Lisa: Natural supports at the YMCA

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Background

Lisa is a certified lifeguard and swim instructor at the YMCA in Fairfield, Connecticut. After much success as a competitive swimmer in the Special Olympics, Lisa transferred her skills to a career at the YMCA. As a lifeguard, Lisa tests chemical levels in the water and looks after swimmers by surveying the pool during swim sessions. As a swim instructor, Lisa prepares for class sessions and teaches group swim lessons. With support from her supervisor, coworkers, and family, Lisa earned and maintains the necessary certifications for her job, successfully carries out her work responsibilities, and has earned the reputation of being a responsible, detail-oriented, and dedicated employee at the YMCA.

What's important

After watching Lisa teaching her nieces to swim during an open swim session, aquatics director Maureen Scinto asked if she was interested in a job as a swim instructor and lifeguard. Lisa's initial reaction to this opportunity was that it would be fun but she was nervous about lifeguarding and had some anxiety about all the tests she would have to take. After talking with her father and Maureen about the types of supports the YMCA could offer her, and getting access to a job coach, Lisa accepted the job.

Before she could begin working at the YMCA, Lisa had to earn several certifications, including CPR and first aid. To prepare for the job and certification, Lisa enrolled in intensive courses at the YMCA. Lisa's biggest challenge with the courses was reading and understanding all the material in the books. With a lot of support from her father and coworkers, Lisa was able to complete her courses and pass her certification tests.

Upon hiring Lisa, Maureen knew that she would have to plan for the staff to support Lisa in her certification process and her job tasks. Maureen initiated this support by modifying the pre-existing orientation and job-training process used by the aquatics program. Lisa's modified training included an experienced coworker who would work closely with her to provide the extra supports that she needed. This coworker attended classes with Lisa and helped her read through course materials and study for the certification tests. Along with initial support from a job coach, Lisa also received supports from coworkers in her job tasks, such as testing the pool water, interacting with parents, and working with children.

What happened

Over the eight years that Lisa has worked at the YMCA, her need for supports has diminished. During that time, many of Lisa's coworkers have come and gone. In fact, she and Maureen are the only two original staff still remaining in the aquatics program. Because of staff turnover, Lisa and Maureen have made a regular practice of orienting new coworkers to Lisa's support needs. Today, Lisa primarily needs support in studying for her certification tests, some of which occur every year. Though at times she may need some support on the job, these needs are no different from those of her coworkers. In fact, Lisa is often the experienced coworker who provides support to newer employees.

Lisa describes the best thing about her job as watching a student learn to swim, especially when they are scared of the water. She has expanded her role at the YMCA by volunteering to work at other events, such as arts and crafts fairs, where she can share her skills as an artist. By being an active and dedicated YMCA employee, Lisa has not only built relationships within the organization, but also throughout the community that it serves.

Lessons learned:

  • Plan for supports from the beginning. By recognizing that Lisa would need job supports, Maureen was able to plan for natural supports from the moment Lisa was hired.
  • Modify existing orientation and training programs for new employees as needed. By tweaking existing programs to meet Lisa's needs, Maureen found an efficient way to provide natural supports on the job.
  • Think broadly about what supports are needed. By helping Lisa prepare for tests, coworkers provided unconventional supports that were not directly related to either her job tasks or theirs. This impacted Lisa's long-term career development, which can sometimes be overlooked when planning for natural supports.

For more information contact:

Heather Chiappetta
Service Coordinator
Connecticut Department of Developmental Services
Phone: (203) 455-3114
Email: heather.chiappetta@ct.gov