Dalmarie Jones and 700 other UFT members employed by United Cerebral Palsy of NYC work round the clock with cognitively and physically challenged children and adults, teaching skills to help them lead independent and quality lives.
How did you begin to work with adults and children who are medically, mentally or physically challenged?
After high school, I became a home health aide. I have two cousins, one with multiple sclerosis and another with muscular dystrophy so I’ve always been comfortable around adults and children with disabilities. I see past their challenges right away.
Can you tell us a bit about working for United Cerebral Palsy?
I began at the UCP six years ago. For the past two years, I have been a residential specialist. Right now, I have two regular clients who live in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. One is an elderly man, 72. The younger man is in his 30s. They are very different and argue like I do with my sister, but they look out for each other, especially the younger for the older. They aren’t wheelchair-bound or unable to speak like some of my former clients. But they do require 24-hour supervision.
Could you describe a typical shift?
Generally, I work from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. I get there and the first thing I do is go say hi to my guys. Then I check with the person whose shift ends when I come to see how they were during the day. I give them their medications. I cook for them, do laundry, straighten up, help them in any way I can.
What do you do all night while they sleep?
The thing I don’t do is sleep. My job is to be awake in case they need me. I clean the kitchen and whatever else needs picking up. Nearly every night my older gentleman will come out of the bedroom and we have tea and I tell him about the mystery books I love and he tells me about his life and whatever comes to his mind. He heads to bed a little after 2 a.m. I always find out what they want for breakfast and make it for them before I leave in the morning. The younger one loves to watch me cook and slowly I’m teaching him. But you never want to leave him alone. He wouldn’t mean to but he forgets things, like that the stove is on.
Could you give us some examples of what happens when you are on day shift?
When I work earlier shifts, I take the guys out. We’ve gone bowling. I’ve got to help the older one, of course, because he uses a walker. The bowling alley has a portable ramp and I set the ball up and he rolls it down the ramp. That man is always getting strikes. He’s a champ. We also go sit in the park, and the younger one has his portable radio and the older one does needlepoint or crochets and I do it with him. There’s a police station near their apartment and they love talking with the officers outside the station. In the evenings, I make dinner and we watch TV. The older one makes hats and scarves while he watches. In fact, he is making me a very big scarf. I tell him it is too big but he says I will need it for the cold winters. The younger one loves video games, so I play them with him. He also loves when I read Harry Potter books to him.
Do you like the job?
I don’t like it, I love it! And here’s why: The people I’ve worked with are honest — about everything. If you are wearing something and they don’t like it, they’ll say, “That does not flatter you.’ I’ll look at it and realize it’s true. I’ll say, you know what, you are so right. I love the intimacy. You are like a family. There isn’t room to be fake or to sugarcoat. I don’t think my clients even know how to be fake. Who wouldn’t want to work with people like that?
What is your least favorite part of the job?
When clients die. One man I took care of passed away and I couldn’t work for days, I was so grief-stricken. I called him professor because he was my first client and the one who taught me how to care for him and for others.
How do your clients handle it when you’re on vacation or ill and there is a replacement?
Oh my, when I return, they clap and smile and follow me around the apartment. I’m getting married next year in Jamaica and I haven’t told my gentlemen yet. When I get back, I’ll bring them some wedding cake. They will forgive me my absence if I bring them cake.
— As told to reporter Christina Cheakalos