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2018 Scholarship Winners Announced!

Special Tree offers a $1000 annual high school scholarship to college-bound students who attend public schools where Special Tree has a facility located within that district.

The scholarships assist winners with tuition as they pursue a career in rehabilitation or a related healthcare field. This is one criteria upon which the scholarships are awarded, along with academic achievement, community service, extra-curricular activities, responses to essay questions, and letters of recommendation.

This year, Special Tree awarded 13 scholarships.  Congratulations to the following graduates:

Anderson High School, Southgate – Emily Plaza
Avondale High School, Avondale – Deven Tayal
Birmingham Groves High School, Birmingham – Hadley Moak
Dakota High School, Clinton Twp – Abigail Meesseman
Flat Rock High School, Flat Rock – Samantha Tylicki
Franklin High School, Livonia – Caitlin Jodway
Freeland High School, Freeland – Bailey Desander
H.H. Dow High School, Midland – Brook Schultz
Huron High School, New Boston – Hannah McKeen
Monroe High School, Monroe – Andi Martin
Riverview Community High School, Riverview – Jade Smith
Romulus Senior High School, Romulus – Shannon Turner
Royal Oak Kimball High School, Royal Oak – Anna Hasley


Special Tree Represents at Capitol Day 2018

By Peggy Allen Bock, Special Tree Executive Director Business Development

Every year in May the Brain Injury Association in Michigan and the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council sponsor Capital Day in Lansing.  Providers, advocates and survivors of brain injury and their families descend on the Capital for the opportunity to meet with their legislators.  Special Tree was well represented and our staff spent the day educating policy makers about brain injury and public policy that impacts the persons we serve.  Check out photos of the group in action here:

This year’s Capitol Day was one of the biggest to date with nearly 150 attendees who met with 85 legislators. In addition to discussing the importance of Auto No-Fault, attendees highlighted their concerns over distracted driving and urged their legislators to support HB 4466, which would expand existing distracted driving laws. Rep. Martin Howrylak, Rep. Tom Greimel and Sen. Vincent Gregory addressed those gathered in the Mackinac room.  The Coalition to Protect “Auto No-Fault also announced their new campaign, “Shop Your Policy”, to assist drivers in reducing their auto insurance costs.  Learn more about the campaign here.

Curzydlo Named to Board of Examiners for 2018 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

Congrats to Nicole Curzydlo, Special Tree’s Quality Program Manager, who was named to the Board of Examiners for the 2018 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In the world of organizational quality, being selected as an Examiner is a pretty big deal.  Nicole joins a national team of 350 experts who were competitively selected to evaluate and provide feedback to organizations across the U.S. who submitted applications for the Baldrige Award, the nation's highest honor for organizational innovation and performance excellence.   The feedback report is a key reason why organizations (including Special Tree!) apply for the award.  Nicole also served as an Examiner for the state-level Baldrige Award in 2014 and 2015.  Special Tree is proud to have had 19 staff selected as state and national Examiners since adopting the Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria in 2008.

To become a certified National Examiner, Nicole recently attended an intensive three-day training in Washington DC on how to evaluate an organization’s processes and results and to write actionable feedback to help them improve.  Nicole said she learned a lot from the course but that her previous experience doing site visits was a definate plus“I was nervous at first but later I felt more confident because not a lot of people had previous state experience. Plus I'm working on our Special Tree application so that helped," she said.  "It was a great experience and I hope to get invited back next year."

As a member of Special Tree's Quality team, Nicole works closely with Quality Officer Mark MacAleese to manage the rigorous process for Special Tree's national and state-level Baldrige award applications.  Special Tree received Michigan's Performance Excellence Award in 2010 and is applying for the state's highest quality honor in 2019.  Stay tuned!  

Out of the Chair and Into the Air!

Airport Tour Shows Clients How to Travel By Air in a Wheelchair


These days, flying anywhere is a hassle for anyone. But air travel can be especially challenging for wheelchair users. One way Special Tree is helping clients and their families prepare for future air travel is taking them to Detroit Metro Airport for a behind the scenes tour of the disability services available through Delta Airlines.

Recreational Therapists Kristin Claerhout and Courtney Fankhauser recently organized a TR outing where representatives from Delta Airlines Disabilities Support staff went with clients and their families through every phase of the airport experience. Delta reps took clients through TSA security and onto a gate where they boarded a plane and transferred to a seat using a special aisle wheelchair. Clients also went down to the tarmac to see how their wheelchairs were loaded onto the aircraft.

“The tour was very helpful for one client and his wife as they are flying to Florida in July for a family reunion,” said Kristin. “The other client was also excited by the possibility of going somewhere one day!”

Kristin and Courtney do the field trip a few times a year. “The Delta Airlines staff do a great job educating our clients and families on traveling with disabilities.”

