February 2022 HEART Award Winners - Penn-Mar

February 2022 HEART Award Winners

Posted on February 1, 2022

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.

Tina Chan Sweenie, nominated by Matthew Muench

Tina Chan Sweenie smilingEvery day, Tina surprises me with her creativity and persistence to move the mission of Penn-Mar forward. Her work to improve the lives of the women and men Penn-Mar supports and to mobilize our community to advocate for Penn-Mar and our valuable DSPs reflects her innovative spirit.

Her creativity was on full display recently when she hosted a reading group and follow-up discussion about the book “All the Way to the Top” by Annette Bay Pimentel. The book told the story of Jennifer Keelen-Chaffin, a then 8-year-old girl who climbed out of her wheelchair and up the Capitol steps to prove to our elected officials that this world was not built with people like her in mind. The media took notice and it helped to create the Americans with Disability Act. Thanks to Tina’s persistence she was able to contact Jennifer Keelen-Chaffin and invited her to present her story in a virtual book discussion. The virtual discussion was attended by Penn-Mar Team Members, Penn-Mar Families, and the people supported by Penn-Mar. This is just one example of Tina’s dedication and the steps she takes to support the mission of Penn-Mar.

In the two years that Tina has been with Penn-Mar she has expanded our advocacy efforts and created the Penn-Mar Advocacy Collective (PMAC). Through her efforts, PMAC has become a thriving group of families, friends, and team members who advocate for an increase in funding for IDD services that will translate to proper compensation of Direct Support Professional (DSP) wages. This is critical for inclusion and equity within the greater community, and for gainful employment, opportunities, and acceptance of people with IDD. Furthermore, Tina has made collaboration a key priority and works extensively with the Voices of Change group in Westminster to ensure that their advocacy efforts are supported by PMAC.

In addition to working with PMAC, Tina has also focused on volunteer opportunities which is no small feat during the pandemic. She has created and strengthened relationships internally and externally and consistently goes above and beyond. At the height of the pandemic even though she was new to Penn-Mar, she used connections and developed relationships to secure masks for DSPs. She was also integral in working with Program Managers to ensure DSP was a celebration recognizing the importance of our committed DSPs. Tina is an extremely caring person who is willing to support her colleagues in the Advancement Department and throughout the organization. She gladly steps in to assist with grants, communications, and our annual gala and golf events. I’m lucky to work with Tina every day and admire her proactive work style and love her sense of humor.

Finally, Penn-Mar is always looking for more people to get involved in our advocacy efforts. If you are interested in, please contact tina at tinachansweenie@penn-mar.org. She’ll be happy to hear from you!

Michal Edmondson, nominated by Nadine Gaetani

Michal Edmondson smilingA little over a year ago Michal was promoted to the position of residential supervisor at a home, after working at the house for many years. The position became available suddenly, and Michal (who was the SRA at the time), stepped in with grace and finesse. She took on many extra hours to help to fill the vacancy and maintain the house through it all in the heart of the COVID pandemic. Michal has strived over the last year to meet the needs of the four ladies she supports to the fullest. She continues to work extra hours every week, usually averaging six or seven days a week.

During the weekends, when COVID is not surging, Michal plans exciting activities, complete with trips to the zoo, shopping, ball games, and restaurant visits. The ladies are always on the go! She does this while following the CDC guidelines to maximize the safety of the ladies. Michal embodies the true spirit and core values of Penn-Mar. I think what sets Michal apart from other staff is how detailed she is in every aspect of her job. She grocery shops with a list of items that the ladies have requested, assuring everyone gets exactly what she wants. She prepares meals that are nutritious and well balanced. In addition, Michal has taken an ordinary kitchen dining area, and made it extraordinary by decorating it with Mickey Mouse themed pictures as well as a toaster, towels, potholders, etc. By the dining table, there is a giant chalk board that Michal built, with more Mickey-themed stills and the ladies’ names written in chalk. One of the ladies always comments that she sees her name on it, which makes her very happy.

