April 2024 HEART Award Winners - Penn-Mar

April 2024 HEART Award Winners

Posted on April 16, 2024

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. We are proud to announce our latest round of HEART Award Winners! Join us in congratulating these extraordinary team members.

Jenny Brower, nominated by Jenn Hobbs

Jenny smiling.“As you may know, each year the Penn-Mar Gala features a Special Appeal video starring some people we support. This year, two of those people were Jay and Melanie. As a small thank you for their participation in the video, the video stars are invited to attend the Gala. Jay and Melanie were extremely excited to attend, and Jay even brought a date, Ashley.

However, to attend the Gala, Melanie and Jay needed transportation and wanted someone to stick around at the Gala in case they needed some support. Jenny kindly offered to bring Jay and Melanie to the Gala, hang out there, and even volunteer alongside the Gala team if needed, and then bring them home. She then stepped up even further, and when Ashley expressed an interest in having her hair and makeup done, Jenny offered to come over early to help her and Melanie with those items, and then bring all three of them to and from the event. Ashley and Melanie were super excited about having Jenny’s support to get ready.

Jenny’s willingness to do this was also helpful to the team members who work in Melanie’s, Jay’s, and Ashley’s homes, as they did not need to figure out transportation or staffing to support the others who live in those homes who would not be attending the Gala and may have other plans of their own.

Supporting Jay, Ashley, and Melanie in this way is not part of Jenny’s job description. She nonetheless went above and beyond to make their evening special and to ensure that they had a great time. When I thanked her for doing this, she brushed it off and said, ‘I always just see it as this is what we do to ensure the people we support don’t get stressed and get anxiety worrying about if there will be staff to support them.’

I am incredibly grateful to Jenny for always thinking first of the people we support and for doing everything she can to make Melanie, Jay, and Ashley’s evening memorable, fun, and stress-free.”

Maria Engler, nominated by Maricel Border and Tina Chan Sweenie 

This HEART Award recipient received two nominations. The submissions have been shortened and combined.

Maria smiling.“Maria Engler’s exceptional dedication to the individuals we support and her drive to create meaningful opportunities embodies the core values of Penn-Mar. Maria is always eager to get involved and foster partnerships to create opportunities for the Pennsylvania Community Participation Support. She constantly strives to improve both her skills and the quality of her work. She has played a critical role in the volunteer program and the Penn-Mar Advocacy Collective, serving as a Steering Committee member. She consistently seeks feedback, engages with the individuals we support, their families, and team members to ensure that their voices are heard and respected.

Maria’s extraordinary quality is her innate desire to seek opportunities for the individuals we support. Whether it’s building partnerships with York College, coordinating the Lunch Buddies Program at York and Penn State York Colleges, or vigorously advocating for increased funding for IDD services, she goes above and beyond to empower the individuals we support to pursue their chosen life. She is an example of dedication, as demonstrated by ID/A Day in Harrisburg, where, despite being on crutches and a scooter, she ensured that those interested in advocating were on the Capitol steps and attending meetings. Her passion is the driving force behind her work. She has an unwavering enthusiasm for the individuals we serve and a relentless advocacy for an inclusive environment.

Maria works as an Activity Coordinator at Far Hills Day Program. She searches for different places in the community to find volunteer opportunities that individuals would enjoy doing. Maria does a fantastic job with this! She also seeks out other meaningful community places that might interest individuals. In addition to her job responsibilities, she is willing to step up and do what needs to be done, even if it falls outside her job title. She helps team members and day managers whenever she notices that they need assistance. For example, when team members find it challenging to support one of their individuals, Maria will ask if they need help or time away from their group, and she is happy to provide a helping hand to support the group so that other team members have time for themselves, even if it is just for a few minutes. Maria has also been a tremendous help to day managers by offering her ideas and insights when needed. She is always eager to help in any way she can without hesitation.”

Courtney Fenske, nominated by Jodi Jones and Melanie Szvitich

This HEART Award recipient received two nominations. The submissions have been shortened and combined.

