“Our clients are welcomed in the community in a way that I haven’t experienced before.”
According to Qualified Developmental Disability Professional (QDDP) Megan Olson, the way clients are accepted in the community is one of her favorite things about working at Laura Baker Services Association (LBSA). Megan shares, “Every time Glen goes to a restaurant or to the movies in Northfield, everyone we run into says, ‘Hi, Glen’ and waves. Even if clients are upset or loud, people are still accepting of them – and that seems different than other places.” Integration and acceptance in the community is a core value of what Laura Baker envisioned when she established the Laura Baker School 125 years ago.
Megan joined LBSA in 2018 after working in the Twin Cities as a behavior analyst for 10 years providing in-home services throughout the metro area. Megan and her husband, Daniel, decided they wanted to be in one spot and gain a sense of community, so they began looking for a place to live in Northfield. “The plan was to buy a hobby farm,” Megan chuckles. “But that never quite happened.” Nonetheless, they made the move to Northfield, and Megan quickly realized she wanted to be, “helping people in my own community.” Shortly afterward, she joined the LBSA team.
As a QDDP, Megan is responsible for conducting behavioral assessments and developing goal plans. She emphasizes the importance of client-centered plans. “It’s really about what things they [the client] want to work on.” Although some goal areas like medication administration, hygiene and community involvement are mandated, clients, in conjunction with families and guardians, have a say in their own goal plans. Megan works closely with each client’s household director and direct support staff, and together they help ensure that everyone is aware of how to best support each client throughout the day. Megan also works closely with families, guardians and other providers as part of a team to help monitor progress and make changes to behavior plans as needed.
Megan says one of the most amazing things she has witnessed in her time at LBSA was with a client who arrived just weeks before the pandemic started in 2020. The individual was nonverbal and had been cared for his entire life by his grandmother and aunt. “The pandemic started and, of course, his grandma couldn’t visit him for months and months [because of the safety protocols] which must have been very difficult. I was really impressed by the way the staff rose to the occasion during that time to help him make the transition. His grandma was astounded at how well he was doing.”
Even with incredible community support and amazing staff, LBSA continues to struggle with maintaining staffing levels. Community-based developmental disability service providers across the nation were challenged with staffing issues before COVID-19. Now the issue has reached a crisis level. LBSA’s Oak Street campus currently operates with two empty cottages because of a shortage of direct support staff. Megan thinks that part of what makes Northfield such an accepting community may also contribute to its inability to hire staff. “We don’t have a huge population to draw staff from. Other organizations in the Twin Cities are short staffed as well, but not like we are.”
Despite being short-staffed, LBSA is fortunate to have such an exceptional group of direct support professionals, QDDPs, household directors, a health care team, kitchen staff and organizational support that, together, have helped carry the organization through the last two difficult years. At the annual Staff Appreciation Dinner in June, Megan was announced as the 2022 recipient of the Spirt of Laura Baker Award*. In her nomination, a colleague said, “Megan answers every phone call with kindness and honesty. She shows immense compassion for her clients and their families. She treats everyone she meets as her equal and never fails to make those around her smile.”
Thank you, Megan, for all you do!
*The Spirit of Laura Baker Award is given annually to one individual who best embodies the mission, vision and values of LBSA and the spirit of Laura Baker.