Laskowski Brings His Passion for Person-Centered Services to HSS

September 20th, 2018

craig-photoCraig Laskowski didn’t intentionally seek out a career working with individuals with disabilities — he believes his path in life led him there.

Laskowski went to McKendree University to play baseball, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do professionally. An inspiring psychology teacher steered him toward a path in human services, but even after graduation, Laskowski’s future in the field was far from defined.

In fact, he admits that as a kid, he often felt nervous around individuals with disabilities.

It took the right set of circumstances for his whole attitude to change.

After eight months of job searching after college, Laskowski was hired to open the Lebanon Terrace Intermediate Care Facility for the Developmentally Disabled.

There, as one would expect, he was surrounded by people with developmental disabilities. And one man in particular opened Laskowski’s eyes to a new way of thinking.

This man was an avid baseball fan, like Laskowski. He knew all of Laskwoski’s high school stats.

As Laskowski recalls, “we hit it off right away.” They’d have one conversation after another.

“That was my first opportunity to relax and listen to him,” Laskowski said. “It was God’s way of introducing me in a way I was comfortable with, (and) it didn’t take me long to realize that what I had paid attention to was only on the outside, not on the inside.”

From those early conversations on, Laskowski was hooked on learning more. Now, he is convinced it was always his personal calling.

Today, he can look back at a more than 30-year career working with individuals with disabilities, where he has honed a specialty in person-centered care. He brought that expertise to Human Support Services a year ago this month, joining the organization as Chief Program Officer.

Before joining HSS, Laskowski worked for 28 years with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities.

While there, Laskowski was a trained facilitator in essential lifestyle planning, then personal futures planning and other similar models. He also had the opportunity to be trained by Michael Small, the pioneer of person centered planning.

Small’s message struck a chord with Laskowski, and person-centered care has been his passion ever since.

“When you allow people to live the way they want to live, it’s amazing…the dramatic impact it has on their lives, their self esteem,” he said. Laskowski became the division’s spokesperson for person-centered planning and service enhancement.

His message was often quite simple: the old ways aren’t what work best for the individual.

When an inspector of care, he would review the models in place at the time, “and I realized that no matter what, there was still something missing: quality of life. When we dictated what they had to work on, we focused on their weaknesses, ignored their strengths. Now we can focus on their strengths, gifts, talents, dreams and desires.”

He continued, “With person-centered, we talk about how to meet friends, different jobs we can do, how to self advocate for yourself, take control of your life — focus on their strengths, abilities, gifts, dreams and desires. Then you try to tailor services around that.”

Since starting at HSS, Laskowski has introduced an array of initiatives aimed at bringing the organization in line with state and federal mandates pertaining to person-centered care.

This has included extensive staff training on Personal Outcome Measures, to ensure HSS offers supports and services that are truly person-centered.

In the early spring of 2018, for instance, staff went through four days of personal outcome interviewer training to make sure the standards are being met.

The goal, Laskowski said, is to develop ways to support the individual so they aren’t entirely reliant on HSS — essentially, so they can live the life of a non-disabled person.

This might mean building a community around the individual so they are less dependent upon the service system, or perhaps finding modes of transportation beyond what HSS can provide.

Under the old models, Laskowski said, the goals were simpler: teaching someone to give change for a dollar, or how to tie their shoe.

“Now, it’s more,” he said. “It’s developing friends in the community, continuing traditions and rituals in their life with their family. Now, we want to find out what their dreams or desires are, personal outcomes, things they want to achieve.”

It’s allowing individuals to shape their own futures and preferences, dictate their own schedules and do ordinary things like plan a vacation, or cook and entertain for friends and family.
“The biggest thing for me has been seeing the change the clients here,” Laskowski said.

Newly empowered, he’ll hear their changed outlook just in day-to-day conversations.
“They’ll say to me, ‘You mean I could be my own boss one day?’” he said with a smile.

“To me, I feel that a person with a disabilities has the same dreams and desires that we have and should have the same right to pursue those as me or you.”

HSS Chooses Name for New B & B with Help From Clients, Staff

July 2nd, 2018

LOGO SeeMoreInn

Our clients and staff offered many suggestions for the name of of our new bed and breakfast at 4505 HH Road in Waterloo, but the winning moniker is one that just “felt right” to all who heard it.

Our bed and breakfast, which will officially open to guests on yesterday, July 1, will be called The SeeMore Inn!

B&BThe name, which was suggested by HSS staff member Geri Kutz, comes from a Robert M. Hensel quote which reads: There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.

When we heard the meaning behind the name, we felt right away that it was perfect.

Not only does it speak to what we do as an agency, in truly seeing the greatest potential in everyone who comes through our doors, but in another sense, we want the Inn to encourage people to see more of our community – of Waterloo, Monroe County and southwestern Illinois.

While The SeeMore Inn was the winner,  our clients also had some other great options to choose from, including Das Haus, in honor of the community’s German heritage; 1875 House, a nod to the year the home was built; and the We Dream Big Inn.

In case you missed the announcement, we’ve also named the new innkeeper/manager of The SeeMore Inn – our own Jessica Helm of Waterloo!

