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Teen Clients Restoring Vintage Car

Now this is a summer job to brag about! Teens in the Discover Summer Vocational Youth Program are working hard to restore a rare 1960 Ford Edsel Ranger for their summer work project. Car owner Steve Kozmor, Special Tree’s Industrial Operation Center Coordinator (IOC), is overseeing this exciting project to return the car to the original sea foam beauty is was in the 60s. With additional support from Special Tree job coaches, the students are also building basic work skills for future employment in the community.

The group has accomplished a lot since beginning the restoration project at the IOC in June. So far, the students have washed the car and removed the engine, front end, doors, carpeting, and interior seating. All removable parts are off the car and students are in the process of sand blasting and painting the parts as well as the interior of the car. Stay tuned for updates on the restoration as the students have been documenting their progress by taking photographs and recording their completed job tasks daily!



Celebrating Independence: Flag Raising at NCC

During our NeuroCare Campus expansion in 2012, we had to remove our flagpole during the new building construction and campus landscaping. It was carefully set aside for later re-installation.

Today, July 3, 2014, Vice President and Director of Referral and Admissions Jack Richert led a ceremony to raise the flag once again, now in its new home in front of the main campus entrance outside of NeuroCare North.

Jack thanked the men and women who serve our country, especially in times of war, as clients, staff and visitors were at attention, hands over hearts, as the star spangled banner played in the background and the flag was officially raised for the first time. The flag is now flying high once again at Special Tree NCC.

Independence is something we like to celebrate in ways big and small all year long with and for our clients, so it is fitting to raise the flag as part of the Independence Day holiday - perhaps our favorite holiday of the year!
Have a safe and happy July 4th weekend.


Discover Summer Spotlight: Academic Groups

Learning doesn’t stop just because school is out. That’s why Special Tree’s Discover Summer program for kids and teens with brain injuries adds a layer of academic programming to the mix of therapeutic activities. Throughout the summer, students participate in academic groups based on their academic level and individual educational goals. Academic groups are designed to enhance reading, writing, math, and social skills to keep student’s skills going strong throughout the summer. Students learn through educational hands-ons projects and interactive learning in science, geography, and recreation that are tailored to each student’s needs.



Thank you Rehabilitation Service Technicians!

“They really are the backbone of Special Tree.”

That was the sentiment that Nursing Director Della Buchanan shared about Special Tree’s Residential Service Technicians (RST.) On duty 24/7, 365 days a year, RSTs help clients with personal care and activities of daily living, support our nursing staff, and manage meals, medication, and household tasks at Special Tree's NeuroCare Campus and residential locations. RST week begins on June 14 and Buchanan and many others had a lot to say about how much they appreciate the work they do. Most agreed that RSTs are the backbone of Special Tree staff, but that’s not all they are.

“During my initial training, the staff instructors really emphasized that the RSTs are the first line of defense in our client’s lives,” said ResidentialServices Administrative Assistant Cathy Wojtas. “They’re usually the first ones to notice changes and the ones that let us know as quickly as possible. They’re all very close to their clients."

“It takes a very special person to do that kind of work. RSTs are our eyes and ears and they know their clients completely,” said Buchanan.“They bathe and feed them and provide a lot of TLC. They help them have increased independence and give praise for even the smallest accomplishments. They are an integral part of Special Tree and I value them greatly. I think they’re wonderful.”

There’s plenty in store for the RSTs during their appreciation week including activities, special treats, and prize give-aways including a drawing for six $25 gas cards. Cold drinks will also be available at the Troy and Romulus Neuro Skills Centers for the staff on transport duties and will continue throughout the summer as the temperature increases. The ResidentialServices staff is also planning a Spirit Week with a different theme each day.

Special Tree CEO Joe Richert nicely summed up the critical role of RSTs at Special Tree.

“It’s our aim at Special Tree to provide the best care possible and to help reintegrate our clients back into society. That would not be possible without all the hard work that our RSTs provide. They’re really caring individuals and I thank them.”

RST Vonnica Jones

RST Victoria Asubonteng

Reliable: a buddy you can count on.
Enriching: always bettering yourself.
Honest: trustworthy and true.
Accomodating: always taking care of others.
Best: at what you do.

So: energetic and
Essesntial: to everyone you serve.
Rare: gem. You are so
Valuable: to everyone here.
Incredible: amazingly awesome.
Caring: candid, cheerful and
Excellent: in the care you give.

Thorough: attentive to details.
Efficient: succeeding in all you do.
Comforting: cooperative and just plain
Heroic: we thank you again and again.


