Posted on January 24, 2023
When Diane Gieda started working for Penn-Mar as a Direct Support Professional, her former husband and employer told her she’d only last two weeks. That was nearly three decades ago.
Except for the two years she spent in Texas, from 2006 to 2008 – she liked the weather Diane has worked at Penn-Mar for a total of 25 years, beginning in 1995. This milestone was recently celebrated during the nonprofit’s annual Service Awards Luncheon held on November 30th, an event that recognizes dedicated team members who have been with Penn-Mar for multiple years.
A York County native who grew up in Shiloh, Diane is currently an Awake Overnight residential assistant at a Penn-Mar residence in Jefferson, Pa., not far from her home in Hanover where she lives with her husband Craig and son Todd.
Although Diane’s held various positions both in Pennsylvania and Maryland over the years including residential supervisor, administrative assistant, and day program team member, to name a few, the Awake Overnight position is one she’s gravitated to most.
“I like working at night. Behind the scenes,” she said. “I’m also able to get more sleep during the day. I’m always well rested for my shift.”
Diane works as an Awake Overnight in the nonprofit’s Respite Program, where she and team members support individuals who live at home with family, but who come to Penn-Mar on a rotating basis a few days at a time. “This gives the family a break and also allows the individuals a chance to get away and have some different experiences,” Diane said.
Her shift usually begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 9 a.m. and may include extended hours to help fill in when needed. Her first priority is to ensure that all the residents are safe and settled. As the position implies, Diane remains awake through the night, completing any paperwork left by the day staff, doing housekeeping, and checking in on the “guests,” as she calls them. All this until it is time to get everyone up and ready for the day ahead. No day is ever the same, she said, particularly when it comes to the guests and their activities, which include attending different Day Programs in the area.
Now after many years, Diane said she’s gotten used to the hours. She’s on four nights a week and generally picks up one to three extra days as well, because of staffing shortages that have impacted providers across the country.
“I do miss working directly with the individuals we support,” she said. “Interaction is minimal right now, because residents are asleep for the most part.”
Before joining Penn-Mar, Diane had varied work experiences including work for a limousine company, a body shop, nursing home, and as a police dispatcher. The last one comes in at a close second to her longtime career at Penn-Mar as the best job she’s ever had.
“My sister-in-law worked at Penn-Mar at the time and referred me. She said I’d like it,” Diane said. “She left a year after I started.”
Outside of work, Diane has many keen interests. She is a voracious reader, who sometimes gets through two or three books a week. She enjoys NASCAR and attending dirt track races with her husband. She is also an avid concert goer with an eclectic taste in music –country and metal being among her favorite genres. Last year, she attended three Korn concerts, saw Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Elton John. “I don’t want to wait to retire to enjoy the experience.”
Her career at Penn-Mar has been a very rewarding one for Diane. “It’s what I do. I take care of people, and it brings me a lot of joy,” she said. “I’m blessed to be able to work for a company that wants the best for the individuals we support and also cares about their employees.”
Diane recalled one gentleman, years ago, who came to Penn-Mar in his 50s. He had lived with his parents up until then. She and her team discovered that except for doctors’ appointments, his parents had never taken him anywhere.
“To see him come to Penn-Mar and blossom and experience getting out into the community for the first time in a meaningful way was tremendous,” Diane said. “It was wonderful to see him grow.”
Her advice to anyone considering a career as a DSP is to know that it sometimes requires a lot of patience, including patience with yourself. “It also takes understanding that the people we support are capable of so much more than you would think. They mostly just want to live the same lives that we do, with the same opportunities to work or travel, or have their dreams come true.”