Recently, the home’s beloved cat they shared for years, Johnny Cat, had to be put down due to a long-term illness. Michal ensured the ladies each got to spend special time with Johnny the night before her passing. Michal then took Johnny home with her to make sure she was as comfortable as she could be. Michal took the cat to the vet’s and humanely helped Johnny cross over the rainbow bridge. Michal then bought a beautiful little pine tree to plant near the house at Johnny’s grave as a memorial of sorts for the ladies’ beloved cat. In addition, she purchased heart-shaped stones for each lady to paint to place around the tree.

In conclusion, there are so many reasons that Michal Edmondson deserves this honor, but the bottom line is that she will do whatever she can to give the ladies she supports the best possible home life that she can. When you go to the home, it is so much more than a group home; it is a family home filled with love due in part to the hard work of Michal.

Rachael Keeney, nominated by Michelle Delozier & Emily Finnegan

Rachael Keeney smilingRachael consistently comes to work with a smile on her face, ready to dive into whatever chaos she may be walking into. She helps out at many different houses in our pod, and always is willing to switch around when necessary. Rachael is always asking what more she can do to help out whenever she is in any program. She makes an effort to take everyone out in the community as much as possible, and take them to places they love to go. Sometimes I ask a lot of Rachael, but she is ready for the challenge and does what she can to make everyone’s day meaningful.

She has been especially helpful this past month while I was supervising multiple programs and needed her support going from one program to another. She did this with ease, and often this happened with minimal notice. She was instrumental in arranging and driving individuals for Covid testing in these past few weeks. She did this in part to protect others and limit exposure.

If any individual from any program in our pod needs to be picked early for an appointment or any other reason, Rachael never fails to be available for this. She has even reached outside of our Pod to help ensure two other individuals got to work or their violin lessons and taekwondo.

Rachael is a wonderful example of a staff who each and every day demonstrates all of our core values.

Jesse Kent, nominated by Christina Dixon, Kim Lowrie, & Jen Mettrick

Jesse Kent smilingWe would like to nominate Jesse Kent to receive a HEART Award for his exceptional support of the Westminster team in their transition from a facility-based program to fully community-based supports.

Jesse has gone above and beyond in exploring and testing technology options as our team transitions to remote and shared work solutions due to the recent sale of our day program building. Jesse has spent the past six months engaging in the transitional work that the Westminster team is undergoing, taking extra time to understand the needs of the team, the goals the team has for the successful implementation of community-based supports and bringing the team options to consider that will meet their changing needs.

Typically, Jesse is scheduled about half a day a week at the Westminster location to provide IT support to the team, follow-up on open IT tickets and often addressing equipment needs. Jesse quickly recognized the additional needs of the team as more and more questions began to surface about technology needs in a community-based model. He took extra time to meet with different team members to think through solutions and brought larger concerns back to the IT team to think through. Jesse also made time to join several of Westminster’s transition team meetings to report out on his research, progress on testing new tech options and laying out next steps. As part of those meetings, Jesse was open to new suggestions and pivoting plans as needed. Jesse embraced the extra work and continually brought his good humor and “can do attitude” to every meeting, helping the Westminster team feel supported and confident they would have the tools they needed to make a successful transition. As Manager Teresa O’Brien shared, “Jesse has always encouraged me, even though I don’t feel I am tech savvy. His approach has always been friendly and supportive as I work through challenges outside of my comfort zone. He celebrates when I have accomplished what he has shown me.”

Jesse also jumped in to support Corey, who is working on his reading and writing skills to help his employment, learn about his Chromebook after overhearing Corey say he needed help. Jesse made an impact in other ways such as taking on the added responsibility of shepherding information, supplies and equipment between Westminster and Maryland Line to eliminate the need for someone to make an added trip. Just recently he ensured that 300 desperately needed COVID tests were delivered to our team members at all three locations!

