April 2023 HEART Award Winners - Penn-Mar

April 2023 HEART Award Winners

Posted on April 18, 2023

The Penn-Mar HEART Award program recognizes team members whose passion and performance leave the mark of their own legacy through exceptional demonstrations of Honesty, Excellence, Advocacy, Respect, and Teamwork.

Jes Blais, nominated by Jackie Summers

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“As most know, our annual Penn-Mar Gala is a major undertaking that requires painstaking planning, preparation, and delivery. It truly takes an army of dedicated volunteers and team members to see it through to completion. One of the reasons our event is successful is because of our committed Gala Captains, who not only give of their time, but also recruit others to assist in assuring the behind-the-scenes detail of the event is carried out smoothly. Jes Blais is our lead Captain, and has a gift for organizing and managing details of the many facets of the event and also our volunteer team. She willingly dedicates time to meet with her Captains in developing and executing a plan, which although not the case, appears effortless and seamless in ensuring a positive guest experience and good event outcomes. Jes is creative, dedicated, always willing to go the extra mile, and regularly demonstrates the core values of Penn-Mar. Jes does all of this effortlessly outside of all her regular job duties. We are truly fortunate to have a person with her integrity and devotion to our mission in our ranks. She is exceptional and I am very grateful for all she does for the Gala and for Penn-Mar!”

Christina Burkhardt, nominated by Beth Kuczynski

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“I would like to nominate Christina Burkhardt for the Heart Award. Christina absolutely goes above and beyond every single day. Over the past year, I have watched her tirelessly advocate for the individuals she supports.  She has encountered numerous situations that caused her to spend countless hours brainstorming on new strategies and advocating for additional medical testing. Specifically, one of the individuals she supports has been going through a difficult time lately and the team has spent many hours, over several months, brainstorming ideas for strategies, changes, and possible medical needs. Christina advocated for genetic testing, and this finally led to some new diagnoses and a more comprehensive understanding of the struggles this individual was experiencing. Christina continues to follow up with several medical and psychiatric appointments to help everyone work together, to help train staff and to better understand these new diagnoses. Thanks to her dedication and diligence, we are increasing our knowledge about these diagnoses and are now more capable in properly approaching these situations. In addition to this great feat, she supports other individuals in their home who have also been experiencing some challenges. Christina utilizes her collaborations and team to aid in further understanding these challenges and finding new approaches for each circumstance. Her ability to come to work every day and continue to be a positive role model is amazing. She is a wonderful role model for her staff and is an astounding supervisor. Her leadership enables her team to be positive and to help motivate the people she supports daily. Regardless of her exhaustion, mentally and physically, she continues to put for over 100% effort and we are so fortunate to have her on our team.”

Valerie Cleary, nominated by Dawn Allen

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“When we think about advocacy we certainly think about DSPs and how they advocate for the people we support. Valerie is known to advocate; however, she went above and beyond by challenging a Licensed Physical Therapist which is certainly not the scope of practice of a DSP. Someone that Valerie supports suffered an injury and had not walked in months. His Physical Therapist had been working with him for some time and mentioned she was going to discharge him, stating he was as far as he was going to be and would probably not walk again. Valerie supports this person as a Program Instructor in the Day Program; however, she spent time working with him during the day at his home. Valerie was working on the day the Physical Therapist provided the update. If you know Val, you know she is going to advocate for what is best. Valerie spoke assertively to this Physical Therapist sharing how independent and strong willed he is and how “he will walk again!” Valerie asked her to give the staff exercises they can do to help. She also asked him “do you want to walk again,” he said, “yes!” Needless to say, something resonated with the Physical Therapist because she decided against discharging. He began progressing, the staff at the house continued working with him, and to date, he is walking and happy to be back at the Day Program amongst friends. I wholeheartedly believe the Physical Therapist would have discharged had Valerie not advocated and shared information about his determination and strong will. Not only did she advocate, Valerie helped give him a voice that may have been lost over the months of not being as independent as he was used to. Valerie is an example of why we show up and continue to do this work.”

Vanessa Cooke, nominated by Teresa O’Brien

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“Vanessa Cooke is being honored with this award because she has gone above and beyond to support people live their best life. She gets to know people and finds out what is important to them. One example was when she flexed her schedule to make it possible for an older gentleman to enjoy his first car show on a Saturday. After many years of collecting and talking about cars, he finally had the chance to spend the day with other car lovers. Another is example is when Vanessa realized that someone really had an interest in getting a job, so after reaching out to the employment team, she set up a mock interview with a local business person to help him practice interviewing skills. Knowing that others look for employment, she reached out to set up a job experience at a local pizza shop. Vanessa has also shown passion for her work by supporting someone who has an interest in becoming a first responder. Vanessa worked with the individual for months to help him prepare for and finally take the CPR/First Aid test. He was successful and is now certified! Vanessa does more than her job duties. She takes that extra step to enhance all supports.  Her energy and wiliness to share her connections have supported people to have better experiences.”

