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With selflessness and ‘sunlight,’ Jennifer Espino brightens the lives of people with disabilities

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With selflessness and ‘sunlight,’ Jennifer Espino brightens the lives of people with disabilities
By Pete Levine ·

The spring of 2020 wasn’t an ideal time to start a job at River Drive, a home for people with developmental and physical disabilities in Hadley, Massachusetts. COVID-19 had just landed and with it came lockdowns, uncertainty and – for the residents of the home – a break from their much-needed routine.

However, that first COVID spring also brought two new staff members to River Drive: a nurse, Brittny Corriveau, and a direct service worker and supervisor, Jennifer Espino. Both would bring their dedication and their aspirations for what the home could be.

But according to Corriveau, Espino also brought “selflessness,” “positivity” and “sunlight” to the home, which is why Corriveau has nominated her for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

“She really advocates for all the individuals,” Corriveau says, referring to the four people who live full-time at the home. “She likes to see them get up and into the community. She goes out of her way – above and beyond. She is such a pleasure to work with.”

Recently, the residents and staff had to switch locations, as the River Drive location closed and they were moved to their current location on Suffield Street in Agawam, Mass. Throughout that difficult transition, Corriveau says, Espino, a member of AFSCME CARE Local 17 (Council 93), kept everyone upbeat and positive.

“She especially has been the sunlight to us during our difficult transition from our old house that was recently shut down,” says Corriveau. “Jennifer lifted the spirits of everyone in the home and kept everyone reassured that the move was a new beginning and helped everyone get excited for the new unknown.”

While the residents of Suffield Street live with a range of serious disabilities, Espino is determined not to let their disabilities limit their engagement with the world. Whether it’s planning in-home activities, field trips that are customized to each resident’s interest, or simply treating the residents with the utmost dignity and respect, Espino “makes sure everyone feels seen and heard,” according to Corriveau.

Even before she took her current job, Espino says she’s always felt the urge to advocate for people.

“Volunteering and helping people have always been with me,” Espino said. “For this specific crowd of people, it started with my daughter, when she was evaluated for autism. I wanted to know more – what they were going through themselves. From there, I started to go to school for psychology. I went to a job fair and saw there were openings for developmental services. I went for it.”

For Espino, just doing her job isn’t doing enough. She wants a richer, more vibrant experience for the people she serves, as well as for the staff she supervises.

For one resident who loves animals, Espino sought out an opportunity at an animal shelter for the woman to pack food for animal foster parents. For staff, there are team building opportunities, potlucks, bingo nights or other “theme” nights.

Corriveau admires Espino’s curiosity and hunger for doing new things.

“[Jennifer] loves inquiring about our local community and schedules activities appropriately towards each individual’s interests,” says Corriveau. “We look forward to the fun days ahead!”

Espino sees a direct correlation between her efforts and the effect it has on those she serves.

“I just feel that if everyone gives it their all – in this type of field – everyone would have a better quality of life,” she says. “I feel good because I’m doing good.”

Never Quit Service Award

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