On July 1, 2017, I began my role as executive director of The Arc Baltimore. For my first month, I set a personal challenge to visit as many people that we support as possible. At the end of the month, I had spent time with nearly 50 people at their homes, visited all six day and employment centers, and met with several family members. It was a whirlwind of an experience but it was so meaningful and enlightening. During this time, I was journaling my experience and the following excerpts detail the highlights of my first 30 days as executive director.
My first day was a Saturday and I popped in to visit three houses. As I approached Wilbur, Doug and Bill’s house, they were getting in the car because “they had places to go, people to see.” They were going clothes shopping and getting some items for when one of the guy’s girlfriend came over that night. Then, on to Tracy, Ed and Holly’s home where they were preparing for a 4th of July party at a relative’s house, and the ladies were giving each other boyfriend advice. We ladies all need that at some point, yes? Lastly, one of the gentlemen at the final visit was on vacation with his family in OC. Seeing the level of activity and the strong relationships many had with family members and significant others was invigorating and was an ideal moment to kick off this new journey.
Out of three homes visited today, one stood out. I had a fantastic conversation with the staff who support Matt, John and Tommy. They stressed to me the value they place in assisting the guys with taking pride in their home and making sure that they felt and knew that their room was “their own.” Along with the guys, they recounted some recent moments where they worked together to solve some challenging issues with balancing health and independence. The staff truly meet each of the men “where they are.”
At our day center in Homeland, I connected with many longtime staff who have such strong relationships with those who attend there. Although many people have significant support needs, it was a hub of activity with people actively engaged in programming and with some volunteers on site. It was also neat seeing some of the ways people are using their assistive technology devices and software programs.
I decided to visit people on the holiday, since so many of our staff are also at work. I connected with Will, Leroy and Mike at their house and immediately had to discuss the Orioles. There was a bit of tension when I mentioned my family were Yankee fans! Before leaving, I got pulled to the living room to dance to Will’s favorite song and of course take a few selfies in the process. It was a blast. I visited two other homes, visiting Kevin and Luke, and John and Ron. I again was impressed that everyone had some sort of plan to both relax at home and celebrate the 4th. Plus, I think I’m getting better with selfies!
Today, I visited our center in Loch Ridge. So many of the individuals here I have known for over 30 years since my days as a program coordinator with other agencies. It was so nice to hang out and chat with people. It was a hub of activity with people coming and going to work, to volunteer commitments or just out for some fun.
I attended a press conference on behalf of The Arc Maryland regarding Stevenson University purchasing the Rosewood Center property. I urged those in attendance to not forget those who lived there. Then I went to visit Peter, James and Larry, some gentlemen who had once lived at Rosewood. What a lovely home they have now.
At a home visit, I observed a staff person working with James on taking his own blood pressure, documenting it and calling our nurse on call to share the information. This was amazing. On my next visit, Kevin wasn’t too keen on company so I didn’t stay long. Visiting Mac was also quick as he wasn’t much on interrupting his night. Finally, I visited with a few ladies, dressed in their pajamas, as they prepared and enjoyed their dinner while relaxing after a long day. It was a lovely way to end my day too.
I spent a few hours both Tuesday and Wednesday this week at our center in Dundalk while students from St. Pius X Catholic elementary school, as part of their SPXtreme camp, volunteered by spending time with the people at the center playing bingo and creating artwork. Although my son who attends St. Pius wasn’t there, I enjoyed observing his schoolmates interact with people with disabilities – many for the first time. One of the parents reached out to me because her daughter bought a birthday balloon for a woman she met during her visit and wanted to see if she could drop it off on her actual birthday. I was touched by this young lady’s gesture. She and a few others later asked if they could come back a few more times this summer. I love that these programs are introducing children to individuals with disabilities. Someday, maybe they will work in our field, after all, that’s how I started (I won’t mention when J).
I met with several employees at their job regarding the impending termination of our contact with that company. They were nervous about their future, but I pledged that The Arc would do everything in our power to support them in transitioning to a new job and provide the necessary training to do so.
I met with two family members of individuals receiving services from The Arc about several concerns they had for their respective loved one. They want the best for their family member just like we do here at The Arc, and I want to be available when possible to help solve any issues that they encounter with The Arc.
My final day of July was quite busy on purpose because I wanted to end on a high note by connecting with many people in a variety of settings; I visited two employment centers and five different homes. At our Community Employment Connection program here in Towson, I had the opportunity to address some individual issues and hear about the volunteering opportunities, education classes and work experiences happening that day. One individual provided some valuable advice on my new role: “Don’t quit your day job.” J Then, I connected with a few janitorial crews that were either ending or beginning their shift. Everyone was raving about the upcoming weekend’s harbor cruise with our Connections singles group.
Then, I visited with Max, Kendall and Bryce at their house where they receive individualized 1:1 support and was amazed at how engaging and attentive their staff was. Max was proud to give me a detailed tour of his room, include his collections.
At another house, the individuals and their staff wouldn’t let me in without seeing my badge first. I commended them for their precaution and returned to my car for my badge. Once invited in, they were overjoyed that I took the time to come to their house. I was able to spend extra time with Bob, who I haven’t seen for some time. I felt honored to be there.
I popped in on Bernadine, Carol, Lucy and Kathy. Kathy was exhausted after having returned from a “girl’s day out” getting her hair cut and styled, and her nails done. She looked beautiful – and she knew it! The staff was incredible and it was so apparent how much she truly respected each lady. I could tell she likes her job, and she was a joy to be with.
Finally, I visited Charles, Felix and Tom. These guys have more intense support and several staff were there juggling and responding to their needs.
July was an emotional month for me. These visits were so affirming and energizing for me. I know my new role will be very demanding and my time will be splintered in new and different ways. I also know that being with the people we support and the staff that support them is absolutely essential to my leadership of The Arc. I look forward to spending as much time as I can visiting and listening (certainly won’t be another 30 visits in 30 days though), but I will do my best to be present. I also invite you to visit me. My door is open, my office is bright and my ear is ready. The future is ours and we will create it together!