Kelly Dorsey, nominated by Kris Froehlich

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“Kelly is a Residential Supervisor 2 for the Westminster location. She is a strong advocate for those wishing to live independently. She knows that the little things are what makes the difference between good and exceptional. This was evident in a recent medical situation with someone who experienced several falls resulting in hospitalizations. Kelly acted quickly to get medical attention. When the hospital prematurely discharged the person home, Kelly was there to advocate for her to return to the hospital that same day. She was readmitted and then discharged to a nursing rehab facility. While the person was at the facility, Kelly visited almost daily to support her through a very difficult time. When her care plan was not being followed by facility staff, Kelly advocated for better services and filed a formal complaint. When Kelly realized that the person would be at the rehab facility during Christmas, she arranged for her to return to her decorated apartment for several hours on Christmas day to enjoy a home cooked meal made by Kelly and a video chat with her out of state family members. Kelly is so dedicated to her job and the people she supports and should be recognized for going the extra mile and setting the bar high for her team.”

Michal Edmondson, nominated by Alexis Ogle

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“I would like to nominate Michal Edmondson for a heart award. She always goes above and beyond for the ladies in her care. I have never met another staff who puts forth this level of energy to always ensure that the ladies have an amazing time whether they are just hanging at home or going out in the community. Every weekend she always has a fun packed agenda for everyone. Michal ensures that everyone has a way of participating. Once at Hershey Park she took a water wheelchair in the water so a lady who used a walker could enjoy the tide pool just like her housemates. Michal does a great job of making sure everyone is included, even her team. The house is constantly decorated for every holiday or event, special treats or meals are also prepared for each holiday and event. Michal always includes the ladies in the prep for these treats and meals. There was a time when Hocus Pocus 2 was first airing, and all of the ladies were excited. Michal made the night extra special with the help of the ladies by making spooky treats to enjoy while watching the movie. The ladies also have an “all year round” tree decorated for each season. As I worked with her, she was very transparent with the steps of care needed and communication on everything that was going on. She has the upmost respect for everyone. I admire her enthusiasm. Every day the ladies from that house come in and share something fun they did with Michal whether it be an interesting conversation, a movie, a game, or even a great dinner. If anyone deserves this award, it’s Michal!”

Kelly Gillispie, nominated by Jackie Summers

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“At Penn-Mar, we are fortunate to work alongside many dedicated and committed team members. Each day is filled with enormous responsibility and while the demands are high, the rewards are great in seeing the fruit of our labor carried out through the people we support. Kelly Gillispie seeks to make each day special for all who walk by her welcoming front desk. She greets every person who comes through the door with a warm hello and a smile. She accommodates each request with grace, and she goes above and beyond in demonstrating a willingness to do all she can for whomever she is assisting. Somehow, she manages to fulfill her daily tasks and take on even more for other team members and departments. Our team is particularly grateful for her support in administering much need pieces in preparation for the gala auction, including producing dozens of labels, table tents, auctioneer cards, and more. And when changes need to be made, she complies willingly and quickly with an attitude of joyful cooperation. She shows a genuine interest in the work of other teams and is always willing to offer assistance whenever she can. Kelly is a gem, and we are fortunate to have her as a valuable member of the Penn-Mar team!”

Jennifer Hisey, nominated by Tina Chan Sweenie

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“The first time I worked with Jennifer Hisey, I knew we would have fun collaborating on projects. Her go with the flow and ‘we can do this’ attitude is the perfect mix for developing person-centered, creative, and substantive programing. I also appreciate her greater understanding of why volunteers are so integral to the entire organization and what the larger community could bring to the people we support. Jennifer’s openness to explore ideas and her innovative thinking was the perfect catalyst needed to get the volunteer program off the ground, especially during Covid, which had put a major damper on the entire volunteer initiative. What I regard the most is that she shared with me the needs and interests of those we support. Without her valuable and intimate knowledge, we could not create fulfilling experiences for those we support through our volunteers. But her true skill is how she communicates and connects with people in our day program, with respect and advocacy. One of many perfect examples of Jennifer’s excellence in her work, is the rollout of this year’s Developmental Disabilities Day (DD Day). In anticipation of DD Day, the PMC Day Program focused on Civil Rights, which then called upon a past visit and book reading with Jennifer Keelan-Chaffan’s, “All the Way to the Top.” The conversation surrounding Disability Rights and the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act further solidified real time advocacy. Thanks to the curriculum not only did we see an amazing display of multisensory instructions with the artwork that was created, but a greater amount of participation from our self-advocates. Seeing their interactions and discussions with our Senators and Delegates through their input and stories drove home the call for stronger investment for our workforce and greater support for their own services.”

