The caring attitude her supervisor describes appears to be part of her nature.
For almost a year now, LaDena Hempken has filled the job as a skills trainer in an Adult Life Skills center for KETCH, a Wichita agency that provides support and services for people with developmental disabilities.
Ms. Hemken works daily with severely disabled adults, many of whom have multiple disabilities and for the most part are non-verbal.. She said the job -- the first paying job she has held in 12 years -- gives a purpose to her life.
“I know what I’m doing every day when I wake up,” she said. “I’m helping my clients take care of themselves.”
It is not that Ms. Hempken hasn’t been busy during the years she was not employed. But because of the multiple disabilities she deals with herself -- including bipolar disorder -- rather than hold down a regular job, she regularly did volunteer work on a limited schedule. She volunteered as a tutor in schools, for the homeless, at the library, and, years ago, in an Alzheimer’s hospital unit.
“Even when I was not working, I was helping people,” she said. “Now I get to come to work to help people.
“I loved tutoring, but I love this more,” she said of the job at KETCH.
Besides bipolar disorder, Ms. Hemken has a sometimes painful nerve disorder called neuropathy, Turrets Syndrome and Epilepsy. The neuropathy sometimes makes it impossible for her to go out in the sun, the Turrets Syndrome occasionally causes her shoulders to twitch constantly, and the Epilepsy causes occasional seizures which for several years have occurred only when she sleeps.
“The things I face are really challenging,” she acknowledged.
Ms. Hempken got the job in the life skills center after being assigned to the KETCH employment division by Kansas Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Stephen Shaughnessy, director of employment and day services at KETCH, said it was unusual for the agency to hire someone they were working with as a client to find employment. But he said they had an opening that fit with Ms. Hempken’s vocational objective.
But because of the physically demanding aspects of the job such as lifting clients and changing diapers, Mr. Shaughnessy said they were not sure it was a fit for Ms. Hempken.
“For someone with disabilities, that was a concern with LaDena,” he said. “But she is doing well. She’s been very upfront and might sometimes say, ‘I have to sit or even use a wheel chair.’ We’re ok with that.” Bonita Thomas, Ms. Hemken’s direct supervisor at the life skill center, said she sees a lot of caring come through when Ms. Hemken works with the severely disabled people they serve.
“She is very personable with clients, “ Ms. Thomas said. “She is very helpful and very eager to learn.”
Ms. Hempken said the work in the life skills program is not just day care for the severely disabled people they work with. She said each client has a care plan, and she works with them on items in that plan. For example, she said part of the client’s plan may be to get a drink of water on their own.
In teaching this, Ms. Hempken said it’s important to teach skills step by step.
“You reach up for a cup, you close the cabinet door,” she said. “One step at a time.”
Staff also take clients out in the community, Ms. Hempken said.
“We’ve cleaned the ally, donated food, and made up packages for soldiers,” she said. “We do have a lot of fun. Even when you are teaching, you can still have fun.”
Ms. Hempken said the work does take a lot of patience.
“You’re going to have days when you feel like ringing everyone’s neck,” she said. “You just have to learn to deal with it, be constructive with it.”
Ms. Hempken said because of the volunteer tutoring she had done, when she began the process of finding employment, she wanted to find a job working with children. But when her employment specialists at KETCH suggested the job in the life skills program, she saw the possibilities of fulfilling her vocational goal.
“It’s the same field,” she said. “The clients are kind of like children, and I’m still helping people. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it.”