Meet Kelsie: Focused on Making a Difference | Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana

Only weeks after she graduated from Whitko High School in 2018, Kelsie Castle worked her first shift as a Direct Support Professional, or DSP, at Easterseals Passages. Working with people who have disabilities felt natural and comfortable for her. Her twin brother is on the autism spectrum, and two of her cousins have Down syndrome. Her mother has worked as a DSP for several years.

“Passages was there, and I thought it was perfect. There are frustrating days, but there are also those days when I’m there for a reason, and I know I can make a difference,” Castle said. “For me, it’s meaningful work, not just going to work for the paycheck.”

Her first work with Easterseals Passages participants involved getting them out into the community on trips that ranged from ordinary errands to special trips for entertainment.

“Some wanted to do their grocery shopping. Some just wanted to go get a soft drink and go for a drive; that would relax them. Some wanted to take a day trip to the water park or a day trip to the zoo. Basically, anything they wanted to do is what we did,” she said. In a typical week, she provided help for 10 to 15 people.

Six months ago, Castle, now 21, began working in the Creative Learning Center. That is the day services program at Easterseals Passages, which has about 45 consumers attend each weekday.

Instead of working with one or two people at a time, she and her colleagues work with dozens. The activities there are a mix of learning practical skills, such as cooking, doing laundry or cleaning, and entertainment, from playing card games to watching documentaries to craft projects.

Castle is on the move all the time. Some of the CLC participants mingle constantly, and she can keep up with any of them. She also stops and checks in with quieter people who keep to themselves or entertain themselves with, for example, plastic construction bricks or favorite objects. Like all the other staff members in the CLC, she helps everyone settle into lunch. She generally helps Laura, a sociable woman, with her lunch one-on-one.

On any day that isn’t too cold or wet, a dozen or more people go outdoors for basketball. Some shoot baskets, while others watch from the sidelines, enjoying a break outdoors. Castle often joins them. Sometimes she works on her jump shot with the players; other times, she keeps the onlookers company.

This is basketball at its gentlest and most cooperative. There is no throwing elbows or trash-talking on the court behind the CLC. The players shoot baskets, one after another, often in groups. Sometimes a player stations himself by the basket to go for rebounds, but in this game, rebounds have nothing to do with gaining a competitive advantage. Anyone who grabs rebounds does so as a good neighbor, tossing the ball back to someone waiting to shoot.

After lunch, Castle often runs cooking classes in a small kitchen where eight or 10 people pack in to watch her and take their turns stirring soup or building parfaits.

There’s always something to learn, for participants and staff members alike. In Castle’s case, an important thing she’s learned in the CLC is sign language.

Jon, one of the participants there, uses sign language.

“Since I started working there, I just kind of picked up on it,” she said. Staff members and some other participants sign a little, but no one is as proficient as Jon. She made a goal of learning to communicate better with him.

“Someone here’s gotta know how to sign,” she remembers thinking. She started by watching Jon closely when he signed. Eventually his teaching her sign language became more direct. She sat with Jon, writing out words or phrases, and he would translate what she had written into sign language.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest at it, but I learned a little more and became a little more fluent than when I came into the job,” she said. “If there’s anything I don’t know, I immediately get taught by Jon.”

She and other staff members aren’t the only ones who benefit from Jon’s teaching. She said a couple of other participants at the CLC have learned some sign language, too. Mostly they want to learn to communicate with Jon. One told Castle she wants to sign so that she would be able to communicate if she encountered a deaf person who needs help.

When people in the CLC need a quiet break, Castle is ready to take them to the partially darkened sensory room for quiet music, a starry projection on the ceiling, a veil of colored lights and the background noise of bubbling fluid inside a wall panel.

She says the sensory room is her favorite part of the CLC. “It’s relaxing,” she said.

Castle looks at being a DSP as a career. She’s not interested in becoming a supervisor or top administrator. She thinks that remaining a DSP is the best way to help more people through Easterseals Passages. She hopes that the agency will find ways to involve more children and teens, beyond the summer programs it now operates.

In the meantime, she treasures the satisfaction she gets from working with so many people she likes so much.

“It’s always the little things,” Castle said, mentioning one of the couples who attend the CLC together. “When he brings her flowers or a simple handwritten letter, she has the biggest smile on her face. It makes her week! It’s super cute.”