August 2021 HEART Winners

Posted on August 20, 2021

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.

Jimmy Castle – nominated by Soumbouth Seng

I would like to nominate Jimmy for the heart award. He deserves it and much more. Ever since Jimmy transferred over as a Day Program staff from PA to Residential (MD Day), he’s shown nothing but greatness and patience. I can say I am truly grateful to have him as my staff and the guys here enjoy having him as well.  

Jimmy would always put the needs of the individuals first and he would make sure that each one is happy. There can rough days here but he toughs it out and even helps me tough it out. I really appreciate having him on my team and wouldn’t trade him for anyone else. The individuals may think he is firm but they appreciate him because he helps guide them in the right direction.  

One of the individuals has gotten so attached to Jimmy, their relationship is like no other. Its like two brothers bonding. There will be times when this person would look out the office window to check if Jimmy arrived to work yet, and when he sees him he would yell with joy. Morning routines here are also enjoyable, we like to call it coffee/tea time with a short game of Connect Four.  

I can honestly say he is very appreciated, one of the best team members I have gotten to know. When it comes to getting stuff done, he would step in and help, without me having to ask or repeating myself. To end this before I continue rambling on, I just want to say: Thank you Jimmy for everything you have done, you are greatly appreciated! 

Court Dudek – nominated by Tonya Stonesifer

When I think of someone deserving of a Heart award, I think of Court. As a Senior DSP he consistently demonstrates outstanding professionalism and a “can do” attitude with the individuals he works with and co-workers. He works independently with individuals but embraces what it means to be part of a team.  

Court consistently sees how he can help to improve things and continues to want to learn and grow within his role. He goes above and beyond to communicate and work between multiple teams. Court continues to support not just the individuals and their families, but the employers in the community to build relationships and create “Natural Supports” within work settings.  

Throughout this past year with the pandemic, Court has remained positive and continues to support individuals in various stages of their employment and their daily lives. Diversity is key when coaching and supporting the individuals in employment. On a given day Court is holding many keys: teaching prep cook skills, cleaning a kennel, prepping someone for an interview and/or hopping on the computer to do a Virtual Support Group, to name a few. He is always flexible in rearranging his schedule during the week and weekends to accommodate the needs that may arise.  

In a week Court supports over 10 individuals in ongoing supports and follows along in their day-to-day jobs, meetings between teams, coordinating transportation, working personal supports all while taking classes to earn his Master’s Degree. He continues to always have a smile and an upbeat attitude. It is an honor to work with you!! Thank you for your dedication to the individuals and all the support you have given us!! 

Additionally, Court’s supervisor, Victoria Minkowski adds: Court’s responsibilities as a “job coach” is to support people in their current employment positions and he shines in this role. What makes Court an excellent choice for this award is how he willingly and routinely wears other hats to support people in their lives.    

Court does not just focus on a person and their employment needs; he goes above and beyond to make sure they have the skills and resources to support them in their independent living, financial, health, and wellness goals. Court constantly advocates for individuals to help keep them in their positions and negotiated reduced hours instead of loss of employment during the pandemic.  

Court stepped outside of his position to job develop for an individual who needed a job that was more suited to his interests. This individual was just hired at a major employer in Westminster who is historically known to be selective in who they hire.  

Court also went above and beyond his role to support someone who had a serious issue with his bank account. Court took him to the bank several times and advocated for the individual so he could maintain his bank account and remain in good standing.  

Job Development and Personal Supports are not part of his role in employment, but Court has a strong commitment and desire to see people be successful and does whatever it takes. 

Shannon Griffith – nominated by Natalie Place

I nominate Shannon for Penn-Mar’s HEART award for LITERALLY saving a person’s heart.   During Shannon’s shift, a person she supports started complaining of arm pain. Shannon could immediately tell that something was not right. Shannon quickly brought this person to the ER, where it was found that they were experiencing a heart attack.   Due to Shannon’s quick thinking, this person was able to receive necessary care in a time sensitive emergency. This exemplifies the vital work of Direct Support Professionals. 

Kelsey Manahan – nominated by Kristen Brookshire

I am nominating Kelsey Manahan for the Heart Award. I feel Kelsey truly goes above and beyond for her program and the organization. Her program was without a senior residential assistant for many months and during this time Kelsey stepped up and willingly and learned the supervisor duties. She also successfully completed tasks she would not normally do.  

Kelsey works in a medical group home. She provides care to medically fragile individuals. She has been faced with several medical emergencies. She has been to the emergency department on numerous occasions advocating with the individuals who are unable to. She is quick to reach out to a provider when she feels something is a concern. She ensures she gets all necessary paperwork filled out before leaving the provider’s office or ER. She can retain important information provided by the providers and relay it back to her team.  

