Donna Kiberenge (she recently married; Penn-Mar friends may recognize her more readily as Donna Redmond), is guaranteed to be the life of the party. A Residential Supervisor who has been with Penn-Mar for 5 years, she brightens any room she walks into, and can genuinely connect with anybody.
These traits make Donna not only a lot of fun, but also an exceptional Direct Support Professional (DSP).
Donna’s ability to build relationships is something she attributes in part to her grandmother. “My grandmother was a foster parent. She was a foster parent to a few guys with special challenges, so pretty much my whole life I’ve been around people with special needs.”
In fact, Donna’s sister and brother also work at Penn-Mar, and her mother worked here a long time ago. Clearly, compassion is a family value. “We were raised in a house where this was what we knew,” Donna shared.
Compassion and Creativity
Indeed, compassion drives much of what Donna does, but so does her creativity. Faced with challenges, she rises to the occasion in innovative and impactful – yet very fun – ways.
“The people here at Penn-Mar know I’m over the top,” she jokes. “At the house, we’ll sing, dance, rock out. Sometimes if someone’s having a bad day and screaming and yelling, I’ll get into it with them. We’ll shout, flick the lights like we’re in a club, turn the music up, let it all out. Some days one of [the guys I support] pretends he’s a rock star; I’ll be his backup.”
Their adventures extend far beyond their home, too. “We dress up; do cookouts. Before COVID I would throw special parties for all the holidays and invite other houses; we would go to theme parks. It’s just about getting people engaged in stuff,” she shares.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Donna’s commitment to engagement extends to her colleagues, too. “My favorite slogan is ‘teamwork will make the dream work.’ My whole team, they are amazing. I’ve seen the changes we’ve been able to help the guys make in their life.”
She also attributes much her and her team’s success to support she receives from her supervisor. “I have an amazing supervisor. She’s been so helpful to me. Whenever I feel like it’s a little bit too much, I know I can pick up the phone and call her and she’s on it. She has introduced me to so many new things; she got me into Coach Approach. She has seen more in me than I’ve seen in myself, you know what I mean?”
When asked to expand on her Coach Approach experience, Donna explains excitedly, “You have to do presentations. Our presentation was off the chain! Gina [Director of Learning & Development] said it was amazing. We had to do a ton in that class, and the thing that really stood out was we had to step into something someone was going through. So, they gave us ‘denial’ and we had people laughing and rolling; we made it really fun, but we also learned a lot.”
She continues, “I haven’t done Career Ladders yet, but I’m definitely hopping on it the next time. My brother keeps telling me, ‘Donna, you gotta do it!’”
At the Heart of It
While she’s had great experiences in our learning and development programs, Donna acknowledges that a career in human services requires more than just comprehensive training.
“If you don’t have a heart, this work is not for you. That’s it. There’s nothing else to say. You have to treat others the way you want to be treated. I don’t just mean at work. When you’re walking down the street and there’s a homeless person there, it takes you two minutes to see if they’re OK. You might not have what they need, you might not be the one who can help them, but it costs nothing to ask. After all, who are we to judge? How can we judge a person? Things change and things happen. People can be millionaires on Monday and on Tuesday they have nothing.”
Even so, Donna takes care to point out that no matter how big your heart, everybody needs a break from time to time. “I’m not perfect!” she laughs. “Sometimes I do need a day off. Everybody needs a moment to rest and be able come back with a smile. Sometimes when you’re trying to do the right thing, it can feel like life’s beating you down, but you just have to try your best.”
This past year has certainly tried to beat many of us down. “COVID has been very scary – trying to make sure that you stay healthy for your family, the guys, yourself. Plus, everything going on in the world. So, when it came to the COVID shot, I told my supervisor, ‘Put my name on the top of the list, I’ll be the first in line. I’ll get it on video, and you can share it. Whatever it takes to get people to get it, too.’”
It’s this trailblazing attitude that makes Donna a powerful advocate. “I definitely advocate for the guys [I support] and other guys – when something’s not right I have something to say. We have a mission – a goal to reach – and even if I have to pull people along, I’m going to get us all there.”
At the end of the day, Donna attributes it all to shared love, respect, and compassion. “When I first started working here, it took me a while to come out of my shell. But I knew I had a love and passion for this work. I knew that I would love [the guys I support], but I didn’t expect them to care so much about me. Seeing that mutual compassion is amazing. Seeing the changes I’ve been able to help them make in their lives, and the impact they’ve made in mine – that’s why I love this job.”