Chauntesse Philpot loves to learn, and she works two jobs helping other people learn and overcome obstacles, too.
During the week, she teaches preschoolers in a Head Start program. On the weekends and some weekday evenings, she works as a Direct Support Professional for Easterseals Arc.
“I can use my tools and my experiences I have in my classroom and apply it to some situations in working with a client. It kind of goes hand-in-hand sometimes,” she said. “My students have to be able to trust me and to want my help. The same thing goes with my clients when I’m in the home working with them.”
Those two jobs would be enough to occupy many people, but not Chauntesse (pronounced “SHAWN-tees”). Last year, she earned an associate degree in early childhood education. Now she’s working on a bachelor’s degree in education, with a minor in psychology, at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
After Philpot, 28, graduated from Paul Harding High School, she started studying to become a medical assistant. “I became bored with not doing anything during the day except going to school,” she said. She started helping in a day care run by a friend’s mother, and she loved working with the children.
Not long after she started working with preschoolers, a friend who worked with another agency dedicated to helping adults with disabilities persuaded her to try working as a DSP, too. She had some weekend shifts open, and Philpot agreed to try.
“I was like, ‘I’ve never done that. I don’t think I’d be good at it. I wouldn’t know what to do.’ But I just gave it a shot, and I started to love this, too,” she said.
She loved her clients, but over time she grew dissatisfied with working at the other agency. “I didn’t feel appreciated,” she said.
She’s worked at Easterseals Arc for almost a year.
“I feel appreciated at Easterseals,” she said. “I get told, ‘You’re doing a great job. The clients like having you around.’ … I love how everyone communicates so well with each other. I never feel like I don’t know what’s going on.”
Philpot has found that some of the techniques she’s learned in working with children help her with adults, too. One of the challenges a DSP often faces is communicating with consumers who are nonverbal. She sometimes encounters the same thing in preschool, where some children don’t speak much, either. For example, Burmese preschoolers often don’t hear English spoken in their homes and haven’t learned much English. With children who speak little, she often uses visual cue cards — a picture of a bathroom or a drink or a sad face — to help them express their needs or feelings.
With the adults Easterseals Arc serves, she benefits from training. DSPs work training shifts with consumers to familiarize them with their habits, needs, likes and dislikes.
That training helps her work with Paul, a man who is nonverbal.
“With Paul, I feel like just because I know his likes and his interests, that helps me communicate with him,” Philpot said. Paul keeps his spending money in a small, brown envelope. When he shows her that envelope, “that means he wants to go out to Dollar Tree,” she said. On a recent Sunday, he carried around a clipping from a newspaper advertisement that showed school notebooks, so she knew he wanted to buy more notebooks and pens, favorite items for him.
“The best part of the job is that I get to be a part of meeting individuals from all walks of life,” she said. “I’m able to assist them in new milestones and exposing them to new growth opportunities. That’s what I really love about the job.”