Courtney smiling.“It is with great pleasure that we nominate Courtney Fenske for a HEART Award. Few realize how much the Human Resources team does to support the organization. Courtney is a subject matter expert in UKG and troubleshoots problems. She maintains the data integrity of our HRIS. She often leads the charge as we continue to learn and optimize UKG, while juggling her full-time work. She is always willing and happy to help with whatever is needed; tracking down answers when we are in a crunch, jumping on a last-minute meeting, or brainstorming solutions to problems. She’s a great collaborator, is eager to explore new and better ways of doing things and brings a positive energy to her work.

Courtney lives and embodies the values of Penn-Mar every day. Her relationships with those she interacts with are built on mutual respect and collaboration. This last year was challenging for her department due to staffing and Courtney took on additional responsibilities. Her organizational skills and systematic approach served her well so she could move through each task and project to consistently meet deadlines for deliverables. She jumps in to assist other team members in Payroll and Technology whenever needed. Courtney has become the go to person for running reports and various needs around data. She goes above and beyond providing guidance and insight to supervisors on completing timesheets. She created individualized spreadsheets for supervisors to follow when an employee is out on disability; this step in the process has greatly improved team members’ being paid correctly while on leave.

In addition to being a pleasure to work with, Courtney is extremely knowledgeable. Whether finetuning an HR process, onboarding a new team member, or troubleshooting a UKG issue, Courtney’s attention to detail and ability to work in a collaborative manner helps lead to a positive result. Her ability to make a difference, even if it’s outside of her core role, is always apparent; she is a doer. She is willing to step forward and assist whenever called upon or on her own when she sees a need. She is a sought-after resource.

Courtney also approaches her work with a focus on the people we support as well as the front-line team members to best support the mission of Penn-Mar. Courtney is dedicated to the work we do and supporting the team.

For these reasons, we are grateful to have the chance to work alongside Courtney and feel she deserves a HEART award.”

Shawn Fuller, nominated by Valerie Cleary and Nadine Gaetani

This HEART Award recipient received two nominations. The submissions have been shortened and combined.

Shawn smiling.“Shawn works at the Maryland Day Center as a Senior DSP. In this position, he coordinates our community-based activities, volunteer opportunities, and regularly searches for new opportunities to expand our program. Shawn moved to this role during COVID and before our program reopened. This meant that there was no community supports in place for Shawn to use. Because of this, Shawn essentially built this from the bottom to the fantastic energetic program it is today! The core of Shawn’s work revolves around helping the people we support to connect with community partners to identify activities that they are interested in trying. He works with the entire day learning team to make each adventure work. He asks how each trip went so he can tweak any little things to ensure the next trip is more successful. To go a step further, the schedule encompasses all volunteer opportunities with corresponding team members and vehicles. Shawn spends many hours researching trips, as well as seeking feedback from fellow DSPs and the people we support. Along with coordinating trips with DSP’s and the people we support, Shawn is also responsible for managing all Day Program vehicles. This includes all routine maintenance and connecting groups with the vehicle they will be using. He is a man with many hats! There is never a day that his name isn’t called down the hall for someone needing assistance and there he is on his way to help no matter what.

I personally am part of an on-going partnership that Shawn originally started. It is at the Northeastern Senior Center in Mt Wolf. Shawn made the initial trip to the center to see if Penn-Mar partnering with them would be workable. Well, this relationship has blossomed due in part to Shawn’s relationship with the center. We are sending a group to the center on a weekly basis now. I spoke with one of the center’s representatives, and she said the members of the center look forward to seeing the people we support as much as we love attending it. What a phenomenal opportunity for the people we support and the senior center. This meaningful connection is due in part to Shawn’s hard work and determination to provide the people we support with such wonderful opportunities. He deserves the honor of receiving a HEART award, and if you ask anyone at Maryland Central, they will agree too!”

Amanda Glenney, nominated by Nicole Zeigler

Amanda smiling.“Amanda is a dedicated employee. She is the first one to say yes to anyone needing help, regardless of the circumstances or time of day. She puts her whole heart into her work.

