Keely Chuba, The Branch’s longest-tenured employee, was honored for 25 years of service. In recognition of her dedication, Chuba received a silver necklace during an employee appreciation event, public acknowledgment and special mention to the board.
“Keely is patient, loyal, nurturing, professional, thorough, calm and focused on providing services in a respectful way that honors the individual’s goals,” Nancy Gale, executive director of the organization formerly known as Jewish Residential Services, said.
Since joining the agency in 1997, Chuba has made an indelible mark, Gale continued: “Keely is not only our longest-tenured employee, but she is also the most trusted by the people we serve.”
Chuba said she appreciates the kind words and honors, but noted that the reason why she’s stayed at The Branch is because “I’ve always loved what I do and I love the population that we serve.”
The organization’s mission is to enable people with psychiatric, developmental or intellectual disabilities to integrate personally and professionally into the community.
Chuba is proud that the organization has broadened its services and population over the years.
“When I first started, the [Sally and Howard Levin] Clubhouse wasn’t open,” she said. “The organization was primarily focused on the Staisey House.”
Named for Judge Leonard Staisey, who, according to the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center, was “blind and championed the need for the inclusion of special needs individuals in the broader community,” the Staisey House provided “supervised, independent living for adults with chronic mental illness.”
Chuba pointed to the Clubhouse and Supported Living Program as evidence of The Branch’s expansion during the past two decades.
The Clubhouse has become a space where people living with mental illness can build relationships and experience a “purpose-filled day” within a community setting. Additionally, the organization developed its Supported Living Program, which according to The Branch, “promotes independence for adults living with mental health diagnoses or intellectual and/or developmental disabilities who are able to live independently but need ongoing support.”
As the agency has grown, so has Chuba’s role.
She initially served in a relief position, filling in for staff in a group home. After a full-time position opened at the Staisey House in 1999, Chuba took the job and several months later transitioned to the organization’s Supported Living Program.
The difference, Chuba explained, was that at Staisey House there were four apartments, that housed eight individuals. The Supported Living Program serves people “living in their own apartments in the community.”
Finally, in July 2022, she became the team lead for the Supported Living Program.
Gale credited Chuba with helping countless individuals at The Branch: “She is the consummate provider of person-centered support for our participants, setting a great example for her co-workers.”
Chuba’s efforts may be singular, but so is her longevity.
A 2023 survey from North Carolina-based Relias noted that 54% of direct support professionals have worked at their current organization for four years or less.
Likewise, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported a 38% turnover rate among DSPs.
Turnover and high burnout rates are “an unfortunate part of social services,” Chuba said.
The disruptiveness of DSP turnover was described by researchers in an April 2022 report from Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Safety, community participation and other “important day-to-day outcomes” can be negatively impacted by the “lack of stable, reliable supports.”
Elected officials pointed to these challenges while declaring Sept. 10-16 DSP Recognition Week.
“Every day, direct support professionals work hard to provide those in need with critical support that leads to more independent living and a better quality of life,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who joined Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in putting forth the resolution. “Our bipartisan resolution ensures that these professionals receive the recognition they deserve. I thank all direct support professionals for making such an incredible difference in the lives of so many seniors and those living with a disability.”
Chuba told the Chronicle that her work, and that of her colleagues, matters.
“It makes a difference in people’s lives by helping them stay independent, stay out of the hospital, not have to live with their family and rely on family for support, and connect to and make friends,” she said. “We’re able to help people achieve whatever personal goal they have.”
Whether it’s maintaining an apartment or some other aim, “our role is to help them organize things and help achieve those successes.”
After 25 years, being part of that process is worth much more than an award, Chuba said: “It’s an honor and I love what I do.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.