Venus Santiago was honest about why she began working with people with disabilities. “I was facing a fear. I was afraid of this population. I went to public school for kindergarten; we had people we supported in that school and some of them were mean to me and I just became very afraid. I was at a stage in my life where I felt I needed to tackle what I feared in life.”

Venus’s career with Residential Services, beginning at Bronx Respite, did not start off easily. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still afraid at times. But when you’re in that moment you have to address the situation and not think of yourself. I’ve had my arm bruised; I got locked in a house once with someone who was very dangerous, and a family member had to come and deescalate the situation. But you learn, and soon I had nothing to be afraid of.”

Gaining A New Appreciation for Life

Venus now works primarily at AHRC NYC’s Chicquor Residence, also in the Bronx. One of the things she learned early in her career was that a cookie-cutter approach to support was ineffective. “You get the blessing to be able to learn about each and every one of them when working at a residence,” Venus explained. “They might have a similar diagnosis of I/DD, but your approach may not be the same. Everyone is unique, everyone is addressed differently. Trust is so crucial with them and them really knowing that you sincerely care.”

I think sometimes people think that the people they support can’t express love because they can’t articulate it as well, but they know who genuinely cared about them and they’ll show that love,” she continued. “Experiencing that for the first time taught me humility and it gave me a new appreciation for my own life.”

Venus cares for both the residents and the families that entrust Venus with the care of their loved ones. She says that dealing with families bring its own stress, but you have to find ways to reach them. “We have to use empathy—what would I want me to say or me if my loved one were in this situation? I want to show that I care. When a parent knows that you care about their child, they’ll work with you.”

Venus has assisted at two different residences that experienced deaths due to COVID-19. She maintained a firm sense of duty and resiliency when it was needed most. “I’m here to help—what is it you need to do today? I just think my presence and being accessible helped a great deal. Being able to cover time when people were out, drive downtown, do whatever was needed— my job was to help with no hesitation. I enjoy helping others in need. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

“I Love My Job”

Alecia Sturge, an Assistant Director with Residential Services, said that as the pandemic began, Venus was among the first to directly reach out and ask what was needed of her. “Venus’ patience, perseverance, commitment, and dedication, as well as her positive and caring nature, have been appreciated by both the people supported and her coworkers. It is seen as soon as she walks through the door, in the way she is warmly greeted by everyone and responds in kind.”

Alecia is a phenomenal woman who’s taught me to be a student,” Venus said. “I’ve been blessed to have amazing leadership.”

Venus is reveling in being fulfilled by her daily work. “I love my job. This is a great place. I can’t express how blessed I am to wake up every day and say I love my job. I could be deadbeat tired, and I’d still come to work.”