The discovery process is a process widely used by Change, Inc., a division of Penn-Mar Human Services to identify a person’s strengths, passions, and interests through natural experiences in inclusive environments. It is often a process requiring trial and error, and a lot of exploring and creative thinking. But when Natalie Wilson, Direct Support Professional (DSP) at Change, first started working with Sean three months ago, she realized the process was going to require some discovery for not just Sean, but for her, too.
Natalie explains that when she first started working at Change, she was provided fairly extensive insights on the people she was supporting. She learned about their likes, dislikes, and interests from fellow DSPs who had been working with them for years. But since Sean was coming directly out of the school system, Natalie quickly realized that she needed to learn about Sean to support him in learning about himself.
Natalie was not at all intimidated by the task. “I liked being able to take the initiative and actually learn about Sean,” said Natalie.
Before becoming a DSP at Change, Natalie worked at a local pizza shop for six years. One day, she noticed Sean stacking VHS tapes at home (one of his favorite activities), and immediately made a connection to her prior work experience. “I thought about the boxes at the pizza shop; you have to take the boxes, you have to stack them, they have to be neat and they’re all tall stacks,” she explains. She also knew about Sean’s love for pizza, and decided to take him to Belisimo’s where she’d spent the past several years serving pie.
At Belisimo’s, the two ended up making a pizza together (and got to eat a slice or two afterwards). Sean also loved stacking the pizza boxes, which mimicked stacking VHS tapes at home. After making pizza, the two cleaned up their workspace, where Sean discovered another new task he absolutely loves—vacuuming!
Natalie explains the process of supporting Sean to find activities he enjoys required a lot of trial and error. “There were a lot of places we’d go to see if he was interested, and he wouldn’t want to get out of the car,” she added.
Thankfully, taking the initiative to make connections in the community wasn’t new to Natalie. When she’s not working with Sean on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Natalie works with a Community Development Supports (CDS) group consisting of five people. Rather than the group taking buses to Change’s day center and then heading out into the community, the group is fully community-based as Natalie picks up everyone at their homes each day and drops them back off in the evening.
Recently, Natalie connected with the Winfield Fire Department, which she has been associated with for years, to take the CDS group on a tour of the fire house. She said it was not only a great chance for the group to learn about emergency vehicles and personnel, but a great way to spread awareness and create community connections and understanding for people with disabilities, something she said she thinks is very important.
The group also enjoys spending their days checking out Hashawa Environmental Center, going to the sunflower garden, taking photos, and a lot of singing and dancing. “They’re a very musical group,” added Natalie. She explains that the group “feels like have five great best friends to hang out with.”
Since she began supporting the CDS group, Natalie notes that she’s observed a huge shift in the people she supports. People have become fully-immersed in their communities, and have become more confident making connections with others when they are out and about. “I think they enjoy it a lot more, too,” Natalie explains.
Natalie spreads happiness to the people she supports by helping them find activities they love, teaching them how to make pizza, and always being down for a dance party. She says that each day, that same happiness is returned to her. “Being able to see all of the fun that we have together and how happy they all are and how happy they make me . . . there’s nothing that could compare to that in the world.”
When asked how being a DSP has impacted her life, Natalie’s answer was simple: “It’s definitely filled my heart.” And it’s easy to see that the people she works with feel the same way!