At The Heart of Community: C to C, The Commitment to Community Podcast Series from Oswald

October 28, 2021

Melanie Kasten-Krause has dedicated her career to helping adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities achieve belonging, growth, and success, as clients of The Society. But more than that, it’s been the joy of watching clients branch out to become part of the heart and soul of their communities, and in many cases, finding their own ways to inspire others and give back. I had the opportunity to visit Melanie at their Seville, Ohio campus and headquarters. For an organization built on creating social connections and community, along with advocacy, education, work, and housing opportunities, the challenges of the pandemic truly hit home. Even with the strict pandemic rules in regard to the safety of their staff and clients, it became clear the resiliency and spirit of the team has not waned, with Melanie sharing many success stories along with a vision of hope for the future.






Schmitz: Hi, it’s Christina. We’re back for another episode of C to C, the commitment to community podcast from Oswald companies. Today I’m here with Melanie Kasten Krause, Melanie, can you please introduce yourself and share a little bit about your organization?

Kasten-Krause: I’m the executive director, I’ve been with the organization for 39 years, originally as the social service director. We have been around, the society has been around since 1953. Started by a group of parents who wanted services for their children. In the county, they wanted their children to grow up with their families, and be a part of their community. And at that time, there were only state institutions; that was the only option. So their goal was for their child to be a part of the community. That continues to be our goal is to help individuals live their best lives and be a part of the community. We provide residential services in homes that we own. Also we provide in-home Services. We have adult day services, which are programs during the day to help people become involved in their community. We have a social rec program; we want people to have the opportunity to, to live to work, to socialize in their community.

We have advocacy and we’re very involved in not just us being as advocates as professionals, but also to help families and individuals be advocates. And we have an ombudsman that will help people walk through the system and services and support them and go to team meetings with the families. Sometimes it’s overwhelming when you have all those professionals and it’s just you. We have a Resource Center, which is actually for our entire community. We provide adaptive equipment, walkers, wheelchairs, tub park benches, whatever you need. Often you need those items for a very short time when you’re recovering from a surgery or while you’re waiting for your equipment to be approved by insurance. So it’s just like a library. It’s sanitized before it goes out. It’s sanitized when it comes back in and you just check it out like it would a book in the library.

Schmitz: That’s perfect. We’re here and we’re speaking here today at the Seville, this the headquarters?

Kasten-Krause: Yes at our headquarters our main campus.

Schmitz: What’s included here on the campus, I know, you go by the Society, I can see that, you can see the logo on your shirt. But what is that? What is the full name of the organization? And what do you do here?

Kasten-Krause: We were founded as the Society for handicapped children and as those children grew up, we became the Society for handicapped citizens, we have to have something else that begins with the ‘C’ and then as times to change….the meaning of words change and the preference of words. We now, go by The Society, we want to keep our history but also be respectful of others. On the grounds of this was our original location. Our agency started with education before there was education in schools. And then after they had gotten education in the schools and advocated for that, they built a camp out here for something for people to do in the summer. So we have a beautiful campgrounds and we use it for many reasons. During COVID we’ve even used it as a place for isolation as needed. We’ve also used it during COVID for an opportunity for people to come out here from a home that we own coming out here, spend some time have their own little family camp. While we’re doing some renovations in the different homes taking advantage of you know, the times are going on, we can do some renovations. So and then we have our services next door, okay. That’s a hub, from which they go out and are in the community most of the time, but that their starting point.

Schmitz: Is there a geographic boundary that the Society serves?

Kasten-Krause: We serve adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are in Medina County, and we have expanded to Ashland County and Huron County. And then we have many people who are along the borders. Wayne County will come up. You know, if you live in Creston, that’s not far to come up here for our day services. Individuals that live in Erie County, just north of our Huron county site, in Norwalk they will come down for services. So we’re not bound by county lines.

Schmitz: In checking in here today, we’re following some very strict COVID guidelines. How has the organization responded to the last 18 months, 18 plus months now at this point, I know we were speaking earlier, just about the stress in all the precautions that need to take place.

Kasten-Krause: Being the agency that provides congregate living, we’re very strict. We actually pulled into a stay at home order two days before the governor’s orders. So we are very strict on our sanitizing. I mean, every time I use the copier, I sanitize the copier, we’re wearing masks. We’re in the homes, we’re wearing masks….people were very concerned. How will the individuals we support; how would they react when we had to stay at home and how will this staff do and they have been amazingly resilient. I mean, wearing masks, washing hands, in the staff teaching … they have been so creative in in making the everyone’s day meaningful and productive and happy. You have to be a little creative, but they have been very creative. And we have had wonderful support. We’ve had companies that have helped by providing craft supplies, art supplies, games and puzzles, we have had companies providing iPads, and we had to turn on a dime, and get all our office staff, all our homes connected to so that we could, close down, essentially turn and stay at home. We have iPads at all our sites, and the individuals that just, there’s so much joy seeing them grow in their technology skills. We have one individual who is president of his Aktion Club, which is a Kiwanis Club for individuals with developmental disabilities. He is leading the club on an iPad and calling the meeting to order, they’re all watching each other. And they put their masks on for their meetings, even though they’re in different places, just out of practice.

