Jo Ann January in front of the house on 66th Avenue in Philadelphia, where she has worked as a Direct Support Professional since 1994.
Jo Ann January has been at the house on 66th Avenue for 25 years. But that’s not where she lives, it’s where she works. Jo Ann is a JEVS Direct Support Professional, or DSP.
DSPs provide care and support to individuals with disabilities so they can achieve their full potential and independence. They assist JEVS community home residents with daily challenges that many take for granted. Five days a week for the past quarter century, Jo Ann has shown up to support her second family.
“I make sure their needs are met,“ Jo Ann says. “Assist them when they need assistance. Cook. Give out medication. Listen to them.”
Originally from Kentucky, Jo Ann moved to Philly at age 12, and lives in Southwest Philly now. She worked with JEVS for 12 years before starting at 66th Ave. And now, after a total of 37 years on the job, Jo Ann has decided to retire.
Some of the individuals in the house today were there when she first arrived. How are they taking the news of Jo Ann’s retirement?
“It hasn’t registered yet. They don’t believe it’s happening — I’ve been saying I’m retiring for years. This time it’s real, though. I turn 71 tomorrow. They need more energy than I can give them. I used to take them out a lot. Ball games, out to eat, dancing at the cabaret. But my get-up-and-go got up and went.”
Jo Ann with some of her second family back in the day.
Bishop, one of the long-time residents, looks up from ironing his pants to ask if he can have spaghetti for dinner. “You had spaghetti last night,” Jo Ann reminds him. “Tonight is meat loaf.”
Satisfied with that answer, Bishop goes back to ironing.
She smiles. “Of course I’ll miss them. I’ll keep in touch. We’ll talk on the phone.”
It’s obvious Jo Ann loves her job. “I love helping people, seeing them grow into their independence.”
She says there’s only one downside, and it has nothing to do with the work. “I’m surprised by the hang-ups the public has about people with mental health issues. We’ve got to fight the stigma around them. They’re people like anyone else. They want to be loved, to be trusted.” She chuckles. “They are sometimes hard to trust…but aren’t we all?”
With her last day at the house on 66th Ave in sight, Jo Ann reveals that she has her next year all planned out, starting with a vacation trip to Cancun, followed by visits to relatives in Kentucky, Texas and Washington, and then a cruise to Barbados. An exciting start to a well-deserved retirement.
But today, she watches Bishop iron his clothes. “Bishop, you know not to set the iron down that way on your pants,” she tells him as he moves to answer a knock at the door. She smiles as he returns to set the iron upright.
To be a good DSP, she says “you have to like people. You have to be compassionate. And strong.”
That sounds like someone the residents of 66th Ave know very well. And will miss very much.
From all of us at JEVS: Thank you for your years of service, Jo Ann!