Special Tree Staff get their Green Thumbs


Special Tree employees are constantly furthering their knowledge and education. This aspect is one that defines Special Tree from other Michigan based post-acute care services. But just because the company specializes in medical care doesn’t mean every class is medically themed.

One sunny Tuesday afternoon, Special Tree staff gathered with Greenhouse Coordinator Linda Davis in the newly constructed greenhouse to learn how to care for a different kind of patient: plants.

“I asked Linda if she would be interested in teaching a class because it’s part of the Day Treatment Services and the clients do this same kind of thing most days,” said Learning Systems Manager Mary Jo Hall. “A therapist that took this class might be more encouraged to bring clients by.”

The class began with a brief introduction from Greenhouse Coordinator Linda Davis, who gave attendees a brief background of her time in horticulture. From there, the class got to explore different activities that are available in the enclosure. It started with painting pots to show some of the creative options available in the greenhouse.

“We did the pot painting because I thought it would be a good activity that all different ability levels can participate in, just like the clients can and the class took to it pretty quickly,” said Davis. “The greenhouse is neat in that you can get a lot of different types of therapy. It’s definitely good for stress relief and everything from the smells to the activities are good for relaxation and taking your mind off things. I’ve had clients come out and just fall asleep in the sun.”

Many signed up for the class because of personal projects at home involving plants. Every staff member felt that they had learned something beneficial about horticulture, a few even looking forward to no longer being“plant assassins.” One staff-member present even mentioned that her garden“bottomed out” last year, but said this year the harvest was great.

“She gave us a lot of practical information that you can use at home or in your garden. That’s kind of what it made me want to attend,” said Hall. “It made me think of all the plants at home that might not be growing the way I want them to and how I could make them spread out and become more bountiful. The class was great: It was hands on, very creative, you get to nurture something and I got to go home with something. You could tell from the class that everyone walking out was a better, happier and calmer person. I attended because I’m the learning systems manager, but I came because I love plants.”

The greenhouse is located at Special Tree’s Romulus Neuro Care Campus. The next class in the greenhouse is tentatively scheduled for August.



Special Tree Honors Ol' Timers

Each year, Special Tree recognizes the dedication and contributions of staff with 10 or more years of service with a recognition luncheon affectionately called “The Ol’ Timer Luncheon.”

Special Tree is proud to have over 100 "Ol’Timers," who recently gathered in May at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, MI to enjoy a gourmet lunch and to give special recognition to colleaguescelebrating milestone anniversaries (10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35). Milestone honorees were presented with plaques and praise from supervisors.

A highlight of the event was a tribute to Special Tree’s longest-serving Ol’ Timer, co-founder Doc Richert, who is retiring after 40 years as Special Tree’s Medical Director. CEO Joe Richert and Physician Assistant Kelly Barker praised Doc for the vision that he and his wife Jean had in establishing Special Tree back in 1974. Doc was also recognized for his 55 year career as a family physician. A plaque honoring Doc will be unveiled at a ceremony at the NeuroCare Campus in Romulus, MI in June.

Congrats to this year's milestone honoreees:

10 years
Dana Barnes
Conswaylo Brown
Tamanay Daniels
Charyn Esters
Nancy Goldberg
Devin Mixon
Sylvia Mullins
Samantha Murphy
Amanda Ohrt
Jill Prisza
Phillip Raymond
James Richert
Elizabeth Westergaard

15 years
Peggy Allen- Bock
Vickie Gunnell
Lori Hall
Angie Joquico
Melissa Lempicki
Shella Smith
Carolyn Walker


20 years
Janice Cannon
Theresa Dore
Vickie Lambert
Cindy Manetta

25 years
Cathi Connors
Jack Richert

30 years
Roy Bartoloni

35 years
Lyle Williams

Find more photos on Special Tree's facebook page!


A Place to Grow

Recovering from a brain injury involves a great deal of hard work, and some of that work includes finding ways to enjoy life again. 

Thanks to a new 1,700 square foot greenhouse, Special Tree clients at the NeuroCare Center in Romulus are discovering joy in the therapeutic qualities of gardening.

“Working with plants has been shown to release stress and it really improves your ability to focus on what you’re doing,” said Greenhouse Coordinator Linda Davis. “Doing work with the plants and the greenhouse is a nice change for clients. A lot of the physical and occupational therapists bring clients out to work on motor skills, but the benefits are more than just physical– it’s really rewarding to use helping plants to help people.”

The clients find it rewarding as well. Dan B, a client in Special Tree’s vocational program, spends time in the greenhouse every week doing a variety of tasks. He originally started frequenting the greenhouse when it was still new on the campus, just because he had a free day to fill, but now says he wouldn’t miss a visit.

