Diamond Jones almost sparkles these days talking about the woman she has become with the help of VersAbility Resources.
Jones was shy at King’s Fork High School and often unhappy. Today, showing off her brilliant red dreads and a shirt that screams, “Too Blessed to be Stressed,” the 21-year-old shares openly about struggling with a disability that nobody can see. Major depression, anxiety and bipolar tendencies can interfere with Jones’ ability to get through a day.
Yet Jones still has goals and dreams. VersAbility Resources’ Supported Employment program put her on a path to achieving those.
“What I love the most about VersAbility Resources is that they work with people who have mental illness,” she says.
The nonprofit partners with regional employers to provide long-term jobs in community settings for people with disabilities. That’s how Jones landed her first job at Autumn Care, a skilled senior nursing home in Suffolk.
Even before that, by meeting one-on-one with her VersAbility job coach, Jones gained a fresh perspective on herself.
Job coach Amy Zengel saw the light inside of Jones. She spotted a positive energy, and the two easily connected.
“Hearing her describe me to me made me open my eyes,” Jones said. “I never looked at myself the way she did. She looked at me positively. She told me that my light was bright. ‘Let it shine,’ she said.’ She empowered me.”
Jones wanted to work in a doctor’s office after graduating from high school and earned certifications in medical assistant, EKG technician and phlebotomy at Paul D. Camp Community College. But she lacked hands-on experience that she’s getting every day as a certified nurse aide at Autumn Care.
“I probably would have never thought to come to a nursing home on my own,” Jones says. “They took me in here and I was very proud. I had an elderly grandmother when I was a kid. Working with older folks doesn’t bother me.”
Jones provides care for 11 residents at Autumn Care. It’s not easy work. It requires lifting, bathing and feeding the residents. Her first day on the job she didn’t know how she was going to manage. She watched the efficiency of the other aides and couldn’t envision herself doing the same.
“This job taught me patience, actually,” Jones says. “I had to slow down and work at my pace. My coworkers here are very supportive. They don’t mind helping me with whatever I need.”
Jones finds support in the residents, too. She knows them all on a first-name basis and delights in making time to talk with them, to hear about their grandchildren and their families.
“They need me,” she says. “We’re supposed to take 15-minute breaks, but if in a moment I feel like a resident needs me, I don’t take a break.”
Jones beams in describing two of the residents, a married couple, Carrie and Bruce who share the same room. They make her laugh during mealtime. Carrie likes salt and pepper, but not the kind in the packets. Bruce gets the actual shakers with his tray. She wants those. Bruce asks for Carrie’s bread; Carrie doesn’t eat bread so she doesn’t care.
“As long as she has her salt and pepper,” Jones says.
When it was Carrie’s birthday and she thought no one remembered, Jones brightened her day by bringing in balloons.
“The residents let us know they appreciate us,” Jones says. “I try to make them comfortable and at home. They really are sweet.”
Jones has also discovered healthy ways to deal with the negative thoughts that used to dominate her life. She’s a painter with her own website, Chemically Imbalanced Art. She also has a YouTube channel and she listens to music constantly when she’s not at work. The track inside her head is always playing “Jesus, Be a Fence.”
The best parts of the job have nothing to do with a paycheck.
“Just knowing I made a difference throughout the day — that’s the reward,” Jones says. “When I go into these residents’ rooms throughout the day and ask if they need anything, if they’re OK. I ask, ‘Do you need me to feed you? Do you need me to change you? Do you need anything at all?’ To hear them say, ‘No. I’m OK.’ That makes my day. Knowing they’re OK. I look at them and know I’m caring for someone’s mother, father, uncle, aunt. Somebody’s loved one.”
Jones has since graduated from VersAbility’s Supported Employment program and is happy to have independence and pride in her work. She envisions eventually transitioning into the medical assisting field and down the line wants to work in a morgue. She has every reason to believe she’ll be successful thanks to the foundation laid with the help of VersAbility.
Jones has learned to take a breath and write out a list of accomplishments every day.
The list isn’t always long, but there’s always enough on it for Jones to say to herself, “I’m a success.”