Brain Injury Association of Michigan Honors Jack Richert With Legacy Society Award

Special Tree’s Jack Richert, Vice President and Director, Referrals & Admissions, wias honored at the annual Brain Injury Association of Michigan’s Legacy Society Tribute Dinner on April 21, 2018 at the Suburban Collection Showplace’s Diamond Center in Novi.

Jack received the Community Service and Leadership Award and was  inducted into the Brain Injury of Michigan’s Legacy Society.  Legacy Society members are recognized for their dedication, leadership, and personal commitment to enhancing the quality of life of persons with brain injury and their families.  Jack is being recognized along with Dr. Michael Andary of Michigan State University.

As the son of Special Tree founders Dr. Joseph and the late Jean Richert, Jack grew up in the world of brain injury rehabilitation.  Jack joined the family business in 1989 to develop Special Tree’s marketing and sales group. In his current role, Jack oversees the corporate census for Special Tree’s subacute, outpatient, and residential programs and provides guidance to clients and family members in the decision-making process from admission through discharge.

Jack’s dedication to the brain injury community extends well beyond his role at Special Tree.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, and has been an enthusiastic contributor to the BIAMI, providing leadership to the Downriver Chapter from 1991-1995.  Additionally, Jack, along with his mother, co-Chaired the annual Charity Auctions, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the BIAMI.  In the fall of 2017, Jack took his dedication and activism to a new level as a competitor in the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan Foundation’s Dancing with our Stars fundraiser for Dance Mobility, Michigan’s only free adaptive ballroom dance program.

As a lifelong resident of Huron Township, Jack has always been a strong community member.   He has been a Trustee on the Board of Education for the Huron School District since 2002 and is currently President of the School Board.  Jack is also a proud veteran of the United States Navy.  During his four years of service, Jack managed staff for the Supreme Allied Command Officer Mess and earned a special assignment to the World Naval Symposium. Jack received several honors from the U.S. Navy including an appointment to NATO with the U. S. Allied Command; a Good Conduct Medal; and a Joint Services Achievement Medal, which was awarded by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Jack earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Health Administration & Human Behavior from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership and Administration from Concordia University.  He and his wife Christina have been married for 27 years and have three children.

The Spring Tribute Legacy Society Dinner draws more than 1,000 brain injury professionals, legislators, community leaders and supporters from across the state to raise funds for education, advocacy, support treatment services and resources for brain injury survivors and their families.  In addition, the BIAMI hosts a two-week online auction to fund programs for military veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress injury.  Access the Legacy Auction here from April 16 – 28th.

CARF is Coming Soon!

A survey team from CARF International* will be visiting Special Tree on April 11- 13, 2018.  We invited the surveyors to evaluate how well we meet international standards for quality. The survey will tell us what we are doing well and ways we might improve. As a result of this survey, we may earn or continue accreditation.  As part of the survey, the surveyors will interview people who receive services, their families, our staff, and others. Some questions the survey team members might ask people are:

  • Do we provide a clean and safe setting?
  • Do you receive the services you need and want?
  • Are you treated with respect?
  • Do you take part in planning your services?
  • Are you told what you need to know about your services?
  • Are your questions answered in a way you understand?
  • Do you know where to go with questions or concerns?

If you would like to talk with one of the survey team members or want to learn more about CARF International, please let one of our team members know. You may also contact CARF International directly.

*CARF International — A group of companies that includes CARF, CARF Canada, and CARF Europe.


PDF iconCARF-Poster.pdf

New In-House Lab Generating Better Patient Outcomes

Special Tree is proud to announce another step in improving the delivery of care for our patients.  Fully accredited lab services are now available at our NeuroCare campus in Romulus.   The new lab offers many common diagnostic tests and screenings including CBC’s, Electrolyte panels, BMP, CMP’s, Liver function Panels, and Lipid Panels for patients in our sub-acute and residential programs.  The lab is accredited by the CLIA, a regulatory division of the FDA.

“Having access to on-site lab services is very beneficial for our patients,” said Lela Hickonbottom, Chief Nursing Officer.  “The quicker we get results, the quicker we can diagnosis and implement treatment which results in better outcomes for our patients.”  Added benefits include the coordination of medical data all in one place and a decrease in the duplication of services.  All this improves control and management of client care for our consulting physicians and treatment team and reduces costs for insurers.  

Special Tree’s in-house lab team includes Kelly Barker P.A., Assistant Medial Director, Lela Hickonbottom, Chief Nursing Officer, Della Buchanan, Director of Nursing and Tiffany Thomas, Laboratory Technician.  

Recruiter Spotlight: Lashawn Slay, Senior HR Specialist

What are the most common mistakes you see on job applications?
It’s really important to make sure your job application is complete and information about previous or current employers is up-to-date.  If you’re using job search sites like Indeed or Zip Recruiter make sure your resume also has the correct contact information.  When applications are incomplete, it delays the process.   Having all the right information helps us access your skills set so we can match you up with the right career opportunity at Special Tree. 

