March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), a time to raise awareness about both the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of community life and the challenges individuals with disabilities face in connecting within their communities.
Each year, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) launches a DDAM social media campaign that spotlights ways people with and without disabilities unite to create strong, diverse communities. “Worlds Imagined,” the 2022 campaign theme, illustrates how the world is changing for the better with medical advances, new policies, and improved awareness that are creating positive changes and new opportunities for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The artwork above by Calvin “Sonny” Clarke serves at the DDAM 2022 logo imagery.
Seventeen individuals with developmental challenges receive the supports they need to be active, productive members of their communities from caring staff in CareLink’s seven ID/IDD residential programs. Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Press Office asked ID service providers and professionals to share personal stories about why they chose their careers and why their work is essential. The thoughtful submissions of three dedicated CareLink employees—Elvelina P., Victoria P., and Delores A.—appear below.
“I wanted to do something that made a difference to people who had needs that most people choose to ignore.”
I want to tell you why I chose a career in direct support and IDD and how I think it helps people, and also tell a story about how I believe I made an impact. I would like to think that I try to help people every day in different ways, because I like to try to do that every day. I feel like each day when I wake up in the morning, I can tell myself that it is a day of service, and I feel good about that. I chose this career because I always felt that the most important thing I could do was help people who needed help. So many people need help, but too often other people look away from them and ignore them. I wanted to do something that made a difference to people who had needs that most people choose to ignore. At CareLink, we help people that struggle in ways that may drive others away from them, and we try to help them without judging them. It is easy to judge, but the right thing to do is support people in their needs instead of simply looking away. Sometimes when the job is most difficult, because those we are helping are being their most difficult, is when I stop and realize how much of a difference we are making.
There are so many times that I feel blessed to have that chance to help. For example, there was a time when I was caring for someone who was having a difficult day because of something that got him upset. I asked him to take a walk with me, and then I asked him what was happening that was getting him upset. He told me what the problem was, and I talked to him about it. After we talked for a while, I asked him a few questions about how he was feeling now that we had talked about what was bothering him. He said that yes, he was feeling much better and was not upset anymore. He also apologized to me for getting upset. I told him he didn’t need to apologize for that, and that any time he needed to talk about anything, he should feel free to talk to me. I told him I was there to help and I liked helping. Then, he said thanks for talking, and he told me, “You are such a nice person.” I thanked him, and I thought to myself how blessed I was to be able to help someone. —Elvelina P., Residential Counselor
“Just because someone has IDD does not mean they should not be able to live an everyday life just like everyone else.”
I am a direct support professional for clients who require IDD services. I absolutely love what I do and love being able to make a difference in the everyday life of the individuals I care for.
I chose my career for the simple fact that I like helping others, but when I chose my career, I did not know the impact it would have on my life. Being a direct support professional has taught me so much. It has taught me optimism, kindness, empathy, respect, and, most importantly, how to care for others who need emotional, physical, and mental help with their everyday lives. For most clients in IDD services, their caretakers are the most consistent part of their life. Being that support for them is truly rewarding. Knowing that you are someone they can rely on every day and someone they can go to when they need someone to talk to is an amazing feeling.
This career has not only allowed me to help my clients, but also others outside of the workplace. It has taught me to be patient in my everyday life. At places as simple as the grocery store, whether it be someone with IDD shopping or working. It has taught me to be patient with others, as you never know the daily struggles that someone is going through. Things in life that most of us find simple are not simple to everyone. Just because someone has IDD does not mean they should not be able to live an everyday life just like everyone else. I truly love going to a store or a restaurant and seeing individuals with IDD working there. They deserve to do what they love just like everyone else.
I am truly proud of what I do. For example, the first time I felt most proud was taking my clients to day program. You do not realize the impact that you have on others in the community and not just the individuals you work with directly. When I first started, I was not familiar with the other clients in this day program. As time went on, I became more familiar with them. I remember walking into the program one Monday morning and about five of the other clients approached me and wanted to talk to me about their weekend or struggles they had had since I last saw them. Being that one person they wanted to confide in, I knew right there that I was making a difference in their lives. Knowing that they were not clients I worked with on a daily basis was rewarding to say the least.
This career has also made a huge impact on my life as well as the individuals I work with. I would say the most impactful time in my career so far was the first time I took my client to the cemetery. For months, he had talked to me about his mother and sister and how they passed away. He said that he wanted to meet them one day. There were days that it really hit him hard and he would get very upset and depressed. One day, I suggested that we take a drive to the cemetery so he could talk to them and introduce me to them. When we arrived at the cemetery, he introduced me to his mother and sister, and then I went and waited by the car. While I was at the car, he just stood there staring at the sky. I was curious as to what he was doing, but I let him be. When he got back to the car, he had the biggest smile on his face and thanked me for what could have been 100 times for bringing him to see his mother and sister. He then began to tell me how he was praying for them and that Jesus would take care of them and that they were going to have lots of parties. We began to talk about the parties they have in heaven and he told me they would be just like the ones he had with his family when he was younger. He then told me that he was happy that I was able to meet his mother and sister, and that now they know his new staff that supports him. Now, two years later, he still talks to me about the day I met his mother and sister when I took him to the cemetery. Even though I have taken him there many times since, he will always remember that one time he has the chance to introduce me to them. The things we think are so small have the biggest impact on people with IDD.
Being able to impact the lives of our clients is as rewarding as the impact they have on our lives. Spending holidays and birthdays with clients has had such an impact on me. Many people take spending time with their loved ones for granted. Most of the clients in IDD residential services don’t get that time with their families. It is very humbling to be able to be there for them during these times, seeing the smiles on their faces while helping them decorate for the holidays, birthdays, eating a holiday meal or singing “Happy Birthday” and eating cake. For most of these individuals, their staff is the most constant part of their everyday lives; making these days special as best we can is the least we can do for them. They deserve the very best that we can do for them. —Victoria P., Residential Counselor
“Over time, I have seen many individuals grow, develop, and be able to lead better lives.”
Why did I choose this career in in direct support services or IDD services? I chose this career because I wanted to help people. In particular, I wanted to help people with special needs, because their needs are often not served as they should be. I hoped I could be part of the solution to that problem.
My career lets me help others by allowing me to assist in their daily tasks and monitoring their personal development, especially the intellectual aspects of their development. Over time, I have seen many individuals grow, develop, and be able to lead better lives.
There was a time when an individual came in very angry, mute, and distant. It would have been easy to give up on him, but I kept trying to reach him. After I spent three months talking to him about life, he finally opened up and became social. He currently attends group and is flourishing.
I felt proud when an individual came to me and thanked me for treating him as a normal human being and not a “crazy” person. He told me I made him feel he could face the world. Knowing I helped him gave me a great deal of pride.
Also, I enjoy playing cards and listening to diverse music with the individuals we serve. It is good to know that I can help them simply enjoy their lives, because we all deserve a chance to have some fun. —Delores A., Residential Counselor