Lisa Schnell wasn't sure she had to patience to work with the developmentally disabled when she began her job with the Association for Individual Development in Elgin during the fall of 2006.
Schnell took a part-time position as a direct support person with AID, helping clients at different levels of abilities live semi- to fully-independent lives. As the job developed into a full-time position, it simultaneously developed into her passion.
Schnell works with Sharon, Maurice and Marilyn roughly 15 hours a week, Monday through Friday, and sometimes on the weekends for special events. She spends time helping each individual set big and small goals, as well as their plans to achieve those goals. She also helps them plan their daily schedules and household errands, like trips to the library or bike repair shop. Whether it's budgeting and paying bills, or day trips to the bowling alley or a movie, Schnell earns the trust and appreciation from her clients.
Sharon, her longest and very first client, sings high praises for Schnell.
"She's nice, and she's the best worker," Sharon said. "She's been there for me, she's my best friend."
"Yeah, she's a good DSP to work with," echoed Maurice. "She helps us a lot with anything. Check up on us, see how we're doing. We tell her we're doing fine."
During a recent lunch meeting with Maurice, Schnell coached him on how to ace a job interview. As his clothes spun in coin-op laundry machines next door, she pretended to be a potential employer, asking Maurice questions. They reviewed his answers and she gave him pointers on body language and encouragement that he will do well.
"Be who you are and confident because you're a good worker and you want to work," Schnell told him.
Maurice has lived in his own apartment for four years and was saving up for a down payment on a condo or townhouse before the economic downturn and his hours were severely cut. He attended home education classes and is looking for a new job with more hours to keep pursuing his goal of buying his own place.
"It's put the dream on hold," Maurice said,"it's not gone. It's just on hold -- that's how I like to look at it."
Schnell now says her anxiety over handling the job is long gone.
"Once I went through the training, I realized that this is a group of people that people need to understand they have value," she said, "and that their value is more than just an existence. It's more than just surviving. They have value that contributes to our community and our society at large."
She beams with happiness about Sharon, Maurice and Marilyn's accomplishments.
"Every day there's some measure of reward," Schnell said. "We don't do it for a paycheck, for sure, but it is just to try and make a good difference, a positive difference in their lives. And when I can see that happening, then that's a good reward."