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Students Flying High on Airport Tour

Students from Discover Summer were flying high after spending the day touring the Detroit Metro Airport with representatives from Delta Airlines.

“Many of our students have never been on a plane before, so the tour was a great way to introduce them to air travel,” said Anjie Dorsey, Special Tree Recreational Therapist.  The airport tour is just one of many educational community outings organized by Special Tree’s Recreational Therapists for the Discover Summer program.

The tour began with presentations from TSA agents, a pilot, the K-9 unit, flight attendants, ticket counter agents, porters, and the Complaint Resolution Official (CRO) Department, who organized the tour.  “The kids asked a lot of great questions and demonstrated perfect behavior,” added Dorsey.

The next stop was security where students discovered why travelers need to get to the airport early!  The students waited in line, removed shoes, belts, etc. as any traveler would and learned about how the Delta team assists individuals with special needs throughout their travel experience.

Delta Airlines saved the best for last as the tour wrapped up on board a 747 where kids toured the cockpit and got to sit in first class. “The really cool thing is, the plane we toured was actually heading to Frankfurt Germany,” said Dorsey.  “The Delta team was exceptionally prepared, organized, and kind to our group.”

The tour got rave reviews from students, especially client Kaylynn who said it was one of the best community outings so far this summer.  “It was fun, I really liked it,” she said. Kaylynn’s tour highlights were meeting dogs from the K-9 unit and learning about a special wheelchair that fits in the aisle of the plane.

“It was such a great experience for the kids,” said Dorsey.  “Even though we didn't actually fly anywhere, you would have thought different by the exclamations from the kids when describing their experience!”

Just Keep Swimming!

Aquatic therapy is a big part of our Discover Summer program for kids and teens with brain injury.  Every week, staff and kids from our Romulus and Troy programs head to the local pool to take advantage of the many therapeutic benefits of swimming and playing in the water.   Here’s a quick snapshot of what kids are learning while they splish, splash, dive, and swim at the pool.

  • Staff reinforce poolside and water safety.
  • Kids have the opportunity to acclimate and gain water confidence in an encouraging setting.
  • Time in the pool helps to increase kid’s cardiovascular endurance, strengthen muscles, and improve gross-motor skill functioning.
  • Water play is a positive leisure activity that can help reduce stress.
  • Water activities promote positive interactions with peers.
  • Kids focus on dressing, personal hygiene, and grooming.

Who's Ready for Summer!

Discover Summer 2015, Special Tree’s therapeutic program for kids and teens with brain injuries, starts in less than a week!  We can’t wait to see the students and have so many amazing activities and outings planned for the summer. We’re also excited to show students all the great amenities at our new location at the NeuroCare Campus in Romulus, including our greenhouse, fishing pond, indoor therapy pool, walking trails, state-of-the-art therapy clinic, vocational rehabilitation programs, and the nearby MetroParks. We’re looking forward to a fun-filled summer. Bring on the kids!  Discover Summer 2015 runs from June 15th - August 21st at Special Tree's Romulus and Troy locations.  Read more.


Go InPro!

The holiday season was full of good cheer for vocational artisans at Special Tree who sold a record number of their handcrafted works at various local events.  Holiday shoppers swooped up affordably priced furniture, ceramics, jewelry, birdhouses, cutting boards, and dried organic herbs – all handmade by clients through InPro Enterprises, Special Tree’s vocational rehabilitation program that helps ease individuals with brain injury and other severe disabilities back to work.

Clients and vocational support staff kicked off their holiday sales season at  Re:Con, an annual conference for rehabilitation professionals in Michigan which includes a Micro Enterprise Mall for small local businesses.  “This was our fifth year at the Micro Enterprise Mall so our clients have built up a large base of repeat customers,” said Rene Dell, Special Tree Associate Director of Vocational Services.  Conference attendees purchased $800 worth of handmade items, an InPro sales record.  “The clients always get such great feedback on their products,” she said.  “Our booth has become so popular that conference organizers doubled our booth space at the Mall this year.”

In addition to a very successful holiday sale just for Special Tree staff, clients also had a unique opportunity to sell their wares at the D:Hive Small Business Saturday Bazaar held on November 29, 2014 in Detroit.  “We had a great turnout with a lot of networking done with other small businesses around the metro Detroit area,” said Rene.   InPro Enterprises also got some air time on WXYZ-TV, who broadcast an interview from the event with Joe Richert, II, Special Tree Director of Community Rehabilitation Services, and Daniel, a client in the vocational program.  Watch the news clip here:

Now in it’s fifth year, InPro Enterprises helps clients to develop valuable job skills through meaninful work experiences. Clients work one-on-one with a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor who identify a client's abilities, interests, and goals to create an individualized vocational rehabilitation plan.  InPro offers clients a wide range of hands-on, paid vocational job programs to choose including working in Special Tree’s on-site creative arts and woodworking studios, at our new greenhouse that provides year-round opportunities to grow and produce, herbs and flowers, and at an industrial operations center that provides light manufacturing services for local businesses.

