DD Council Connection
DD Council Connection is a way for the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council to introduce to you our Council members, provide updates on the work we do and the grant projects we manage, and inform you on the activities and initiatives of Ohio's community of advocates and others who work on behalf of people with disabilities and their families.
Read the February 2023 Newsletter
Dealing with the Train Derailment Crisis: The Impact on Those We Serve
The last typical moment of the day on Friday, February 3 for the staff and partners at Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities (CCBDD) ended when someone on their group chat mentioned hearing about a train derailment with toxic chemicals leaking in nearby East Palestine, Ohio. From that moment on, CCBDD's typical day turned into continual crisis response days.
A Norfolk Southern train of nearly 150 railroad cars was traveling from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania. The train was over 1.7 miles long weighing 18,000 tons. Its crew consisted of two operators and one trainee, and its cargo included everything from frozen vegetables to cotton balls to vinyl chloride — a colorless, flammable, and carcinogenic gas used to make plastic. As the train neared East Palestine, 38 train cars derailed. Eleven of those cars contained hazardous material that spilled onto the ground, ignited and sent toxic fumes into the air. Though speculated to be a faulty wheel bearing on one rail car, the cause of the derailment has not yet been fully investigated or confirmed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
East Palestine is an Ohio village within Columbiana County. Of its 4,700 people slightly more than 12 percent of the county’s population are individuals with a disability.
Shortly after the derailment, it was recommended that East Palestine residents within a one-mile radius evacuate their homes. However, Carrie Waters, Director of CCBDD Service and Support Administration (SSA), along with several staff members including Dianna Delposen, a team lead, were already on the phone reaching out to the nearby families making sure they evacuated, had transportation, and a safe place to go. As the crisis progressed, authorities changed the evacuation from “recommended” to “mandatory.”
“One mother had already put her daughter with a disability in bed. She woke her up and with just the clothes they were wearing [and] relocated to a family member’s home. Another one of our families with a member with a disability moved into a hotel – taking nothing with them as the authorities had them evacuate immediately,” Waters said. Two additional CCBDD families went to the community center in town.
Thirty of the individuals and families that CCBDD serves were displaced and needed assistance.
“I give 101 percent thanks to the CCBDD staff who stayed calm and came together to work with our community to serve our families,” Waters added.
After finding transportation and places to house the displaced people, churches and other organizations brought meals to hotels and took supplies to families in need. Palestine schools brought book bags and school supplies to their displaced students.
Delposen reiterated that “this was a community effort.” Quality Inn Calcutta in East Liverpool responded rapidly to support and house about 20 families with individuals with disabilities. Bala Management, one of CCBDD’s in-home care providers for individuals with developmental disabilities, sent several individuals to the Quality Inn and then helped with food, hygiene supplies, and setting up a gathering space with snacks. Holiday Inn in Newell, West Virginia also stepped up to quickly support another 40 people. Additionally, owners of nearby rental properties in both Ohio and Pennsylvania opened their doors and offered places to stay. In total, approximately 100 people were helped with housing, transportation, clothing, food, medicine and more.
“It was a tri-state concerted effort among Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” Delposen said.
CCBDD SSA staff continued to work through Saturday and Sunday to support individuals within a 30-mile radius of the train derailment. The staff worked diligently to disseminate information with sensitivity and empathy for the affected individuals with disabilities, ensuring to not add to the stress of their disrupted schedules and state of uncertainty.
“When good people work together, great things happen, and my staff made things happen in East Palestine for the clients we proudly serve,” said Bill Devon, CCBDD Superintendent.
Families with individuals with developmental disabilities are now returning home, individuals with residential services are going back to their residences, and day programs and services are back up and running. The Counseling Center of Columbiana County is providing extended hours for in-person help as well as offering group chats.
Looking to the future, Waters says that while they knew about the train derailment and evacuation early on, she hopes to create a more organized response system with contact information arranged by regions should a crisis happen again.
“We need to give the folks with disabilities credit for how well they did to adapt to all these changes, and to the staff and providers who stayed on shift after shift to help in providing services and familiarity to clients,” Waters added. “We’re pretty much back to normal but thinking of the ‘what ifs’ for the future.”
A Boots on the Ground Story: Threshold Residential Services Rallies to Respond
When you hear sayings like, “it’s who you know” and “make the best of a bad situation” they might just go right back out of your head. But sometimes these idioms are the crux of making things happen.
Threshold Residential Services – a CCBDD provider of residential, vocational and day programs – has its headquarters inside the one-mile evacuation perimeter of the East Palestine train derailment. Additionally, seven of their residential homes are located just outside the one-mile radius.
