Serving Where the Need is Greatest Due to COVID-19

Skills would like to thank all of our staff who continue to work during the ongoing public health crisis caused by COVID-19.

Meet Melody Hewitt! Melody is a Program Specialist at Skills’ Blair County Adult Training program. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), the facility where Melody usually works is temporarily closed to keep the people we support safe and healthy. However, along with many other staff from the Adult Training program, Melody has been working in Skills’ Community Homes during the temporary program closures. Below, read about Melody’s experience with her new duties and how she’s staying hopeful and grounded while doing this essential work.

What is your usual role at Skills? What is your new role due to changes caused by COVID-19?

My usual role is a Program Specialist for Adult Training (AT) in Blair County, and I am now cross-trained to work in the Community Homes.

How long have you been with Skills, and what other roles have you had while you’ve been here?

In June 1983, I started at Skills as an “instructor,” what we now call a Direct Support Professional (DSP). I have been with Skills for 37 years. They were the early days of closing the institutions, and we had 35 admissions that August. It was an exciting time of growth and learning. We practiced the Principals of Normalization, and each year grew into the current practices of Positive Approaches and being a Person-Centered Organization.

“I’M PROUD TO BE PART OF THE SKILLS FAMILY, ESPECIALLY IN THIS TIME OF COVID-19, WHERE WE HAVE STEPPED UP WITH EVERYTHING WE HAVE TO PROTECT THE MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLE.”

How does your experience in the Adult Training Facility inform your work in the Community Homes?

Working at the AT expertly prepares anyone for working in the Community Homes. We received all the required training from Individual Support Plans (ISP) to Medication Administration.

Most important are the day to day interactions. Both AT and residential DSPs work hands-on five days a week, eight hours a day. You develop a personal connection to people over the years. We go through everything together — holidays, birthdays, death, sickness, and happiness. It becomes very personal and family-like. I will always say Skills is my family.

When you go to cross-train in a community home from a day program like the AT, the training is mostly learning Individual Support Plans and the logistics of the home. I have seen the AT DSPs easily adapt to the homes, and I would venture to say the day program staff who are working in homes have truly enriched those homes with their expertise.

At the same time, I love watching the caring interaction of the residential DSPs. I’ve watched this before at social events, and I have admiration for their work. There are DSPs who sincerely care for the people we support, and they do so with kindness and patience.

“WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE HOME FOR CROSS-TRAINING…THERE WAS A DSP WIPING DOWN EVERYTHING WITH A CLOROX SOLUTION. THIS HOME WAS CLEAN AND FRESH.”

How are you all staying safe and healthy in the Community Homes?

When I arrived at the home for cross-training, there was a sign on the door reminding me of the precautions for COVID-19:  removing my shoes, washing my hands, and taking my temperature. When I went in the kitchen, there was a DSP wiping down everything with a Clorox solution. This home was clean and fresh. The staff communicates while changing shifts, including reminders to take individual temperatures. They were quietly and respectfully taking care of what needed done.

What activities do you like to do with the people we support during this time of social distancing?

Providing support in Community Homes is really just a continuation of how we support people in day services. Also, this work provides more opportunity for individual time and personal attention.

At this time, supporting people in the home can be challenging. I encourage people to go for a ride when possible, at least once a day, especially on the sunny days. Even just sitting in the sun can be helpful! Sit in an outside chair, or move an inside chair to a sunny window. Try assisting the people we support with phone calls to friends and family.

Encourage people to take part in cooking (with properly washed hands, of course!). You can stimulate all the senses. For people who may be limited in helping, cooking can provide an opportunity to watch while talking through the process, smell the ingredients, pour or stir ingredients. Let people get hands-on with tearing bread, chop up an egg with a butter knife, or mix flour and water to make dough balls. And of course, everyone can taste the finished product!

What do you love about working at Skills?

I’m proud to be part of the Skills family, especially in this time of COVID-19, where we have stepped up with everything we have to protect the most vulnerable people. In this time of separation, I find it very difficult to be away from my AT family and can’t imagine how hard it is for those we serve who may not understand. I appreciate going into the homes to be connected to my Skills family.

I pray that God will protect and bless those who have stepped up to continue the support in the homes, for Skills employees who are out of work, and peace to those we support.