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A powerful time to look to caring for others

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By Marisa Geitner

In my role at Heritage Christian Services, one of the traditions I especially enjoy is signing the anniversary certificates of people who’ve reached milestones in their employment with HCS.

Of our total workforce, more than 7 percent – that’s about 220 people – have been with Heritage Christian for 15 years or more. We have some people who’ve been committed to Heritage Christian for more than 30 years. That’s a small but mighty aspect of our strength.

It’s an honor to recognize those key anniversaries. It’s a chance for me to reflect on each person and think about the sensitivity and compassion they continue to bring to their work. It’s kind of nostalgic for me, too, as I think back to my first days at the home on Jennifer Lane in Webster, where I started my career in direct support.

Signing those certificates — now, these are people who have done 20, 25, 30 years of frontline work — got me thinking about what it is that inspires people toward careers in caring. What inspires them to persevere in the caring industry even now?

Stephanie Ward, a direct support professional at the Lapham day program, began her career when she was only 19! That was 11 amazing years ago, and she is thankful for the rich experiences as she has grown through her work.

“You learn so much! Patience, understanding —  it serves you not only at work but in life.” Stephanie credits the relationships she has built at Heritage Christian to her long tenure and love for her work.  “It’s the rich relationships, not only with those I serve but with those I support alongside.”

Marc O’Mara, a direct support professional, says it’s the rewards of assisting people, seeing them flourish and become more independent, that keep him going.

After a stint in the Army, time in college and a part-time job in sports at the Buffalo News, Marc started working with Heritage Christian Services in August 1999.

“I never expected to work here much past college, let alone 20 years,” says Marc, a Buffalo native. “I’m a fiercely loyal person. And once I get to the point where I’ve bonded and made a relationship to the level of the guys I support now — I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Marc says he continues to be impressed by the genuine commitment and passion of the Heritage Christian leadership team. He recalled a time when a member of the leadership team called him on his cell phone during one of his overnight shifts and asked, “What does your site need? How can we fix whatever problems you might have?”

“The leadership we have — everybody’s in it for the right reasons,” Marc says.

Terry Demar, who manages the day habilitation program at Salt Road, says that for her, it’s a sense that anything is possible here.

She’s really been inspired by the flexibility and understanding of her supervisors. Over time, their positive responses to her suggestions have given her confidence. And she feels like she’s been able to share that philosophy with her staff, to help them feel empowered to take the initiative and get things done.

The Salt Road day hab program is next to Heritage Christian Stables, so there are opportunities to interact with that program. For example, individuals have made thank-you gifts for the riding program and horse shows. Terry says. “I’ve been able to take my passion for being crafty and just be crafty!”

“What other job is there where you can take a walk by horses or go to a baseball game? You get to hang with people who, after a little bit, are like family or friends.”

Terry, who’s been with Heritage Christian Services for 31 years, tries to find the joy in every day, and encourages people around her to do that, too.

“Always make sure you find the joy,” she says, “whether it’s watching someone else accomplish something, or something that you’ve connected with. In finding those simple joys, you just keep finding more, even during challenging times.”

As Diane Sturmer looks back on her 33 years at Heritage Christian, she knows the difference is the support she’s had in helping people’s dreams come true.

From her early experiences in a residential home or lately as part of the Faith Community Inclusion team, Diane says she’s found joy in working on teams of incredible people who are differently gifted. “I have learned so much from each person I have had the honor to work with,” she says. “I’ve loved building people up so that they can fly on their own.”

When she started in December 1987, she, too, thought she might just work here for a few years: “I never thought I would be here 33 years later, but the relationships and friendships that have been built have become precious to me.”

By being a part of Heritage Christian and seeing the dreams of her friends who live and work here come true, her dreams have also come true.

“It is a good work,” Diane says. “I know when I put my head down at the end of the day, I feel satisfied.  I feel thankful. The people that I have worked beside have changed me and it has been good.”

For Stephanie, Marc, Terry and Diane, there’s a harmony that’s familiar throughout Heritage Christian Services, and it’s a sensibility that bridges difficulties.

Here, in a system that has to be so forward-thinking and so careful about stopping the spread of the coronavirus — it’s actually one of the safest places to be. Our staff members are changing gears to get things done and innovating to meet the needs of the people we support.

This isn’t the time to look away from the caring industry. There has been no better time to look to the ways that we can support others. And over the last 36 years, we’ve worked thoughtfully to make Heritage Christian Services a meaningful place to do that work.

If you know someone who would make a good ally alongside the people who choose our services, I hope you’ll encourage them to join us. Find out more at DirectSupport.org.