Thirty years is a long time, but it goes by quickly.
“Sometimes it don’t seem that long,” said Dieter Owens, reflecting on three decades of employment with ADEC as a direct support professional, helping men and women achieve goals they didn’t think possible.
Today, Dieter works for the eight men who live at Goshen Men’s group home.
“Every day is different,” he said. “Every day is challenging. But every day, they learn and you learn. It’s been a good 30 years!”
Dieter grew up in Elkhart, graduating from Elkhart Central High School and Ball State University. He majored in criminal justice and psychology, thinking he’d come back to Elkhart County and work for the probation department.
“They weren’t hiring,” he remembers. “I just knew I’d be getting into the court system. Then I thought I’d go back to school and go to law school. … I was straight out of college and could not get a job.”
While he was figuring things out, a cousin told him he should check out ADEC.
Dieter interviewed for a position at what was then the Wollenweber House in downtown Elkhart. He got the job, but because the house was in transition, moving to another location, he was told it’d be three or four months before he could start.
“I had bills to pay. I had to work. So I went and found me another job,” he recalls, working as a janitor on the night shift at Crown International.
Right after he started at Crown, the person who interviewed him for ADEC called him back and said, “Dieter, can you start this week?”
“I said yes,” he recalls. “To tell you the truth, I thought I’d be here a year, tops.”
He still had criminal justice and law school on his mind, but after a few months at ADEC, he knew he’d found his niche.
“The clients that I work with, getting to help them achieve things they would never achieve,” makes it all worthwhile, he said. “If you don’t get attached to them a little bit, you’re here for the wrong reasons.”
Dieter has worked primarily for ADEC’s residential services, both group homes and Supported Living. He started at the Wollenweber House, which became Foster. In 1989 he moved to semi-independent living, which is now known as Supported living. “I did one-on-one with them,” he explained. “You’ve got to show them they can live by themselves.”
Some of his semi-independent living clients worked in the community, and it was Dieter’s job to take them to work and coach them on the job. “I did some of everything, really,” he said. “Now they have job coaches, but I did that.”
In 2001, Dieter was assigned to Goshen Men, where he remains.
“Along the way, I worked with some good staff,” he said. “I worked where God wanted me to be.”
As far as advice for other DSPs, he cautioned, “You’re not supposed to get attached to them, but you do. If you don’t get attached to them a little bit, you’re missing the point why you’re here.”
And the attachment goes both ways. “They get used to you,” he said about the clients. “They look forward to seeing you, too. If I take one day off, I walk in the door and they’re so glad to see me, they act like I’ve been gone two weeks.”
The relationships make the job rewarding and worthwhile.
For several years, Dieter accompanied one of the Goshen Men residents, Billy Nichols, to Florida to spend the holidays with his mother. “She always wanted him with her on Thanksgiving,” he said. “We got real close traveling together.”
Besides working with clients on the job, Dieter also spends time with them as a volunteer coach for Special Olympics.
He started out coaching track, basketball and bowling, but eventually narrowed it down to just track, the sport he played in high school.
In Special Olympics, as in his every day direct support, Dieter gets to witness personal achievements that warm his heart. “The clients get to do stuff they never thought they could do,” he said. “I’ll tell them, ‘I know you can do this.’”
And they do.
“They’ve all got their own different personalities,” Dieter said. “They kind of get like your family. You want to see them do well.”
Article by Nancy Miller | Mission Advancement Manager
Photo by Rod Tackett | Communications Specialist