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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.