Jesse has demonstrated impactful characteristics with the Westminster team that have had positive effects on our transition. The team is very grateful and continually talks about how Jesse has become an integral part of Westminster’s team!

Karen Koenigsberg, nominated by Kathy Zeallor & Teresa O’Brien

Karen Koenigsberg smilingWe would like to nominate Karen Koenigsberg for the HEART Award. Over the past several months, Karen has truly gone above and beyond for her program and the organization. She recognizes that all teams are understaffed and has time and time again offered to help in any way she can.

Karen manages the Westminster respite inn and is the coordinator for the newest program, peer mentoring. Both programs have new DDA guidelines and procedures to learn and implement. Change is not easy for most; but Karen is able to support families through these challenging changes with a positive and reassuring attitude.

Karen is frequently supporting other teams by covering several virtual support classes connecting to the individuals who we can’t support in-person. Her documentation not only records their attendance but their reaction to the activity. Having this additional information better supports the manager to follow up with additional programming.

As the Westminster Stoner Ave. site downsizes and most of us are working from other locations, Karen takes the initiative to be present in the building ready to support team members by passing out needed supplies or covering the front entrance. If Karen is not in the building to assist, she doesn’t hesitate to report to the building to lend support when needed.

Karen has also been known to offer her personal supply of materials including KN95 masks while we wait for a new shipment.

During these past couple cold weeks, Karen has saved the day for one of the people we support. This person uses public transportation three times a day; from home to the volunteer job, to paid employment workplace, to home again. Twice in the past few weeks the person has arrived at the volunteer job only to find a sign on the door saying they were closed. This leaves the person standing outside the building in the cold. This person can use their cell phone to call their team who at that time of day is a good 25 minutes away. Karen, however, always seems to be in the right place at the right time. She can swing by and transport the person to a warmer and safer place.

Being a single mother of two people supported by Penn-Mar and an employee, Karen has insight and pertinent background information to help people and families. Karen continuously takes the time to share this information with the newest quality coordinator and managers at the Westminster site. Having this information supports caseload transitions and better outcomes.

These extra tasks are big and necessary to keep the work moving forward. Thank you, Karen, for all your hard work. Everyone benefits from your actions.

Megan Lewis, nominated by Alyssa Albright

Megan Lewis smilingMegan Lewis is someone who throughout the course of the pandemic has consistently gone above and beyond.

Megan started in the Day Program right before everything shut down in 2020, and was subsequently reassigned to work residentially with the person she supports as a 1:1 during her usual work hours. The person Megan supports has intense needs that need to be met, and can be aggressive when his needs are not met or when his structure is disrupted. When this person that she supports moved into one of the houses that I oversee in the spring of last year, I was able to see firsthand how much care and dedication Megan shows to the people she supports. From the first time she brought this person over to see his new living arrangements, she was in constant communication with myself and the house manager at the time, to ensure everything was in order for him. She organized visits to ensure he would be comfortable in his new environment before his move, and helped this person’s family feel more at ease with the transition as well.

Since then, the house has had many (many!!) staffing changes, and for the majority of the time Megan has been working there, there has not been a Residential Supervisor. Without missing a beat, Megan has stepped up and stepped in, not only for the person she supports, but the whole house – ordering medications, ensuring doctor appointments are held, even assisting with the schedule if urgent changes are needed. Megan has worked countless hours of overtime at the home over the past several months, and on more than one occasion has moved personal plans when emergency staffing situations have occurred. Megan has volunteered to work holidays, and made Thanksgiving dinner for the person she supports to make sure he had a genuine holiday experience until he was able to go visit his family.

More than just the person she is assigned to work with, Megan is well liked by the other individuals at the home, to the point that they ask when she will be working upstairs with them again. This is true of anywhere Megan works, because despite all of the overtime she does at this home, Megan has still stepped in to assist in other programs as needed, and is well liked by both her peers and the people she supports anywhere she goes. Megan has been such a valuable asset not only to this home, but to Penn-Mar as a whole, since she wholeheartedly embodies all of our core values.

