Team Member Spotlight: Court Dudek - Penn-Mar

Team Member Spotlight: Court Dudek

Posted on February 9, 2024

Each month, we highlight a “behind-the-scenes” team member whose work supports our mission, but whose face you might not often see on our social media pages.

We’re excited to help you get to know our innovative team and the complex work we do.

So, tune in for our #TeamMemberSpotlight, where our team members share in their own words a bit about themselves!

A man at the beach.What is your job title? Job Developer

How long have you been with Penn-Mar? Technically 17 years.

How did you get connected with Penn-Mar? I started at CHANGE, INC which then merged with Penn-Mar. But my friend used to work for CHANGE and he told me they were looking for a job coach.

What was your previous work experience prior to Penn-Mar and how did it prepare you for your current role?  In high school and college, I worked for Worthington State Forest in New Jersey—Part of the Delaware Water Gap. Then I worked for my college cafeteria for a summer. After college, I worked in retail, then as a temp and substitute at public schools. My favorite was temping at a community college library. Coming to Maryland, I got a job at Random House working in the warehouse packing books—the best was getting free books—then I moved into customer service there—answering phones all day—I started in the books on tape division for libraries and then went part-time to general customer orders—on the side I also worked at the Red Cross call center reminding people about upcoming blood drives and signing them up if they were interested. In the last 11 years I have also had a side business in proofreading and editing, but 2020 cut that work off.

All these jobs have prepared me with customer service and having a familiarity of different kinds of work—from outdoors to retail, to temping, to taking phone calls, interacting with customers—in the long run, how to speak to and interact with all kinds of people including bosses.

What does your work entail?   My work mainly entails working with people with autism through DORS. We begin with an initial meeting to get to know the person and their interests, hobbies and work goals. We then move into creating a resume and cover letter and finally working on interview skills. The person is the one who drives their work decision—I am a guide and mentor. We then move into the job search, which includes job boards, job fairs, going to businesses and inquiring, calling, emailing, and applying—it is never a linear journey. Follow up with the person and encouraging them to take charge as well is a major part of securing a job. Through all of this, business connections are made.

Additionally, I support students in finding a 6-8 week Work-Based Learning Experiences, where a lot of leg work needs to be done. I meet with the student and parent to learn what kind of work they are interested in—fill out all the HR paperwork so they can be paid through DORS once they are placed. Then I will inquire at several businesses within their interest keeping in touch with the parent and student, updating them and being sure the person is interested in what I am inquiring about. Once the student is placed, they get an internship kind of experience and real hands-on work experience. It’s a win-win—the employer gets an employee at no cost and the student gets some good work experience and pay.

I have also written several articles for Penn-Mar about the employment process, highlighted those who have gotten jobs, as well as other topics related to DSP and employment work, including grief, knowing yourself, niceness versus kindness, etc.

What’s an average day like for you? Each day is never the same. There are a lot of moving pieces. There is a lot of time “in the field.” There is a lot of time with the job seeker. When I am on a role, I might be texting with a person and/or parent about some leads I am thinking about because, for instance an email about how Goodwill cannot support a WBLE or volunteer will spur me on to search for other ideas—and then I’ll find something different with good potential and let the person and parent know. It’s difficult to explain—there is a lot of variety, many, many moving pieces—lots of encouragement, suggestions for work ideas, hanging in there with the person, being steadfast, and so forth.  

What is your favorite part of your job? Probably working with several different people on a somewhat rotating basis. And finding a good fit for the job seeker and them getting hired.

What’s one thing you wish people realized about your job? That it takes a lot of tenacity, it can be discouraging—perseverance and patience are good qualities to have in employment in general—yet, also how rewarding is when someone gets a job and work experience.

In another life, your career path is . . . retired—travelling, writing, maybe documenting with photos. Or teaching a part time class in the humanities (intro to philosophy and theology, literature, art history, the art of film) where I don’t have to worry about the pay—so probably that will be another retirement type of job.

Why is Penn-Mar’s mission important to you? This field of work has always been about the people I/we support.

What’s one thing you wished the general public knew about people with IDD? Each person has dignity. We talk about worth and value as metaphors for almost everything—with that– each person has great worth, no matter their disability or anything else. Pretty much every person I have worked with in all aspects are very much like you or me. We all have our idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, funny personalities, grumpiness, joys, fears, depression—whatever. We, as human beings, have a commonality.

What is your favorite quote or mantra? “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” – Flannery O’Connor

Any hidden talents or fun facts someone wouldn’t know about you? I used to ski and snowboard. I love to travel and have gone to many places in the US and several overseas.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, you’d visit . . . almost anywhere in Europe—I’ve really wanted to go to Krakow, Poland; Vienna; Prague lately. Pacific North West and Alaska are also high on the list.

In your spare time, you’ll be found . . . reading, maybe hiking; but definitely with my dog.

A book, movie, TV show, sports team, etc. you love: Top 5: the Narniad, Perelandra, Piranesi, Catcher in the Rye, The Brothers Karamazov (and that’s just fiction)

Something fun, interesting, or meaningful about yourself if you feel like sharing/we didn’t already ask:

I have a plan to visit all 50 states—I have 13 to go.

I love music, especially 90s alternative and “grunge” (Nirvana, Alice in Chains, a few albums from the Smashing Pumpkins, among others), metal (but specific bands: Extol, Megadeth, Wytch Hazel, Arch Enemy, Lacey Sturm and others), some classic rock (I’ve really been into the Beach Boys Pet Sounds since 2022 and Brian Wilson), classical, post-hardcore (mewithoutYou is my favorite), bluegrass, folk, Alice Cooper, especially his work in the 70s.

Art, aesthetics, good writing, poetry, theology, certain philosophies are important to me.

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