“This is more than just a job, for so many reasons,” said Trisha Hoagland, our human resources director at HSS.  “With her background in hospitality, and her success in working directly with the clients here, we felt Jessica was meant for this role.”

Clients participated in the interviews of all the applicants, which were all internal.

“In speaking with the clients after the interviews, they all had very positive things to say about Jessica,” Hoagland said. “They said, ‘she treats us like everybody else.’ That is so important in a role in which we are focusing on people developing their independence and pursuing their potential.”

Helm, 29, previously worked at the Waterloo Country Club for 13 years, working her way up from a server to general manager.  In July 2016, Helm started as a direct service provider for HSS at Waterloo Main Street Apartments, working hands-on with clients on their daily living skills.

“I fell into the job at HSS,” Helm said. “I had intentions to go to nursing school because I wanted to take care of people. But then I finished my CNA course, and I wanted to stay with HSS because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

In 2017, Helm moved up to the HSS workshop, where she helped clients train on job skills.

“I loved the workshop because I got to work with all the clients but I wanted to do more – to teach them more,” Helm said. “When the job opening happened for bed and breakfast manager/innkeeper, it was perfect.  I get emotional about it, because it was so aligned.”

Clients will work a variety of jobs at the bed and breakfast, and eventually three clients with developmental disabilities will live in the five-bedroom home full-time. The clients, with help and round-the-clock supervision from Helm and other HSS staff, will work at and operate the The SeeMore Inn.

Each client will have his or her own bedroom and bathroom. The remaining two bedrooms will be offered as traditional bed and breakfast rooms – open to the general public and/or out-of-town guests and client family members visiting HSS.

Helm said all the HSS clients are already teeming with excitement over the prospect of working at The SeeMore Inn. Several have already helped with yardwork and cleanup projects on the property, and have accompanied Helm to pick up furniture and decor for the Inn.

“All the clients are so excited – you can feel it when you walk in,” Helm said.  “I’m making sure that they’re involved in everything we’re doing. I’ve created job descriptions and applications for them to fill out to make it as much like a job as possible so when they’re ready to venture out beyond here they’ll have experience.”

The Inn, which the previous owners had for many years operated as the Waterloo Inn bed and breakfast, came on the real estate market in 2017.  We closed on the property in February.

Though there is a similar bed and breakfast being operated by a nonprofit in Clarksville, Mo., this would be the first such effort of its kind in Illinois.

The entire project is part of our ongoing effort to pursue “person-centered” services, which focus on developing services and supports around the skills, interests, dreams and desires of each individual served, instead of the “one-size-fits-all” services of the past.

2018 Shine Your Light Gala

June 28th, 2018

I am thankful.  I am overwhelmed.  I am amazed. Frankly, words fail to describe exactly how I feel about the generosity of this community.

This was the first time in history that our organization, Human Support Services, made this kind of ask of our community, our staff and our leadership. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say you all set the bar pretty darn high!

While the evening itself was over in just five glorious hours, the months and days leading up to an event like this are filled with hours upon hours of hard work and at times, frazzled chaos.

It is in those days and hours that I saw the true heart of the people who make HSS a success every single day.

Countless members of our staff sent letters, made phone calls and collected donations to help make the Gala possible. All of this was done in addition to their already full workloads.

I heard so many positive comments in the room that evening about the number of donations we received, the way our staff volunteered and came together, the delicious food, and even the schedule of the evening and the fact that the program ran on time.  None of that would have been possible without the dedication of our HSS family.

From the beginning, we’ve had the support and commitment of our HSS Board of Directors and the Gala Council. These two groups took time from their own hectic schedules to attend meetings, seek donations and help turn what once was just an idea into a beautiful reality.

And a truly beautiful evening it was.  Gala guests loved that our event was “black-tie” optional, which meant they had a chance to wear their fanciest floor-length gowns and three-piece suits or tuxedos. The Falls Reception and Conference Center provided the perfect backdrop for lots of gorgeous pictures with friends and family.

A poignant video from Spot Media reminded all of us why we were in the room – to support the work of HSS and learn more about what our agency provides to the people of Monroe County and beyond.

Guests at the Gala were the first to see our new HSS new mission and vision statements, as well as our new agency logo.  This new mission – “Helping all people live their best lives” – will carry us forward in all the work we do.

Whether you made a donation, attended the Gala or volunteered your time, YOU are helping us achieve that mission.

For this, I thank you.

These words of thanks don’t just come from me – they come from all of the clients and staff who make up the HSS family. Your support of the Gala and HSS means you believe in them – in their work, their lives and their futures.

Our next Shine Your Light Gala will be held May 31, 2019 at The Falls.  Hope to see you all there again and hope to see many new faces next year.

Anne King
HSS Executive Director

HSS Special Olympians Show Their Spirit at Spring Games

June 12th, 2018

HSSOn April 28, we were proud to watch our team of athletes compete in the Spring Games for Special Olympics Illinois — including one champ who showed us all what it means to persevere.

This athlete fell during her race and was technically disqualified. But she got up, brushed off her injuries, and finished her event! In our book, that’s winning.

