Every day, without fail, I wake up to missed calls from the people I support. My night ends and my day begins with calls from them. The one constant in this uncertain time is the missed phone calls from people who just want to talk to me and hear my voice. I start my day checking in and returning the calls I missed. I get the same questions: “When am I going to see you again?”, or “When is this going to end?”. I am assigned to work with only specific people because of COVID-19, so I have not seen some of these people for a month and a half. It is very sad and difficult for me. Especially when they ask me these questions I really can’t answer right now. I try to give them hope and be there whenever they call.
One person I support wakes up and calls his day program every day to see if he can come back. The program is so important to him. The loss is profound and you can see areas in his life where he is declining because of this missing piece. We work hard to help him regain his commitment to parts of his life. Because of COVID-19 he has taken steps backwards. A once very independent person, he has become anxious and very dependent.
Every moment of support has sadness and happiness. Another gentleman has not seen his mother in a long time. She is in a nursing home. He has asked me if he can visit her and deliver her flowers and a card and just see her though the window. We are going tomorrow. I am glad he is able to see her, but it is sad that it is under these terms.
Another man is stuck at home nursing a broken heart from a recently ended relationship.
Someone else is struggling with his loss of routine. This routine has been so drastically interrupted that he often forgets things he always remembers. This has never happened to him before.
Yet another gentleman is struggling with not being able to go to the gym. Every day he would be up at 6 am and off to the gym until 12 pm. We are helping him enjoy other forms of exercise, but he is constantly wondering when he can get back to his routine. Again, I don’t have a complete answer for him.
Recently in an interview, a gentleman I support said that I was a “God Sent” to him. He said, “…he is not just my staff, he’s my best friend…”. I had no idea I was that important to him. Every day I expect to have 15-20 calls from the people I support who just want to hear my voice, to say hi, and want to know when I am coming to see them. It’s been quite the ride, this COVID experience. When I come to people’s homes, they want to hug me. It is sad that I cannot do that for them right now.
I continue to see blessings throughout this experience. The people we serve are seeing our roles in their lives differently. We are more than staff, we are there to support them, show love, and give care. Beyond the emotional support, my fellow staff and I are always encouraging people to get out and take hikes and exercise. We have been taking everyone out to fish. Next week we are taking a bunch of the people we support fishing together at a safe distance.
One day, one man I support just wanted to get out of the house. He fished when he was younger. It was cold and windy that day. So we drove throughout Saratoga County to find the right spot. At the end of the day he told me that the day reminded him of his father. Every Sunday his father would get he and his family in the car and just drive. This is the bright side of this COVID experience. This gave us time and the means to check out all these cools places and brought him nostalgia and a great memory.
I didn’t find AIM Services, it found me. I have had a very difficult life. Several years ago I ended up in a court program that helped me change my life. The program made me rebuild myself. I learned self-care, yoga, and things I would never have dreamed of trying before. Part of the program was 210 hours of community service. I did the service at the Open Door Mission in Glens Falls, NY in the Soup Kitchen. I started to meet people in the homeless community. Until this time, I did not have much of an understanding of their lives. Getting to know these people changed my perspective. I came to realize that their current circumstances were heavily influenced by untreated mental health needs. These realizations and relationships opened my eyes and I started to deeply care for the people I began to know. I kept going to the Open Door Mission long after my community services hours were complete. I was asked to be the sous chef at the kitchen as a full time employee. It brought me to my knees; I didn’t even realize I was worthy of this. This helped me further rebuild my life.
AIM Services’ Employment Services Program brought people to learn job skills at the Open Door Mission every Tuesday and Thursday. I started to care deeply for these people. The staff would tell me they were so excited to see me and that I should consider working for AIM. I really wasn’t sure because I loved my job. A year went by. My favorite days were the days AIM came in. During this time, I asked the staff a lot of questions about AIM. I loved learning about what they did. I was so curious about what they were doing. I have never been so curious about anything in my life.
One day something told me to come into the office at AIM. It happened to be the day of a blizzard.
I crossed paths with the Executive Director, Chris Lyons. He asked me what I was doing there; there’s a blizzard outside! I told him something told me I had to come there that moment. Immediately I was in an interview with he and the Agency Advocate. I broke down and shared my whole story with them. If I never had faced the difficulties that I did in the past, I would never have found AIM. Sometimes mistakes bring you where you need to be. As an employee at AIM, I have never received so much praise in my life. I have never been so noticed and appreciated. Our Executive Director once walked up to me and told me that he was hearing great things about me and shook my hand. I didn’t even feel worthy. I didn’t think I was doing anything special, just loving people. I had never experienced that in my whole life.
I go home with tears in my eyes at least once a week thinking how lucky I am. I am so grateful to have pulled out of a dark place and feel that I am worthy of what I now have. I am passionate about sharing what I have been given and spreading as much love as I can to the people I support. I have an abundance of love to share. I cannot wait to get to work every day. During the epidemic, my life has become second to me so I can get these people to where they are comfortable. They help me as much as I help them. They help me have new experiences as well. If they say they want to try something; that’s not my decision, and we are going to do it. That means getting out of any comfort zone I may have. I will help them try anything that will benefit them. I recently took a group of men deep sea fishing. I helped them see there is a whole world out there and they can experience it. They did it! The people I support have been told they are, or have been thought of as, different, and perhaps less important than others. I spent a lot of time not liking myself because I thought I was different. Yes, we are different, but we are equally as great. Learning this has helped me be the man I am today and to be able to support people through these same feelings.
The first time I worked in a home with which I was unfamiliar, I was very nervous. It turned out to be life changing. I was hand over hand feeding someone and I believe she could sense how uncomfortable I was. She smiled at me and I smiled back at her. Then I placed the food in her mouth and she spit it all over me. We cracked up. Everyone in the house did. I finished helping her eat with tears in my eyes. I felt a bit of shame that I thought for even a moment that I would not be able to do anything like that; assisting anyone that needed it. It is now exciting every time I get to meet someone new. I now understand that DSPs can do anything. Once we allow ourselves to try something new, we are going to realize how much we like it. I do not go into any situation as a staff, I go in as a person who comes in and cares. I am not a boss. I am a friend that cares. That is how you build relationships.
One of my favorite things to do is to train new staff. I love it, love it, love it. I tell new staff over and over that one of the most important things you will do for yourself is push yourself and work with people of all types of abilities. You can handle so much and you will grow as a human being. Even more, before AIM, I hated training. During my own new hire training, it was the first time in my life I enjoyed everything I was learning. I was retaining so much information that I was helping other people in my class. Our trainer, Lacey Kitchin, is amazing. She said many things that helped me become a better staff member. One thing she said that I will never forget is, Don’t expect of others what you wouldn’t expect of yourself. I love going into houses and getting to know staff. We are all here for each other too. I ask them lots of questions. I want to know if I am doing everything right. I am like a sponge or a baby; sucking in all the information. I encourage staff to learn from others and to not take things personal. If you see me doing something that is counteractive to helping someone, please tell me because I want to be the best support I can be. I really want to help AIM find more people who want to be here for the same reason. For me, this isn’t going to work, it is about a lifestyle I love. Everyone always says that you have to find a job you love if you want to be happy. I found it.
DSPs need your support NOW. Donations on Giving Tuesday Now will provide financial support to the Direct Support Professionals most in need, as part of our Annual Fund 2020 Keep Their Dreams Alive.