Frontline Initiative Change

Dedicated to Denise:
DSP shares story of satisfaction and discovery


Susan Petty is a Developmental Assistant at the St. Charles Habilitation Center in St. Charles, Missouri

I would like to share a story about a young woman I am fortunate to work with – Denise. I have worked with Denise for over ten years. Over time we have become good friends, and in this friendship I have received many rewards for my work, even surprises and wonderful discoveries.

A few years ago, I took Denise shopping for shoes and then to lunch. I told her to pick out a pair of tennis shoes she liked. After surveying the assortment in her size, she finally picked out a pair. But they cost more than she could afford. I told her this, and suggested she find another pair she liked. Again she looked around the shelves, picking through the different kinds, and found another pair that suited her and that she could afford. She took the shoes and went to pay for them. Denise gave the cashier her money. When the cashier turned to us to give back her change, however, she started to hand the money to me. I told her, “You didn’t receive the money from me. You got it from this woman.” The cashier then gave the change to Denise. Denise picked up her bag with her new shoes in it and we headed for lunch. I will never forget the big smile on Denise’s face when I reminded the cashier that she had paid for the shoes and the change should go to her. This kind of experience, which has happened many times in the ten years I’ve worked with Denise, has made my time and work very fulfilling and satisfying. 

In all the time I have worked with Denise, I had never heard her speak. Recently, I made a startling discovery. I was in her home putting dishes in the dishwasher when I heard someone say, “I done *#!*.” I turned around to see who it was. Denise was standing in the hallway. I knew that it wasn’t her, though, because I knew she couldn’t talk. I figured someone else in the home had walked by and said it, so I went back to loading the dishwasher. I heard the same phrase, again. I thought maybe that I was hearing things because I knew it couldn’t be Denise. Defying my stubborn disbelief, however, Denise said the phrase a third time when I could see it was her. I was shocked and happy. I thought, in addition to speaking, she had also said a complete sentence. I think she was proud of herself and wanted me to be proud of her also, which I was. Since then, she has been practicing more speech, and I let her know how proud I am of her. When I started working with people living in institutions 19 years ago, I knew I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. That someone turned out to be Denise. I enjoy working with people. I feel my work is important not only to myself, but also to the people I am helping to learn new things, to have a more positive outlook on life, and to have a more meaningful lifestyle. I know it takes time, but with patience, you know that you are making a difference and it feels good.