Shay has one of those contagious smiles that encourages people to impulsively follow suit. Few 15-year-olds love going to school as much as Shay does, and it really showed during my brief visit to Sodus High School last week.
Just two days prior to my visit, Shay spent the night of her birthday at Night to Shine – a prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation for people with intellectual disabilities – so she was in an extra good mood going into the school week. What 15-year-old girl wouldn’t be excited about looking and feeling like a princess, especially on her birthday?
For her special day, Shay received a Little Bo Peep doll that she showed off right from the start of my conversation with her. Fortunately for me, Shay thought my hair looked like Bo Peep’s, so even though she’s shy, she was more willing to tell me a little bit about what she does at school. I sat down with Shay, Desire Cruz, Vocational, Social Skills and Life Skills School Instructor, and Julie Steffler, Shay’s One-to-One Aide, to find out more about Shay’s volunteer service with Meals on Wheels as part of her curriculum.
I began my visit with a tour around Shay’s classroom that she shares with the five other students in Sodus High School and The Arc Wayne’s Step 2 Work program. The classroom was complete with a kitchen, computers and other supplies to help each of the students work on the skills they need to succeed in the community.
As we settled in to talk about Shay’s experience with Meals on Wheels, jokes and laughter carried the entire conversation – making it easy to see why Shay has excelled in this program. Her relationship with Desire and Julie is one where she can truly be her fun, loving and silly self while developing essential social, speech and motor skills.
Thursday is Shay’s favorite day of the week at school because she is able to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly residents in her community. Her bus driver, Ms. Cheryl, in her Kermit the frog hat, takes Shay, Desire and Julie to the nutrition center in Sodus where they pick up the meals to deliver throughout the community. Because Shay knows the route and the residents so well, the crew usually has a little bit of time in between stops for a snow ball fight and a few other tricks to play on one another, which fuels her love for Thursdays even more.
Shay proudly told me that she is the boss on these trips. It’s definitely not Ms. Julie. The first stop on her route is to see Richard before she goes on to see two of her favorite residents, Harold and Hazel. She tracks all of the stops using a sheet of paper with everyone listed, and it’s Shay’s job to cross out each one that’s finished and let Ms. Cheryl know where to go next. Because of this program’s success, Shay now has the fine motor skills she needs to circle each name and check each box corresponding to the stops along her route.
Once they arrive at each house, Shay takes the food inside. Each meal has already been sorted – the cold stuff by Ms. Julie and the hot food by Shay. The residents are always delighted to see her sweet, smiling face as she knocks on the door or rings the doorbell – one of her favorite parts of this job. After she greets everyone and asks how they are doing, Shay is able to communicate with the residents and make connections with the people she serves.
Shay’s become so comfortable communicating with the people she’s met that she even did a cheer for everyone at the nutrition center last Halloween when she dressed up as a cheerleader – something Desire tells me she probably might not have been comfortable doing without the confidence she’s gained through this program.
This opportunity at Meals on Wheels was completely tailored to Shay based on her goals, developmental needs and personality. Shay continues to shatter expectations with her improved speech, fine and gross motor skills and cognitive developments. And, although she humbly doesn’t take much credit, Desire is to thank for this. With the help of her beloved aide, Julie, and other administrative personnel, Desire was able to get the Shay’s personalized Meals on Wheels program in place. Sodus is the only school district with the program right now, so students like Shay are incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity for hands-on learning. With five school years under their belts, the district and The Arc Wayne are looking forward to continuing this partnership with the intention of helping even more students in the future.
Step 2 Work allows students with disabilities to go into the community where they can learn social, life and vocational skills that will help them the rest of their life. Every curriculum takes a person-centered approach and is tailored to the specific student because Desire knows no two students are alike. While Shay helps with Meals and Wheels, other students help at Pizza Hut, Paton’s Marketplace and Dollar Emporium.
At The Arc Wayne, we are so fortunate to be able to grow and expand programs, as well as create brand new programs, in order to help the people in our community who need support. No two communities are the same because no two people are the same, which is why we might have different programs and services than other Arc chapters. We always strive to know our audience to provide the best services possible. It’s because of people like Desire that we can bring ideas to fruition in order to best serve the individuals in our community.
Interested in learning more about the nearly three dozen services we offer at The Arc Wayne? Visit www.arcwayne.org/services.
By Nicole Mauro
The Arc Wayne owns 14 individualized residential alternatives (IRA’s) and 10 supportive apartments across Wayne County that are home to almost 130 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
For many people, a job is just that: a job. At The Arc Wayne, every job makes a difference in the life of someone in the community. Direct support professionals (DSP’s), in particular, do much more than what might meet the eye. I sat down with Residence Manager, Stephen DeCook, and Direct Support Professional (DSP), Kelsey Fancher, to gain an inside perspective of what it is like to work in our residences.
Kelsey has worked at The Arc Wayne for nearly three years. Earlier this year, she left for another position but decided to come back because “other jobs just are not the same.”
With her flexibility, Kelsey has worked in all but two of The Arc Wayne’s IRA’s. When she worked at the East Miller St. home, she noticed that staff were never bored. They would always find something to do with the residents of that house: “If we had nothing else to do, we would go sunset chasing. We would follow the sun until it sets and then take pictures,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey now works at the Myrtle St. home, and she loves it. “Every aspect you look for in a job lines up – great team, great supervisor,” she said. “It is like having six other sisters.”
Working in a large home with six residents can get hectic at times. Kelsey refers to it as “healthy chaos,” but it paves the way for teachable moments, which is her favorite part of the job. As much as the job is fun and rewarding, it takes a certain type of person to excel in the position.
“You have to be here for the right reasons,” Kelsey noted. “You have to enjoy getting to know other people and helping them meet their goals and get them to where they want to see themselves being.”
It’s because of staff like Kelsey that The Arc Wayne continues to see growth and success in providing excellent service and supports to individuals with and without disabilties in the community.
For Stephen, the family-like environment shines through as well. He has worked in our Lyons IRA for about five months and is also the assistant fire chief at Clifton Spring Fire Department and the Midlakes Junior Eagles B Team coach.
According to Stephen, his position is truly more than just a “punch-in, punch-out” job; he could easily consider the residents he works with his second family.
“It is rewarding to come in every day knowing that you are going to make someone’s life better,” Stephen said. “The passion we have for [the residents] and giving back is sometimes better than a paycheck.”
The staff have to work together at each location to ensure the best environment for their residents.
“The staff is great,” Stephen said. “They have the back of the individuals and the best interest in mind for them. We work great as a team and it's almost like a big extended family.”
Working in a direct support position also comes with its difficulties.
“There are some rough times at times, but the good outweighs the bad,” Stephen said. “There are some great things going on, and moving forward, I think there are even greater things ahead.”
“Every day is different,” Stephen said. One of his residents really loves trains, so they recently took a group trip to see the Finger Lakes Live Steamers in Clyde. He enjoys taking the time in the morning to get to know his residents and build bonds with them before they leave for work. After that, he gets to work on scheduling, writing plans and ensuring the safety of his residents.
We are lucky to have Kelsey and Stephen as a part of The Arc Wayne team, as well as all of our staff who go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of the deserving individuals whom we support. If you are caring, compassionate and reliable, we encourage you to apply for a position in our residential program. The Arc Wayne offers the training needed to succeed. Check out our open positions at www.arcwayne.org/jobs.
Jessica Blondell, our Development Coordinator, writes all of our blog posts to keep everyone who supports The Arc Wayne up-to-date with what the agency is doing in the community. Enjoy!