What’s the best thing a job candidate can do to make an impression?
Be prepared!  First, make sure you’re clear on what position you’re interviewing for and where your interview is located.  Special Tree has 30 locations so it’s important to have directions to the right location ahead of time.   Do your research – visit our website to learn what we do.   After you’ve checked out the website, come to the interview with questions that will help you determine if Special Tree is a good fit.   Always bring your credentials to the interview. It’s also good to bring a hard copy of your resume along with any letters of recommendation.  I interviewed a nurse who brought in a letter from a family member of a loved one she had cared for which I appreciated because it gave me insight into her character. 

Why is Special Tree a great place to work?
Special Tree’s longevity says a lot about our company.  We’ve been rebuilding lives for over 40 years and are one of the leading rehabilitation providers for brain and spinal cord injury in Michigan.  In interviews, I always share that there are so many team members at Special Tree with ten or more years of service that we have an official Ol’ Timers Club!  There’s also a family-like feel to the work environment because of the close partnership between staff, clients, and families throughout the recovery process.  Special Tree has many opportunities for growth as well.  A majority of our management team is “homegrown” and our tuition reimbursement and training programs have helped many team members advance their careers here.  We’re very proud of our eight Top Workplace in Michigan awards from the Detroit Free Press which we achieved through high scores on employee satisfaction surveys. 

Be a part of our caring team at Special Tree.  Now hiring Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Certified Nurse Assistants and Direct Care Team Members.  Apply here.   

Vocational Clients Shine at the Big House

Special Tree’s InPro Enterprises wrapped up another successful season of running the condiment stations at U of M’s Big House during the 2017 football season.   With support from Special Tree’s job coaches, clients were responsible for filling and cleaning all condiment stations at the 100,000 seat stadium for six home games including the big games against Michigan State and Ohio State.

“Our vocational clients received glowing reviews from the health inspectors on the excellent cleanliness of the condiment stations,” said Rene Dell, Associate Director of Vocational Services.   

InPro Enterprises began managing the condiment stations at the Big House last season to help clients gain valuable work experience in the community.  Clients work on developing important job skills for competitive employment like following directions, working under stress, focusing on tasks, and being part of the team.

The Big House is one of many community enclaves that are part of Special Tree’s Vocational Rehabilitation program.  “The enclaves are a great bridge for vocational clients who are ready to beef up their job readiness skills in a work environment outside of Special Tree,” said Dell.  Special Tree/InPro Enterprises partner with local businesses and non-profit organizations to find paid, real-work experiences that clients enjoy and that they’re best suited for.   Prior to working in an enclave, vocational counselors develop an individualized vocational plan for each client through interviews, vocational testing, and/or in-depth vocational assessments.  Being familiar with each client's needs, interests, and goals helps job coaches to modify and adapt job tasks at enclaves so clients experience success and learn to work independently.

Learn more about Special Tree's Vocational Rehabilitation services.




Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

For some, shorter days and colder weather can trigger feelings of sadness and fatigue, common symptoms of seasonal mood disorder or (SAD).   If you find yourself in a seasonal slump, try these tips from Special Tree’s Psych and Social Work team to help beat the winter blues.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that recurs seasonally.  Typically, us Michigan folks are more likely to experience seasonal depression during the winter months, when our internal body clocks shift due to decreased sunlight; the colder temps don’t make things any easier.  While some of us look forward to all that winter brings, others will feel like ‘tis the season to be melancholy.  

In addition to feeling sad and down most of the day, nearly every day, this condition also includes symptoms of low energy, sleeping much more than usual, overeating and craving carbs, weight gain, isolating from others, lack of interest in enjoyable activities, etc. In severe cases of depression, people may have thoughts about suicide. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a wonderful resource for persons with thoughts about suicide or self-harming.

If any of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, here are some helpful tips for beating the winter blues:

  • Exercise – the more you move, the better you’ll feel
  • Go outside – being outdoors for as little as 5-10 mins a day will expose you to a good dose of natural light
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule – try to get 8 hours each night and no matter how cozy and warm your bed feels, avoid oversleeping
  • Maintain healthy eating – it is easy to stray away from healthy eating, especially during the holiday season (and ESPECIALLY when your dad makes the best cheesecakes ever); don’t deprive yourself of yummy food, but remember what our lovely STRS dieticians say: “Everything in moderation!”
  • Invest in a light therapy sunlamp or sunrise simulating alarm clock – research shows that light therapy can be very effective and these items can be purchased on
  • Surround yourself with supports – fight urges to isolate, and make plans with family and friends
  • Have fun – engage in both indoor and outdoor activities that bring you joy, try a new activity you’ve been thinking about doing all year or, if possible, take a vacation to a warmer climate and get a break from both work and winter weather
  • Consult a professional – whether you want to speak with your physician about your Vitamin D level, or seek out counseling for additional support, professionals are there to help