Sometimes we find the path to our life’s work in a roundabout way.

Jeannie is originally from Tomah, Wisconsin and enrolled at Winona State University because her brother and his wife lived in Winona. Though they moved to La Crosse shortly after she arrived, Jeannie stayed in Winona at WSU. Because she enjoyed theater and music in high school (she played saxophone in the band, sang in the show choir, and was in theater productions), she thought she wanted to major in music education in college. However, she soon discovered that being in the front of a classroom was not for her.

When her academic advisor asked her what she wanted to do with her life, Jeannie didn’t know. She was sure she wanted to work with people, but when asked if she had ever considered social work, Jeannie confessed that she hadn’t. It was then that her advisor began enumerating all the various types of social work jobs that were available, and Jeannie thought she’d give it a shot. She took an introductory Social Work course and remembers that on the first day, the professor said, “If you are more interested in money, this isn’t the place for you. We work with people.”  Jeannie’s first thought? “I can do this!” She ended up having a double major in music and social work.

During college, she was working part-time at Walmart when one of her co-workers suggested she try a job at HCO. She was first hired in a part-time position providing in-home services, and loved the work. After graduation, she accepted a full-time job in one of HCO’s residential programs before transferring to the Saehler program in May of 2019.

The Saehler program is a resource home that serves up to 23 individuals on an intermittent basis. The variety of individuals, their needs, and their programs are what makes Saehler a fast-paced and exciting place to be. Their ages range anywhere from 17 to 70 years old, and their needs are just as varied. They work on personal cares, life skills, social boundaries, budgeting skills, and other things. For some, Saehler is the first place outside of the family home where they go to build their independence and begin to stretch their wings. For others, Saehler is a jumping off point for working towards being able to live on their own.

For individuals in the program, Saehler has always been a place to meet new people, socialize, learn, and have fun. When the pandemic hit last spring, the Saehler program had to temporarily close. A pandemic was not a thing that most of the individuals had ever even heard of, so explaining the phenomenon was tough. Even though Cindi Wiczek, the Division Director, and Shelby Hoff, the supervisor at Saehler, did most of the communication with parents, guardians, and individuals at Saehler to explain the temporary closing, Jeannie says it was an extremely emotional transition. Over the past year, however, Jeannie has been happy to see a number of the Saehler individuals through Zoom, and has enjoyed getting to catch up with them when they call her occasionally to chat.

From the fast-paced, busy environment of Saehler, Jeannie has most recently settled in at Crocus Circle, where life moves at a more relaxed pace. Of the three individuals who live there, two of them are retired and each morning often begins with watching The Price Is Right. To pass the time during the pandemic, they’ve been taking long rides in the country – which they enjoy – going through neighboring little towns, like Pickwick. One of the guys likes to fish, so another staff member took him ice fishing. (Jeannie doesn’t ice fish!)

They try to make everyday events special and special events even more special. One of the men has been having regular Zoom dinner dates with his girlfriend. They had a tailgate party at home for the Super Bowl and are looking forward to an upcoming birthday of one of the individuals. A special menu, a cake (maybe from HyVee’s bakery), and decorations set the day apart from others and are something to look forward to.

The availability of COVID-19 vaccines has really uplifted people’s spirits. They are all eager to get back out into the community more. Jeannie says there is a sense of hope in the house now, and the individuals HCO serves aren’t the only ones looking forward to freer, brighter days.

In the summer of 2019, Jeannie was the stage manager for the HCO musical, My Fair Lady. Her love of acting and singing had her involved with musicals before – often on stage – but this role was new and challenging for her. Working on musicals gives Jeannie a chance to meet HCO people she doesn’t usually run in to and is a great way to feel more a part of the organization, she says. She has great memories of previous musicals, such as the time during Shrek that one of the individuals was assigned a line. He practiced and practiced, and when the performance finally came, he delivered it perfectly. He was so proud of himself, he immediately cried, “YES!” and gave a big fist pump. A little out of character, but everyone loved it!

Jeannie is certified to teach CBT classes (Competency Based Training) to HCO staff, and is able to continue to do so via Zoom. She is passionate about the material, which teaches person-centered thinking. Staff learn to think about not only what is important for a person, but important to a person. What is it that the individuals they work with want to do? Where do they want to go? What do they want to accomplish to make them happy and fulfilled? She says she still gets a bit nervous speaking in front of a class, but knows it gets easier with time.

Outside of COVID, Jeannie typically loves to attend music events and festivals in Winona and in the surrounding area. She is good friends with one of the individuals she used to work with when she was a part-timer, and they like to have dinner together on a regular basis.

Jeannie is very glad she found social work, and HCO, and encourages others to apply with Home and Community Options. She says it’s an organization that treats its staff in a caring way and that the work is very rewarding.

“The people are what make it different from other places. The individuals you work with teach you a great deal – especially about yourself.”

HCO congratulates Jeannie on her recent promotion to Program Coordinator.
We are so excited for her and are looking forward to supporting her as she expands her skills in this new role!