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Melissa Podorski

Melissa Podorski knew about Pony Bird but had never visited until her brother was required to earn volunteer service hours as part of the A-plus scholarship program. He invited her to meet some of the people he worked with.

“I fell in love with the individuals immediately,” Melissa said. “They have always brought a smile to my face.”

When she finished high school in 2004, she joined the Pony Bird team providing supports and services for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. She was hired as a Direct Support Professional and soon earned her certification as a Medication Assistant. She has worked as a charge on the day shift, midnights and served as an evening Recreation Coordinator.

“I fell in love with taking care of people. I like getting them to exceed the expectations they have of themselves,” Melissa said. “We take pride in the care that we give them.”

She has worked at Pony Bird since graduating from high school, except for a six-month stint she spent in another organization. That experience heightened her awareness of the elements that set Pony Bird apart.

“I missed the individuals and the care we could give them. I felt I didn’t have the time to care for people the way I wanted to at the other place. At Pony Bird, I can spend the time the individual needs,” Melissa said. “Sometimes we will get new people who come to Pony Bird from other facilities, and they may have bed sores. That doesn’t happen at Pony Bird.”

The on-the-job mentoring that allowed her to move up from DSP, to recreation coordinator and medication aide, also differentiates Pony Bird from other organizations.

“The training here is very hands-on. It’s not just book learning,” Melissa said. “The requirements for most CNAs (certified nurse assistants) is what you can learn by the book, but at Pony Bird it is customized to each individual.”

“The care provided has to be specific,” she said, “because every person that Pony Bird cares for is an individual first and foremost. Maybe they have a particular type of cup that works best for them. One may like a certain song, and another does best with a quiet atmosphere,” Melissa said. “You build relationships with each of the people you care for.”

Melissa described herself as the quiet type when she first started working at Pony Bird, but she has seen personal growth of her own in making sure others needs are met.

“At one time people would have said, ‘she never says anything.’ Now they know who I am. Even though I work midnight shift, they recognize me,” Melissa said. “I’ve become a committed advocate for the individuals. It comes with the territory. Every person we serve deserves to have someone advocating for them.”

She has seen how the individuals at Pony Bird also affect the lives of people in the community. Melissa recalls taking a one of the individuals to see her favorite country artist in concert at the Family Arena in St. Charles.

“A married couple sat in the seats next to us, and she struck up a conversation with them. She talked to them the whole show, except for when they were all singing along,” Melissa said. “I’m sure it wasn’t what they expected when they went to the concert, but by the end, it was like she was part of their family. She is very social.”

Melissa sees Pony Bird as an extension of her family. Melissa says she will always be working to improve her skills and she feels confident she can with Pony Bird’s support.

“The leadership team is always encouraging you to get better and constantly bragging about the work you do. Once, they brought in a new individual and the program manager introduced me, saying ‘she’s going to take great care of your daughter’,” Melissa said. “Even if they see you out in the community, they ask about how you’re doing; they ask about your family. They really care about you.”

In addition to the consistent training, Pony Bird continues to add new technology and equipment for the benefit of the individuals and the staff.

“When I first started, we didn’t have a lift system. Now there is one in every room. The lift systems help us move individuals who are not able to move themselves. It keeps us and the individuals safe” she said. “There are just so many things that inspire me at work every day.”

Pony Bird offers a variety of full- and part-time positions including entry-level Direct Support Professional positions with the opportunity for advancement and on-the-job training. For information about all career options visit ponybird.org or call Human Resources at 636-931-5818.


Jackie Wiles

With almost 20 years of working in skilled nursing facilities as a certified nurses aide, Jackie Wiles was ready to move on from her CNA career. Now serving Pony Bird as the Independent Support Living House Supervisor at a personal residence, she doesn’t want to do anything else.

“Before I came to Pony Bird I said I wouldn’t do aide work again. Now I’m planning to do it until retirement,” Jackie said.

Most of the individuals served by Pony Bird live in homes at Mapaville and De Soto, and when Jackie joined the team as a Direct Support Professional in 2016, she was working at the original location in Mapaville. In August 2019, she took an assignment at a home for three brothers with cerebral palsy who live together. When the supervisor position at the ISL became available in June 2020, she took on the extra responsibilities.

“The individuals we work with are so amazing. You could be having the worst day and then their smiles and giggles just turn your day around,” Jackie said.

Along with a team of highly qualified staff, the twin brothers in their 30s, and their younger brother, get around-the-clock assistance with their daily needs, meal preparation and activities in the community, seven days a week.

“They really are capable of so much more than people give them credit for. They face some challenges, but they work daily to be as independent as possible,” Jackie said.

