Community Habilitation and Respite, a lifestyle of caring

Maureen and Nasir enjoy working out together at the Olean YMCA.

Fresh out of college and armed with a degree in Recreation Leadership, Maureen Boza started her career with the ReHab Center bursting with enthusiasm to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people we support.

When she began in 1979, it was as a care professional at a former residence on State Street. A year later, Maureen became recreation director for SubCon, a grant-funded position she held for eight years. When she married and began her family, she took a leave of absence from the Agency.

When she returned, it was as a Direct Support Provider for Community Habilitation and Respite (which includes Saturday Rec and GAP), a position she has held now for 24 years.

Currently, Maureen visits five people twice a week in the course of a month. At other times, she has visited up to 10 people. Her visits entail going into the homes of people with disabilities who live with their parents. In this role, which is much like that of a mentor or life coach, she helps the people she visits set goals and become more independent.

“This program is very person-centered,” Maureen said. “When we do the intake, we ask the individuals what goals they want to work on.”

During some of her visits, she takes the individuals into urban areas such as the YMCA where they ride the bike, walk the track or go swimming, and a wide range of activities through which they learn other real world life skills.

“When I go into their homes and teach them life skills, that helps them be a better part of their family. If they have siblings, I help them interact with each other. Sometimes we play games,” she said. “Everything – from learning to eat healthy foods to learning social skills – is a teachable moment.”

She also ensures the individuals’ needs for items their families could not provide are met. She purchases boots or clothing for them at her own expense.

“Maureen really shines. She shows the love, care and respect the Agency is all about,” her supervisor, Mary Ellen Gangemi, Behavioral Health Services Manager, said.

Mary Ellen said Maureen’s creative ideas, which have led to unique projects with the individuals she supports, have inspired the entire department.

“Maureen’s positive attitude and enthusiastic willingness to do whatever needs to be done is a real asset to the Community Hab and Respite program, and to the whole agency,” Mary Ellen said.

Her open, friendly and out-going personality sets the tone for all her relationships as she builds a trusting rapport with each individual.

“I put myself in their shoes – look at it from their perspective and try to feel what it’s like for them,” Maureen said.

“And that includes their parents.”

As she warmly affirms the people she works with, she helps them learn the skills they need to become more independent.

They soon became like an extended family, gathering for all kinds of occasions and reasons – birthday or Christmas parties, picnics, garage parties.

“We would just find a reason to hang out together, and that includes parents and other families,” she said.

Some of her individuals live in remote areas of northern Cattaraugus County where there is no public transportation. As she built relationships with each family, she also found ways to bring all the families together to create a supportive network that would reduce any sense of isolation they felt.

As some of the individuals are high functioning, they are able to volunteer at places such as The Pines Nursing Home or ring the bell for the Salvation Army’s red kettle at Christmas.

“Volunteering teaches them responsibility,” Maureen said. “All of this makes them part of the community.”

As Maureen’s three children were growing up, they grew up with some of the individuals and learned to naturally care for others and respect people who may be different.

“They loved it because we would play games with them. It taught my kids total respect for people with disabilities,” Maureen said, recalling one occasion when her son was young and as they were sitting at the table together, she turned around and found her son feeding the young man.

“My son didn’t think anything of it. He just did it naturally,” she said, adding today, her son is an adult working in human services.

Maureen’s work is so much more than just a career. It is the lifestyle she loves, one in which she – and her family – receive as much as they give to others with disabilities. She is among 23 other care providers, who provide support to close to 80 individuals.