Now that Illinois is moving into Phase 3, some Trinity Service employees might go home and see their families for the first time since March.
In an effort to keep adult clients living in group homes safe, 120 direct support professionals volunteered to shelter in place with their clients until the stay at home order ended.
The rationale was ensuring continuity of care while keeping clients safe by cutting down on the number of people going in and out of each group home, said Jacque Smith, a 29-year Trinity employee.
Because clients in these homes require 24-hour care, that sometimes translates into three shifts a day, with different people working different shifts, she said.
“When you look at the course of a day, a week, that can be quite a few people,” Smith said.
A news release from Trinity Services said DSPs help clients eat, dress and bathe, and provide medication, crucial training and life skills.
Wages for this type of service are less than “the average Amazon warehouse worker or your pizza delivery person,” according to the release.
Smith began sheltering in place April 7 at the site where she’s worked for 27 years. She volunteered because many of the independent living counselors are single mothers with young children at home.
Sheltering in place for a month or more with clients would be impossible for them, Smith felt.
“I talked with my husband (Johnny) about it and he was super supportive,” Smith said. “He said, ‘You know, that’s not only keeping the ladies safe, it’s keeping you safe, I like that.’”
Because the clients weren’t leaving the home either, Smith said she and Jennifer Saunders, another DSP at the home, came up with fun activities to keep clients engaged.
They held various spa days: makeup on one day and nails on another, Smith said. They held “paint and sip nights” where clients enjoyed iced tea or soda while they created art.
Clients keep in contact with their families through phone calls and video messaging. For Mother’s Day, the clients surprised Smith and Saunders by helping to prepare breakfast for them.
“They’re a good bunch, I tell you,” Smith said.
Smith said they even held “rap sessions” where clients could discuss the COVID-19 pandemics, air frustrations with it and ask questions.
“We turn the TV on at 2:30 to listen to the governor talk,” Smith said. “They realize it’s [the pandemic] is much bigger than Trinity, they understand that.”
Smith said she and Saunders order groceries and other supplies online for delivery. Everything is wiped down with antibacterial wipes before it comes inside.
Smith is looking forward to see her husband and five grandchildren. But she also loves her clients and wouldn’t trade the job for anything.
“It takes a special person to work in this field,” she said. “A lot of times you hear about careers that educate. Well, teachers aren’t the only educators. When it comes to support and keeping people safe and healthy, nurses aren’t the only ones that do that.
“All these attributes are needed (when working with special needs clients), wrapped with compassion and patience galore. When a crisis occurs, all that comes to the forefront.”
Monique Clayborne has sheltered in place with clients at two different locations, one group home at a time. Clayborne said she only has one son and “he’s older now,” which provide the opportunity.
Because Clayborne typically works a midnight to 8 a.m. shift, sheltering in place has helped get to know her clients on a deeper level.
She and Judy Kenny, who’s currently sheltering in place at the same home, stagger their sleeping shifts so someone is always awake for the clients.
Clayborne said they’ve cleaned together, watched Lifetime movies, played games and taken walks up and down the driveway.
Because she’s studying social work, Clayborne’s mentor suggested working with various population groups to expand her experiences. Clayborne has worked at Trinity since 2018.
Kenny, who’s worked at Trinity for about 25 yearsn calls the group homes her “home away from home.” She’s known some of her clients for 15 years and loves spending time with them, even though she misses her husband and six grandchildren.
“I love this job,” Kenny said. “I wouldn’t work anywhere else.”
Locations of group homes where the DSPs sheltered included Braidwood, Crest Hill, Crete, Frankfort, Joliet, Lockport, Manhattan, Matteson, Mokena, New Lenox, Shorewood and Wilmington.