Amanda is currently helping support an individual who needs a lot of extra patience and understanding. While many have shied away from helping support this person, Amanda stays consistent with the support she provides and seeks ways to improve their relationship. She has a non-biased view and is constantly advocating for the person she supports. Amanda will sit with this person and talk things out and educate her on her choices. Amanda is a supervisor of another residential program and has not waivered her willingness to continue to support this person and their team during challenging times.

Although she has her schedule overbooked with work, she still makes time to help her co-workers. If Amanda cannot be physically present to help her coworker, she is always available by phone as a sounding board and is creative with helping to find solutions. Amanda is often the first phone call I make when faced with a difficult situation and need input. She will listen and then pull the facts from the situation and help me work through a solution.

Everyone needs an Amanda in their life!”

Patty Maynard, nominated by Maria Engler

Patty smiling.“Patty continually provides exceptional person-centered support. Her person-centered work is apparent in how the individuals relate to her and in their comfort with her care. They seem to all feel heard and valued by her. Patty builds trusting relationships with the people she supports. They often share information with Patty that they are not comfortable sharing with others.

Patty continually seeks new opportunities for the people she supports in the day program. She truly helps people to engage fully in their community. She does this by helping them stay engaged in three volunteer opportunities, which is above the usual number of volunteer opportunities groups tend to participate in weekly. Recently she had supported the group in planning ahead for a day trip that was a little more expensive than usual. They all agreed to save and budget their money leading up to the trip, so they could fully enjoy their day together. Not only is she keeping them engaged, but she is helping them build important life skills.

She consistently communicates with her manager and other relevant team members to keep the lines open when building community connections. If the group is unable to attend a volunteer opportunity, she reaches out to other staff to see how the volunteer opportunity could possibly be filled by another group, so that the place they committed to would have someone still there to complete the tasks. Her concern for this shows that she supports the importance of being consistent with our commitments. It shows to those that offer the people we support volunteer opportunities that we are consistent and dependable.

She is an amazing advocate and has accompanied those she supports to Harrisburg to meet with their legislators and participated in a Legislative Roundtable held at Penn-Mar with one of the gentlemen she supports. Patty’s presence and calm demeanor gave the person she supports the confidence to open up to the legislators about his story. She consistently encourages all the individuals she supports to advocate for themselves.”

Clarita Millares, nominated by Maria Engler

Clarita smiling.“Clarita Millares is a 1:1 staff member in the PA Day Program. The individual she supports communicates in a nontraditional manner, and Clarita has a supportive attitude towards him. She provides him with opportunities to communicate with others in order to improve his communication skills. She is often seen walking with him and helping him to greet other people in the Day Program. The person she supports has frequent and intense seizures, but Clarita handles them with care and professionalism.

Clarita is always enthusiastic about the activities they do together. She is happy to share in the excitement of his successes and is constantly “bubbling with joy” over how happy he is. Even with the fear of his seizures, she encourages him to participate in his community and live his best life. The smiles he produces while out are reflective of the joy he experiences during their time together. Clarita is a new employee in our organization, and she has been a great support to the person she supports and others.

She is always looking for activities to offer to the person she supports or to others who are interested. For example, she purchased an item she thought the individual would be interested in using, and he was delighted to scribble on the iPad with the stylus. Clarita also encouraged him to volunteer at the Senior Center and other places to see if it would interest him. She frequently tries new volunteer opportunities and leisure activities with him.

Clarita taught him basic sign language, such as “thank you” and “bye,” so that he would be able to build relationships with his peers and others at the Day Program and in the community. Due to her nurturing of his communication skills, the person she supports has become more social and participates more in group activities. Clarita is a kind and dedicated employee who promotes Penn-Mar’s values daily in her work.”

Ruth Rodriguez, nominated by Maricel Border

Ruth smiling.“Ruth has been an invaluable asset to the field for more than five years, and she consistently exemplifies the company’s core values of integrity, excellence, collaboration, and innovation. On a daily basis, Ruth provides unwavering support to three individuals who each have unique challenges. Despite minimal oversight from her supervisor, Ruth goes above and beyond to ensure that these individuals receive the care and attention they need to thrive within their community.