“Work helps us all expand our skills, improve our health, and feel valued, respected, connected to others, and satisfied with all we do,” said director Joe Richert, II.  “At InPro, our goal is to make that possible for everyone.”

To learn more, please visit InPro’s website at:   While you’re there, be sure to check out the Products page where you can view and purchase  artwork created by our clients in the art studio.

Go Team! Special Tree Earns Fifth Top Workplace Award

For the fifth straight year, Special Tree has earned a spot on the Top Workplaces list compiled by the Detroit Free Press.  We’re delighted with our #20 ranking in the large-sized business category, our first year in this category, which also included well-known companies such as Quicken Loans, Plante Moran, Kelly Services, Dominos Pizza, and more. The list recognizes 100 employers in the region whose workers completed an independent survey about their level of satisfaction in the workplace, including pay and benefits, advancement opportunities, flexibility of schedules and other advantages.   

“It’s truly an honor that our staff thought us deserving of this recognition,” said Kate McClain, Special Tree’s Director of Workforce Engagement.  “It reinforces our efforts to create an environment where people give their very best and feel their work is important and valuable."

Here’s what some of our staff had to say on the survey about working at Special Tree:

"Love working with our clients. Good company with good values and good intentions."

"I like the culture here and that the management seem like they have their heart in the right place.  It’s a fun environment."

"I enjoy watching the clients progress here at Special Tree.  I feel like I make a difference when I get to see the clients work hard and finally get to go home to their families."

BIAMI Conference 2014

Pictured from the left are CFO Jim Hall, Brand Manager Jen Atwood, Senior Rehab Services Rep. Mike Malley, Rehab Service Rep. Rabecca Planchette, President & CEO Joe Richert, Mid-Michigan Area Manager Julie Campbell, Community Rehab Specialist Jim Hankamp, Rehab Service Rep. Maleigh Ruddy, Communications Specialist Jenny Haggerty and Executive Director of Business Development.

The 2014 Brain Injury Association of Michigan annual conference on September 11 & 12 was host to a record number of attendees this year, and Special Tree arrived in Lansing with style.
Thanks to the fabulous work of Bill Fritz and Jim Richert of the facilities team, Special Tree introduced a new exhibit display at our booth designed to highlight our 40th Anniversary. Our booth, ad, packet inserts and promotional SWAG were themed around the “40 Years and Still Growing” campaign. Our display even incorporated an 11’ foot live tree that was later planted along the entry road to the Romulus NeuroCare Campus and 500 flower bulbs that Special Tree handed out over the two-day event.
Vice President Jack Richert was already sharing Special Tree give-aways with attendees when the conference opened while Senior Rehabilitation Services Representative Mike Malley chatted with curious visitors at the booth.
Special Tree staff and clients mingled with industry friends, colleagues and the various vendors, eventually making their way to the keynote speech by Lee Woodruff, author of the book In an Instant which is about her experience as a caregiver for her husband Bob Woodruff; a former co-anchor for ABC World News Tonight who sustained a TBI during his coverage of the war in Iraq.
After the keynote, attendees participated in breakout sessions presented by leading TBI experts including Special Tree physicians Jennifer Doble, MD, and Corina Lazar, MD, (upper right), Learning Systems Manager Mary Jo Hall, BA, CBIST, and Nutritionists Jill Prisza, RD, CNSC, CBIS, and Brahmlin Sethi, RD.
“The annual BIAMI conference is one of the most important venues for Michigan-based brain injury focused companies like us. We had five presenters from Special Tree this year which is an honor and an indication of how committed our employees are to this field.,” said CEO Joe Richert.
Thank you speakers and attendees of Special Tree, and a big thanks to staff who accompanied our clients.

   Pictured from top left to bottom right: Vice Pres. Jack Richert shares give-aways with interested attendees; Senior HR Specialist LaShawn Slay and Learning Systems Manager Mary Jo Hall pose in front of the new booth backdrop; Special Tree physicians Corina Lazar, MD, and Jennifer Doble, MD both spoke at the conference; Senior RSR Mike Malley talks industry friends and partners;Keynote Speaker Lee Woodruff shares the story of her husband Bob Woodruff; and Rec. Therapist Kristen Pyles and Vocational Specialist Sara Lundsten chat with Keynote Speaker Kevin Pearce.



Shutterbugs Compete in Photo Contest

The winners are in!

Staff photographers from across our company submitted their best photographs and though it wasn’t an easy choice, in the end, seven photos were chosen from among the all great entries.

Psychologist Ashley Curtiss (UFL), Children’s Services Associate Director Christine Morobito (UML), Nurse Joan Connolly (UMR), Physical Therapist Lindsey Ritterdorf (UFR), Program Coordinator Angie Joquico (LL), Team Leader Chris Waterman (LM), and Program Leader Eugene Nemeth (LR).