“Every day is different,” he said. “We transfer plants, we cut herbs and put them in a closet to dry out, we strip them down, crush them and will put them in jars when they come in. The goal is to eventually sell them. I’ve built a shelving unit and done other stuff in there too.

“What I tell other clients is to keep going because there is something for everybody. Even if you don’t enjoy what you did one day, the second day is going to be totally different.”

Dan added that he enjoys learning new things about horticulture and that any way he can learn new skills will only add to his skill set and help him find employment in his community.

“My goal is to get a job someplace, someday, and if I go and get a job somewhere they may need someone for maintenance or they may need someone for a greenhouse, and now I have that covered,” he said.

The final touches to the newly constructed facility were made in September, and from there Davis and the Special Tree therapists hit the ground running. Activities are frequent and varied, such as a Lady Bug Release Party in October, Glass Painting classes, and “seed tape” construction in March. But often, warm air and sunlight are the real draw.

Activity Assistant Kari Webster said that having the area is a big benefit to clients if only because it offers a “different atmosphere. “Especially during winter months, having a place that is sunny and warm is a kind of instant mood elevator. Having all those plants in there too really gives a change of environment,” she said. “One client went down one day and planted a plant that she took back to her room. Later, when it was time to return, she was excited to bring the plant back and show Linda how big it had gotten.

“Just caring for that plant and taking ownership and pride, it gave her a sense of accomplishment. It may seem small, but it’s huge for our clients. There may naturally be letdowns they go through during recovery, but this is always something positive.”

Balmy weather and thriving plants are nice during the winter, but according to Davis, the summer is when the greenhouse will truly shine. A wheelchair accessible raised vegetable garden will get underway this spring in the area adjacent to the greenhouse, and there are even plans for a palm tree when the weather will support it. Once the plants are started, they will be moved inside for the colder months. Davis said that the larger tropicals like the palm tree and a banana plant (which will grow to eight feet in three years) will help fill the high ceiling of the enclosure. She mentioned that tomatoes and trellises could also be used to fill the space.

The greenhouse isn’t just for looks either. Herbs and spices—grown using only organic sprays and natural pest controls like the lady bugs—will be packaged and sold. Produce such as kohlrabi, beets and turnips will be used in the meals created at the NeuroCare Campus’ fully outfitted kitchen. Starting in June, a farmer’s market is planned on the campus for every second Friday until October, giving locals, clients and their families a chance to sample the harvest.

Visitors are welcome to tour the greenhouse and campus weekdays if arranged in advance. For details contact Jack Richert at 734-341-5604 or at

Meet Special Tree's Registered Dietitians

The saying goes “you are what you eat,” and never is that more apparent when dietary restrictions are involved.
After a brain injury, medications and treatments are commonplace, and both have potential to interfere with a healthy balanced diet. That’s when Special Tree clients have Registered Dietitians Jill Prisza and Brahmlin Sethi to turn to for the best way to maintain a healthy diet. But being a dietitian is much more than simply prescribing meal plans.
“It’s basically about educating staff and clients, working with weight loss or gain and basically anything that has to do with a diet,” said Sethi. “We’ll visit houses to learn where people need help. Sometimes there is a little resistance, because people think we’re going to put them on a diet, but it’s more about portion, moderation, hydration and how all of that interacts with medication. We try to teach people to listen to their bodies, because they’ll tell you when you’re hungry or full.”
Sethi regularly visits 18 community residences every year to put together quarterly assessments on where clients need help with their intake. While Sethi deals primarily with outpatient and clients who are in assisted living, Prisza concentrates more on the clinical side of the nutrition. In cases where clients are not conscious, nutrition can take on a whole different meaning.
“Probably around 75% of our patients are tube-fed, so my role at the Neuro Care Campus is very different, and it’s never typical,” she said. “When someone is tube fed, we can provide 100% of their nutritional needs. It’s actually easier to control someone’s diet through a tube, but it can be challenging to use information about their current condition, the injury, and past medical history to find the appropriate formula. Then, when the time comes to wean them off, we have to monitor their condition constantly to make sure their weight is good and that their diet is not interfering with their medications.”
On top of the normal intake restrictions, Prisza said some people are intolerant of tube feeding, which introduces a whole new aspect of patient care. But she agreed wholeheartedly with Sethi that her primary role is as an educator.
“Here at Special Tree, Brahmlin and I educate people on nutrition,” she said. “A lot of people want information on their diet and health, and we provide that. We help the interdisciplinary staff understand what needs to be done and we provide education to families as well. It can be challenging because most don’t see the seriousness of what they can do to their bodies just from intake.”
Prisza has been a nutritionist for nearly 17 years. Her interest in the science began in high school when she found Jane Brody’s nutrition book. She attended Madonna in Livonia and has been a nutritionist in health care and school systems ever since.
Sethi attended University of Michigan after moving from India, to Iran to Canada and finally Ann Arbor. She majored in biochemistry but decided she enjoyed working with people and focused more on health. Her one year anniversary at Special Tree will be this summer. 

Special Tree Celebrates Mother's Day


Mother’s Day is nearly here and Special Tree gave it’s staff an opportunity to not arrive empty handed this Sunday.
Thanks to the work of clients in the Greenhouse, Ceramics and other DTS programs, Special Tree’s Mother’s Day sale was a huge hit. Offerings included plants and flowers planted in colorful ceramic pots, “seed bombs” which when planted spring into wild flowers, and dried herbs.
 “It’s been pretty busy and a lot of staff came by on their lunch,” said Greenhouse Coordinator Linda Davis. “Everything here was done by the clients. The pots came from the ceramics department, they helped transplant the flowers into the pots, the dried herbs were fully client cut and processed, and the seed bombs were just an activity. It’s nice to support their work this way.”
Staff members are sure to have some happy mothers this May.


Spring Fling Prom 2014! Truly "A Night to Remember"

More than 125 clients came together on Friday, May 2, 2014 for Special Tree's Spring Fling dinner dance at Roma's of Garden City. Now in it's 14th year, the annual event draws Special Tree clients, staff, friends and alumni from all over Southeast and Mid-Michigan for a festive night filled with food, music, dancing, socializing and more. The many hours of planning and coordination by staff paid off once again with a fantastic event that seems to top itself year after year.

This spring's theme Prom: A Night to Remember, inspired by a residential client who had missed her own high school prom, added a fun new twist to the evening. When staff heard about Marlene G.'s desire to attend prom, having missed hers after experiencing a traumatic brain injury several years ago at sixteen, they began brainstorming ways they could give her a second chance at the quintessential teen rite of passage. They presented the idea to the Spring Fling committee, and the "Prom 2014" theme was born. 

In addition to the usual banquet dinner, live band, and fabulous dance party, clients decked out in tuxes, ball gowns, top hats, and other finery. When Marlene was crowned Special Tree Prom Queen, there was no bigger smile in the room than hers.

“Everyone said it was the best Spring Fling we’ve ever had,” reflected RiverView Program Manager and Spring Fling Chair Debbie Justice. “We’ve done some wonderful themes in the past, but nothing nearly as big as this. The whole prom thing got everyone geeked. I was really happy with how it turned out.” Even the party preparations took on a new life, with most of the clothing and jewelry collected through a series of donations, and clients meeting up for 'Diva Night' and tuxedo shop outings to get ready.

Clients arrived at Roma's in cars, vans and even a wheelchair accessible limousine. Looking their sharpest in suits, dresses, gowns and tuxedos, they entered the hall to find a flurry of decorations, and a corsage or boutineer for every attendeemade by clients in the InPro vocational program. 

There were even party favors, and a sparkly balloon backdrop to pose for the traditional Prom Photo. After a delicious sit down dinner, live band Remedy took off with popular covers and clients flocked to the dance floor. Later in the evening, a conga line formed to the tune “Soul Train.”

“That [conga line] will be done at every event now. I really think that’s going to be a new tradition with how much the clients took to it,” said Justice. “It’s funny, but we have this new staffer who at some point in the night ran up to me and gave me this huge hug. She said ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this!’ It was just such a great night. It turned out really great.

“That [conga line] will be done at every event now. I really think that’s going to be a new tradition with how much the clients took to it,” said Justice. “It’s funny, but we have this new staffer who at some point in the night ran up to me and gave me this huge hug. She said ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this!’ It was just such a great night. It turned out really great.”

Pulling off an event of this magnitude requires tremendous coordination by many people, organizing everything from transportation, scheduling, dietary needs, client supports, decorations, and more. But the effort is so worthwhile. Infusing the recovery process every so often with events like Spring Fling provide an important break from the rehabilitation routine, and greatly enhance clients' quality of life.

"It's one of my favorite events all year," shared CEO Joe Richert. "Seeing everyone coming together and enjoying themselves, you really see the value in doing something like this. Until you've witnessed what happens on that dance floor, you just can't imagine what a tremendous morale boost this isfor clients and staff alike."

Justice specifically acknowledged the incredible work of the Spring Fling committee, many of whom were new to the team this year. “It takes a lot of people to put the Spring Fling together," she said. "But it was so fun and totally worth it.”