As we move through a week of celebrating and expressing sincere gratitude to our staff for their outstanding support of and service to people with disabilities, one quality stands out among many. They all are focused on service to another. They get up very early or work late, on weekends, on holidays, despite inclement weather – to be there for another person, and to be fully present, alert, attentive and responsive as they actively support people who are reaching for greater independence and greater quality of life through achieving their goals. They are champions of our mission – in accountability, innovation, learning, positivity and perhaps most of all – in trust.
Cathy Skiver has worked for the Agency for four years and is a Direct Support Professional III Mentor at Buffalo Road, home to 12 residents.
Her position is a long way from her customer service job at BJs, but there’s an aspect of that job which draws from that skill set.
“Ultimately, you’re making a positive difference in their lives,” she said, adding she jokes with many of them and they joke right back at her.
They seem to thrive on her no-nonsense straight-shooter personality.
“I have the satisfaction of knowing I have a relationship with all of them,” she said. “They know I’m no pushover and I don’t baby them. They respect that.”
Cathy’s been a mentor since March which has helped her redefine her professional approach.
“It’s your approach that helps them accept working on their skills,” she said, describing an incident in which she helped a resident learn how to use his tablet utilizing a fun and inclusive approach.
Many of Brian Delgado’s family works in the medical field, making him no stranger to caring for people with medical needs.
He is a Direct Support Professional III at Osgood where he has worked for more than two years.
As a strong yet sensitive professional, Brian’s biggest challenge is “seeing the deterioration” in one of the residents who has recently been diagnosed with dementia.
“I love them and have a relationship with them. It’s different from any other job.”
“Being here day after day, assisting them, developing strong relationships with them makes them like family,” he said, adding, “I show them the most respect and they, too, make you feel appreciated.”
Brian has strategized an interpersonal relationship style that assists the residents to be more independent.
“It’s wonderful to see them progress up steps toward independence,” he said. “It feels good to assist them to do things day by day that start out small but evolve into something bigger.”
Allie Sampson is a Direct Support Professional II at Five Mile Road and is also in her first semester of nursing school.
She worked for three years, then was promoted to a DSP III and worked as the agency’s overnight supervisor for two years. When she decided to go to nursing school she reduced her schedule to part-time.
“I fell in love with the people,” she said. “I love helping people who can’t help themselves. It’s about helping them gain more independence.”
She has an associates degree in culinary and hospitality management from the Culinary & Wine Institute at Mercyhurst University.
Since many of her credits will transfer, Allie plans to graduate as an RN in a year.
In addition to her out-going friendly style, she “plays a mean sax,’ she said, laughing, “I’m really a music head.”
More than anything, Allie loves the people she supports and often shows it by singing to them or playing music for her MP3.
“Music really touches them,” she said. “They love it.”
Angie Travis, who is a Direct Support Professional I, has worked overnights at Hinsdale for two and a half years.
Her job may be more challenging than those at other residences.
“We do bed checks every two hours to keep them dry. Some of our people get rotated every two hours to maintain skin integrity,” she said.
“I really like it,” she said, “Honestly the staff here is very welcoming to the people and to the other staff.”
She said, the up beat nature of the staff energizes the people also.
“In the morning, when I’m getting them up, I go in and ask, ‘You ready to get up and get it going?’ and they respond “Yeah!!’ They’re so happy. They know they have more freedom to express themselves,” she said, adding the staff’s positive attitude is changing the atmosphere at Hinsdale.
“It’s really rewarding. They appreciate you here,” she said, adding she comes from a close family and seems to know naturally how to ensure a happy Hinsdale family.
While Debra Greene finds great satisfaction in watching the people she supports on Delaware Avenue achieve their goals, running the residence like a family comes closer to home for the mother of four and foster mother to more than 20 children.
“It’s about helping them reach greater levels of independence,” she said. “I love seeing their progress.”
But, as a Direct Support Professional III or a “senior,” keeping an eye on the entire residence and ensuring everyone gets along may top her list of priorities and tap her parental diplomacy skills.
“We’re synchronizing as a family,” she said, smiling thoughtfully. “Some days that’s easier than others. We take it one day at a time.”
Some are learning to fold towels or count money.
“We give them awards when they accomplish a goal which may mean going on an outing of their choice,” she added.
Debra puts a lot of extra time into her work at Delaware Avenue, and “a lot of my heart,” she said.
