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Pedals and Paddles Encourages Fun in the Sun

In Michigan, summer is the best time for being outdoors, and earlier this month, Special Tree's Recreational Therapists helped show our clients how outdoor activities can be adapted for anyone to enjoy.

Clients young and old took to path and water alike in custom built accessible bicycles and kayaks at Willow Metro Park in New Boston as part of the Pedals and Paddles event on August 6, 2014. The adaptive equipment was courtesy of Riverside Kayak Connection of Wyandotte and Industrial Bicycles of Dearborn.

“It went fantastically. We had great participation and tons of clients showed up,”said Mark MacAleese, Special Tree’s Director of Therapy Services. “We estimate that 25 people kayaked and some went more than once. The best part for me was watching our clients who were afraid to try it to overcome their fears and give it go. They would see others do it and get emboldened. Then they were asking when they could come for another trip.”

In the past, only bicycles were available during the event, but two years ago, Special Tree CEO Joe Richert happened across an adaptive kayak launch during a civic tour of Wyandotte. After discussing it with the people responsible for installing it, Joe decided it would be good to publicize the then underutilized launch. From there, Special Tree was acquainted with Riverside Kayak Connection, and together the groups planned a kickoff event.

The pond at Willow Metro Park was the perfect blend of size and calmness, and clients who kayaked were assisted by therapists certified in adaptive kayaking. After the success of Pedals and Paddles, the recreational therapy team is just getting started.

“Next year, I’d like to expand the event to groups outside of Special Tree," shared Director Mac Aleese. "I’d like to bring more brain injury awareness to a bigger and larger community."

The therapy team, which coordinates kayaking and cycling at various times throughout the year, also wants to increase opportunities for client involvement. "We have a couple clients who want to continue kayaking," shared Mark. "And they expressed an interest when they learned to actually start training through the company.

“The goal is to open the door for them to do these activities on their own; to help them regain that independence. And I think that’s something we can share with everyone.”



Special Tree Founder, Dr. Joseph J. Richert, Retires

Special Tree staff and clients gathered at the NeuroCare Campus on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 to surprise Dr. Joseph J. Richert with a special celebration to honor him as he retires after 55 years as a family physician and more than 35 years as Medical Director for Special Tree.

President & CEO Joseph C. Richert commended his father for his service to our clients, our staff, and to the community before unveiling a plaque which now hangs in the main lobby of the Neuro Care Center North. After seeing the plaque, Doc shared a few words with the staff, clients, and family members who had gathered to honor and celebrate his life's work.

Dr. Joseph J. Richert, affectionately known to all as "Doc," along with his wife, Jean Richert, and others, had the vision to establish Apple Tree Lane, now known as Special Tree Rehabilitation System, 40 years ago in November of 1974. He served as Medical Director for nearly the entire time since, before stepping down just a few years ago, shifting to a supporting role as Medical Director, Emeritus. This spring, he officially retired as a family physician, though he'll always be "Doc" to us.

The festive event called for a special kind of dessert, so Special Tree’s own Cathy Wojtas, Residential Administrative Assistant and Baker Extraordinaire, whipped up a cake in the shape of a doctor’s white coat, complete with Special Tree logo. The Special Tree Dietary team contributed to the spread with a delicious assortment of tea sandwiches and punch. Staff presented Doc with an oversized greeting card which they had all signed. It was a very fitting event for the caring, modest, gentle spirit who made such a tremendous difference in the countless lives he touched over the years.

Thank you, Doc, for all you have done and for the lessons you have taught us. We love you!

Recreation & Mobility Expo Draws New Vendors, Increased Attendees

The weather was a bit overcast, but no one at the Romulus NeuroCare Campus seemed to notice as visitors and vendors came together Saturday, July 19, 2014 for Special Tree's Recreation and Mobility Expo, a resource fair for persons with spinal cord injury and other mobility needs.

"We had a much greater turnout than last year," shared Jack Richert, who serves on the Expo planning committee. "There was a good vibe and a lot going on."

Over a dozen area mobility experts and vendors were on hand to showcase products, services, adaptive equipment, and recreational opportunities that can have a very positive impact on the quality of life for persons with spinal cord injury. From Delta Airlines to Special Tree’s own InPro Enterprises, there was something for everyone.

The event is the brain child of Todd Hammons, Special Tree’s Accessibility Advisor, who knew many of the vendors personally through his own search to regain an active lifestyle after experiencing a spinal cord injury--a lifestyle which now includes operating his adaptive speedboat.

“It's good to show people what's out there," said Hammons. "The weathers not great but we got a lot of people out here to see what we're doing and that’s what matters."

And there was plenty to see. Industrial Bicycles, from Dearborn, showcased a bicycle that was completely steered and pedals from the handlebars, allowing people without the use of their legs to enjoy a bike ride. Delta Airlines sent representatives loaded with giveaways who offered visitors a tour of the airport and demonstration of how they can assist passengers with special needs to board planes. In this they hoped to reduce the anxiety that can sometimes accompany traveling with wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Erik Shue, of Accessible Visions, demoed a special motorized cart that enables golfers to not only move around the course without damaging the green or fairway, but also to stand upright whenever they need to hit the ball.

“I live pretty close to one of Special Tree’s residential homes and was invited to come out,” said Shue. “I found this chair in Germany and I’ve been happy to bring it to the US. It lets you stand when you want to hit and sit when you’re rolling. The tires are very wide as well and this lets them go on the green without damaging it. It’s a great thing to have if you’re a golfer.”

For those more interested in water recreation, Chet Kuskowski from Wright and Filippis gathered quite a crowd when he displayed wake boards and water skis designed for people without the use of their legs. Also on display was a fishing pole holster that could operate the tool with only one hand.

“I’ve known Todd for 25 years and I’m happy to come out here and show off what is possible,” said Kuskowski. “This kind of stuff gives them the knowledge that they can still do stuff. They don’t get exposed to it much and this shows them that they’re still capable of doing what they did before their injury. It’s been a lot of fun coming out.”

Finally, wheelchair tennis and basketball was on display, to which many visitors decided to join in and enjoy, so much that many played well after the event ended.



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