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“Who" Cares ? - Brian Smith

brian smithBrian Smith says his experiences at The Arc Rockland have influenced his decision to switch careers.

In 2014, after receiving a degree in Criminal Justice from SUNY Morrisville, Mr. Smith began working as a youth counselor at a residential facility for troubled youngsters. Then, in 2015, with tentative plans to go on for a Master’s degree, he took a job at The Arc “because I thought the hours would fit in case I decided to continue my studies,” he admits. But after two years at The Arc, he feels he has found his vocation.

“I enjoy helping people meet challenges,” says Mr. Smith. As a Community Specialist at The Arc, he works with nine young men and women who “need a significant amount of supervision and support. Many have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some have trouble communicating, relating to staff.” 

His job is multifold. He creates opportunities that enable people to become more independent. He helps to enhance their abilities to communicate through the use of sign language or picture communication cards, and he arranges for activities within the broader community that focus on interaction.

“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing people learn to do something on their own,” Mr. Smith explains. “One individual had never used a microwave oven. At first, I patiently demonstrated the necessary steps. Then, I gave him prompts as he tried it himself. Now he knows how to use the microwave without my help. I got such a great sense of satisfaction seeing him meet the challenge.”

Mr. Smith believes that all of the people with whom he works are capable of accomplishing a great deal. “Helping people conquer something new is just a matter of knowing how to teach— knowing how to tailor the support to the needs and interests of the specific person.”

Forging bonds is an important part of Mr. Smith’s work. A case in point concerns one individual known for being withdrawn— keeping to himself, rarely speaking and never referring to anyone by name. “He would just blankly stare at the wall,” says Mr. Smith. “But after a few months, he began to call me Brian. Now he talks and participates in activities, laughing, dancing… I was thrilled and proud to know that we had made a connection. When I see challenging behaviors turn into more socially approved behaviors, I feel good for the individuals themselves.”

According to Daniel Werges, Senior Director of Community and Day Services at The Arc, “Mr. Smith goes above and beyond in facilitating community integration and ensuring that individuals in his group benefit from daily community activities. For example, Brian and his friends received specialized training so that they could volunteer with Halfway Hounds, walking foster dogs, an activity which is important for the dogs and therapeutic for the group members.

“In another situation, Brian worked with family members, residential staff, behavior support staff and an individual’s psychiatrist in order to help that person overcome a challenging period in her life and engage in activities that suited her needs.”

“I’ve learned a lot from my experiences at The Arc,” says Mr. Smith. “Whether we are supervisors or assistants, we are all helping people. Everyone is part of the team.” While he acknowledges that the work can be difficult, he says, “It is exciting to know that I am helping people make progress in their daily lives. I realize now that there was a reason why I came to The Arc.”

While he continues his career at The Arc, Mr. Smith will pursue a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling at Mercy College.

Thank You to The Arc Rockland’s 2019 Corporate Sponsors: