Every week day, over 100 individuals with disabilities come together at Penn-Mar Human Services in Freeland, Maryland to participate in a highly-specialized day program. Under the direction of Direct Support Professional Kayla Brown, they are exposed to art classes, gym, health and wellness training, a personalized learning class and community outings — a host of activities that run the gamut from social skills to communication strategies to job readiness.
Needless to say, the days are full and Kayla credits her job responsibilities with helping her to learn how to “think on the fly.”
“With so many people, things happen quickly around here,” she said. “I am drawn to the area of behavior modification and management and plan implementation. I also mentor and help the direct support personnel when issues arise during the day.”
Kayla is all about learning and professional development. She will be graduating in December from HACC York with an associate degree in nursing. She is also looking into Bachelor’s and Masters’ degree “bridge” programs designed for working RNs where she can earn both degrees simultaneously, specializing in population-based care coordination.
In addition, Kayla is participating in Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders Program, a career development and credentialing initiative that includes training and practicums to improve her skills and earning potential.
While qualifying for the program’s “Participant Empowerment” competency, a co-worker sent her a flyer about Brave in the Attempt, an event hosted by the Maryland Special Olympics where individuals with disabilities will be speaking about how their lives were transformed to inspire others with disabilities to be brave in their attempt at life.
Kayla developed questions and interviewed a few individuals she felt would be most interested in the event. She selected Bobby and Joe from the day program and used their interviews to create a two-minute audition video.
“I met with them several times to discuss public speaking tips and to draft and practice their audition,” she recalled. “But they contributed most of the content. The abstract concepts and ability to apply the concepts to their individual lives blew me away!”
All the hard work was worth it when Bobby and Joe received word that they had been selected.
“The look of accomplishment and pride they had on their faces was just indescribable. I was so proud of their efforts and right away we got straight to work, even harder than before,” said Kayla
They attended speech preparation workshops hosted by The Special Olympics and then Bobby and Joe worked independently with the Special Olympics’ staff. The process involved brainstorming, conducting research, evaluating their own lives, and determining what insights they wanted to share with others. The ideas were all their own as were the five-minute speeches they constructed – from introduction to conclusion. They are now busy practicing in anticipation of the big event which will be held June 6th at Towson University.
“The guys are so excited and I cannot wait for them to experience this life changing event,” said Kayla.
“Throughout this process, I really took the opportunity to evaluate my own character and I learned so much about myself. Most people, looking from the outside in, think that we, as staff, are there to teach the individuals. In reality, they teach us, more than we may want to admit! Over the past four years at Penn-Mar, I have transformed an immense amount. It could be that I grew four years older or maybe it’s because I’ve gained work experience, but in my heart, I know that I am who I am today because I have been blessed with the opportunity to know these individuals.”