Alexa Wheeler’s young career has always been dedicated to serving others, something she sees as a calling, and her gift. In the one year she’s been with Penn-Mar, she has not only thrived in her role as Community Activity Instructor, providing one-on-one support to Penn-Mar resident Amanda Camacho, but at one point discovered that she was the key to operating a piece of hi-tech equipment that had been donated to Penn-Mar’s Day Program waiting to be put to good use.
Prior to joining Penn-Mar, Alexa was a Certified Nursing Assistant for three years working at various nursing homes in York County. At her last job at the Margaret E. Moul Home, the private, nonprofit long term care facility in York, Alexa worked with people with cerebral palsy, MS, and spina bifida. The work was physically demanding and as a newlywed, working the second shift (overnight), also meant a lot of time away from her husband Joshua and a new life they were beginning together.
“I didn’t like working the second shift anymore, so I decided to make a change,” said Alexa.
At the time, she was living in York New Salem and a visit to her in-laws in Shrewsbury one day took her past Penn-Mar. She said she’d heard good things about the organization, so she thought she’d give it a try and apply.
One-on-one support involves a lot of time out in the community. It provides an individual with steady opportunities for integration, inclusion and education. Together, Alexa and Amanda, who was born with autism, usually spend around six hours a day on outings that include regular trips to the library, visits to various museums and sites in the region, lunches out, recreational and skill-building activities, and depending on the weather, stops at the park.
“Lately, Amanda and I have been volunteering at my church [York Alliance Church], helping with some light janitorial work, like dusting and vacuuming,” said Alexa. “It’s been a great opportunity for Amanda to hone some of her skills that could lead to possible employment down the road.”
One thing Alexa never dreamed she’d be doing when she joined Penn-Mar as a Direct Support Professional, was operate a 3D printer. The CubePro 3D printer was a gift to Penn-Mar’s Day Program, but nobody knew how to use it. That is until Alexa, Amanda and other Day Program participants fired it up and began printing three-dimensional objects of their desire.
For Alexa, taking on the job of learning to use the machine was a no brainer. She and her husband own a 3D printer themselves, and together they figured out the Penn-Mar printer’s software program and downloaded various models that could be printed and produced in hard plastic.
This fall, Penn-Mar invited world-renowned Special Olympian and self-advocate, Loretta Claiborne, a York County native, to share her life experiences and inspirational message of inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities with 200 staff members and individuals. To commemorate the event, Alexa, Amanda and a team in the Day Program printed 50 green, plastic medals depicting a winged running shoe. Each medal took 47 minutes to be printed. Once printed the team then sanded and strung each medal to be worn around the neck.
“We’re printing stuff based on individuals’ likes, and to see something on the computer one minute and then be able to hold it in your hand the next is quite amazing,” said Alexa. “The experience has been magical for everyone involved.”
Newly accepted into Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders Program, Alexa is keen to develop her own skills and said she’s enjoying using more of her gifts in serving people.
“I think Penn-Mar has really allowed me to do that,” she said. “It has allowed me to advance my career and gain more experience and knowledge, and make myself better.”