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Therapists, a tip of the hat to you

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | August 3, 2020 1:07 AM

Syringa Family Partnership wins high praise for dedication to children with disabilities

An unexpected surprise waited for Colleen Sisk when she walked up to her building to open early one morning.

A banner with big words, "Thank you Syringa," was taped to a window, surrounded by stickers of little hands. The door was decorated with hearts, stars and rainbows, reminding her just how much of a difference Syringa Family Partnership makes in the lives of those it serves.

"I'll see posters for the hospitals and nurses. I never would have expected that for us," Sisk said Friday. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh!'

"It was amazing," she said. "There’s a high rate of burnout in this field. I've been doing it for 20 years, we have staff that have been doing it a long time. To get that kind of appreciation, that's what keeps us going."

Sisk is the owner of Syringa Family Partnership, which serves children with developmental disabilities and provides services such as behavioral intervention, crisis intervention, interdisciplinary training, family education and respite for parents and guardians. It has about 60 employees who work at sites in Hayden, Post Falls and Bonners Ferry.

As mom Cassidy Minert puts it, Syringa is much more than a business. It's a safe, nurturing space for kiddos as well as for parents. Her son, Ryan, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months and became a Syringa client when he was 2. He was nonverbal, prone to extreme behaviors and was on a strict liquid diet.

Now he's 7, and he's flourishing, in no small part to the work of Syringa's compassionate staff.

"It's because of them where my son is at today," said Minert, of Post Falls. "Every step of the way, there was a person with my son, and it felt like there was a person with me."

They comforted her and involved her in Ryan's progress the whole time. Minert said Syringa has built a community where frustrated moms can vent and network, and where their kids are always the No. 1 priority.

"The feeling is like I’m taking my kid to a second home," she said. "I know he’ll be safe, and I don't have one concern when I drop him off. It's so comforting, because I want to be so involved with him. I didn't want to just drop him off at a business. It’s like they say, ‘I'm going to love him just like you would.'"

Minert was not responsible for the decorating, but she said those who are speak for all Syringa families.

"I want the world to know how amazing they are," she said.

Those responsible for this gesture of gratitude are moms Cait Christensen of Hayden and Sarona Dunn of Coeur d'Alene. Both have children who have been Syringa clients for several years.

"We just decided to decorate Syringa and show some appreciation for the staff in this crazy time right now," Christensen said. "The work they do with my children, I couldn't do what I do as a parent without their support."

Dunn said they snuck over to the building on Sunday afternoon when no one was there so it would be a surprise Monday morning.

"Our whole thing was we didn't want to get caught,” she said with a laugh. "It was just such a rush."

All the moms expressed their appreciation for how Syringa's therapists handled the pandemic shutdown. Even though the buildings were closed, therapists checked on their clients and made house calls, and were available 24/7 in case of crises or emergencies. It has been an especially tough time for special-needs children, who many times experience high stress when their routines are changed.

Christensen said she doesn't get how therapists like those at Syringa weren't considered "essential workers" when the work they do is so vital to the lives of children with disabilities and their families.

"Especially in times like these with the pandemic and coronavirus, our children with special needs need support," Christensen said. "Even though Syringa shut down, they were still checking on us. They were still seeing how we were doing, they were still ‘there’ even though they couldn’t be. They are invaluable to our life and our home and our family."

Sisk said Syringa reciprocates this feeling of gratitude.

"We appreciate the parents so much," she said. "They're the ones that go home with their kids every day. They lean on us as the professionals and the experts, but at the end of the day, the parents are the experts and we learn just as much from them as they learn from us. It's the relationship with the parents that makes the job so fun."

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Syringa Family Partnership therapist Amy Sheppard works with Ben Christensen,7, who is having some fun with masks to get comfortable with them in July. The families Syringa serves sang the praises of the business and its loving employees, and two moms decorated the building for workers to know how much they are appreciated. (Courtesy photos)

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Syringa Family Partnership therapist Kaecie Rowe snuggles Macy Minert before working with big brother Ryan in 2015. "I loved how we would all come in and she would love on Macy before she started working with Ryan," mom Cassidy Minert said. Syringa serves children with disabilities, and their families are grateful for the dedication of its employees, especially during the pandemic lockdown. (Courtesy photo)