The brothers enjoy attending outings in the community. During the coronavirus pandemic, they have been restricted to physician appointments and other essential trips, but the brothers and their caregivers are anxious for the days when they can get out to visit the community again.

“We have started a bucket list of things we want to do once this thing passes, and we can get out safely,” Jackie said. A return to the St. Louis Zoo and the new aquarium is high on that list.

Jackie came to Pony Bird on the recommendation of her sister Cathleen Hardin, who has been caring for individuals with significant intellectual and physical disabilities for more than six years.

Even though she brought years of experience from her previous jobs, Jackie said the training program taught her much about direct care and the unique needs of individuals served by Pony Bird.

“They are very thorough with the training. Now I am doing training for new hires, and we make sure every staff member feels comfortable with their tasks. All new employees also have the option for additional training. We want them to feel confident and willing to ask for more information,” Jackie said.

Concern for the staff is a key concept for the leadership team and sets Pony Bird apart from other places she has worked.

“The administration really goes above and beyond in showing they appreciate what you do,” Jackie said. “They are always finding new ways to show gratitude and making sure the individuals are getting the care they deserve. They never let quality care go unnoticed.”

With experience at other facilities, on day shifts, midnights, in the residential homes, and now in independent support, Jackie can make qualified comparisons. “Anyone who is looking for a job in a great place, doing work that is very rewarding, I highly recommend Pony Bird.”

Pony Bird offers a variety of full- and part-time positions including entry-level Direct Support Professional positions with opportunity for advancement and on-the-job training. For information on all career options visit ponybird.org or call Human Resources at 636-931-5818.


Nick Keating

A love of music led Nick Keating to college hoping the fulfill a dream of teaching students to enjoy it as well. When he took a job as a Direct Support Professional at Pony Bird Home, he found his true heart’s desire.

“I fell in love with it on the first day,” Nick said. “If you’ve never cared for anyone with a disability before it might seem kind of shocking at first. Once you make them smile you’re hooked.”

Nick will celebrate his two-year anniversary at Pony Bird in March. He has taken on an additional role as a preceptor for new employees, training them on the equipment, procedures and introducing them to the individuals Pony Bird serves.

“That’s the most important thing. Everyone is an individual, so you have to know them personally to be able to provide the best care possible,” Nick said. “Everyone trains in all of the buildings. Even though the procedures are the same, the individuals are all unique.”

Because of visitor restrictions, due to the coronavirus pandemic limiting outside contact with the individuals, the personal connections between staff and residents are even more important.

“We are their lives right now since they don’t get to have visitors. We have to be their families and friends,” Nick said. “The individuals do require a lot of care, one-on-one. We make sure they receive as much love as possible.”

While in high school, he worked as a restaurant cook and landscaper. Those jobs provided experience working with others and following processes, but they were redundant and unrewarding.

“I was just going through the motions. We all had our jobs to do, but they also blamed everyone else when something wasn’t right,” Nick said. “That’s not the case here. Everything is about teamwork. We all help one another to make sure the residents get everything they need.”

Beyond the personal introductions, direct support professionals learn about equipment, lift systems, CPR, wound care, diabetes treatment and monitoring, bathing, feeding and more. Working side-by-side with preceptors, they get experience and instruction on improved practices.

“A lot of people think it is just about meeting the basic needs for the individuals. That’s only a part of the job,” Nick said. “Most of the time you are assisting them to reach their programming goals, stretching them, and interacting.”

The individuals of Pony Bird face many misconceptions as they go about their lives in their homes in Mapaville and De Soto, and when they are out visiting places in the community. Clearing the air about those perceptions is part of the role as well.

“I like to say they are just like you and me,” Nick said. “Their hearts are the same as ours, but they actually are probably much more appreciative of the things that people do for them and how we make them feel.”

The blessings of his own life are the primary motivation for wanting to help the residents who face significant intellectual and physical challenges.

“I see this as my career. I have been given the opportunity to learn leadership and have the chance to move up as a Charge or Medication Assistant,” Nick said. “Regardless of the role, everyone here works with love. That’s the No. 1 priority.”

Pony Bird offers a variety of full- and part-time positions including entry-level Direct Support Professional positions with opportunity for advancement and on-the-job training. For information on all career options visit ponybird.org/employment or call Human Resources at 636-931-5818.


Pam Thurmond

(Photograph taken pre-COVID)

At work and in the community, Pam Thurmond is recognized by her giving spirit. Sometimes those interests intersect. She relies on her friends at the DeSoto Elks Lodge to provide support for Pony Bird. By facilitating a collaboration between Pony Bird and the Elks Lodge, the individuals benefit from social opportunities, and members of the community get to better understand the lives and capabilities of the people who live at Pony Bird.

