look back over the years, I know that I have so much to be grateful for: family, friends, outstanding staff, and the Erie community that welcomes children and adults with disabilities.

And the future??? My expectations continue to be high. Who knows what the future will bring? He has accomplished much more than I ever would have dreamed!

Tune in next year and I’ll fill you in on what Ryan’s 26th year held!


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Happy Thanksgiving!

As Thanksgiving approaches (and the Ladies Only Luncheon is history), I always take a moment to think about what I am thankful for. I’ll share a few of my thoughts…feel free to add on!

I am thankful for:

  • Ryan, who has taught me much, and helps me be a better person each day
  • My return to good health and the many friends who have encouraged me since my fall
  • My family who has always been there for me in good times and those that were challenging
  • The creative, committed and enthusiastic staff members who work with our children, adults, and their families
  • The children and adults themselves, who remind me every day that life is precious, and that each of us is given special gifts to share with others
  • Everyone who supports the work and the mission of the Barber National Institute. The dreams of Gertrude Barber continue to grow and flourish
  • The Erie community which is coming together to move us forward to a bright future
  • A country founded on the values of freedom, liberty, and justice for all

Happy Thanksgiving!



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Reach. Educate. Inspire.

This week is American Education Week, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education. This year’s theme is “Reach. Educate. Inspire,” and will be reflected in special observances each day of the weeklong celebration.

american education week

A good teacher can change a student’s life, creating worlds of opportunity, shaping the future and inspiring dreams. In honor of American Education Week, I thought I would share a story about three educators who impacted my life and Ryan’s.

Of course, I will begin with Dr. Gertrude Barber. She thought of herself first and foremost as a teacher. Yes, she was a school psychologist, a CEO, but “teacher” would have been her favorite profession.

Sister Eulalia, the principal of Villa Maria Grade School, was an English scholar. She instilled in me the knowledge and importance of good grammar. We spent hours diagramming prayers as a means of understanding subject/verb agreement, the error in dangling participles, and sentence fragments. When we entered Sister’s classroom, our knees were shaking and our hands were trembling, we were so nervous that we would make a mistake! However, we survived and today I credit my writing skills to Sister Eulalia.


Of course, I also think of the teachers who have such a positive impact on Ryan’s learning. The first that comes to mind is Mrs. T, a retired first grade teacher who tutored him from first grade to fifth grade. Mrs. T’s guiding philosophy was that if a student isn’t learning, then we must change how we teach him – a sentiment that echoes throughout the Elizabeth Lee Black School.

Who were your shining lights? Who inspired your dreams? It’s never too late to reach out to those people who made an impact in your life to tell them “Thank You!”

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As today is World Kindness Day, I began thinking…


Initiated in 1997, this is a day set aside to focus on extending kindly acts towards others, without the expectation of anything in return. While it would be nice to say that every day should be World Kindness Day, the reality is that sometimes work, current events, and other personal challenges can get the best of us. Not to mention that as soon as we open the newspaper or turn on the television, we are confronted with everything from violence in the world to political debates that sometimes focus on the negative. We could surely use an entire day dedicated to kindness!

Certainly, there are a number of benefits to kindness:  less stress, improved relationships and a heightened sense of well-being.

I also believe that kindness goes hand in hand with being positive. If you have read my past blogs, you know that I have often written that I view my cup as half-filled and definitely not half-empty. Even with my latest “predicament,” falling and fracturing my femur, I really think that I am fortunate that it was not more serious.  Yes, my cup is half-full.

Kindness is something you instill in your child from a very early age.  It can be as simple as saying “thank you” or doing an act of kindness.

kindnessRyan and I talk about kindness every day. We strive to model the kind behavior Jesus demonstrated. By completing chores around the house, carrying my bags to the car, or following his nine rules, Ryan incorporates acts of kindness into his day-to-day life. However, he sometimes goes overboard and will repeatedly thank you for helping him, but that is OK from my perspective.

My favorite compliment: You’re the best Mother ever!  I can’t hear that enough!

So whatever your take is on kindness, I am sure that you will agree that we should have 365 days of kindness and not just one!

Happy World Kindness Day!

world kindness day

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VSA Conference Reflection: Guest Blog by Shari Mastalski

Our artist in residency, dancer Shari Mastalski, recently attended a national conference on the Arts and Special Education. She wanted to share her thoughts with you. 

~ Maureen

Dance Around the World, the 2019-20 creative dance residency at the Barber National Institute is made possible by a VSA Arts Connect All contract with the Kennedy Center.  As part of the contract, one person must attend the VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference.  I was selected for this elegant, eye-opening, engaging privilege.

For two wonderfully intense days, I was immersed in an environment of artists, teachers, administrators, and world changers who were all focused on arts and special education.  There were eight break-out sessions, with six impossible-to-make choices in each.  Though I was delighted with each session, I’m still wondering what the other forty had to offer!  I attended sessions on dance, theater arts, music, visual arts, leadership, adapting to students with the highest needs, and student assessment.


Shari at the Arts and Special Education Conference

Reflection can be difficult.  It is never enough to say, nice, great, fun, and I learned a lot of stuff.  When I teach, I ask myself and those involved some dig-deeper questions that include:  What did we do or learn?  What does it mean?  Why does it matter?  What lessons can we take away and use? 

