Posted on March 23, 2023
On Saturday, October 1st, 2022, Residential Supervisor Michal Edmondson was on an outing at the Arundel Mills Mall with “the ladies,” as she calls the four women she has supported in their Penn-Mar home since 2008. Their enjoyment suddenly turned to alarm as people started screaming, running, and knocking things over. A woman went by saying there was an active shooter in the mall.
In the pandemonium, but not missing a beat, Michal quickly guided the women behind a shelf in a store, and then snuck everyone into the back room.
“One of the women started wailing, so I said ‘I know you’re scared, but we don’t know what’s going on and I don’t want the bad man to find us, so we need to be quiet,’” said Michal describing the scene. “She took a breath and calmed down.”
When it was safe to finally go outside, they learned that a gun had been accidentally discharged in the food court and that fortunately no one was injured.
“We ended up going out for dinner that evening, which helped to calm all our nerves after the ordeal,” she said.
Michal, 39, who began her career at Penn-Mar working awake overnight 15 years ago come April, said that as a Direct Support Professional one must be prepared for everything. Even, unimaginably, the harrowing mall experience.
“I liken the work of a DSP to a rollercoaster with its ups and downs, and twists and turns. You don’t know what’s coming next, or what’s going to happen,” she said. “But if it wasn’t rewarding, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
A York County native, Michal, who lives in York with her Manx cats Lily and Chase, and Pomeranian-Poodle mix Spirit, grew up with her three siblings, two younger sisters and brother, in New Freedom, Pa. After graduating from Kennard Dale High School, she attended Penn State where she earned her bachelor’s in elementary education.
With her degree in hand, she took a job in the children’s department of the Martin Library in York, where her mom Mina (Michal’s best friend and traveling companion) is Director. For two years she wrote curriculum for various programs including the summer reading club and migrant program.
A friend of hers who worked at Penn-Mar at the time mentioned that several awake overnight positions were available and that if she were interested it would be a good way to make some extra money. Michal took her up on the recommendation.
One month into the overnight position, she realized her heart wasn’t into doing afterschool programs and writing curriculum anymore. It was being hands-on, working with people. She decided to leave the library, but not without preparing the summer programs first.
“I knew that this is where I’m supposed to be, that I’m not supposed to be there anymore,” said Michal, who stayed in awake overnight for a little more than two years, working her way up to Residential Assistant (RA), then Senior RA, to her current role as Residential Supervisor.
As an RS, Michal oversees the home in Whitehall, Maryland, that she’s been working in since day one, with the ladies Rita, Karen, Amanda, and Susan, along with two overnight team members. Spirit is a frequent visitor.
“Being a DSP, you have to have to go with the flow,” Michal mused. “My time with the ladies is structured, but not structured. When you’re writing curriculum you’re just stuck in an office. Here we are doing things, talking and making up our plans.”
Michal notes that in addition to patience and compassion, a DSP needs to be flexible, and be prepared to say and accept that you may have failed today.
“You step back and apologize if you said or acted in a way that you didn’t mean. You let people know that we’re all human and that we all get upset and that we all have issues. Same goes with the ladies – we’re allowed to be upset, we’re allowed to have rough days, but we’re not aloud to be mean to each other. That goes for everyone.”
Michal and the ladies are looking forward to getting out more now that spring is here. Although the mall incident left them shaken, they’re not afraid, they’re just going to be a little more cautious. “We have to think about things now that we didn’t before….”