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 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.