Dear Fellow Staff—

As we enter Thanksgiving week, the COVID-19 pandemic is fully upon us and is actually escalating. Yesterday in Maryland we had over 2,800 positive cases, testing stations are backed up, and the Governor and CDC are issuing restrictive guidelines regarding restaurants, visitation to nursing homes and hospitals and family gatherings. I know it will be difficult, especially during the holiday season, but if we want to stay safe we need to heed their advice.

Here at NCIA cases are also escalating. We now have five of our homes on outbreak status and three individuals and seven staff have tested positive for the virus at these homes. We have one individual still in the hospital and has improved since his admission. On a positive note, we may be able to take two homes off outbreak status this week if conditions remain stable with individuals and staff. We are keeping our fingers crossed!

The recent spike in cases has caused us to revisit some of our program plans. We had initially developed a plan to pilot a very limited opening of our Youth In Transition School for a couple of weeks in December, but we called that off in light of the record number of cases. Our staff are doing an excellent job in their virtual instruction, which will have to continue until at least the second semester, which begins mid-January. We will continue to evaluate to see if even that will be possible. The safety of our staff and students is our paramount concern. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, school staff will be distributing grocery gift cards to our students and their families this week.

Our Adult Residential Services opened our Behavior Respite Home this week and took in our first referral. As you may recall, this home is intended to serve those individuals who need a break from their current placement or who are returning to the community from institutional settings. We have specially trained behavioral staff in this home and we are providing a much-needed service in Maryland. If we are successful in this endeavor, we hope to expand the program.

Our Vocational Training Centers had an inspirational week. Our Culinary Arts training program in Baltimore made and distributed Thanksgiving meals to over 100 of our students this week. In our Charlotte Center, students were provided take home meals prepared by a local Culinary Arts training program.

Additionally, the students in both of our Centers in Charlotte and Baltimore were able to hear from a motivational speaker, Richie Parker. Arranged and coordinated by our Regional Directors, Katie Hoelter and Khayla Dorsey, our students and staff were able to attend a virtual presentation and a question and answer session. Richie was born with bilateral amelia, a non-genetic birth defect in which his limbs were not formed. Despite living without arms, as a child he designed a bike that would allow him to ride around with the neighborhood kids. When he was old enough to drive, he and his father partnered with a company to develop a system that allowed him to drive a car on his own by steering with his feet. Richie then graduated from Clemson University and has worked for the past two decades as a NASCAR engineer for Hendricks Racing Team. His message was to embrace the challenges that life presents to you, and to never give up until you have reached your goals. His presentation can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/481703684/84e99192d0. It is definitely worth watching!

Finally, I really want all of our NCIA family to have a safe Thanksgiving Holiday. It will definitely be different, as we really need to forgo our traditional holiday gatherings to keep all of us COVID-free. I saw a quote this week that brought the message home for me:

“We isolate now so when we gather again, no one is missing.”

 God willing, we will have many more Thanksgiving holidays together, so let’s get safely through this one.