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The Charles County Department of Social Services is seeking people with a little extra room and time to give to care for those who need it most.

As part of its Project Home program, the social services department is seeking people who want to participate in the Certified Adult Residential Environment program, which seeks people to provide what CARE Home Manager Shayla Poole-Diarra described as a “protective environment” for adults who are incapable of caring for themselves due to illness or disability.

To learn more

For more information on the Project Home CARE program, call Shayla Poole-Diarra at 301-392-6716 or email sdiarra@dhr.state.md.us.

“We don’t mandate that [caregivers] have extensive experience,” Poole-Diarra said. “Most, though, have some background in a caregiving capacity.”

Although the program is far from a new one, Poole-Diarra said they are seeking more caregivers; as right now, they only have nine working. The caregivers must go through a licensing process and background check. Caregivers can have up to three people in their charge at a time.

Many of the current providers have been with the program for a number of years. Felicia Alpert has had one man in her care for 24 years and, in that time, has also seen “countless others” circulate through her home.

“Oh, I couldn’t even tell you a number. It’s been a lot. You can keep people for eight or nine years,” Alpert said. “Eventually, if they get into the workforce and they have the resources, then they can help themselves.”

When Alpert was recruited into the program, she was working as a job coach at Melwood, the Prince George’s nonprofit that employs and trains disabled workers. Currently, Alpert is employed at Melwood as a community support living arrangements worker. The 63-year-old man she has helped for 24 years goes to Melwood during the day. Alpert helps get him dressed, sees that he gets his medication and cooks for him. On weekends, Alpert and her charge will go grocery shopping together, see movies and go bowling.

In their time together, Alpert said she has come to see the man she cares for as one of her own.

“They just become part of the family,” Alpert said. “You do things with them like normal. When they come into your home, you want it to be just like your home life. Some things are different, like with the doctors, but it’s basically the same as when you have a kid and you work according to their needs. You always try to teach them to do more. You work with them like a child.”

Alpert also has had people in her care who have been as old as 80. Since taking on her long-term patient, she has seen a notable change in him.

“Way back 24 years ago, he was nonverbal,” Alpert said. “I’d have to guess his needs. When he began talking, that was so rewarding. Watching all his other milestones has been wonderful.”

Alpert urged potential caregivers to be patient and persistent, and said she has found that the other caregivers are more than willing to talk and lend their support.

“Don’t give up,” Alpert said. “You will find what works for care. You just have to keep trying.”

Another caregiver, Tanya Mack-Pinkney, began working with the program in Prince George’s County in 2000 and continued when she moved to Charles County. She currently has three people in her care.

“Through years of past job experiences, working with the mentally ill and mentally challenged population, I gained a passion for working with this crowd and dedicated myself to it,” Mack-Pinkney said. “This is just something I love to do.”

Mack-Pinkney said she tries to provide a “safe, loving and family-oriented home” for those who she cares for. Like Alpert, she has seen her charges through different challenges.

“Giving my residents the opportunity to go on vacations yearly to places they never even imagine they would be able to get to [is most rewarding],” Mack-Pinkney said. “The feedback, the smiles, just the reactions from them is so rewarding.”

However, Mack-Pinkney is aware that it is not an altogether positive situation for the people she sees.

“Knowing that some of these residents have no other family out there to care for them” has been challenging to accept, Mack-Pinkney said. “That’s why; I feel that God has blessed me, giving me the opportunity to extend my family and show love to those less fortunate.”

lrenner@somdnews.com