HMEA Program: Home First
Job Title: Program Coordinator
Number of Years in Current Role:
Less than one year
Number of Years with HMEA:
Three years on and off
Meet Heather Berry! Heather’s the Program Coordinator for our Home First program, which provides one-on-one support to parents of children with complex medical needs. Heather joined us as a Case Manager in 2018, and she was recently promoted to the Program Coordinator position. We spoke with Heather to learn more about her journey at HMEA.
How did you get started at HMEA?
I was looking for new opportunities close to home in a non profit organization who provide services and supports to individuals in the community (similar to what I was currently doing) and found an advertisement for HMEA with details on the Home First program and the individuals served. I had never worked with children before, but after reading the job description, I knew how much I wanted to work with the children in the medically complex program. I read the mission and vision of HMEA, and my heart and mind immediately felt that this is where I should be and what I should be doing.
What was your career like prior to working at HMEA?
I’ve worked in a variety of professional settings, including the private health and ancillary benefits industry, as well as being a realtor when my children were little. Being a mom definitely made me think differently of the people and world around me. It made me realize I had a bigger purpose in life. I saw life and people through a different lens, and when the kids went off to school, I knew I wanted to do something to help others. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it.
Immediately prior to working at HMEA, I was working at a nonprofit that provided elder services. I worked as a home companion for about a year until transitioning to the office to be a Care Coordinator. I loved my new role because it allowed me to remain involved with the elders and assist them with their needs and goals.
Working in private homecare, I was exposed to the nonprofit side of human services, and I knew immediately that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, working and advocating for individuals with the most needs and limited resources. As of today, I’ve worked in human services for over 11 years, spending six of those years working with elders and adults with disabilities.
What made you ultimately decide to work at HMEA?
At my interview, other employees would stop to say hello and welcome me. Even the CEO, Jule Noack, spoke with me for a few minutes to learn more about who I was and what I was applying for. She made me feel so welcome.
I instantly felt that every staff member – whether they were in accounting, residential services, or case management – lives and breathes HMEA’s mission, vision, and values. It wasn’t just a statement on a website. It is embedded in each staff member, and everyone is truly passionate about the individuals we all serve. I truly believe HMEA hires the most passionate people in the world.
I was also astounded by the length of service a lot of the staff have. Many staff members started out in direct care and grew within the agency. There’s a lot of high turnover in human services, so I think the amount of internal promotions and growth speaks to how wonderful it is to work there.
Describe a typical day in your role.
Each day bring new challenges and successes. One day, you might be working on trying to get an insurance company to cover supplies. The next day, you could be working on assisting a family with finding supports in the home, which has been a huge challenge during the pandemic. Another day, you could be helping families apply for public benefits (MA Health, SSI, SNAP, Housing, etc.), supporting families through the IEP Process and advocacy, or searching for funding to help cover large purchases such as home mods, adaptive vehicles, or other equipment that will benefit the children.
What’s your favorite part about your role?
One of my favorite parts is the fulfillment I feel when I can help a family through barriers and challenges. It can be something as simple as getting supplies approved through insurance. It can be much bigger, like obtaining funding for an adaptive vehicle that a family normally couldn’t afford. Our families don’t have time to do the research or find applications, so to take things off their plate, no matter how little or big they are, means the world. It’s the feeling of being able to help someone so they can focus on spending time with their children. Many of our families don’t have that time, because a lot of it is spent on direct care.
My favorite part is when I can visit the children and their families directly. To see so much strength, love, and resiliency in the children and families. Seeing the children smile and communicate about their day through gestures and expressions, seeing their face light up in joy even when faced with multiple challenges? Those moments are my favorite parts.
What are you most proud of during your time at HMEA?
I worked with a single mom of a child with two very rare, medically complex conditions. She was unable to work due to the child’s need for 24/7 care and had very limited supports. She also couldn’t afford a modified van, which can cost up to $40,000, so she and her child had to rely on public transportation for all medical needs. They didn’t have transportation for social events. They were unable to visit her elderly grandmother, and they couldn’t go out to the park, zoo or beach. It became especially challenging when the COVID-19 pandemic started, as they were completely isolated from the world.
I was able to find a charity for medically complex children and assisted the mother with applying for a modified van. She was selected and granted a fully funded adaptive van! It was unbelievable, and I could not be happier for her and her daughter. Seeing her get out into the world and go places she has never been, without relying on public transportation, is something I will never forget and will forever be in my heart.
What has HMEA done to support your development?
When I was originally hired, I had not worked with medically complex children before. HMEA provided me the training and resources that I needed to be successful in my role. My director had over 20 years of experience and a wealth of knowledge to draw from. She directed me towards information/resources I could use to educate myself.
I was also able to take trainings internally and externally to increase my knowledge and skills. HMEA offers a lot of training that not only allows you to grow professionally, but as an individual. They offer classes in cultural sensitivity, diversity, inclusion, and advocacy. HMEA truly values every single staff member and provides training to improve the skills and abilities of all staff. HMEA fosters a positive, inclusive, team-oriented culture and fosters an environment of growth and professional opportunities to grow with HMEA.
How has HMEA supported you during the COVID-19 pandemic?
While I was a case manager, I was able to communicate openly and honestly about my future goals and aspirations of wanting to be in a supervisory/management position where I could continue to developing my skills, but still be a part of my families’ lives. Due to the pandemic, HMEA was unable to promote me, and I accepted a supervisory position at a different agency. In November 2021, my director approved the Program Coordinator position, and I was rehired by HMEA. My new role allows me to utilize my supervisory/management skills and remain with my families as their case manager.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in working at HMEA?
Everybody who works here has shared so many inspiring stories on what they do for individuals. Working with individuals with disabilities is very rewarding. Helping them and their families get through some of the biggest challenges of their life, and knowing you played a part? It’s hard to describe the feeling. It makes you feel good. It brings purpose. I had a purpose as a mom, and now, I have a purpose that’s bigger than me. It brings joy and fulfilment that spills into your personal life. You see things through a different lens. You see the challenges/successes of others, and it puts perspective on life. There’s no greater feeling than the work we do. Hearing the stories from your coworkers and staff in other departments is inspiring. The individuals are in great hands, that’s for sure.