Amie Newton, nominated by Kim Kucherer

Amie Newton smilingI am nominating Amie Newton for the HEART Award. Amie tirelessly goes above and beyond in supporting the people and assisting the team in being aware of events and needs of the program. She is our IT stand-in and go-to person for techy things. Amie does all the grocery shopping and this has not been an easy task recently. This often entails multiple stores to find requested items of the people she supports or to complete the multiple dietary requirements within the program.

During the holidays every year, Amie goes above and beyond to shop for just the right gifts that each person she supports would love to receive. She wraps them all and puts them under the tree and wears her Elf or Santa hat while they open their presents. They enjoy her enthusiasm and look forward to Christmas morning.

Amie completes things as soon as she is aware that something needs done. Whether it is contacting doctors’ offices or researching a purchase that an individual would like to make and including several options to limit the cost or make a choice.

Amie has recently assisted with getting a constipation diagnosis that did not present the “standard” way. She asked the questions and got testing ordered to assist the person she supports with a major health issue. He is now on a bowel protocol that is working well for him. If Amie feels that something is not working the way it should, she reaches out to the doctor to investigate a possibility to make a change for it to work better.

Amie respects the wants, desires, and choices of the people she supports. She often uses the words “This is what I think would be a good choice, but, ultimately the choice is yours to make. Let me know what choice you want to make.” The people she supports enjoy her attention to their wants and needs and her sense of humor. She asks them what they would like on the menu each month and frequently does the cooking.

Amie makes every effort to assist the team when necessary and is eager to help in any way she can. She has worked almost daily for several months due to open positions in the program. She honors her commitments and completes all tasks she has promised to complete. If she says she will be there, she will be there.

The program is always in good hands when Amie is there. She is hardworking, dedicated, and deserves the HEART Award.

Samantha Roser, nominated by Adam Zayed

Samantha Roser smilingI would like to nominate Samantha Roser for Penn-Mar’s HEART Award. I believe that Samantha embodies what it means to provide person centered services.

Samantha works as a DSP on our Southwest Team in Westminster. In her role she supports many of our individuals, including one gentleman in a 1:1 role. While working in home and community-based services can be difficult, this role is especially difficult due to the challenging behaviors of the gentleman she supports. Due to difficulties communicating his wants and needs and his need for consistent sensory stimulation from his environment, the gentleman often throws furniture, breaks items, and tosses over trash cans and tables. This happens constantly throughout the day and he moves quickly, so Samantha really has to be on her toes and aware of the environment at all times. It has been difficult to keep consistent staff due to the high demand for 1:1 attention and the intense activity level. When he did have staff, they stayed in the home and focused on managing the behaviors. You could imagine how these types of behaviors would make introducing an individual to their community incredibly difficult, especially when those behaviors are regularly disrupting the environment you are introducing him to. This changed when Samantha began working with this person.

She has never allowed this behavior to become a barrier to providing meaningful opportunities in his home and in the community. Rather than get frustrated or upset, Samantha has maintained a level head and tried to focus on what the behavior is communicating. Rather than regularly correcting the individual’s behavior, Samantha is consistently investigating her environment to look for potential triggers and recognizes his need to be busy and engaged. Additionally, it would be easier to stick to short activities in the home, however Samantha has focused on keeping the gentleman engaged by leaving the house and finding things to do in the community. This is a gentleman that sees everything as a sensory opportunity. He often knocks things off of counters, tears things from the walls, and knocks over chairs. This has not stopped Samantha from helping him participate in community activities. She uses her skills to set things up for success by planning ahead of time, looking for triggers, and being willing to take risks with him. As they have developed a rapport and as Samantha has grown to better understand his communication, his challenging behaviors have actually decreased, and he has experienced a more robust and quality service. His quality of life is enhanced because he is able to go new places, be around other people, and enjoy his community.