Ruth is a firm believer in the power of volunteering and community involvement, and she takes her group to two volunteer opportunities each year. One of the individuals she supports requires hands-on assistance in everything he does due to his motorized wheelchair. However, this hasn’t stopped Ruth from taking him and the other two individuals to First Fruit Farm every summer to volunteer. Ruth helps each individual with the tasks they can and want to do, such as picking flowers, plants, and vegetables, folding towels, and watering plants. The group always looks forward to volunteering at the farm and has built strong relationships with the people there.

Ruth also takes her group to the Golden Connections Senior Center, where they have been going for several years. One of the individuals loves to be a greeter but doesn’t communicate verbally. Thanks to Ruth’s help, he can now use a communication board to greet senior members of the center. Meanwhile, the other two individuals engage in different activities at the senior center. Everyone there knows the group and has formed close relationships with them.

Ruth is always looking for ways to support everyone to thrive and engage in their community fully. She encouraged her group to participate in fitness classes at the JCC, which has been especially beneficial for one individual who benefits from the additional physical activity. Even an individual with limited mobility was able to engage in the workouts.

Finally, Ruth has been working with a quiet individual who struggled to express her interests and needs independently. Ruth patiently encouraged her to speak more and offered her different activities until she found something she enjoyed. Over time, the individual gained more confidence and began speaking up about her wants and needs to Ruth and others. This has been life-changing for her and her family, who are incredibly grateful for Ruth’s dedication and support.”

Kelly Saxmann, nominated by Michele Jacobs

Kelly smiling.“I would like to nominate Kelly Saxmann for the Penn-Mar HEART award. Kelly exemplifies what it means to have heart.

When I first met her, Kelly was working as a part time team member when my son Scott returned to Penn-Mar after COVID. Kelly found joy working with Scott and chose to work regularly as Scott’s 1:1 DSP. Kelly shows patience and compassion daily towards him. She has such a positive spirit in her daily interactions with him and others. She genuinely takes the initiative to help him continue to learn and grow and to make his days a positive, fun, and fulfilling experience.

Sometimes Scott cannot fully express himself in a way he is understood. In these moments, Kelly works very hard to help him feel understood and supported. Kelly can work through difficult moments with him quickly. She recognizes that his actions are a result of not being understood and not who he is.

She always looks for and accentuates on the positive things he does and because of her he looks forward to every day when he can go to Penn-Mar.”

Hope Schneider, nominated by Pat Mason

Hope smiling.“From the very first time I met Hope, it was clear to me that she is a compassionate and wonderful human being. Her infectious smile won my daughter Lauren’s heart instantly. What’s more, Hope treats Lauren with utmost respect and never talks down to her like she is a child.

When Lauren started attending the Penn-Mar Day Program, she was already distrustful and unresponsive due to her traumatic experience in another Day Program. One staff member was having a hard time connecting with her, but when Hope started supporting Lauren, she did everything possible to connect with her and gain her trust. Despite the difficulties and challenges along the way, Hope never gave up on Lauren and continued to work hard to build a positive relationship with her. Eventually, Lauren started to trust Hope, and they developed a mutually beneficial relationship. Lauren was always happy and excited to attend Penn-Mar every day.

On one occasion, Hope accompanied Lauren to a birthday event that Lauren was invited to, because I couldn’t take her myself due to prior commitments. Hope went out of her way to pick up Lauren and bring her to the event, and she also made sure that Lauren arrived home safely.

Another example of Hope’s caring personality is when I recently fell and broke my ankle and wrist. To help, Hope called me and offered to bring us dinner. It was a heartwarming gesture that I’ll never forget. These are just a few of Hope’s kind acts towards us, and I am confident that her generosity doesn’t stop there. I can’t think of a better reason to nominate Hope for the HEART Award.”

