DJ Brings Out The Happy In People
It is funny that Dona Jean Gatwood, director of community inclusion programs at Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD, Inc.) told me one of the perks of her job is that it gives her the opportunity to laugh a lot, as, it is because of people like her that I’d have to say that is definitely a job perk for me as well (I do public relations for LADD). I can always count on being uplifted and welcomed. And, especially if DJ is around, I know there will be a lot of smiles.
LADD is a 41 year old Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization that is guided by the belief that every person has ability and value, and that there is great strength in diversity. It works to propel the inclusion and success of nearly 500 adults in Hamilton County who have developmental disabilities through housing and employment options, life skills training, and advocacy leadership. I really think of LADD as a pioneer in this work, always forging new ideas for building a more inclusive community where everyone can contribute and belong.
In her job, DJ oversees many facets of LADD’s work including supportive housing, adult foster care, a unique Community Connections that engages adults with developmental disabilities in decision making and community involvement, and more.
She has many long days but I think it is pretty obvious that her time spent is more than a job, it is her passion. It is no surprise that her career there spans 19 years and prior to LADD, she worked for another nonprofit agency for 16 years.
“The work just kind of found me,” she said.
It all began when the son of her mother’s friend mentioned he needed help at a group home. DJ and her parents drove to Cincinnati, she interviewed, was hired as an assistant and moved in.
If you are one of the fortunate ones to have DJ a part of your life, you know she isn’t one to take relationships lightly. Her ear is always open to listening. Her heart is always full with love. Her arms are always available for hugs. And her door is always open for others to walk in.
It has just been a part of her upbringing since growing up in a rural farming community of Circleville, Ohio. Her parents were the extra parents for any kid who didn’t have a good home. There was an extra plate at dinner for an extra family or family member. DJ even read in her great grandmother’s diary about that family doing the same thing. And it was that way on DJ’s dad’s side too. “I’m blessed that way,” DJ told me. “You learn your values early on.”
And so, of course, DJ called her parents from work one day to tell them she would be bringing the Gena, the youngest girl living in the group home where she worked, back for a visit. When funding shifted, that girl moved into DJ’s home as a foster for twenty years. At 34 years old now, Gena is living in an apartment with support from LADD, and in every way except biological, she is DJ’s grown daughter.
“I’ve learned so much through Gena. She has taught me about resilience and curiosity, and to never put a limit on what you can do. Gena never holds a grudge and she is so passionate about having a vibrant life,” DJ said.
Hmm, I have a feeling DJ has taught Gena those same lessons.