SEBRING — Life can be pretty hectic, and some of us handle stress seemingly without effort.
While talking with Jennifer Damhof, you’ll sense patience and serenity, even in the midst of being pulled in multiple directions.
As a residential assistant for Ridge Area Arc, Damhof is part of a team that is responsible for working with developmentally disabled adults.
Caregivers are typically assigned to a group home and work within that environment to provide stability for the residents.
“We try to keep our routine the same – the normal little things that most people take for granted and don’t really think about like cooking, sitting down for meals, laundry, medical appointments. As staff, our routine doesn’t really change, but for our residents, every day is different for them in terms of what might happen,” she said.
Residents attend a day program at the Ridge Area Arc and the staff is responsible for safely transporting them from their home to the Arc during the week.
The day program is usually some form of educational activity or working on a variety of projects.
Lauren Rivera, a certified nursing assistant for the last five years, frequently works with Damhof.
“I really like working with Jennifer – it’s a real pleasure because we work as a team to make sure everything goes well,” Rivera said. “Our consumers are like a family to each other, and we [the staff] really try to treat them like we would our own family.”
Damhof began working in a nursing home shortly after graduating from high school in 2006.
A few months later, she transferred to a residential group home in Olivia, Minn. and worked there until moving to Highlands County in June 2013. Damhof enjoys the work and getting to know the residents and how to help them throughout the day.
Currently, she works with the older adults, who are between 50 yers of age and as old as 78.
“Some of the residents have physical disabilities and may require wheelchairs or need a walker, while others have no significant physical disabilities,” she said. “Many of our consumers have been in group home settings for the majority of their lives.”
During a typical weekday, Damhof said: “There are two of us on a shift, and we usually work about 10 hours, sharing the responsibility of taking care of the residents. Taking care of seven individuals keeps us really busy. We’re short-staffed right now, so we try to fill in with the few people that we have.”
Throughout the month, the staff ensures the home environment is stable, providing evening and weekend care.
“We take them on outings,” Damhof explained. “They mostly prefer McDonalds or similar places as opposed to sit-down type restaurants. We also go to the movies and performances at Highlands Little Theatre.”
Every month, Damhof continued, “Everyone gets to choose one activity for the month that the group will do. They all get their own choice, but the group does have to agree to the activity. The entire house goes out, just like any family would.”
On weekends, staff usually works a 12-hour shift.
“Occasionally, there are special events and volunteers that come in from the community to help with special events like shuffleboard, horseshoes, tennis, swimming, and golf. The staff helps and participates as much as we can,” Damhof said.
While there is no specific license or required certifications, staff members are trained in first aid and CPR, food safety and blood-borne pathogens.
“There is a fair amount of paperwork, and we do a lot of filing and faxing, keeping case managers, medical proxies or legal guardians informed of any changes,” she said.
Damhof enjoys the Florida winters and often takes her daughters to the beach.
Her mother, Carol Damhof, works at the Sebring Public Library and is glad her daughter moved here because she now has the opportunity to spend time with her two grand-daughters, Kaylee, 6, and Skylar, 2.
Carol moved her in 2007 and is very proud of the work her daughter does.
“I think she’s great at her job and she has the patience of a saint, so working in a high-stress environment suits her well – not everyone can do that,” she said.