Since 2015, Debra has been a friendly, reliable, and well-loved presence at the front desk at Garfield Place. In September, she earned a promotion to her current Life Skills Specialist role and relocated to a third-floor office to take on more responsibilities serving our tenants.
Q: What Are Some Favorite Moments in Your New Role?
A: Recently, when the weather was really bad, I helped a tenant shop online instead of going to Target like he usually does. It was so fun to see him so excited with the process. When the groceries arrived, I happened to be at the front desk and saw him as he smiled and shouted, “It worked!” That was a great moment.
Being able to visit with residents regularly in their apartments was something I couldn’t do before my promotion. One of my tenants has a very specific goal right now. He wants his apartment to be the show place when a prospective tenant is considering Garfield Place. So, he and I work on decorating, organizing, and regular cleaning. It’s been a great project for both of us.
Another change that makes me smile, I have a tenant who used to call me Sergeant Debra, but now he has decided to promote me to Miss Debra.
Q: What Does Your Role Look Like Now?
A: I focus on helping our tenants with money management, housekeeping, personal hygiene, and medication compliance. I do a lot of listening when tenants are agitated or upset. It makes me feel good to visibly see them calm down while I listen. Having a private office now, it’s helping being able to close my door and give us that privacy and time to work through feelings and circumstances without interruptions. When they are overwhelmed with daily living chores, I break things down for them, which helps with their anxieties.
Q: What Do You Miss About Life at the Front Desk?
A: I’ve loved getting to greet the volunteers and donors when they would arrive with meal donations and other items. I have groups I’ve worked with since I started here like SLUH and Seven Holy Founders. We still talk on the phone regarding their donation questions, but I miss that face-to-face time.
Q: What Made You Want to Work at PPCS?
A: I have always been in helping professions. It’s what I do, it’s where my passion is.
Q: Tell us about groups that you facilitate at Garfield?
A: I run a life skills group sometimes twice a month, but at least monthly. We’ll do things like puzzles or learn about things that are going on in St. Louis or Black History Month trivia. Another example of something we do in our groups is an activity called, “What’s in my Pantry?” I display a variety of boxes and cans, no fresh food. I ask, “How would you prepare it? What if the microwave wasn’t working?” This helps prepare them if they’re ever without power or can’t get fresh groceries. Last week in our Life Skills Group, we played bingo with music in the background, and we all sang together at the end.
“Debra is able to teach skills ranging from washing dishes to managing a savings account. She does this with compassion and diligence. Within the treatment team, she provides top-notch insights, especially in problem-solving situations. Because of Debra, our team is much better equipped to serve Garfield tenants.”
Q: Is there a typical resident at Garfield Place?
A: No, everybody has their own personality and needs, just like anywhere. We serve a mix of adults, all ages and genders. The common thread is that each resident lives with chronic mental health issues, and those are very different, some really severe, some not. Some residents have jobs and social connections outside of here, so we work around their schedules. Others are very isolated for a variety of reasons. I think they enjoy my company and support. I know I enjoy theirs.
Q: What are the biggest challenges?
A: Part of my job is helping tenants find the free or low-cost resources they need. Almost all of the time, I have to make sure the resources are within walking distance or accessible by bus. That always makes the research more challenging. To work at PPCS, you really must be ready for the different personalities of the residents and take the good moments with the bad. We don’t know what we’re going to get on any given day. So, you have to be flexible. And give grace. Always give grace.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t at PPCS?
A: What do you do for self-care? I love shopping. Offline, online, everywhere. I used to volunteer at a women’s shelter for teen mothers before COVID and was in a women’s support group called Women to Women. One of my favorite things to cook is turkey burgers and sweet potato fries.
Q: What’s your favorite saying?
A: Treat people how you want to be treated.