Samantha’s approach demonstrates the major difference between being a support professional and a caregiver. She could easily protect the individual from his behaviors by limiting him to his home. Rather than allowing his behaviors to become a barrier, she has focused on how to support him to overcome this challenge and thrive. It is for this reason I think Samantha is deserving of the HEART Award.

Kandace Skursky, nominated by Donna McGuire

Kandace Skursky smilingKandace Skursky supports Woody Higgs in the home and community. Kandace is a strong DSP who has been a huge support for Woody and us, showing trust, and respect, to all of us. Woody has flourished while supported by Kandace – even with the challenges with COVID. I have shared this many times, but she has done so much and treats him like he matters. Kandace openly shares her concerns about Woody regularly, which shows how much she wants him to succeed. We never have doubts when he’s with her because we know she won’t let anything happen to him. I am the original over-protective mother, and I only trust a handful of people with my son – but I completely trust Kandace when she is providing supports.

Woody and Kandace have built such a bond in their 1:1 time, we sometimes feel she knows him better than us. Kandace gets him out when we can’t, and he can’t wait to stroll through the store with her and get his favorite drink while there – root beer! As a family, we travel to our favorite Ocean City spot frequently. Woody does not always enjoy this as he knows he will miss services!

Kandace has supported him how to play board games, do crafts and so much more. These are things he was never interested in, and she has helped him grow on so many levels. His speech has improved so much! His primary doctor noticed it the last time we were there, and we can only thank Kandace on how she has been supporting Woody to reach his daily goals. His doctor understood about 90% of what he was saying, which 1 year prior during his physical it was only about 70%. This is due to Kandace taking him out and really taking time to support him by talking, engaging, and working one-on-one with him.

Kandace goes the extra mile to make up homework sheets for him to do over the weekends or when she isn’t with him, which has helped him grow as an individual. She taught him how to dye eggs and now he asks to do it a lot and they do! We have tried to do these things for years, but he just wouldn’t stay interested. He would play games for about 10 minutes and now he sets up the board games, including bingo before she gets here each day to start services.

Woody has always been an outgoing and loving young man and I believe Kandace has helped Woody shine brighter. Kandace has grown with us since supporting Woody; she has become a strong communicator and excelled in her role with us.

John Yurkiewicz, nominated by Natasha Miller

John Y smilingJohn consistently demonstrates how much he cares by doing whatever it takes to support a team member when they have a technology or computer issue. But this is nothing new for John. Over the years, team members have consistently praised John as the “go-to” guy when there is a technical problem and they need to get it fixed as soon as possible. He responds within hours and often in-person, regardless of the location. His physical presence at these times is reassuring and calming, and almost always the problem is solved in short order.

John’s ability to problem-solve issues with team members who have limited understanding of technology is done with respect, dignity, and empathy to each person. He has a very supportive, caring and gentle approach to interactions with people, and no problem is too small, or question too basic for John to take his time supporting you through a solution. Though John’s role requires him to work beyond business hours, he does well with being quick to solve issues, even if it’s a weekend, or a day off for him.

Over the past several months, John has been involved with many projects to support our ever-changing day services. He worked with two of our team members out of the Maryland Line Day Program with testing devices that would be of benefit to them to provide services both in and out of the program. When they had questions, or frustrations with a device, he helped them understand or problem solve the issue so they can make a well-informed decision of what type of devices are best.

I recently was in dire need of additional technological support in our program as we expand our services. John took the time to walk through the building with me, offer suggestions to improve the services, and got everything set up and ready before our deadline. This was incredibly important and helped take a large weight off my shoulders. John could have easily asked me questions through email, but instead he made it a point to really involve himself in this project. It is easily seen that John wants to ensure our program runs in the best way with the resources we have for everyone we support.

John is a necessary and much appreciated member of this organization, and the reasons above are just a few of why he is worth recognizing for this award.

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