Curtiss took her photo during a surprise trip to Traverse City last summer, while Morobito took her’s in her childhood town.

“I grew up walking across that bridge, and I have many fond memories spending time with my family playing on the beach and going swimming with my cousins.” She said.“That’s the moment I wanted to capture.”

Ritterdorf’s comes from a trip to Hawaii during a snorkeling tour, while Waterman, who has loved photography since he was a junior in highschool, took his photo in Haiti during a service trip with his church.

“We were hauling cinderblocks up a hill so that a church building could be built there, and these two boys just loved to be around us,” he said. “I took a short break from the heavy lifting to back-peddle down the hill with camera in-hand while trying to capture a bit of the joy in their spirits. It's amazing that they could have so much fun with such minimal resources.”

Finally, Nemeth snapped his picture at Cocoa Beach, Fl during a Special Tree vacation for residents at Williams and Riverview. The hungry pelican was keeping an eye on some nearby fishermen, making a great subject for Nemeth and his (then) new lens.

Nice job Special Tree shutterbugs. Go check out their work in high resolution at the NeuroCare Center North Conference Room Detroit. 

Discover! Summer: Learning & Adventure in One Great Program

The days are getting shorter, vacations are ending and school buses are back on the streets. Fall has arrived, and with it ends another great year of the exciting Discover! Summer program at Special Tree. It’s back to school for the students, but the memories of 2014 are sure to last a lifetime.

Special Tree wrapped up the busy summer on Friday, August 22nd with a picnic at Cass-Benton Park in Northville, Michigan. Fresh grilled burgers and hot dogs, carnival games, an inflatable slide, music, and an arcade awaited Special Tree students and their families. Midway through the afternoon Christine Morabito, Children's Services Associate Director, gathered everyone together to recognize the students who graduated this year and are heading off to college and other new adventures.

The picnic send-off was a wonderful way to wrap up a summer that included learning new skills, exploring the community, and academic and vocational programming to help students keep up the momentum with learning and rehabilitation all summer long.

The program is organized around weekly themes that tie activities, learning, therapeutic activities and community outings together to help students continue the rehabilitation process. In week one, students began the weekly sessions that would form the backbone of the program, including cooking classes, fitness lessons, and science and academic groups. They also got acquainted with all of the therapy staff and peer mentors—younger adults who are often former Discover! Summer participants—who help newer students feel at ease and settle into the routine.

One of the first big outings was a trip to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo where students learned of the daring astronauts and WWII pilots that pioneered modern flight. They played disc golf, also known as frisbee golf, which challenged their hand-eye coordination, teamwork skills, and cognitive skills such as sequencing and following directions. The beauty of the Discover! Summer program is that while the activities often have a number of therapeutic benefits, the students hardly notice they're participating in therapy while enjoying the adventures.

And what would a summer of adventure be without a baseball game in the mix? Week three included a Detroit Tigers victory over the Oakland Athletics and the treasure hunting exploits of Blackbeard John Bones and the pirate-fighting adventures of Peter Pan. Wild things were in store during week four, with creative games based on Animal Crackers and Zoo Pictionary. The students explored “Where the Wild Things Are” by dressing up in animal masks, and tracked down a geocache in the local community. As week four ended with a trip to the Summer Wind Sanctuary, week five picked up with Michigan Adventures. Highlights included making cherry blossom art, fishing, a tour of Special Tree’s own greenhouse and an action packed day in Port Huron. Week six was a free-for-all titled “Anything Goes”week. The kids spent time decorating pieces of a giant wall puzzle to promote individuality and cooperation and playing in the water park at Frankenmuth’s Splash Village.

Fresh on the heels of learning about horticulture at the Special Tree greenhouse, the Discover! Summer crew headed out in week seven to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor where they saw the famed blooming of the Agave Americana, which only comes to term once in a lifetime. Another trip to Frankenmuth showed off the Ultimate Mirror Maze and, later, sampling international treats at a Japanese Tea House. In week eight, it was back to the waterworks, but this time with a super-hero theme for “Adventureland” week. As part of a larger event organized by Special Tree Recreational Therapists, students were able to try out adaptive kayaking and cycling at the Peddles and Paddles event, followed by an archery lesson. Some of the older students had a chance for an overnight trip to Higgins Lake which really reinforced the friendships that had formed throughout the summer.

Finally, the program wrapped up with “Discover Summer's Got Talent!” The centers were abuzz as students prepared their own unique performances for the annual talent show. The students showed off mad skills in magic tricks, artistic experession, singing, dancing, poetry, and fashion.

While the picnic would be the last day for some, other students will continue on in the Special Tree Discover! After School program. Either way, heading back to school each fall is always a big transition, but with the learning and academics woven through the summer, the Special Tree students are ready to take on the challenge. Hats off to all of our awesome staff who worked to make Discover! Summer another fantastic year for all.
For admissions and information on Special Tree Children's Services, please visit or call Christine Morabito at 800-648-6885.

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!