Kim Kimmel, nominated by LaElla Dickerson

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“I am nominating Kim because she is everything you would want in an employee working in this field. She is dedicated, considerate, and goes above and beyond for the individuals and staff. She is consistent in having open communication between staff members and is always there if we have questions. She advocates for the individuals to lead the lives they want and suggests different activities to give them the opportunity to try new things. For example, when one of the individuals became romantically involved with someone, she helped him create handcrafted cards from her own personal supplies. He would send one to his girlfriend every week and she really appreciated it. That was possible because Kim took the time every week to sit with him and asked what he wanted to say to her and how he wanted it to look. She encourages innovation and is open to suggestions from staff. She promotes teamwork and exemplifies that by doing everything a DSP does on a regular basis on top of her RS duties. Kim is transparent when she is having a difficult time and communicates with the team when she needs help, so the load is not all on her. Her team is more than willing to help her. This is because she is always there to help her team. She is regularly showing appreciation for staff with small gift boxes she makes and candy. I know that Kim works the best she can and puts her all in every day. The best example of this was when she was the RS of not just one home but a second one for the whole month of November 2022. She was working double duty every day and although it was challenging, she showed that she was a reliable leader that truly put the individuals first.”

Nicole Rowland, nominated by Nicole Zeigler

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 “I started with Penn-Mar in January 2022 as a supervisor for a home and Nicole R. started in November of 2021. She has been in this field for years and it shows. She has spent countless hours helping get the program she supports out from under a dark cloud and into the light. She will often credit me for this, but she was with me 100 percent of the way in every decision and action. She instilled the confidence and determination in me as a new supervisor. It would not have happened without her. Nicole R. has united her 3 homes into one team. She holds monthly supervisor meetings which has created a special bond within the pod. The supervisors in the pod have a great support system and we are often helping each other out due to this. It has also sparked friendships among our individuals. Not only does Nicole R. help the houses in her pod, but she is often found helping other program managers and supervisors. She has teamed up with Penn-Mar’s behavioral specialist and has created skills group for supervisors to bring them together on common issues they face at their homes. She is often found collaborating with program managers and helping give direction and suggestions on various occasions. She is constantly striving to better the lives of the individuals. She recently thanked her supervisor pod for always rising to her “high expectations” when needed. Honestly, her expectations are not high, they are reasonable to make sure the individuals we support are in a safe and healthy environment and living their best lives. She cares and her heart is in her work, and it shows. Her southern charm and determination is exactly the spice of life that Penn-Mar needs.”

Nakiera Simmons, nominated by Nadine Gaetani

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“Nakiera Simmons embodies all that Penn-Mar stands for. She goes above and beyond in her job at the Maryland Line Day Program. Nakiera is a floater, which says a lot about her. She is extremely flexible with her skillset and can work in any position, in or outside of the Day Program. Nakiera’s name is synonymous with tech support amongst everyone. Her expertise with technology helps us to help those we support in the Day Program to have the best possible day. We are very fortunate to have her assistance, and so is everyone who enjoys using our virtual services. She is extremely professional in her interactions with co-workers as well as the individuals. She maintains a sunny disposition, even when she might not be having the best day. She has developed healthy relationships with many of the individuals based on the consistent support which she has given them. Nakiera recently started supporting a few people who had an interest in leading our virtual fitness class. She assisted with the technology, but that is only the beginning. A couple of the gentlemen who wanted to guest host the fitness class had never had that experience but really wanted to try. Nakiera supported both gentlemen with gentle encouragement from behind the scenes. She would help by mirroring the exercises so each would know exactly what to do. Two of the gentlemen got so much enjoyment out of the experience and confidence built due in part to Nakiera’s support! If you know Nakiera, this is something that is not in her comfort zone, but she stepped outside of it in the best way! Nakiera is someone you can call upon in any situation to help others. She does her job with grace and elegance, but also with a wicked sense of humor that can cheer up anyone. She is an outstanding co-worker and a true pleasure to work with. Nakiera has completed Professional Development training and is working her way through Career Ladders. She is truly a team player and I personally feel blessed to have her as a fellow staff and friend. Way to go, Nakiera!!!”

Kollyne Wetzel, nominated by Jackie Summers

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“Penn-Mar is so very fortunate to have a team member who is as dedicated and hard working as Kollyne Wetzel. Kollyne has a bright and positive attitude that she consistently exhibits every day. Even when her plate is overflowing, she manages to complete assignments in a timely and efficient manner. She is a joy to work with and I am especially grateful for the role she plays in helping to administer the critically important behind the scenes organization of the Gala. This year was particularly challenging, as she was also assisting with the administration of the Building Bold Futures Campaign, as well as our Belonging Initiative, and so much more. These two initiatives were above and beyond the scope of her job and yet she handled the increased workload with her usual grace. She is a proficient multitasker and an asset to the organization, and often winds up supporting other departments or fielding all kinds of questions from team members, board members, and more. There are many elements to the Gala, and the expertise she provides in managing our guest and sponsor needs is no small task. Her knowledge of our event platform, OneCause, has proven to be incredibly valuable. Much of the success of this year’s record-breaking Gala can be attributed to her hard work and determination. She is an unsung hero, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work closely with her on this signature event each year!”

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