Posted on November 22, 2023
Natina Newsome has got the “Teeny Spirit.” Growing up in Baltimore with her large extended family, she was surrounded by love – “a lot of love”– one of the greatest sources of which came and continues to come from her grandmother Dorothy Newsome, Teeny, as she’s affectionately called.
“Teeny is a caregiver. It’s what she does from the heart,” said Natina, who joined the Penn-Mar family as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) a little more than two years ago during the height of COVID.
“She basically raised all her grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and now great, great grandchildren. All that caregiving I learned from her, and from my mother [Natina’s namesake], who was a single mother raising me and my brother Allen until she met my stepfather Larry when I was eight. They later married and had my brother Larry Jr.”
The “Teeny Spirit” as Natina described it, embodies her grandmother’s deep compassion and care for people, her kindness, empathy, and generosity. “I say it all the time that I experience Jesus through my grandmother.”
After graduating from Baltimore’s Laurence G. Paquin High School, Natina worked in Clinical Nutrition Services at The John Hopkins Hospital, and then later for Hilton Hotels. In 2007, she became a mother herself with the birth of her son Aubrey. It was around this time that she began setting her sights on entering the human services field, inspired by her late grandmother Minnie, who had supported people with disabilities, and her aunt Cheryl, who was with Catholic Charities, an organization for which Natina wanted to work at the time. She got her first job in the field with Forward Visions, Inc., and after several years there, landed a position at Catholic Charities, where she happily remained for five years, before moving to Los Angeles to explore a possible career in acting.
Along with the love that filled Natina’s home growing up, was an abundance of creativity that was always on display within the large, tight-knit family (her mom was part of the girl group Galaxy Beauty Crew with Aunt Cheryl and cousin Monda in the 90s). She spent so much time with her many cousins that she considers them more like siblings. They sang, danced, acted, and regularly put on performances for the family and sometimes the community.
It’s no surprise that from all the creativity and output a desire to get into performing took hold at one point, and in 2017, Natina decided to put her career on hold to explore acting in LA. A year was as much as she was able to give to the endeavor.
“I wasn’t mentally ready for that transformation,” said Natina, who took classes at the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop in LA and secured a few auditions. “I thought I’d go out there and jump right into it, but I just wasn’t really ready, and I didn’t have the spiritual foundation that I have now to handle it. Of course, I was also missing my son.”
When she returned to Baltimore, Natina was welcomed back at Catholic Charities, where she stayed until a job posting on Indeed fortuitously led her to a position in Penn-Mar’s Day Program.
“Everything just aligned and happened with ease. I really felt like I experienced something different,” Natina said describing joining the Penn-Mar team. “I never had an opportunity to have a job where it didn’t feel like a job. There isn’t the pressure, and communication is top of the line. I love how they communicate. I didn’t have that before.”
Although most of Natina’s prior experience had been working in residential services, supporting individuals in their homes, the prospect of working in Penn-Mar’s Day Program thrilled her. However, because the program closed during COVID, when she was hired, she wasn’t able to fully jump into her new role until pandemic restrictions started lifting. Today, she is based in the Day Program, but will assist wherever she’s needed.
“I love seeing the progress and growth of the different people I support,” Natina said. “They have taught me so much, so much about what it takes to have patience. We think we have all the patience in the world until we’re faced with something, and then it’s like, oh no, we still have work to do.”
Natina is enjoying seeing her own progress and professional growth in her relatively short time at Penn-Mar. In early February of this year, she obtained her DSP-III certification through the nonprofit’s Career Ladders program established in 2016 in partnership with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP). Career Ladders is a career development and credentialing program, and certification through NADSP acknowledges DSPs for their exemplary work in supporting people with disabilities.
Remarkably, Natina obtained all three levels (DSP-I, DSP-II, and DSP-III) through the NADSP E-Badge Academy within about seven months. The work is rigorous and the standard to be accepted in the program is high.
“I set myself a deadline to complete each level,” she said. “I was very consistent with it. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted it and I like learning, so I was definitely into it.”
Natina credits the men and women she supports for motiving her growth. As someone who strives to learn and better herself, she said that apart from teaching her a lot of patience, the individuals have taught her grace, and remind her who she is and why she’s doing what she does.
“They teach me. They might think I’m teaching them, but they’re teaching me. That’s why I know I’m where I belong and the reason for what I do,” said Natina. “Through growth, I’m preparing for whatever is supposed to be in the years to come.”
Through it all, Natina’s grandmother has been her guiding light. Whenever a challenge arises, she asks herself, “What would Teeny do? How would Teeny respond? Through her love, she always has an answer.”