Michael Riedel: Changing with the Times - Penn-Mar

Michael Riedel: Changing with the Times

Posted on March 8, 2024

A group of 5 people and someone in a bunny costume.

Michael (back row, center) with his group, from left, Coty, Greg, Cintas’ HR Director Deb Cerifko as the Easter Bunny, Lizzie and Levi just before the program closed due to COVID.

Direct Support Professional Michael Riedel has witnessed and been part of significant growth and change at Penn-Mar over the last 26 years.

His start with the organization coincided with the grand opening of Penn-Mar Central’s Maryland Line facility in April of 1998. He was there for the dedication, ready to begin his job as a Production Trainer in the new facility’s sheltered workshop, which by 2001 had outgrown its space and moved to a large-scale facility in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.

“I loved my time at the workshop,” said Michael, who worked with 13 people out of the 100 that Penn-Mar supported at the height of the workshop’s operation. “We were very busy with a lot of contract work, mainly packaging and labeling for a variety of large companies. It was a bustling place.”

Times change and so did Penn-Mar’s thinking and approach to employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sheltered workshops, as the name implies, isolated individuals from their communities, prohibiting them from building their own personal connections.

Ten years into the workshop, leading a national movement towards greater inclusion for people with disabilities, Penn-Mar began to pursue a new, community-based work model. In 2011, the organization closed its workshop and officially launched its Customized Employment program, which today supports people to secure jobs in their communities that match their interests, skills, and conditions for success.

“Customized employment is a wonderful opportunity for those who want to work and can,” said Michael.

When the workshop closed, Michael transferred to Penn-Mar’s Small Group Employment program, supporting a group of people hired for outside part-time contract work at Cintas, the business services company. When COVID struck in March of 2020, all outside employment contracts ended, which included custodial work in schools, churches, and government offices. Those jobs never came back once pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Looking for a new opportunity, Michael had a choice to stay in Penn-Mar’s Day Program providing community-based supports to small groups, but instead chose to move over to residential services and become a Direct Support Professional. An opening at a particular residence in Seven Valleys, York County, drew him to the position.

“I knew everyone in the home, having been around them for 25 years,” said Michael, who as Residential Assistant arrives at the residence every weekday at 7:15 a.m. to help get the day started. “It was an easy transition.”

When it comes to supporting people through residential services, Michael said he likes helping them with their goals. “I like seeing a smile on their faces. That they are happy and content. If I can help them live their best life, it puts a smile on my face.”

A Jack Russel/Pug mix dog looking up at the carmera.

Jake the jug.

And regarding smiles, Michael, who grew up in Dallastown and today lives in Lancaster with his partner of 22 years, cites Jake – his nine-year-old “jug,” a dog breed that is a mix between a Jack Russell terrier and a pug – as another source.

“He’s my best friend,” said Michael. “I’ve had dogs all my life, and he’s the best natured one I’ve ever had. I’ve never heard him with a mean growl.”

When he isn’t working and spending time on the road (he lives 45 minutes away from Seven Valleys), Michael enjoys cooking, gardening in the summer, and going on long walks with Jake.

His career at Penn-Mar, he said, has been very fulfilling. “I grew up an only child of older parents, who had been married for 13 years by the time I was born, and were established in their own careers by then. So, I enjoyed quite a nice life, and this is my way to give back.”

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