Each day, about 45 people with disabilities arrive at the Easterseals Passages Creative Learning Center for a day of activities, learning and fun. It’s up to the staff to guide them through hours of different activities, from morning exercise to Trivial Pursuit to cards or crafts or art or cooking class or singing or the computer lab. Karate and ballroom dance classes are recent additions to the mix of engaging options.
Christina Sipe rolls with it all and never stops loving the dozens of people who come to Easterseals Passages in Columbia City.
“You have to go in there with a big heart, wanting to help others out completely, no matter what. … You gotta be a very loving person to all kinds of people ─ all races, religions, disabilities. You just gotta be there,” she said.
Sipe has been a Direct Support Professional, or DSP, for eight years. She began in a group home, working with eight women who lived there; she start on second shift, then worked third. In an effort to bring more balance to her life, she transferred to first shift in the Creative Learning Center, called CLC by almost everyone involved.
Versatility is essential. On a recent day, Sipe started the morning leading an exercise class. Half the main room of the CLC was darkened, so people there could follow exercise routines set to music and played on a big-screen television on one wall. (Others remained in the brightly lighted side of the room, settling in, talking or playing games.) Some of the routines she led were performed sitting in chairs, the better to include people who used wheelchairs or who had trouble with balance or standing. Throughout the routines, Sipe encouraged everyone to fit exercises to their abilities.
Later in the morning, Sipe led a game of Trivial Pursuit, paused to share surprise hugs from people she helps, joined a game of Yahtzee, and helped everyone get ready for lunch. A few people needed help with their lunch, having a small bite or two at time placed on their plates. Typically, Sipe sits between two older men who need that help, turning from one to the other every minute or so, doling out manageable bites on their plates.
“She’s very kind and caring. She has a compassionate heart,” said Tanalee Scott, who supervises the CLC. “What she does is always for the benefit of the client.”
Sipe did many kinds of work before Easterseals Passages, from a four-year stint in the Navy where she did administrative and clerical work to a year as a nursing aide to a job in a plastics factory.
Her brother, who works as a DSP in Georgia, encouraged her to try it. “You have a good heart. You’ll be great at it, and they’ll love you.”
It was no more than a few weeks after her first shift in the group home that she knew her brother had nailed it perfectly.
“I enjoyed it, just because of the type of person I am,” Sipe said. “I’m always willing to help somebody out and teach them and do what I can for them. My personality fit it.”