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When It Comes to Disability, Understanding Is Deeper Than Knowledge

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I am Maricel D. Border, and I have been working at Penn-Mar Human Services in Freeland, MD since 2010 supporting adults with intellectual disabilities. I love my job as a Community Activity Instructor, especially when I can help individuals transform their lives into living. Ever since I can remember, helping others has been a constant in my life.

I don’t have the typical memories of a carefree childhood. I am a native of the Philippines, the third of seven children in my family. As the eldest girl, I was given additional responsibilities, including pumping water, cooking meals over firewood, washing clothes by hand and caring for my many siblings. Those duties increased even further after my mother left the family home when I was only 8 years old and my father turned to me to help manage the household.

Fortunately, I was eventually sponsored by an American family through an organization called Compassion International from the time I was 5 until 18. The group saw to it that I had adequate school supplies as well as the medical, spiritual and educational supports I needed at that time. As a teenager, my natural inclination was to give back. I volunteered in a mission camp and at the age of 16, helped to build a Bible school and tutored young children with their school assignments. I also brought food to the homeless living out their days at a dumpsite.

Following graduation from college with a B.A. in Christian Education, I began working at Compassion International as a Youth Caseworker with 100 charges. My job was to help the young people transform their lives and I was there to advocate for them.

My desire to transform and help people in need led me to Penn-Mar Human Services where I now work as a Community Activity Instructor in the Day Program.

Marriage brought me to the States in 2009 where my first job with Penn-Mar was packing tools at their Glen Rock, PA work services facility. Soon I advanced to the position of job coach, where my heart was telling me I belonged. From there I picked up additional responsibilities and now “float” from group-to-group in the Adult Day program, making sure supervision needs are met, staff is well trained, and that everyone has everything they need to experience a meaningful day.

Last year I was accepted into Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders program, a career development and credentialing initiative that includes a minimum of 100 hours of training and practicums to improve my skills and earning potential. I earned my certification in January.

I was very interested in participating in the program because it gave me the opportunity to develop more of what’s inside of me and learn how to better support individuals with disabilities.

One of my favorite expressions is “Understanding is deeper than knowledge.” People may feel like they know you, but few will understand you. Many of the individuals with disabilities I work with each day are nonverbal. It’s very important for me to understand their needs. Helping them to transform their lives is what’s most rewarding to me.

In addition to my job, I am currently taking care of my husband who is experiencing some health issues. I find working at Penn-Mar to be a stress reliever. Being with people with disabilities makes me peaceful and light with everything going on at home.

Every day I walk into work and see them smiling. Even if I’m having a bad day, their smiles encourage me to give them a wonderful day. I love being a part of their lives.

Originally published: August 6, 2018
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