Guest Columnist: Gabe Jones | Unity in Crisis - Penn-Mar

Guest Columnist: Gabe Jones | Unity in Crisis

Posted on April 7, 2020

By Gabe Jones, Maryland Community Living Administrator

It’s month two of the COVID-19 quarantine. My team’s typical day now revolves around getting the people we support to acclimate to a new normal at home while still providing all the substance and growth they were used to getting from their day program and jobs.

It would be so easy for everyone to have a victim mentality right now. Everything’s in flux. Routines, work schedules, day program participation, outings in the community. Everything.

But that is the exact opposite of what we have been seeing in our homes since the quarantine began.

Every person is finding their own unique way to rise to the challenges in front of them.

It’s good to see our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) taking great pride in the public recognition of their “essential” role in supporting people with intellectual disabilities. They see this as their opportunity to showcase the amazing things they do each day, highlighting the value of their work.

Many of our day program DSPs have transitioned into our residential homes. Their presence during typical Day Program hours provides much needed structure. They are adapting to new schedules, different home assignments, and the challenge of keeping the people we support engaged, active and comforted during this unsettling period.

Our DSPs know that their top priority is making sure all our residents stay well and healthy. Fortunately, to date, no one residing in our 56 homes has contracted the virus. This is thanks to our DSPs’ resolve in following CDC guidelines while supporting our residents.

Our DSPs’ passion for their work has never been more evident than now. They have been incredibly supportive and creative.

Their creativity has been amazing to watch as they make the best out of the situation using technology and creative problem-solving to supervise crafts, group activities, skill development related to specific jobs and promote events like Wacky Sock Day and themed meals.

Technology is also utilized to afford our residents the opportunity to see and speak with their family and friends. Our Training Department is even hosting a dance hour a few times a week connecting all of the houses.

There are walks along the Rail Trail, quiet moments outside sitting in the sunshine, even car rides to explore new areas in the community. Our DSPs’ endless creativity and initiative is driving the programming at each of our residences.

None of our residents with jobs are working now and they miss that. Residents that attend the Day Program miss being able to see their friends each day. They are struggling because they can’t do the things they love.

But our DSPs are there to provide emotional support for people with and without jobs, helping them to grasp what’s going on. Given the different communication styles of each person, they are finding the right words to help them better understand what has affected their lives so suddenly.

Our residential supervisors are sharing more information among their peers than ever before. Group emails alert teams to shortages and needs and before long another supervisor is posting availability at a nearby store location or offering to pick up and deliver the items where needed.

Following the lead of our Operations Team, who have been delivering meals for the past three weeks to each house, the Penn-Mar Foundation, through its supporters, is sponsoring a catered Chef’s Night Off. We’ll be providing each house with a special weekly dinner to make things a little bit easier on our DSPs.

The outpouring of support from families and friends has been inspiring and reinforces the appreciation we know they have for the important work we do.

Also, instead of requiring the supervisors to pick up items like gloves and meds at our Freeland location, our program managers are making deliveries to the houses. Program managers have even made special deliveries of items like board games and puzzles.

It has been so gratifying to see our DSPs supporting each other and stepping up to do whatever needs to be done. There is a lot of unity during this crisis and I believe moving forward we will see a better team-like atmosphere across all departments.

I always say it’s not hard to make DSPs look awesome but their work during this pandemic is simply mind blowing. I am incredibly proud to be a small part of their team.

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