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Reflections From An Employment Coordinator

Direct Support Professional

Angelina Jackman, 45, from Aroostook County, has been an employment coordinator for two years and currently works for Living Innovations, an agency for shared living.

What has your career path looked like? What different jobs have you held or training have you taken to get to where you are today? What has been most essential to your success?

I provide support to people with physical and intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD), people with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), people who receive services through the Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and do vocational rehabilitation. I help individuals live their best lives, and that includes supporting them to find jobs and to feel more included in their communities. 

Before I started working for Living Innovations, I was a foster parent in Maine and a border patrol agent. Then, I went back to school to get my degrees in pre-law and criminal justice. When I was working for border patrol, I saw that there were a lot of individuals who demonstrated behaviors that some people may have labeled as “bad.” And I knew that wasn’t true–there’s something that drives people to certain behaviors, and a lot of times, behaviors function as communication. I thought I might become a parole officer for youth or people with cognitive disabilities, but when I saw an ad for Living Innovations –and once I read their mission statement–I knew that’s where I wanted to start my new career. To see an organization that supports people first, strengthens communities, is optimistic, and uses teamwork–those were the values I aligned with. 

Can you provide a specific example where you might have had a significant impact on a client?

My very first intake was a young lady living in a group home, and she needed community support. Her group home didn’t have enough resources to take her out into the community to socialize. She was experiencing a lot of behaviors that her group home found problematic. I knew we had the resources, so I met with her. She was lost; she had a family in the area, but they kind of left her to the wayside. She was very misunderstood; she was trying to find love in the wrong places, making rash decisions, and had no money management skills. She would take a taxi to my office a few days a week and do her community support. After working with our staff and realizing she had choices, she knew that the group home was not where she wanted to be any longer. So she started to go rogue, ditching the taxi on the ride home. Many nights, I’d get a call that they’d lost her, and I’d jump in my car and find her. Finally, I knew enough was enough. I said, ‘We have got to find out what’s going on with you,’ and she just broke and said, ‘I want a family. I don’t want to be in a group home where I’m just a number.’

So, I called an emergency team meeting and reached out to my program manager–we have 13 offices all around the state of Maine–and I found her a one-on-one Home Provider in northeastern Maine with an amazing woman who was part of our Shared Living program. They just clicked. And no one wanted to take the time to help her move her belongings, so I just made it happen. I got some snide looks over it, but I didn’t care. On a Saturday morning, I rented a box U-Haul truck. I offloaded all of her stuff and furniture and drove her to that woman’s house. That was about four years ago. Today, this young woman has a family; she has a dog. She has a part-time volunteer job. She’s well known in her community–she’s made so many friends. To look at her today, she’s put together and glowing all of the time. 

What advice would you give people who want to enter your line of work for the first time or older people who have experience in other areas but are looking for a new opportunity?

It’s never too late to try something new. A lot of people think they’re too old or too far in their careers to change careers. Or they think everything in this line of work has to be full-time. We have some staff who work two hours a month for us just because we might need a Direct Support Professional for a couple of hours on a Sunday to take someone to a concert. Or someone just needs a job coach for two hours a week. It’s not just a regular job; it’s about giving back to your community. You will learn as much as you give to these individuals. You’ll learn new things and new experiences every day. Your heart will fill up every day. 

What kind of person is the right fit for your line of work, both in personality and character traits?

The biggest thing is you have to have compassion and empathy. You can’t take things personally. You have to understand the person in front of you has challenges–their ability to trust might be blocked. They’re not trying to be obstinate or malicious–they want to succeed, and they need the support to do that. It’s something to work through and work toward. Just know they’re coming from a place that’s hard, and it’s going to take them a while to get to the other side. You have to be present in your job and present in what they are doing and not be distracted by your own needs. 

If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?

I think the public perception is the biggest thing. We’ve come a very long way, but there is more room for change. Take someone who might be rocking back and forth, and people who aren’t used to these behaviors don’t understand that. Yet, take someone who is tapping his pen or shaking his leg–it’s the same behavior, but the public perception is different. Everyone has differences; everyone is just as worthy and just as important as the next person.

What do you want them to know about the rewards of your line of work?

For me, it’s changing one person’s life at a time and being able to learn from these experiences myself. I’ve grown in the six years I’ve worked in this field. I’ve grown in patience, compassion, understanding, and empathy. I’ve learned to never give up. 

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