“When we are out in public, I introduce them as my friends,” Pam said. “The individuals here are like us, they just have a few different challenges. They can’t take care of those challenges on their own. That’s why we’re there.”

Pam joined the Pony Bird team more than eight years ago and has worked her way up from aide and Direct Support Professional to Medication Aide and Charge. All the training along the way has been provided by Pony Bird with certification from the state of Missouri.

“A lot of the training is onsite which is great for our work schedules,” Pam said. “And I have always wanted to take care of people.”

The relationship between the staff and individuals is a big part of what brings her to work each day. “They are family. We are all family,” Pam said. “I love making them laugh and smile. We all work together.” That work changes every day, she said, depending on the resident’s abilities and outlook.

“We offer individualized programs with goals and activities specific to each person. Some might need to work on their fine motor skills, so we focus on that for them,” Pam said. “There are always things we can work on. Sometimes there are things they couldn’t do today but could do tomorrow.”

When they succeed, everyone celebrates, and when things don’t go as well, plans are adjusted. “Just like anybody else, they have good days and bad days,” Pam said. “Every day is different.”

The residents excel at adapting to challenges and that has shown in reactions to the requirements of the coronavirus epidemic and Pony Bird Home’s adherence to personal safety measures.

“It affects us all, but the residents have been so receptive. They see us all in our PPE (personal protective equipment) and they still know us by our voice, by our eyes. They pick up on who you are; you can see that in their smiles.”

When interacting with the community, Pam said, she asks people to put themselves in the place of the individuals or imagine how they would feel if their loved one needed the same level of care.

“I’ve become more aware of the needs of other people. Think about how many times a day you adjust yourself in your seat. How many times do you move each day? They need help to do that. I help them move and stretch. You have to be aware of the things around them.” Being the person who fulfills the needs of others fits Pam’s personality perfectly.

“You have to want to help people,” Pam said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”

Pony Bird offers a variety of full- and part-time positions including entry-level Direct Support Professional positions with opportunity for advancement and on-the-job training. For information on all career options visit ponybird.org/employment or call Human Resources at 636-931-5818.


Ruby Meyers

(Ruby with Marilyn pre-COVID)

After Ruby Meyers arrived in the United States from the Philippines in 2006, she was a stay-at-home mom then took a job working in a factory. By 2010 she was looking for something new and found an opportunity that fit her nature.

“I really wanted to be in the healthcare field,” Ruby said. “I came to Pony Bird with an open mind, and it didn’t take long for me to see that the residents are people who really need assistance.”

The ability to summon a nurturing approach comes easily to Ruby. She acknowledged that caring for others requires a commitment, but those who feel the calling will reap rewards.

“You have to be able to give 100 percent. Deep in your heart you must believe in taking care of people,” Ruby said.

In 1977, Pony Bird was opened as a home for children with significant intellectual and physical disabilities. Now it serves individuals of all ages.

“You have to know how to take care of people as individuals,” Ruby said. “You have to understand their medications, their diabetes treatments, their likes and dislikes; everyone is unique.”

She started at Pony Bird as a Direct Support Professional but has earned her way to a role as Medication Aide and Charge who provides medication for patients and coordinates their care as directed by nurses and doctors. The training for that promotion comes through classes and on-the-job training from the nurses in each home and with certification from the state Department of Health.

“There are supports that happen here that you don’t see other places. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” Ruby said, “I know the individuals really love me and are happy to see me when I am there.”

People who only see the individuals we support from afar don’t understand all that they have to give and how much they communicate. “You may think they don’t know what’s going on. They know, and they understand. You can see it in their eyes,” Ruby said “It’s a shame when people judge them by their appearance.”

In addition to the support of medical staff, Pony Bird coworkers rely on the understanding of the leadership team.

“I really respect my supervisors and the administration. I’m not a person who needs to hear personal praise. I know I have their support based on their actions,” Ruby said. “I get along with everybody.”

Her personal journey has brought her a long way, but she said she knows she has found home at Pony Bird.

Pony Bird offers a variety of full- and part-time positions including entry-level Direct Support Professional positions with opportunity for advancement and on-the-job training. For information on all career options visit ponybird.org/employment or call Human Resources at 636-931-5818.


Ray Hartman

Ray Hartman’s Pony Bird story is not completely unique. With nearly 30 years of service to the individuals, he is not alone among long-term employees. The fact that he left once for greener pastures and returned when he found the other work not as fulfilling happens regularly too.

“I just celebrated 25 consecutive years of service, but I also worked for about three years from 1989 until 1992,” Ray said. “The other job wasn’t rewarding. The pay was good, but it was the same thing day after day. With this job I get to make memories that last for decades for me and the individuals. My brother is a writer. I tell him that I write chapters every day in people’s lives.”