Lindsay Shafer, nominated by Natalie Finnegan

Lindsay smiling.“Lindsay has been a tremendous asset to Penn-Mar over her years of dedication to this Program. During her years of service, Lindsay has exemplified what it is to be a Direct Support Professional. What prompted this nomination was the small, yet incredibly meaningful step Linsday has taken when preparing meals for programs during their time of grieving. In addition to planning and preparing a meal for a program that recently lost a person supported, Lindsay has added a note of encouragement and support to uplift the team. This has become something that Lindsay has done when someone we support passes and is welcomed and appreciated by everyone. This is just one of the many ways Lindsay demonstrates excellence in her work and compassion for those around her.

Lindsay supports many programs within Penn-Mar and is constantly thinking of out of the box ways to provide positive and self-directed support. One way Lindsay demonstrated this out of the box thinking was exposing a person supported to the experience of a Rage Room. Not only did the person enjoy this experience but they have also had the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with the business owners that has been ongoing for a couple of years now.

Lindsay is what we aspire to be when we think of Direct Support Professionals. She is always on a path of learning, growing, and thinking of how we can do better today than we did yesterday. The Program is blessed to have such a gem on our team.”

Maria Swift, nominated by Teresa O’Brien

Maria smiling.“Maria works in the Penn-Mar West Community Day Services program as a Senior Direct Support Professional and deserves to be awarded for setting the bar high for herself and others.

She consistently demonstrates her ability to be a strong leader. Maria was the recipient of the 2023 Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week Award by the MDOD and DDA.

Maria works hard and her mindset is one that embraces Penn-Mar’s core values by showing integrity and excellence in her daily work. Recently, she participated in several pilot projects, including electronic mileage sheets, PCI refresher course, and deep dive sessions for selecting a data management for the organization. Maria also volunteered to facilitate the monthly Senior DSP meetings so collaboration between teams can be prioritized. Maria fills a role that is much needed to help other DSPs to see their potential and ability to be creative, good problem solvers, and positive teammates.

With a full schedule providing support to those on her caseload, she finds time to be an active member of the organization with special projects, shout outs on Kudos to teammates, and brainstorming creative solutions. Thank you, Maria.”

Wilberforce Yeboah, nominated by Maryanne Kreuz

Wilberforce smiling.“Willy works residentially with four gentlemen.  He takes each day to demonstrate his dedication as well as initiative in their care. He came to Penn-Mar with no personal care experience but has shown through his behavior and attention that this is where his heart is. Any time he is needed, Willy pitches in whether it’s for meals, showers, household tasks, transportation, or covering shifts. Will goes above and beyond to not only help the men in times of staffing needs, but also several other houses within Penn-Mar. His honesty is greatly appreciated, and he knows his limits and will communicate the need for more information or assistance. Willy is the favorite with the individuals he supports, and they seek his attention for Yahtzee games or just conversation. They know he is dependable and available to them any time they need him.

When Willy first came to this house, there was a person that he supports who was very resistant to male figures working in his home. Willy was resilient and with a kind heart kept working with this person to support them and let them know that he was not going to abandon him, and he was here to stay and to help. Through his genuine kindness and gentle persistence, Willy was able to over a period of 6 months to develop a very strong relationship with this person. Now Willy is his go-to staff when he wants to talk, go shopping, go to the movies, or out to dinner. 

Willy takes time each week to meet with the gentleman and discuss what they would like to plan for the week. He takes the time to explore options and provide new experiences for the guys. 

For other staff, Willy has shared his experience and will teach someone who is struggling. He welcomes new staff with an open smile and a ready helping hand. If there are any issues, Willy takes the time to communicate and elaborate his concerns to resolve any problems. His top concern is always for the people he supports. During meetings, he initiates conversations about what the gentlemen need and gives good advice on how to achieve goals. As a new member of Penn-Mar and a new supervisor, I feel comfortable going to Willy and asking not only his advice but for his honest opinion. I am grateful to him for his steadfastness in a profession that is constantly changing. That is why I think Willy Osei would be the perfect person for the HEART Award.”

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