Meet Kathy: Putting Smiles on Faces | Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana

Kathy Simons has spent more than half her life working with people who have disabilities. The work still brings her satisfaction every day.

“I love helping people. That’s kind of a high for me. Putting a smile on their faces makes my day. It’s rewarding,” she said. “I think this is where God wants me to be.”

Simons, 57, is a Direct Support Professional who works in production services at Easterseals RISE in Angola. Each weekday, the high-ceilinged industrial space at one end of the Easterseals RISE headquarters fills with the sounds of work, laughter and conversation. On a typical day, about 35 participants in the program come together to work assembling or packaging components for are businesses that contract with Easterseals RISE for help.

Simons stays busy, moving from workstation to workstation, checking on the progress of all the workers in the room. Sometimes she acts as a job coach, teaching a participant how to perform their work on a new product. Other times, she and her DSP colleagues need to be process detectives, figuring out what’s gone wrong or why a participant is having unusual difficulty with a task. Sometimes she steps in and helps, such as when she backs up a participant counting products to pack a crate for shipping.

At some workstations, participants stuff plastic sleeves with documents, such as warranty information or instructions, that will find their way to final purchasers. Others affix labels, such as safety warnings, to parts. Still others count out sets of bolts, nuts and washers.

“It’s fast-paced,” Simons said of the work. “It changes every day. Every day is different, and I love that.”

Production at Easterseals RISE is busy socially, too. There’s a lot of smiling, hugging and laughing among the participants and the staff members. Sometimes participants’ closeness stirs up what DSPs call the drama ─ hurt feelings, jealousy, frustration.

That drama also makes every day different. Simons works through that, too. “Nobody’s ever mean about it. We talk about it and work through it,” she said.

Simons has worked for Easterseals RISE since 2017; the last three years have been in production services. But she’s spent more than 30 years in jobs serving people with disabilities, sometimes as a DSP, other times as a supervisor. Once she became a grandmother, she said, she became a DSP again, so that she could work a more stable schedule.

She’s had other jobs. Before she became a DSP, she spent five years working in a factory ─ a setting without much opportunity for the warm relationships she develops with people she now serves.

“Whatever I can do to fulfill their day, I know I’ve done my job,” she said.