Much had changed since he was first hired as a “lifter” in 1989, but the needs of people with significant intellectual and physical disabilities remain the same. The joy the residents provide to the staff at all levels continues to be Pony Bird’s calling card.

“I don’t see the individuals as any different than me and you,” Ray said. “They want to be able to help themselves, and fortunately they have me and other staff members to help them out.”

The job of lifter is gone these days, as Pony Bird is equipped with state-of-the-art mechanical lifting equipment for assisting residents with mobility. New technology allows those who use a wheelchair at all times to stand comfortably.

Now, Ray dedicates his time to direct support and community outings. He and a group of Medical Assistants and other Direct Support Professionals take residents to appointments and interactive activities.

“My job is to get them out and have fun. Even with the doctor’s appointments, we might stop and get ice cream before we head for home,” Ray said. “One time when we went to Bass Pro Shops, I noticed another customer watching us as we went through the store. After we checked out, he followed us into the parking lot. He personally thanked me for helping get the residents out into the community. I get that more and more these days.” Ray emphasizes, “Individuals with significant disabilities have as much right to be out in the community as anyone else.”

Pony Bird differs from other places he has worked because of the training provided and the support for staff through the administration and the Friends of Pony Bird organization. Friends of Pony Bird is an advocacy group that provides generous support to staff and increases awareness of Pony Bird throughout the community. “Life takes over sometimes, and the Friends of Pony Bird are there for the employees. I have seen them help others through some tough times, like personal issues and financial binds,” Ray said. “That kind of support is not available in other places.”

The facilities have also changed since Ray first showed up for work more than three decades ago when 16 individuals called Pony Bird home. With new homes in De Soto and Mapaville, the maximum capacity is 60 residents now.

“I love what I do, but it’s not a job for everyone. It can be physically demanding and mentally challenging, but that’s the case anywhere you work,” Ray said. “The bar here has been set pretty high, and we want to keep it high. The residents have a beautiful home, and they are well taken care of. It’s a wonderful place.”

Ray said he has changed too since he first joined the Pony Bird team. “If you can be 1000 times more responsible, I guess that’s what I am now,” he said. “The individuals deserve our best, and I try to give 110 percent all the time.”

Pony Bird offers a variety of full- and part-time positions including entry-level Direct Support Professional positions with opportunity for advancement and on-the-job training. For information on all career options visit ponybird.org/employment or call Human Resources at 636-931-5818.

 


Mel Pullen

Mel Pullen grew up in Mapaville, and even though it is a very small town in central Jefferson County, she knew little about the area’s biggest employer.

She knew that Pony Bird was a home for people with profound mental and physical limitations near the town’s main intersection of Missouri lettered highways A and Z. What she didn’t realize was the impact that the people who live there and the people who work there have on each other’s lives.

When Mel turned 18 she applied for a job, got an interview, took the tour of the buildings on the campus, met several of the residents and received an offer to start working.

“I told them, ‘I don’t think I’m mature enough for the job,’ and I know I wasn’t,” Mel said.

She took another route, working in a childcare facility. An encounter with one of the kids there changed her perspective and led her to call on Pony Bird again.

“We had a little boy in my daycare with special needs,” Mel said. “No other daycare would take him. He had a feeding tube and ear implants. We took him in and I took some MA1 (medical assistant) classes. I fell in love with him. I realized, this is my calling.”

She returned to Pony Bird as a Direct Support Professional providing assistance to the individuals and extra hands for the nurses, therapists, doctors, and other medical staff. With on-the-job training and guidance from her supervisors and co-workers, she earned her state certification and a promotion to medical assistant.

“I came in and I said, ‘I’m going to give this a try.’ Within the first week I was hooked,” she said. “Caring for people with special needs is my grail. This is a natural fit for me.”

While she said her connection to the individuals and the home feels innate, she also credits the support and instructions all coworkers receive.

“We have the best orientation and training program I have ever seen. They always offer extra training, and they make sure you are comfortable with every task,” Mel said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I just don’t feel it’s for me.’ You are going to come out with an appreciation for others who do the job.”

She also credits the pay, benefits, holidays and bonuses offered as a unique aspect of the Pony Bird experience. But for Mel and most others, it is much more than just a place to work. It’s an opportunity to be a part of a big extended family with residents and coworkers.

“Every individual has a story. They don’t just live in a home; they have fulfilled lives. There are just some things they need help doing. I’m there to help people who need assistance,” Mel said. “Even the past employees who move out of state, or if your career takes you somewhere else, you are always part of the Pony Bird Family.”

If you would like to explore available opportunities at Pony Bird visit our employment portal here.