Sensing the evacuation perimeter would grow and impact Threshold’s participants, Threshold CEO, Chris Page, and Program Director, Seth Walker, drove to pick up company buses in a building near the derailment. But Page and Walker were blocked by multiple police cars, military vehicles and their personnel. After much explaining and a bit of pleading, Page and Walker were told to turn around. That’s when the “who you know” came into play as Page glanced up to see a police officer he had met recently. The officer allowed them in to pick up the buses.
Still unsure of what all the evacuation would entail, Page stopped at the command post that had been set up to deal with the issues of the derailment. Once again, seeing a local law officer he knew, he was able to learn about the plan for a controlled release of the toxic substances from the derailed train cars. The officer advised him to evacuate his people located beyond the one-mile radius quickly.
Threshold looked for a place to relocate their participants but found the hotels in the area already fully booked. Eventually, they were able to connect with a hotel that was about a half hour drive from their headquarters. Walker, along with Threshold’s maintenance director, Brandon “Bo” Brown, drove the buses to pick up residents and their guardians. They arrived at the hotel at 11:30 a.m., only to have to wait to get into rooms until the 3:00 p.m. check in.
This is where the “make the best of a bad situation” comes in. Jumping on the phones again, the staff called restaurant after restaurant to see which could accommodate a party of 30. Finally, the Youngstown Ohio Olive Garden said they had tables to accommodate their large party. Threshold staff told the individuals to order whatever they wanted. One individual later shared it was the best shrimp he had ever had!
As time went on, staff brought meals to the hotel. “Our day program employees prepared food at several locations and then brought everything in roasters, and we would have a big family style meal in the common area. Several times, we would run into other displaced East Palestine locals and invite them to share a plate with us,” Walker said.
Not knowing how long they’d be staying at the hotel (it turned out to be three nights), fun activities were planned for the group. “We went bowling, to the movies, and walked around the grounds. We grabbed some decks of cards to play Uno. One of our clients enjoys knitting, so we found some skeins of yarn and hooks for him. Time was also spent just relaxing and joking around. All in all, it was a three-day vacation for our folks, and we kept our spirits high in uncertain times,” Walker added.
Threshold does have a crisis plan in place, but it deals more with potential issues that could happen within one of their home locations, not a total evacuation. “Even reaching out to our board members for assistance was challenging as they all live in East Palestine and half of them had to evacuate themselves,” Page explained.
When the “all clear” was declared and residents were told they could return home, Threshold wanted to ensure the health and safety of each of their residences. Though the government had promised to clean up homes that were within the one-mile zone of the derailment, Threshold’s homes just outside that area wouldn’t have been covered. So, Threshold’s staff went into each home to sweep, open windows and doors for airing out, and clean all surfaces. Threshold hired contractors to test homes to be sure they were clear of toxicity.
“In my nine years at Threshold, three of them as its CEO, I saw this team come together quickly and do so much,” Page said. He acknowledges the flexibility of the individuals they serve in adapting to their lives being turned upside down. “They were all wonderful. We had a lot of support and I’m very thankful for that.”
Supporting Ohio Fathers: Fathering in 15TM Resource
The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities is partnering with the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood to offer Fathering in 15™, a resource to support fathers. Fathering in 15™ is an interactive, subscription-based online tool that helps hundreds of U.S. organizations support dads in building or enhancing their parenting skills, especially as it relates to involvement, responsibility and reliability.
Healthy father involvement is associated with better outcomes on nearly every measure of a child’s wellbeing. This resource takes dads through 15 interactive, engaging topics, each lasting 15 minutes. It is accessible on any computer or mobile device.
Thanks to the support of the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood, this resource is being offered for free when using this registration link.
Daniel’s Music Foundation Shares Joy of Music for All
Daniel’s Music Foundation offers a place where individuals of all abilities can learn, connect and celebrate the joy of music. Founded in 2006, Daniel’s Music Foundation (DMF) is a nonprofit organization that aims to empower individuals with developmental and physical disabilities through music.
The organization believes in the indelible ability of all individuals to creatively express themselves and knows music is a wonderful resource for the wellness and rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities.
The virtual community of DMF offers individuals several ways to participate and learn. Students can watch DMF On-Demand, which has interactive videos that allow a person to learn at their own pace. In-person music lessons are available for ages three and up. And DMF hosts live events for people to gather and celebrate music together.
Learn more about Daniel's Music Foundation.
Ohio DD Talks: Tips on Talking with Your Legislator
In this month's episode, new hosts Marci Straughter and Shari Cooper talk with Ohio DD Council's Liaison Officer, Paul Jarvis about how people with disabilities can have effective and impactful conversations with their legislators.
You can find all the podcasts on the Ohio DD Council’s YouTube channel and Buzzsprout.
Share Your Story!
Ohio DD Talks wants to hear YOUR stories - people with developmental disabilities, family members, and community members. We want to collect your stories and perhaps even have you on the series! Submit your story on our website through an online form.