“I’ve worked for Early Intervention for almost 31 years, and I’m still inspired by the families we serve. We work with children who have minor developmental delays as well as major concerns, and whatever it is, it’s still a crisis for that family. Our job is to work with them through it. Sometimes our work is really difficult, like talking to parents about Autism, but our focus is always on how we can help. It’s great seeing progress in the little ones, and the parents see it too and that gives them hope.”
Joanne Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, started at The Arc’s First Early Intervention (EI) program in 1990. She says that the agency’s mission fits well with her goals as a social worker to empower children and families. “The organization has evolved with the needs of our clients and provides a service that isn’t available otherwise. The work fits in with my mission of what I want to do with my personal life and working here has been a positive experience. EI works with infants and toddlers, and the rest of the agency works with older individuals. Even as people age, The Arc is still there to help them. We see a lot of mothers of babies who worry about what their children’s lives will look like- where they’ll live as adults and what they’ll do with their lives. Knowing that services and dedicated care is out there is so important. The Arc serves a purpose no other agency does and provides excellent lifelong care for a very vulnerable population.”
Throughout her tenure at The Arc, Joanne has worked under the same program director and with the same core group of staff. She says that working in EI is not “an emotionally easy job but it’s always worth it at the end of the day.” She credits the families, The Arc’s leadership, and the program’s supportive environment for why she has stayed at the agency for more than three decades. “My supportive coworkers help get me through the difficult times… I work with a very dedicated group of people who feel strongly about what they do. Everyone is so committed to the agency and always does their best. We have such a gifted staff and to be involved in that is great. We have each other’s backs in a job that can be very difficult and demanding. I take pride in being part of such a really great program.”
Over the years, Joanne has trained numerous staff members who are new to the social work field, and she enjoys mentoring and supporting them. Seeing people grow at the agency is important to Joanne, and she appreciates The Arc’s efforts to retain staff. “The Arc has a very supportive culture, and Daryl works hard to foster staff to stay and grow at the agency. Pay rates are often lower in social services, but The Arc has really figured out how to give back to staff and make them feel valued.” Joanne has also dedicated herself to building strong relationships with her peers in the public school system, which helps ensure a smooth transition when children graduate from EI. “I’ve built bonds with the schools and they trust my recommendations and concerns. They’ll follow up for the benefit of the child. The openness between myself, families, and the schools has really benefited everyone.”
Joanne is especially proud of the sibling and parent support groups she ran for more than a decade. The sibling support group provided a space for siblings of children in EI to have one-on-one time and engage in fun activities. “These groups provided time for siblings to be involved, to have their turn. The entire family is affected by a child’s diagnosis, and it’s important to have a positive impact with all members, especially the siblings. Most siblings are too young to really understand what’s going on and often feel left out. It’s nice to let them be the focus for once. The siblings would soak up the attention, and it made EI an exciting thing for them.” Joanne also ran a parent support group that benefitted families who had children with more involved needs like Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. “I learned so much from those families. Those families felt very alone, and being able to come to the group and connect with each other was huge. They made lifelong connections, and I got so much from those parents. It’s nice to see them benefit from the support. I still think about those families and feel really happy about the care they received.”
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