‘The only thing I ever really wanted to do’
June 28th marked the end of an era for Rosewood Services. Case manager Deb Smith retired after a 15-year career with the organization. As she walked out the door with loads of retirement gifts and cards expressing sentiments, following a late-afternoon reception on her behalf, she left a career in providing supports for people with developmental disabilities that spanned 33 years.
"I had a cousin who was born with down syndrome; that was 50 years ago," remembered Smith. "I used to take her out and we’d get in trouble together. That’s what made me want to work in this field; it’s the only thing I ever really wanted to do in my work life."
She came to Rosewood in February 2004 as a case manager, after 18 years of providing direct care service with another organization in Macksville. In her role as case manager, in a rewarding-but-challenging field that typically spans just five years, Smith proved to be a great fit for the position, said Vicki Schmitt, senior director of Rosewood Services.
“Deb is one of the good, old fashioned people who will get the job done,” said Schmitt. “She doesn’t give up easily and she always goes the extra mile for her clients. I believe it’s her tenacity, the satisfying work she’s been able to do, and the Rosewood atmosphere that has kept her with us for so long. At the end of the day, she has simply loved what she does.”
Smith said she received the most satisfaction in her job by seeing clients succeed in life, no matter their disability. Through more than three decades, she’s experienced the gamut from helping clients to learn to tie their shoe laces, to seeing them successfully budget money in an ABLE account and taking steps toward independence.
“I had a client who worked 4 ½ months to tie his shoe and when he did, his excitement level was like he just received $1 million,” Smith remembered. “Humility is to watch them struggle to do something that is so easy for us, and to experience their satisfaction when they can successfully do the task.”
Smith had actually planned to retire a year earlier, but decided to stay with Rosewood for the extra time to ensure a smooth transition. Jericah Villalpando, who previously served in a case management support role, has been hired as her replacement. Villapando spent the month of May shadowing Smith and then they reversed roles through June with Smith shadowing Villapando.
“Transition can be a very emotional time for our clients,” said Smith. “I have one adult client who has had just two case managers her whole life. The first was Vicki Schmitt and the other is me. But I feel like our clients are in a good place; Jericah has done wonderfully in her new role.”
Smith is also having to process change. She is leaving co-workers, many of whom she has built strong friendships with over the years. She is especially appreciative of their support while she recovered many months from a serious car accident seven years ago.
"The comradery we established among the employees is what I will always remember and I will greatly miss it," said Smith. "Like when I had my wreck; the care that was offered and support I received was unbelievable. Tammy (Hammond, executive director of Rosewood Services) made sure I was taken care of, while I was in the hospital and recovering at home. You just don’t get that attention and care everywhere. I am forever grateful."
Now in retirement, Smith turns her attention to providing daycare to three great grandchildren – twin toddlers and an infant. She’ll also continue helping Rosewood by serving as guardian to several clients, a role she has filled for the past decade.
"Deb has been a tremendous asset and such a positive role model to Rosewood and to the people she has served as case manager over the years," said Tammy Hammond, executive director of Rosewood Services. "I commend her steadfast dedication in helping people with disabilities for more than three decades. She is the consummate professional and an excellent advocate for those we serve. While I am sad that she is retiring from Rosewood, I know that she will stay connected with our folks and our agency for many years to come."