This is Jennifer. She is the Program Director for Day Habilitation Services and Residential Services. She has been at WellLife Network for almost 25 years.
Jennifer began her journey at WellLife as a Direct Care Coordinator, now known as a Direct Support Professional (DSP). A DSP cares for and assists individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their day-to-day lives with tasks such as grooming, feeding, ambulation, medical monitoring, and healthcare-related tasks. “The first day here, I knew it would be plenty of work. I said to myself, ‘Okay, it is going to be a long day, but if I can make it through today, I can do anything else in this life,’ and I did,” Jennifer said. Today, she is the Program Director of Ann Mittasch Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF) and the day habilitation programs at Station Road and Astoria. “I am never at just one site–I go where needed. I am mostly here because this is a dual program, and they have the need,” she said, referring to the Ann Mittasch location.
For 25 years, Jennifer has gotten to know all the individuals who come through the doors of WellLife Network. While difficult initially, she now believes that providing services to this population has taught her much about herself and patience. “Unfortunately, some of the individuals we serve have no family, or their family gives up on them or just brings them here and asks us not to call them for any updates because they do not want to deal with them. So, we become that individual’s family, getting to know them, interacting with them, caring for them, and celebrating every holiday with them. It’s difficult not to get attached,” Jennifer said.
Every individual advances at their own pace: some may take a few months while others take years. “One year, I remember, there was this one non-verbal individual I would say ‘Good Morning’ to every day as he got off the bus, and he would simply pass me by. Then one day, he got off the bus and just hugged me,” Jennifer recalled, “I was so shocked and asked all those around me if they had just seen what happened because I could not believe it. I realized that somewhere along the lines, I’m making a difference.”
As a Program Director, she is responsible for over 100 employees, including DSPs, Program Site Directors, and Supervising Habilitation Specialists. “I try to get to know everyone and welcome them to programs,” she said. The Ann Mittasch facility also has a residential element as it has a 24-hour nursing care facility where all the residents are cared for by attendants. “This specific program has the most medically fragile individuals, for example, those who are on oxygen or use a colostomy bag, basically where you need more of a nursing component. We have a doctor that comes in twice a week and nurses here who administer medication.”
While her position may come with a heavy workload or demanding components, Jennifer knows she is in the right place, expressing her everlasting love for WellLife’s mission, “I stay because I like to be part of the progress. I see someone who couldn’t do something one year, and then two years later, I can see the growth in the person. I get a lot of satisfaction for it.