Rachelle Dunahee is the Program Manager at Schippel House, a therapeutic residential home in Salem, Il. for youth with special needs, specifically those with developmental delays who are low-functioning and on the autism spectrum. There, she works with youth to help make them as independent as possible and integrate them into the community.
Rachelle’s background in special needs education uniquely situated her to work at Schippel House, especially after having worked with Hoyleton Youth & Family Services’ summer program as a teacher for six years. She decided to make the transition from education to residential care after she realized she could combine her love of teaching youth with special needs with her love of leading teams.
As Program Manager, Rachelle is responsible for overseeing staffing, programming, community engagement, service plans and making sure that everyone is working toward the goals set for youth to address the unique challenges presented by their developmental delays.
These goals differ for every youth as their unique disabilities affect their independence in different ways. Some youth have goals as simple as picking up their toys or organizing their room. Other youth have more complex goals related to socialization. It all depends on where their developmental abilities are and what the care team at Schippel House deems appropriate.
One goal for the whole of Schippel House is to keep clients’ families involved. Because of the nature of their needs, youth require 24-hour care and can’t stay at their families’ homes. However, that doesn’t mean families are cut out of the picture. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rachelle and her team hosted “family days” where youth and their families could participate in group activities, meals and even have photos taken.
“A lot of my staff, even if they weren’t working, would bring their families to these days,” says Rachelle. “And the families of clients themselves have made connections with other families and created a support network, which is important.”
School and Community Engagement
That support network doesn’t end with the family units. It extends into their schools where Schippel House staff work with special needs educators and administrators to mutually work toward students’ goals, making sure their goals at home and school align. One of these goals is community integration, which takes place in school but also in the greater Salem community.
“Our youth are out and about every day,” says Rachelle. “They struggle with social cues and social settings, but depending on the severity of their developmental delay, if they’re willing and able, we get them as involved as we can. I will say the community has always been extremely supportive of us. Even our neighbors, they’ll come visit when we’re outside playing, and if they feel like maybe something is wrong, they’ve called and checked in. All of our neighbors have been understanding and welcoming of us.”
When asked how her job has affected her personally, Rachelle explained that she sees her work as a calling.
“I have a God-given ability to work with these types of kids, and I have a really unique understanding for them. When family members let you know that what you’re doing matters and that they trust their child is safe, growing and learning, that is huge.”
To learn more about Schippel house and the amazing work they do to support youth with developmental delays, visit https://hoyleton.org/programs/therapeutic-residential-care/severe-developmental-delays/