We also brought home nine gold medals, 10 silvers and eight bronzes. Way to go, team!

We love watching as our HSS clients push their limits and celebrate their achievements.

Special Olympics competitions are much-anticipated events for many of the adults who participate in our adult day training program or reside in our supportive housing program.

Through these events, people find courage and confidence and develop new strengths.


Special Olympics, which is now in 170 countries around the world, actually began right here in Illinois. The first games were held at Soldier Field in July 1968 thanks to the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her peers. There are now more than 4.5 million athletes around the world.

Special Olympics Illinois hosts 19 Spring Games throughout the state, with almost 10,000 athletes competing over three weeks.


This year, our region’s Spring Games were held at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

The weather cooperated, even though it was a little chilly. But we took that as another lesson in fortitude!

We think the Special Olympics oath is pretty fitting for this year’s event:

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Even our athletes who didn’t receive medals were brave in their attempts!

Here’s a full list of our winners:

Gold medals:

  • Katie B.
  • Robbie B.
  • Rachel D.
  • Jill J.
  • Mike K.
  • Austin M.
  • Kevin R.
  • Zach S.
  • Josh W.

Silver medals:

  • Rose E.
  • James J. (with two)
  • Elliot M.
  • Austin M.
  • Susie M.
  • Candy R.
  • Jeremy W.
  • Josh W.
  • Linda W.

Bronze medals:

  • ​Mary
  • Susie D.
  • Mike F. (with two)
  • Sarah H.
  • Susie M.
  • John R.
  • Zach S.
  • Ben W.

We also had seven fourth-place winners, seven fifth-place winners, five sixth-place winners and one seventh-place winner.

Our gold medal winners will compete in the State Games on June 15-17. We will keep you updated!

In a Mental Health Crisis, Simply Wanting to Help Isn’t Enough

May 8th, 2018

Success doesn't come to you. You go to it.

Ethan Call, a college student, was worried when he noticed that his friend — who normally attended church every Sunday — didn’t show up to teach Sunday School that day.

He knew she had been struggling with depression and anxiety. So, he texted her and asked if she was okay.

She wasn’t.

Gwen Cubit, a mother from Texas, was worried when her son texted her from Maryland asking her to call him. He said it was urgent.

She picked up the phone and found him in the throes of an emotional crisis — he wasn’t sure if he wanted to kill himself or someone else.

Think about the last time you worried about a friend, a family member or a neighbor.

Many of us can sense when something isn’t quite right, but the fear of being intrusive, overstepping our bounds or saying the wrong thing can prevent us from acting.

So, far too often, we do nothing to help.

Ethan and Gwen Knew What To Do

Luckily, Ethan and Gwen knew exactly what to do. They had both recently been trained in Mental Health First Aid where they learned how to recognize when someone might be experiencing a mental health or substance use problem, and mastered an action plan to help.

Noticing the red flag, Ethan left church and drove to his friend’s house. Immediately, the Mental Health First Aid action plan kicked in.

He sat with her and listened to her talk about her feelings — without judgment — over milk and cookies. He gave her information about where and how she could access professional help.

He encouraged her to turn to her friends, family and faith community for support. Now, Ethan’s friend is working with a counselor and doing much better.  She got help.

Gwen immediately recalled an important strategy from her Mental Health First Aid training: stay calm.

She kept her son talking, asked questions about what he was doing, where he was and where his family was.

She took his risk of suicide seriously and encouraged him to go to the hospital with his father-in-law, who lived in the area.

Her son agreed, and she stayed on the phone with him until she heard him check in with the administrative nurse at the ER. Her son was diagnosed with depression, and is doing much better today. He got help.

Each of these stories begins the same way: a person trained in Mental Health First Aid notices that something isn’t right. And each story ends with a person in distress getting the help they need.

But when people don’t know what they’re supposed to do when confronted with a difficult situation — when they don’t have an action plan for stepping in when someone is experiencing a mental health or substance use problem — the stories can end much differently.

How Mental Health First Aid Helps

Mental Health First Aid takes the fear and hesitation out of offering support to someone in an emotional crisis. It provides critical tools for helping people that can mean the difference between life and death.

Today, more than 550,000 Americans are trained in Mental Health First Aid. That’s 550,000 people who would know when and how to react to a person in crisis.

And Human Support Services is proud to be a partner in that progress. But in a nation of more than 318 million, 550,000 is not enough.

This month, we celebrate Mental Health Month. We recognize the incredible strides we’ve made in promoting understanding, increasing opportunities and improving the lives of people living with mental health and substance use problems.

Mental Health Month is an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come. But Mental Health Month is also an opportunity to acknowledge how much more work there is to do.

In January, the National Council for Behavioral Health launched the Be 1 in a Million campaign—a national effort to train one million people in Mental Health First Aid. Since the launch of the campaign, more than 50,000 new first aiders have been trained.

This Mental Health Month, we encourage everyone to become part of the Be 1 in a Million movement.

  • Get trained.
  • Spread the word.
  • Offer support to someone in need. Because — as Ethan, Gwen and so many like them know — recognizing how and when to step in and offer help can change, even save, a life.

Article adapted from the National Council for Behavioral Health.