When Brenda McClure applied for a part-time DSP position at Penn-Mar ten years ago, she didn’t have very high expectations. She predicted she would only stay until something better came along. What she discovered, however, was she loved what she did, and as she grew into the job, made it her life’s work.
Originally from Maryland, Brenda grew up on her family farm with the early thought of pursuing a career in agriculture or horticulture. That all changed when she stepped in to care for her ailing parents and found that she had a heart and a passion for helping people.
“I’ve always worked supporting people,” said Brenda, who for a number of years, off and on, worked with the elderly, and also for the Baltimore County school system in Special Education. The latter position she took after working at Penn-Mar part-time, but then returning to Penn-Mar after she realized her heart was in working with adults.
It wasn’t until Brenda’s marriage of 25 years came to an unexpected end, that she threw herself wholeheartedly into her career.
“I think a good part of my love for my work was fueled by my divorce,” said Brenda, whose son Justin, 25, is very proud of her career and has been a close and staunch supporter. “I dove a whole lot more into my work, which helped me get through those very difficult days.”
When Brenda returned to Penn-Mar after working in Special Education, she applied for a full-time positon as a Residential Assistant at the home in Shrewsbury, where she remains today, and which is conveniently closer to her new Pennsylvania home in Stewartstown. Before she even applied for the position, she said, some well-meaning coworkers tried to discourage her from taking it, because of the behavioral challenges the three women in the home have.
“I wasn’t discouraged though,” Brenda said. “I took it as a challenge that I could work with these women, help them, be there for them and hopefully make things better. Low and behold a lot of behaviors have decreased since I’ve been working with them. I’m very happy about that.”
Climbing Career Ladders
Brenda is very excited to have recently completed and submitted her Career Ladders DSP II portfolio. She received her DSP I certification last year and soon after became a Cohort Leader. Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders program, launched in the fall of 2016, in partnership with the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), is a career development and credentialing program that is successfully giving Penn-Mar DSPs the opportunity to advance their careers and acquire highly evolved skills and training in the field.
“The experience has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Brenda, who as Cohort Leader mentors other DSPs in the program, and who in 2017 received the Excellence in Direct Support award from MACS (Maryland Association of Community Services). “I really think Career Ladders is an excellent program and I try to persuade people to get into it. Not only is it a learning experience for you personally, but Penn-Mar values and supports you every step of the way. Organization-wide they know how much work you put into the program, which speaks to how serious you are about your job and career.”
Of all the 15 NADSP approved Core Competencies that are part of the Career Ladders curriculum, Brenda was particularly drawn to the competency of Supporting Health and Wellness, not only for the people she works with, but for herself as well. Her focus and study on health and wellness informed her support of one of the women she works with with Down syndrome who had developed dementia.
“I studied a lot and learned a lot about dementia and Alzheimer’s and how people with Down syndrome are susceptible to developing the disease,” said Brenda. As part of her portfolio submission, she was tasked with writing a reflective statement which she chose to do about herself and health and wellness.
“The main thing I’m learning as a DSP is you can’t take care of people unless you take care of yourself,” she said. “You can’t be tired and burnt out, you need to be healthy, so I’m trying to walk more and change my lifestyle. After my divorce I got into a rut. What I’ve learned is that if I don’t take care of me I’m not going to be there for them.”
Brenda said her work at Penn-Mar is a constant learning experience and that no day on the job is the same. She’s going to take a little break before she pursues the DSP-Specialist certification, the highest level to be obtained, but in the meantime will continue to take whatever trainings Penn-Mar offers.
“This work isn’t for everybody,” she said. “They actually tell us at orientation that if you’re here just for the paycheck, you might as well get up and leave now. There’s no beating around the bush, your heart has to be in it 100 percent. I know mine is.”