An individual she supported had a seizure while he was walking out of the day program. Even though Kelsey was startled by this she jumped into action and kept the individual safe, provided first aid and his seizure medication. Another time she assisted with advocating was when an individual she supported kept getting a reoccurring UTI. Kelsey advocated for her to get a different type of catheter that would decrease her getting so many UTIs. Another example of her quick thinking was when an individual moved into the program. She knew little about him besides reading his ISP. She was assisting him with dinner one night and he went into a seizure, and he fell forward. Kelsey had to quickly get him to the floor and call 911. She continued to provide care until they arrived. Another time an individual was being transported by ambulance to the ER. Kelsey was not on shift during this time; however, her program was short staffed and when she was asked if she could meet them up there, she agreed without hesitation.  

Kelsey is always reliable and flexible when her program is in need. Kelsey continues to display Penn-mar’s core values. Her program was without two awake overnight staff for almost a year. Kelsey stepped up and worked every Wednesday overnight until someone was hired. She is always willing to help her team out. She never leaves her program nor her team in a bind. She also helps in several other programs.  

Kelsey is well liked by those she supports. She has built strong trustworthy relationships. She tries her best to keep the people she supports engaged in their desired activities and outings. She will search Pinterest for fun, meaningful activities they could do as a group or individually. Some of the fun things they did were baking and cooking, making ice cream, homemade pizzas, and peanut butter fudge. Especially for the holidays she bakes cookies and other treats with them because that is their favorite thing to do for the holidays. She searches for fun crafts to do like painting rocks, coloringor making fairy gardens. Kelsey continues to make it her mission to transform the lives of the individuals she supports by giving them as much independence and more days that are meaningful to them. 

Kelsey completes tasks and job duties without needing direction from her supervisor. I am confident that Kelsey would be able to manage the program successfully if her supervisors were out. She is always willing to learn new skills. She is currently participating in Career Ladders, and she has attended a PAR Conference in the past. She ensures she is always up to date with her trainings.  

Kelsey has grown so much in the past few years. She is more confident in herself and her decisions. She is an outstanding DSP. She has their best interest at heart. She has participated in person centered goal planning with her supervisor. She has created menus to assist staff with meal planning and by following the individual’s meal preferences. Kelsey is devoted to the individuals she supports and ensures that the individuals are happy and living comfortably. Recently, Kelsey assisted an individual with organizing her belongings and cleaning her bedroom. She truly made the individual happy. Kelsey is a great DSP. 

Rhonda Morano – nominated by Natasha Miller

Rhonda is a leader of this organization who many can say is a person who will be there to support any person or need that they have, no matter what it is or why that help is needed. While Rhonda has been an integral piece of Penn-Mar for 31 years, it has been only the past year that I have gotten to see first-hand what an amazing asset she is. As many of us have, Rhonda has stepped up to whatever challenge has been handed to her and will figure out the rest later! It does not matter to Rhonda who or where help is needed; she is as dependent as they come.  

Rhonda recently found herself in a position where a team member in a PA residential program needed emergency help with a crisis. Rhonda did not know the team member well, nor did she know who the person supported who was upset. She did not hesitate to act and respond to the home immediately. She not only assisted in diffusing the situation, but she also helped make this team member feel safe and supported during this time of crisis and allowed them the opportunity to take some time to come down from the situation. Rhonda’s ability to step in when she did could have prevented this situation from worsening, possibly even preventing law enforcement from intervening.  

This is just one example of what Rhonda will do when her help is needed, even if she is not asked! Her dedication to not only those we support, but anyone who needs her help, is what makes her incredibly deserving of this award. 

Chantese Newman – nominated by Ted & Meg Ahrendt and LaDawn Allen

Our daughter, Karen, has been a resident in a home for the past two years. Initially we were overjoyed to realize that Chantese was the house manager when she reached out in the weeks before Karen was to move to find out about Karen’s likes and dislikes, our expectations, and to make sure that her new room was made ready for her, down to choosing the paint color.  

Chantese has been consistently kind, loving, and caring to Karen through the long days of the pandemic when Karen’s life was totally upended. Most importantly to us, she has stayed in contact with us and is always quick to respond to our questions or requests. Chantese is always professional and thoughtful. She demonstrates personal integrity and a strong desire to increase her knowledge of ways to help Karen. She cares for our daughter as if she were her own. When Karen returns to the home after a visit, Chantese and her staff always greet Karen with enthusiasm and loving kindness.  

In addition, we are grateful to Chantese for her emphasis on good nutrition by providing healthy food choices. Because of the pandemic, it has been challenging to provide Karen with activities and recently Chantese planned to have a whiteboard installed for Karen to use.  

It is difficult to express how important it is for us as parents to have our daughter in the care of a person who is so truly kind, caring, loving, and professional. Chantese is the special person who allows us to live apart from Karen with complete confidence that her emotional and physical needs are being met in the best way possible. That is why we nominate Chantese Newman for the Heart Award. 

