Jeffrey Pagel grew up with three athletic brothers and watched as their trophies filled his parents home. None of them were his. Now, after a nearly 30-year career of supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Jeff has an honor of his own that stacks up with any earned in sports.
On April 17 in New Orleans, Jeff will be honored with a national award by the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) for his at a group home in Appleton. From hundreds of national nominations, Jeff was chosen for exemplifying the tenets of a direct support professional, including providing person-centered supports, promoting physical and emotional well-being, acting with integrity and responsibility, and honoring justice, fairness, equity and respect.
Jeff has worked for Innovative Services, Inc. for the past eight years. Headquartered in Green Bay, Innovative Services was founded with the mission to give those with developmental disabilities the best quality of life in the community. It’s a mission Jeff has embraced his entire life.
“When I was in high school I worked as a short-order cook, and I had an awful boss who was cruel to everyone he worked with,” Jeff said. “I decided then that I wanted to do something good for people – to build connections and help them feel better about themselves.”
Over his three-decade career, Jeff estimates that he has worked with more than 150 individuals with developmental disabilities. They have become friends and built lasting connections.
“Recently I had some health issues and was away from work for six months,” he said. “After a few days I felt a real void in my life. The people I work with become like family. We have inside jokes. We have great stories. We’ve made breakthroughs together.”
For Lorna, one of the individuals Jeff works with, his support has shaped her life for the better.
“Jeff got me to do my exercises and helped me walk better,” said Lorna, who struggles with chronic pain. “We made a deal that if I did my exercises, he would set up a lunch date for me with my sister.”
“Lorna gets really down on herself,” Jeff said. “She’s in a lot of pain. I tell her I know that feeling. I’ve had some health issues, I’m in pain too. I know it’s hard, but we can do this together. She responds to that approach, and together we’ve been able to change her approach from ‘I can’t’ to “I can.’”
Every individual with intellectual or developmental disabilities is unique, and hundreds of thousands of support professionals like Jeff at thousands of organizations like Innovative Services across the country adapt as necessary to help those individuals engage more fully in the community. The individuals who rely on Jeff know he will listen and understand, but never judge.
“Jeff and I have worked together for many years,” said Vicky Coulthard, Jeff’s supervisor at Innovative Services. “He is such an incredible positive influence for everyone he works with. When he is in a home, even our non-verbal clients know that someone will speak up for them. Jeff makes sure that everyone – the individuals we serve and our fellow employees – is treated with respect.”
He also brings a lighter side to the job, sometimes coming to work with blue hair or tie-dyed shirts, and often wearing a fedora, which some of the non-verbal individuals he works with use to say hello.
“I like to show people the joy of this job,” Jeff says.