When Dianne Brown first met Amy Zgorski, she was determined to find a way to help Amy interact and engage in her surroundings. It was challenging at first, since Amy does not communicate verbally; but one day when Dianne wheeled Amy’s chair in front of a piano, she turned away and heard an unsuspected sound: the plunking of the piano keys.
“I was like, ‘No way!’ I was so excited, I went running down the hallway and said to my manager, ‘You gotta come in here and see this!’” said Dianne when she explained this breakthrough in supporting Amy to participate in her environment. “It’s just amazing when you’re working so hard to figure something out and you find something that works,” she added.
For Dianne, moments like Amy’s revelation are what makes her so passionate about her 20-year career as a Direct Support Professional (DSP).
Finding Her Purpose
Twenty years ago, in March of 1999, Dianne saw an ad in the newspaper for an Assistant Instructor position at Change, Inc. She went in for an interview on a Monday, and by that Thursday had started her new career. While spotting that newspaper ad may seem like a happy accident, Dianne explains that wasn’t the case.
“What got me started was actually my daughter Shannon being born with down syndrome,” Dianne said. “I started out at Robert Moton Elementary when she was little just volunteering once a week, and then twice a week, and then three times a week.” Dianne elaborates that she is not a DSP because she had Shannon, but had Shannon because it was her life’s purpose to become a DSP.
“Sometimes I wonder if the reason I had Shannon was because this is where my destiny was; this is where I really should be,” says Dianne. And it did not take her long to realize this, either. During her interview, Dianne toured the day program at Change and was shocked by how many people the organization served. She says that was the moment she knew she was where she was meant to be.
Making Waves in the Community
Throughout her career, Dianne has undeniably seen a significant shift in how services are provided to people with disabilities. “In the beginning, when I very first started working here, we were very rarely out in the community,” said Dianne. “There’s been a big change in that.”
Dianne explains that at first, there were challenges in supporting people who were not used to going out in the community often. Karen, who typically enjoys spending time in the day program stringing beads and making jewelry, was hesitant to start participating in community activities. Dianne said she began by encouraging Karen to go to Wal-Mart to pick out and purchase her own beads. Soon, Karen became
more open to going out in the community and recently enjoyed attending an outdoor concert at the Westminster Library. “That was a big step for her,” said Dianne.
But the people supported by Change aren’t the only ones benefiting from participating in their communities. Dianne says that she feels the community has been largely impacted by the integration of people with disabilities, too. “It’s so important, us getting the individuals out in the community. Not only because they need to be out there, but society needs to accept them for who they are,” Dianne explained.
Commitment and Dedication from A Parent’s Perspective
Since that Thursday in March of 1999, Dianne has been a committed team member and absolute asset to Change. In her current role as Senior DSP, Dianne uses her experience as a parent to show kindness and compassion to every person she interacts with. When asked why she is passionate about her job, Dianne said: “I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m a parent, and parents feel that their child is very vulnerable. I want to treat the individuals the way I’d want Shannon to be treated.”
Not only does Dianne have one daughter receiving supports from Change, but she has another daughter who is a valued Change team member. Ashlie, who is 5 years younger than Shannon, was hired at Change this year as a Senior DSP too. “I think Shannon had a lot of bearing on that,” said Dianne when discussing Ashlie’s commitment to supporting people with disabilities.
It’s undeniable that parents and family members of people with disabilities bring a unique and valuable perspective to this career. After 20 years of working selflessly to support the people at Change in living their happiest, most fulfilling lives, Dianne says there has never once been a day where she didn’t want to come to work. “I don’t think there’s anytime I’ve really ever gotten up in the morning and been like, ‘Ugh, I don’t feel like going in today,’” shared Dianne. And through important experiences like Karen attending an outdoor concert or Amy playing the piano, she learned one very valuable thing: “I think we need the people we support as much as they need us.”