If the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 had one silver lining for Abbie Sealover, it was to inspire her to chart a new career course in life and fulfill what she said she was designed to do.
The traumatic financial crisis that impacted the lives of millions, many of whom never fully recovered, was the turning point for Abbie as she looked around and became more and more dissatisfied with where her career had taken her, and how she felt it was not congruent with her beliefs. After two decades working in the field of financing and customer service, some deep soul searching guided her to take the first steps onto a completely different path.
“I felt some turmoil at the time,” she said. “There were a lot of things happening and to consider as the parent of a high schooler, but all I knew was I needed to make a change, and a difference in people’s lives, in what I did every day.”
Finding Her Dream Job
When she solidly decided to make the career shift, a friend recommended Abbie try a nonprofit. The only one she could think of was Penn-Mar. She applied and participated in an initial group interview, where the HR moderator shared a list of job openings and their descriptions. Nothing on the list appealed to her and she began to question why she was there. Then, one job title and description suddenly piqued her interest – Community Learning Instructor.
“The job was basically described as going out and taking field trips every day. Who wouldn’t want that job?” she laughed. “I immediately circled it, but thought I probably won’t get it.”
Two subsequent one-on-one interviews led to her, first, being considered for the position, much to her delight, which would pair her with a group of young women already participating in Penn-Mar’s three-year old Community Development Services program (CDS, formerly Community Learning Services); and second, being hired for it – the life changing moment. By the end of this month of February, Abbie will happily mark two years as a Community Learning Instructor working with Kelsey Franklin, Emily Howard, Amanda Kraemer, and recently joining the group, Emily Ellingson. The women range in age from 26 to 36, and their youth and energy were a perfect match for Abbie, whose ebullience is infectious, and humor, disarming.
In addition to joining the Penn-Mar CDS team, Abbie’s passion for her newfound profession led her to enrolling in the nonprofit’s Career Ladders program, the career development and credentialing program Penn-Mar launched in partnership with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professional in 2016. She was accepted into the program this past October and is pursuing her DSP I certification, with a focus on Person Centered Supports. As part of her practicums she selected to work with a gentleman by the name of Stephen Maras with whom she organizes outings and activities. She feels the program stretches you to become a better person.
“What I’ve learned is how residential programming and funding works, and I’m definitely improving my communication skills, which were good, but are getting even better,” she said. “I’m learning to think in the whole, rather than just what I need. It’s been interesting in that I am learning more than I ever expected.”
What she is learning in Career Ladders she’s also applying to her work with her CDS group of young women as they strive for greater independence and inclusion.
Nurturing Independence and Joy
Penn-Mar’s Community Development Services program provides small groups of individuals the daily opportunity to access and participate in their community through connected and authentic learning, and real-world experiences.
“I joke about being their party planner and chauffeur, but essentially I see myself as a life coach, empowering them every day to find and use their voices, and to become the best versions of themselves,” said Abbie. “My gifts and talents are in empowering people.”
From volunteering once a week at Meals on Wheels in Baltimore County, to taking regular music lessons at the Weary Arts Group in York County, and getting to experience the thrill of performing in front of the public, the group is out in the community every day, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Come spring the group will be planting a garden for the third season, as part of the Seeding Transformation initiative that was established by Abbie’s colleague Rosanna DiSebastiano. They’ll be learning all about the food they plant, grow and harvest, and ultimately get to enjoy at the table.
“Everything we do is an amazing learning opportunity,” said Abbie, who is always looking for new opportunities for growth and inclusion in the community. On Feb. 13, the group joined Penn-Mar self-advocates, families and DSPs for Developmental Disabilities Day at the Legislature in Annapolis, where they met with representatives and advocated for better pay for DSPs.
Abbie is hoping they can expand their volunteer work in the coming months to include the Crispus Attucks Charter School in York, Pa., (a prospect that came through Weary Arts music teacher Rod Goeltz), and they also have the goal of taking their “band” on the road to perform at various venues like The Box Lunch Revue, the concert series on Cherry Lane in downtown York that hosts musicians from May through August.
She admits that it took a little time to establish trust at the beginning, and they occasionally hit a few bumps along the way, but there’s always something to learn from those bumps, she said. She also credits her group for teaching her unconditional love, compassion and patience.
“This experience has brought amazing joy to my life,” said Abbie. “Watching these young women accomplish things that they didn’t think that they could do. Every time you have an opportunity to empower somebody to do something that they didn’t think that they could do, it’s an incredible feeling. My life is so fulfilled now in what I do.”