Schmitz: Yeah, so definitely, well, it’s, it’s so great to hear some of those, I guess shining light that that comes from such a dark period. Certainly there’s, I’m sure with your time with the organization, you’ve seen a lot of those success stories, is there anything else that comes to mind, whether it’s over the last 18 months that you’ve seen breakthroughs, or even just how things have changed and evolved for the organization?

Kasten-Krause: Well, like I say, the mission has not changed. But you know, we learn we’re smarter, we have technology, we have more community acceptance, you know, we want everyone to not just be visiting things in the community, but we want them to be a part of things.  I see them the opportunities now we’ve had people volunteer at Kitten Crazy and Feeding Medina…going to the regular favorite spots in the community. I say the real test is, if you don’t show up to are you missed? Do people know your name…going to the same beautician… You know how it is a beautician and they cut your hair and chit chat…ask how your kids are or how your, your husband is or what you’re doing? Are you still doing this hobby or that, you know, that’s what we want. We all want that.

Schmitz: You’ve seen, like you said over over those years, you’ve you’ve seen that change firsthand in the community embrace and how amazing for your clients, that they also have that passion to give back… what an amazing success. Is there anything specific that from a company standpoint or an individual standpoint? I understand  the restrictions we’re under but what can people do now to get involved or give back to the Society.

Kasten-Krause: We can’t all be together like we do and Oswald’s has done a wonderful job of our field day, cheering them on and being a part of this, you know, so much fun. And we look forward to that happening again. But for now, we have yard work and we have fall coming and leaves coming down. Outside of our building when we came in, there’s painting going on. Those are volunteers painting our office building here, they’ve finished painting camp. We have pen pals, you know something that we’ve kind of gotten away from this letter writing, but during COVID, it’s just been wonderful…. people interested in writing letters, and just getting something in the mail, each day is is fun and exciting. At Christmas time, we want all the individuals in our programs to have something for Christmas. Yes, we usually have a given tree. So used to take a tag off, that’s a little harder now in this year. So, you know, we’ll probably accept donations for that, for gifts or money, so that we can purchase gifts. And there’s always things to do…

Schmitz: Definitely sounds like that. Oh, what’s next for the organization? I know if anything that we’ve learned, during this pandemic, it’s plan ahead, but also be able to, like you said, pivot when we need it, but is it is there anything specific that that is in the future that we should be watching for?

Kasten-Krause:  Well, we have our golf outing, as far as our activities, and that’s one thing we can still do. It is, you know, hopefully, we can still be outside and golf. As far as growth, we continue to try and meet the needs of individuals and get out in the community. And we’re always looking for opportunities. If there’s, even if it’s a virtual tour… right now, we’re just focused on, getting through COVID, So, yeah, we’re not thinking about any growth or things like that right now. Because it’s just, taking each week, figuring out where we’re going, but we’re hopeful and our staff, like I said, and the individuals and our families, it’s been a lot for families too… it’s surfacing, and doing FaceTime and learning all those things. And so, we’re just thankful that we can do some visits now I am looking forward to when we all can be together again, because we have a lot of we usually have our boo bash out here… our last boo bash, we had 900 visitors. Obviously not doing this year but, we turn these whole grounds into Halloween.. it’s movies out on the lawn, it’s games. Each cabin is a trick or treat spot. We have costume contests, we have a DJ. We have a hay wagon and hay rides. So we’re prepared for that to put a new graph on a wagon while we’re waiting. And our scanner day program, the group all turns that whole place into a haunted house. It’s our give back to the community. So we’re looking forward to when that can happen again…

Schmitz: Well, if you don’t mind, just to wrap up, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us about The Society, about how to get involved…how many actual locations outside of the main campus that we’re are here, how many locations?

Kasten-Krause: We have, Total? 13 total!

Schmitz: Wow. Okay. So there’s certainly your reach is very, is very wide. And certainly the programs and services you offer make a huge difference in our community. So again, thank you, Melanie, for taking the time. Is there anything else that you wanted to share before we close today?

Kasten-Krause: We want to thank Oswald because they have been such a big supporter in so many ways. And thank you for the opportunity to talk to you.

Schmitz: Definitely, well, we’ll definitely put links to your website and social media on our posts here so that people can continue to follow you. So thanks again!

This transcript has been edited for clarity and web formatting.

Introducing the C to C podcast, an oscast by Oswald production

Commitment to Community is a core value of Oswald; it’s the foundation of who we are and the purpose behind all we do. The CtoC podcast provides a platform for nonprofit partners to share their stories and discuss the critical issues facing their clients. Our goal: create a halo effect of service and support, inspiring our audiences to align with causes that speak to them and take action in their companies and communities.

Hosted by Christina Capadona-Schmitz, VP and director of marketing communications and leader for community engagement, this podcast series features in-depth interviews and highlights the good works happening throughout our communities.