LaDawn Allen also nominated Chantese, saying: Beyond her support of Karen, over the past year and a half, Chantese has been working tirelessly to help get another individual the help that she needs. This person has had one of the most difficult times coping with the changes of the pandemic and her actions as a result of her struggles have made it incredibly challenging to support her. The individual had been and continues to have struggles caused by some medical issues.   

Chantese has advocated to the utmost of her ability. There have been countless appointments, hospitalizations, meetings, and exhausting days that Chantese has worked through and supported not only the individual, but the individual’s family, and the team members that also work with this individual. Chantese refuses to give up. She knows that she will get the individual on the right track.  Chantese has been put through the ringer on a daily basis and despite all of this she continues to show up with a positive attitude and the mindset that this is going to get figured out for this individual. 

Deanna Ruff – nominated by Natasha Miller

Deanna has been with our organization just half a year, and the impact that she has made thus far has been so great that it feels like she has been here much longer! When Deanna began at Penn-Mar, she was stepping into a massive project that included a complete review of all the systems that we use in hopes of streamlining our processes. Deanna took the time to meet with many different people in the organization to hear our feedback, and what we need our systems to do to shift our focus on the right areas. While this was likely required, the way in how she did this was personable, and she truly has an interest in those little details that often are missed in the grand scheme of things. She listens to everyone’s concerns and challenges and makes each person’s needs feel like they are a priority.  

Even though her time focuses on larger scale items, she has taken the time with many operations team members to show them how to streamline their processes and takes the time to train those on whatever it is they need. Within the first two weeks of Deanna’s start with Penn-Mar, my colleague and I had a significant issue with our billing system that nobody could help us find the solution to for several weeks. Within days, Deanna had focused on this issue and had it rectified with ease. I had also recently found an unused feature in our attendance system that would benefit our management team and had asked Deanna if she could help me out with exploration, to see if we would be able to utilize this. Again, in no time, Deanna had worked through the kinks without much issue, and we are on our way to using this feature that will benefit so many people! It takes a village to run an organization like ours, and the support that Deanna provides so many is so appreciated! 

Marlo Saunders – nominated by Alyssa Albright

To say this has been a difficult year for the house that Marlo now supervises would be an understatement. Amidst a global pandemic, all of the individuals within the home, the SRA at the time, and the RS at the time, all tested positive for CovidMarlo, as she always does, rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She adapted to the Covid schedule with no complaint, and ensured that the ladies were kept safe and healthy in what could have been a very stressful time.  

Throughout the pandemic, Marlo has organized outings or even stayathome activities to keep the ladies engaged and active. Paint nights and dance parties are common finds on Marlo’s shifts. Marlo has built an excellent rapport with the ladies, and has learned how to help all of them with their varying levels of need – be it calming someone’s anxiety by answering the same question 100 times a day, or by making sure she takes the time to have a 1:1 conversation with an individual if she feels they require some extra attention or support.  

More recently, the house has gone through some significant staffing changes and shortages. Over the past year, Marlo has been promoted to SRA, and most recently RS. She has demonstrated time and time again that she will do what needs to be done to ensure that the ladies she supports are receiving the best possible care. She has consistently put in over 70 hours a week during our staffing crisis to ensure that the needs of these ladies are being met, all while taking over as acting supervisor learning a new position, and doing it well!  

As if her commitment to her own program wasn’t enough, Marlo has even stepped in to other programs when there is a serious need, even if she has already worked a full day herself. When she sees a need, she will try to help find a solution. Marlo is an invaluable asset to Penn-Mar, and I am so excited to see how she continues to grow and will spread her positive attitude and work ethic to not only her house, but to the agency as a whole! 

Joyce Silfee – nominated by Victoria Minkowski

Joyce has done an amazing job working with the individuals that she supports. She goes above and beyond the expectations of her position every day. Joyce has been supporting two people for some time. She supports them to be active in their communities and to make good decisions about their lives.  

One of the individual’s moms had this to say about Joyce: “Over the years we have had good support staff, but Joyce is outstanding. She not only made sure she knew my son’s goals, but was committed to moving him forward toward those goals. She treated him as an equal, always listening to his wants and then helping him to organize and accomplish his needs. She was especially instrumental in helping him with his Scout merit badges and she actively participated in his scout activities. Joyce was always there to help him develop independent skills by working with him rather than doing things for him. She became a trusted member of our team because it was clear she had a heart for her clients!”  

In supporting another individual, who is non-verbal, Joyce introduced sign language and worked hard with her team to help this person understand and learn to communicate her desires and feelings. The introduction of sign language and the commitment to helping her figure it out has made a huge impact in this person’s life.  

Joyce is an incalculable asset to the team! 

