Meet Jorge: Doing the Work He Loves | Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana

Jorge Ruiz has worked many jobs in his 43 years, but he’s come back to being a Direct Support Professional, or DSP.

Ruiz now works about 32 hours a week staffing an Easterseals RISE Medicaid waiver home in Fremont. The first hours after he showed up for work on a recent Monday afternoon showed how busy the job can be.

In only a few minutes, he coached Ralph through each step of assembling dinner ─ fish sticks, vegetables, three kinds of fruit and mashed potatoes ─ stepping in frequently to help. He prepared cups of juice or water for the other two men in the home. He set up Excell, who usually uses a wheelchair, for 30 minutes of sitting on an exercise mat to maintain some tone in his abdominal muscles. He grabbed a minute here and there to keep pace with record-keeping.

Ruiz was cheerful throughout. He recounted the years he spent as a supervisor at RISE and later at another agency before he rejoined Easterseals RISE as a DSP in July 2020.

“When I came back, I only wanted to do direct care. This is part of the reason,” he said, gesturing around a kitchen where he was surrounded by the noise of hungry men waiting for their dinners. “I love working direct care, and I missed it. I love what I do, and I love my guys.”

There are many jobs he has done or could do. He has a bachelor’s degree in education, with a focus on special education. He and his partner own and operate two businesses ─ Golden Green Soap Co. and Elemento ─ only steps away from the roundabout in downtown Angola. In the past, he’s managed some of his family’s pancake restaurants. He’s shot portraits of children for a living.

What draws him to his work as a DSP appears in how deeply he knows the men who live in the Fremont house. He knows the music they like. One needs his food pureed; another needs it diced. He prepares their food almost automatically as he juggles demands near dinner. Two of them speak few or no words, but to Ruiz, their gestures, the direction of their gazes, the pitch and volume of their voices, and their facial expressions communicate quite a lot.

Excell’s attention doesn’t fix on any of the objects around him in his first minutes on the mat. He calls out, looking straight at Ruiz. “What are you telling me? Are you telling me it’s time for dinner?” Ruiz asks him.

As Ralph kept watch on a preheating oven, Ruiz returned to the living room to work with Excell on the exercise mat.

Maintaining muscle tone in his abdomen helps Excell in many ways. For example, some abdominal strength makes it easier and safer to transfer him into or out of his wheelchair or the shower.

After Ruiz helps Ralph put a tray of fish sticks in the oven, Ralph joins him as he works with Excell. Ralph can do more things on his own than his roommates can; he likes to help Ruiz with all the tasks he can, including looking out for and helping the other two residents.

“He’s a nurturer,” Ruiz says of Ralph. When the time comes to move Excell back into his wheelchair, Ralph steadies the chair as Ruiz helps Excell rise to his feet and step back into the chair.

Ruiz returned to Easterseals RISE last year, in the same month its merger with Easterseals Arc took effect. He appreciates the benefits package and the raise in DSP wages this year, but the appeal of Easterseals RISE runs much deeper than the money he earns.

“I feel like we treat our clients better than a lot of places. You can tell there’s a lot more training that goes on here,” he said.