Wanda McConnell is a Direct Support Professional II at South Avenue where she has worked for 12 years.
She’s had a long career with the Agency, beginning at SubCon Salamanca where she worked for her first ten years.
She began working residential 16 years ago at Henley Street where she provided full-time relief. Then, she was asked to work at the former State Street and 10th Street residences.
“When this position at South Avenue opened, I was chosen,” she said, adding at the time, South Avenue was considered a behavior house, a designation that no longer applies to that residence.
While she’s comfortable working with people with behavior issues, she’s equally comfortable working with all six residents.
“I talk calmly to disarm a negative experience. We have a good understanding a healthy respect for each other.,” Wanda said.
The warm scent of fresh baked bread drifted through the Delaware Avenue residence in the early morning near the end of Val Stuckey ‘s overnight shift.
“I can bake all night long here if I want to and I often do,” she said. “The residents love it and I love to bake!”
Val, who is a Direct Support Professional I, is a natural caregiver.
She’s a minister and has three grown children who are also involved in the ministry.
She also has an elderly mother for whom she cares every day after her overnight shift.
“I like helping people, making a difference in their lives and making them happy,” she said.
She majored in child care development when she was in high school and considers her work at Osgood Residence a successful career outcome.
After high school she worked in special ed and later with mentally challenged elderly people.
Kathy Anderson is a Direct Support Professional III or senior at Wiltse and has worked for the Agency for 23 years.
She has worked in Lifeskills but especially likes working as a DSP in residential.
“My heart is in residential,” she said. “I like the home-setting.”
Kathy has two grown children and four grandchildren. She loved raising her children as a stay-at-home mom, which is a transferable skill greatly appreciated by the people she supports.
As any parent knows, keeping the peace among other members of the family is an art and a challenge. It seems she’s the artist in residence at Wiltse.
“I work on synchronizing the house helping it function as a family.
Everything you do at home, you do here,” she said, adding she also gives medications and takes the residents on outings.
“I love it! It is so rewarding.”
Megan Roberts’ gentle presence is calming, yet affirming, to the five people at the Delaware IRA Residence where she has worked for two years.
As a Direct Support Professional III, she mentors other staff in the house with her caring style and smart approach to supporting the people.
“I love these guys. They’re awesome,” she said,
And it’s clear they feel the same about her.
As she helped one of the men who was trying to walk to the table for afternoon snack, he hugged her and thanked her.
“it’s real easy to come to work each day,” she said. “I enjoy being with them.”
Megan has been taking care of people with special needs for seven years professionally.
“It comes naturally to me,” she said. “I like taking care of people.”
In a career previous to the ReHab Center, Vic was a cook. Today he shares his culinary skills with the six people he supports and they love it.
“I cook for them,” he said, proudly but – as a man of few words – humbly.
“They love it when I cook. I try something new every time.”
He is committed to the people and enjoys taking them out in the community to lunch or to various places and events they select and enjoy.
“They are like family. I like taking care of them and making sure they’re safe and healthy,” he said, alluding to his healthy cooking.
He has three children, three grandchildren, “and one on the way,” he said, smiling as only a grandpa can.
Kassie Farr is a Direct Support Professional III Senior at Osgood Residence where she’s worked for more than four years.
There are six residents whom Kassie, as other DSPs in the Agency, treat and relate to as family.
As the mother of two little girls, Kassie went through both pregnancies while working at Osgood and the residents went through them right alongside with her.
“They love the girls. They get really excited to see them” she said.
“After I had my youngest, who is only five months old, they all wanted to see her.”
Kassie describes Osgood as a ‘Happy place, where we’re friends and that includes my coworkers.”
It’s also a busy house.
“We do a lot of laundry. The bedding gets washed daily, and we cook breakfast and pack their lunches,” she said, adding another DSP makes breakfast casseroles three days a week.
“The people love those, and they love pancakes and waffles,” she said, laughing, “Cereal is just the end of the world.”
While working with the people there, she fell in love with them and found her passion for a professional caring opportunity.
She is now in her second year of nursing school.
“It was the push I needed to get on the path to a medical career,” she said, “but it’s time encompassing. So I cut my work schedule to part time working as a DSP I at Prospect.”
“It’s the folks,” she said. “They are family.
I am always so happy to see them and they are so happy to see me.”
Alyssa is also the mother of two little girls, with whom the people in the residence enjoy visiting.
She hopes to work in behavioral health after nursing school.