When Stacey Damron (formerly Stewart) started at Village Women’s group home back in 1993, there was one woman who couldn’t speak.
Through the years, Stacey and other ADEC staff worked with Helen to learn to communicate. A speech pathologist came to the home and gave ADEC staff goals to work on, which they did every day for more than three years.
Eventually, Helen found her voice.
“Before she could communicate, she might have hit someone or become frustrated if she was upset,” Stacey said. “But with the training, she would yell ‘I’m mad at you!'”
Helen learned one word at a time — magazine, brush, jewelry, coffee.
“After some time, you just couldn’t keep her quiet. She told us that she loved us and she could say all our names,” Stacey said. “That story still gets to me.”
When Stacey started at ADEC in 1993, she was fresh out of college and was working for Essenhaus as a summer job, but couldn’t find anything in her field of accounting. She met someone that worked at ADEC who encouraged her to apply — and 25 years later, she is glad she did.
She has been at ADEC’s Village Women’s group home for 22 of her 25 years. For a few years, while her father was battling cancer, Stacey switched to Middlebury Men’s as a direct support professional. But when she was ready to pick up more responsibility again, a manager position opened up at Village Women’s and she settled right back in.
Stacey said she is proud to know that she has seen every woman living in the home when she started in 1993 through to the end — even though it has been difficult emotionally to cope with those losses.
She was especially close with Helen, who didn’t have any family nearby. During the holidays, Stacey received special permission to take Helen to her home for major holidays so she wouldn’t spend them alone.
“She became part of our family,” Stacey said. “I remember she was scared of animals when I started. Within time, my 120-lb. black lab would put his head on her lap and she would pet him. I miss her. I miss her a lot.”
Stacey is still getting to know the new group of ladies in Village Women’s, and loves to see how their personalities grow as they become more comfortable with their housemates and staff.
“I stay for the people we serve,” she said. “Their willingness to love everybody. It doesn’t matter what race you are, what size you are, even if they’ve been mistreated by someone in their past, they’re still willing to accept you.”
Part of her role as house manager means training new staff, and Stacey asks every new employee to put themselves into the situations of the people they are serving.
“How would you want to be treated?” she asks them.
“It has been a good ride,” Stacey said. “I’ve had my ups and downs, but I love it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here for so long. How many people can go to work every day and say they make a difference and enjoy it? Hopefully the ladies that I serve see it that way, too.”