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Jessica Eldridge ’19 researches ways to increase retention rates at Pathfinder Village

By Upstate Institute on October 30, 2017
Three people pose in front of a building at Pathfinder Village

Jessica Eldridge ’19 (right) at Pathfinder Village

Pathfinder Village was founded as the first and only community established specifically for individuals with Down syndrome. The mission of Pathfinder Village is to promote a healthy, progressive environment that respects each individual, supporting a life of value and independence for children and adults with Down syndrome and related developmental disabilities.  Recognizing the gifts, talents and abilities of each person they support, the Pathfinder Village community enables individuals with disabilities and their families to envision and to create a “life with meaning.” This includes friendships, independence, community involvement, and the freedom to pursue individual interests and life goals.

This past summer, Pathfinder renewed their partnership with the Upstate Institute, giving me the opportunity to complete a ten-week project as a summer fellow at the Village. For my project I worked closely with Helen Stepowany, senior director of the Kennedy Willis Center, and Taylor Brose, who is Pathfinder’s Director of Residential and Clinical Services.  During the first two of weeks at the Village, I spent time reading about the workforce issues that exist across the nation with Direct Support Professionals (DSP). The two challenges that were consistent in all of the research I did was: (1) high turnover rates and (2) low wages. Next, I researched how some organizations are working to create solutions for these issues such as creating high school programs to integrate students to becoming DSPs.

After gaining the background information I needed, I worked on creating a series of interview questions. The questions were used to interview twenty DSPs that currently work at Pathfinder Village. Over the next six weeks of my placement, I went around to three different residential houses to complete the interviews. The goal was to collect data for the Village in hopes of strengthening recruitment and retention rates, and in turn help lower the turnover rates that exist at Pathfinder. Before working on this project, I had never completed interviews before and this was a great opportunity for me to practice this skill.

In addition to my research, I had the opportunity to attend the Adult Day Service Program at the Village and interact with residents and DSPs. Throughout the program I participated in therapeutic horseback riding lessons, harvested vegetables in the greenhouses, and volunteered packing food for the local food bank. As an educational studies major with hopes of working in the disabilities field, this experience provided me with a realistic picture of what the field entails. I was able to see the different positions available within the field as well as the challenges and rewards that come with them. This also gave me a chance to walk in the shoes of the DSPs that I interviewed, which helped bring my research to life.

Pathfinder Village is an incredible community and I am very fortunate to have been a part of it. In the ten weeks that I spent in the Village, I was impacted by many incredible people who made each moment special for me. I would like to thank the Upstate Institute and my project leaders, Taylor Brose and Helen Stepowany, for this incredible opportunity. I know it will not be long until I find myself back at Pathfinder!

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