DSPs Help Charlie Nickel Keep His Life on Track - Penn-Mar

DSPs Help Charlie Nickel Keep His Life on Track

Posted on September 14, 2023

By Gregory T. Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, Penn-Mar Human Services | Chief Executive Officer, Penn-Mar Foundation

From September 10-16 we are celebrating Direct Support Professional Recognition Week to highlight the dedicated, innovative DSP workforce that is the heart and soul of supports for people with disabilities.

To underscore the incredible services they provide, I thought you might enjoy hearing a first person account of how DSPs have affected the life of Charlie Nickel, an early pioneer who has been receiving our supports for 35 years and who truly embodies the spirit of Penn-Mar.

Charlie standing in front of his car.

Charlie Nickels standing proudly in front of a company car at his previous job.

I first came to Penn-Mar in 1988, right after high school to be in their employment program. At the time, I was the last of 104 foster children living with my foster mother, Mrs. Grace Heaps, who also cared for a biological son with cerebral palsy (CP).

A friend of the family taught me how to drive so I was already feeling very independent and ready to start working. Penn-Mar helped me get my first job as a janitor at the Hunt Valley Southern States store and at Jiffy Lube where I had a cleaning and car detailing position.

In 1991, the staff at a Penn-Mar Group Home offered a downstairs rental apartment to me and my foster brother (#103) and friend, Arnold.

I started to struggle with issues that took me out of the workforce and forced me to reluctantly accept personal supports from the Group Home staff. I was hoping I could figure things out on my own.

When I moved into my own apartment in 2004, I began to feel isolated and unsure of myself. That’s when Mr. Bernie, an amazing Penn-Mar DSP, came into my life. He was such a good friend to me.

He did everything he could to support me and I let him.  We made a little patio outside my basement apartment with a flowerbed and sitting area and ordered new furniture for inside. He took me to Orioles games, helped me get organized, kept track of all my appointments and often drove me to them and waited with me.

It was Mr. Bernie I called, late at night, when I was having a kidney stone attack. He took me to the emergency room and helped me to recover from a procedure. He did everything he could to help me get my life back together and I let him.

When he retired, DSP Mary stepped in and she did everything for me, like Mr. Bernie. When I was dealing with some loneliness, she helped me adopt my cat, “Dusty.” Both Mary and Bernie were wonderful role models for me. I never took for granted all they did for me.

DSP Leroy was with me for almost 15 years. We became life-long friends and he would often take me to his home for holiday meals and family celebrations. He made me feel like part of his big family.

Charlie at his job at Outback Steakhouse.

Charlie on the job at Outback Steakhouse.

I have found good jobs through Penn-Mar’s employment program. I was hired at Penn-Mar INK filling orders for copy machine color cartridges.  I also worked for Apple Car Wash Express and Outback Steak House.

I just spent two days in Ocean City, MD on vacation with my DSP Beth and her boyfriend. They both loved being at the beach but I was happy to sit on the balcony and watch the ocean waves. I bought a hermit crab on the boardwalk and Beth is teaching me how to care for it. I also have a 12-year old cat named “Cheyanne.”

Rhonda Morano, (Maryland Quality & Day Services Manager), was a case manager when I first met her at Penn-Mar and she has been very involved in the different phases of my life. No matter how good or bad the times, she really stood by me and was always there when I needed her. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

I am overwhelmed in a good way and so grateful to all the Penn-Mar DSPs who have made my life easier and taught me to accept that it is OK to ask for and receive help.

I am so happy to be associated with them.

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