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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!

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.