Mark Swift – nominated by Christina Dixon & Teresa O’Brien

Mark deserves a Heart award because of his unwavering dedication to the people we support and bringing the team together in a collaborative way to be able to achieve the mission.  

The first thing that should be known about Mark’s work is his commitment to staying in contact with the people we support and their families. Mark has always held high the importance of communication, but through the COVID-19 pandemic this was especially highlighted. People who were at home and not receiving services were disconnected, and he recognized the importance of staying in touch with them. People and their families would receive a call once a week or so from Mark just checking in on them and seeing if there was anything he could do for them. He is known for taking and returning calls at times outside of his working schedule just to make sure he didn’t miss anyone. He continues to do this, especially with the people who haven’t reconnected. Although it would have been easier for him to think that those people were ok and safe with their families, he didn’t, and it meant a lot that they could expect his call.  

Several people Mark supported ended up with serious health conditions that landed them in the hospital during the pandemic. Although it’s routine for Penn-mar to check-in on the person, Mark went above and beyond giving families his personal cell phone number to reach out to. Even though their families were caring for them, he contacted them multiple times weekly to find out updates, wish the person well, and discuss how to plan for their successful return to service. Communication, above and beyond usual check-ins with one individual and her sister and another individual and her father are two examples of Mark showing his dedication and care.  

Similar to the importance of communication during challenging times, Mark knows the value of communication in getting to know the people we support. Mark took the Personal Outcome Measures training and was immediately drawn to the impact its use could have. Upon completion of the training, he considered who would be the first person on his caseload that he used POMs with. He coordinated with a partner interviewer and jumped right into conversations with a person and his family to learn. He’s now using the information he learned to help this person set his direction. Mark isn’t stopping with just one person either, he’s also begun engaging transitioning youth in the process. Mark’s enthusiasm for POMs has developed before Penn-Mar has set expectations for its use and will undoubtedly support people to get closer to the life they desire.  

The second area to highlight why Mark exemplifies the meaning of a Heart award is because he is a champion for collaboration and teamwork. Mark demonstrates this daily, in ways that may seem simple to him but that have a tremendous impact on the morale of his team. We have been working through a time that many of us are doing more than what’s expected in our “normal” job while we build up our teams. He has not only supported his own team but has offered to support two other teams as well. Mark has covered the jobs of three people for over a year. Because of being short staffed, he provided training to others in preparation for LTSS so the people we support could continue to receive services uninterrupted. He has attended numerous meetings outside of his scheduled hours for people on other teams. After putting in extra time, he saw the need to bring managers and quality coordinators together by co-hosting a social distance cookout. Something that was very much needed to enhance the work culture.  

Mark is routinely the first person to welcome a new team member and check in with them to see if there’s anything they need. Unasked, he spends time sharing information with new team members that he knows they’ll need to learn and is patient and willing to give them as much of his time as they need to learn it. People learn quickly that they can rely on Mark for this. In addition, Mark knows the value of a well-oiled team. He is counted on to create opportunities for the team to come together and never fails. Whether it’s sharing a new idea and generating an inclusive conversation, coordinating a celebration for a team member leaving, regularly pulling people together for a socially distanced lunch, or just taking a moment to stop by and check to see how someone else is doing. Mark is the magnet that pulls people together.  

Thank you Mark for giving so much of yourself to Penn-Mar. 

Sue Thorpe – nominated by Janae Householder

Sue has dedicated may years to helping people live a life preferable to them. She not only advocates for people’s needs and wants, but she also teaches them how to advocate for themselves. I have watched Sue put the needs of those she supports and supervises ahead of her own repeatedly.  

Recently, Sue has been supervising two group homes, each with different needs. One of the women she supports has been having a difficult time managing her emotions. The situation has led to reoccurring maladaptive behaviors that are disruptive to others, and not easy for the woman. Sue has explored potential causes and solutions to help the woman cope with excessive attachment issues. She brought an entire team together for a problem-solving opportunity. During the meeting Sue was open to explore any potential to help ease the situation, even as far as removing herself from the program. The positive impact that Sue has on the program was immediately highlighted by examples those who work closely with her gave. They described how her contributions affected the entire program, not just one aspect.  

The other group home that Sue is supervising is attached to the first. In this program there is an opening for someone new to move into services. Recently, someone interested in placement came for their first visit. The woman having a difficult time, in the attached program, was having an especially rough day. During the visit everyone could hear her distress. It was a very uncomfortable situation, but Sue was quick to alleviate tension. She was able to find a moment away from everyone, to explain to the gentleman and his family that someone downstairs was processing grief. She described that everyone was working hard to help her through this time in her life, and that the noises we heard are not reflective of each day. Sue was able to reassure the gentleman interested in Penn-Mar (and his family), while upholding the dignity and privacy of the woman who was struggling.  

Sue is an excellent representative of Penn-Mar and our mission!