Even though the Happy Joe’s Kids Foundation was established by Happy Joe Whitty, founder of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor, decades ago, it’s still improving the lives of children with special needs and their families.

    Most recently, Happy Joe’s donated through the RiverView Foundation to help RiverView Rehab Services purchase supplies for its Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and the popular restaurant also treated children and their families to its signature pizza at Rehab Services’ Sensory Santa event.

    “Supporting RiverView Health is important to Happy Joe’s,’’ shared Brooke Panzer, general manager of the Crookston Happy Joe’s location. “The programs and services RiverView offers make a difference in the lives of everyone in our community. Donating to the Rehab Services Department in support of the pediatric patients is especially important to us.’’

Picture Exchange Communication System

    PECS is an alternative/augmented communication system that caters to patients that are nonverbal and require alternative ways to learn to communicate, such as through the use of pictures. PECS focuses on exchanging pictures to a therapist/parent/teacher/etc. in order to receive the object or activity of interest to the patient. By doing this, the patient is seeking an opportunity to communicate with others which builds social closeness.

    RiverView Occupational Therapist April Waters credits PECS with helping to decrease unwanted behaviors because the individual is equipped with tools to communicate his or her needs.

    Waters and RiverView Speech-Language Pathologist Carly Hansen recently completed specialized training in the communication system. The two therapists share several patients on their caseloads in both Crookston and East Grand Forks. Hansen says having both an occupational therapist and a speech-language pathologist trained in PECS is beneficial, as it gives patients the opportunity to utilize PECS in a multidisciplinary approach.

    “We are so excited to utilize the new materials donated by Happy Joe’s to improve our therapy sessions for our patients utilizing the PECS program,’’ shared Waters. “From the donation, we were able to purchase more supplies and toys to use with current and future patients who will benefit from the PECS program. We have already seen excitement and joy from the patients who have been able to use the newly funded materials.’’

Sensory Santa donation

    Happy Joe’s was also a big part of Rehab Services’ December Sensory Santa event. Families enjoyed pizza donated by Happy Joe’s as they waited for their little ones to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus.

    Children also enjoyed decorating cookies, making a craft, face painting, and took home a picture from their meeting with Jolly Old Saint Nick.

    “Twenty children were able to meet Santa,’’ reported Speech-Language Department Coordinator Erin Jore. “The families were so appreciative of the event. It was such a great night. We really have a great community.’’

    For more information on the PECS program, call Rehab Services at 281-9463. For information on programs through the Foundation, call Foundation Director Kent Bruun at 281-9249 or e-mail kbruun@riverviewhealth.org.