A good place to begin, I learned what some of my questions are, because you can’t get answers until you know the questions.  How can we assess outcomes?  How can we apply what we teach to a diverse variety of special needs?  How can we apply the arts to the ongoing classroom experience (teaching the teachers)?  There may have been some answers, but more importantly, I can now better attune myself to the quest.  I am encouraged to know that my narrative, subjective, story-form of assessment is appropriate and often the best option.  More than one workshop leader emphasized the importance of personal presence.  Show up mindful, appreciative, and curious to open the space to wonderful possibilities regardless the set of needs, abilities, and challenges.

One session leader, Elaine Hall said, “I can’t cure autism, but I can help cure isolation and self-judgment.”  In her segment, Setting the Stage: Inclusion from Within, Elaine gave a 60-second method to create an inclusive environment.  For 30 seconds, look at everyone in the room with distrust and judgment.  Then for an additional 30 seconds, look at everyone in the room with curiosity, acceptance, and appreciation.  That was a sparkling moment.

With the conference focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, here’s an example of how I experienced that.  In Celebrating Dance and Deaf Perspective, Antoine Hunter (a man who is deaf) clearly created a space where all felt included and welcomed into the dance.  That sums up the conference, welcoming and inclusive.  Thank you for the opportunity!

KC_VSA_Contract logo Eng bw

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#Choose PT!

There are several month-long observances and events in October. While I have already touched on some (employment, maintaining a positive attitude, Down Syndrome awareness, anti-bullying – links to all), there is one more observance I would like to discuss: National Physical Therapy Month.


Chris Gross, MSPT and Barbara Gleason, MSPT

Designated by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), National Physical Therapy Month raises awareness of physical therapy as a safe, effective alternative route to medication.

It’s also a time to celebrate the wonderful work done by health professionals who help people find relief from pain, improve mobility, and live healthier lives.

In honor of National Physical Therapy Month, I invited our two physical therapists, Christina Gross (MSPT) and Barbara Gleason (MSPT), to share their stories as to why they chose this field.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in physical therapy?

Chris: I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field and physical therapy was a high-demand career at the time.  Initially, I thought I would pursue a career in sports physical therapy, but found neuro-rehabilitation to be more interesting to me.

Barbara: I went to college knowing I wanted to do something in the medical field other than being a doctor or nurse, but I really didn’t know what field I wanted to pursue.   I had an opportunity to work with a physical therapist during college and found it quite interesting.  I have always wanted to work in a field that keeps me moving physically and where I can have direct contact with people.  Physical therapy definitely allows me the benefits of both of those criteria.  I am a people person and enjoy the direct contact that physical therapy provides.

What do you like best about working in physical therapy?

Chris: I have worked in all types of settings over the past 23 years.  The best part of being a physical therapist in any setting is being able to celebrate the success of your client achieving a goal.  Knowing that I helped to contribute to their success is what keeps me going.

Barbara: My favorite aspect of being a physical therapist is definitely getting to know my clients/students.  We spend a lot of time one on one with them, and it is so rewarding when you see them progress.   Many people are so focused on large gains, but as a physical therapist, we are trained to see all the improvements including the small ones, and it is nice to point these out.

Do you have any dislikes? 

Chris: I enjoy working directly with the client.  I also enjoy research and learning about new things that are being “discovered” in the world of physical therapy.  I most dislike doing paperwork!

Barbara: The part of the job that is least enjoyable is definitely the paper work.  I do not have a long attention span when I sit in front of a computer, and my typing skills are not the strongest.  One of the reasons I went into physical therapy was so I wouldn’t have to sit at a computer all day.  Luckily, we get to move a lot in this job.

Any comments or stories you would like to share? 

Chris: As a physical therapist in the school setting, I am always amazed at how resilient and adaptable kids are. I am especially impressed by how they find ways to be mobile, despite their physical challenges.  I try to give the students I work with tools to help them move better, but their motivation to move is really the driving force behind much of what I do here.

Barbara: It is great to be in a field that is devoted to helping people. No matter how busy or stressful a day can be, at the end of that day I feel pride knowing that I have (hopefully) made a positive impact on someone.

We are so fortunate to have Chris Gross and Barbara Gleason as physical therapists at the Barber National Institute. Thank you ladies for making dreams come true for our children!

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Together Against Bullying. United for Kindness, Acceptance, and Inclusion!


Today is Unity Day, a day where schools and communities around the country are coming together to take a stand against bullying. The call to action is to wear and share the color orange as a visible representation of our society uniting for kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.

Why orange? Since Unity Day is held in October, orange is a color commonly identified with the month. In addition, it is also a color associated with safety and visibility, and orange has been described as warm and inviting.

I have shared some startling statistics on bullying in the past (see: cyberbullying and unite against bullying), but unfortunately bullying continues to be an issue, in schools and online. Bullying does not target only certain types of people – on the contrary, bullying can affect both men and women of all races, nationalities, shapes or sizes.

So what can you do to help?

  • Ensure children understand bullying. Talk about what bullying is, how to stand up to it safely and how to get help.
  • Keep lines of communication open. Check in with your children – know who their friends are and ask about school.
  • Encourage children to do what they love. Activities, hobbies and interests can boost confidence and help children make friends.
  • Model how to treat others with kindness and respect.
  • For wonderful information on bullying, bully behavior, and action plans, you can visit https://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/parents/helping-your-child.asp

There are also numerous resources online that you can share with your children to help them understand what to do if they see bullying occur. Some include:

At the Elizabeth Lee Black School, students and staff are wearing orange in honor of Unity Day. We took a photo to show our support!


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