News & Events

Choosing to Stay on the COVID-19 Frontline

Mary Olasamo, a direct support professional, had just started her shift at a Rising Ground program when a COVID-19-positive female resident returned home from the hospital to recover. For the resident sent to quarantine at home, “home” is a Rising Ground residence for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

What Ms. Olasamo discovered was that not all of the residence’s direct support professionals were available to relieve her because of the COVID-19 crisis. She believed the residents needed support from a familiar face. So, for the next 91 hours, she chose to remain at the residence. “I just couldn’t go home,” she explains. “I knew that all these individuals were alone and afraid. I had to keep reassuring them that things were going to be fine. I said, ‘I know you’re afraid. Don’t cry. Everything’s going to work out,’” Ms. Olasamo recalls.

Ms. Olasamo says the choice to remain was not debatable. “I knew I was needed. The individuals were having a hard time understanding what was going on. I had to explain everything to them and then re-explain it. But they were comforted by my presence. As long as I was reassuring them, they were okay,” she says.

A true frontline hero, Ms. Olasamo is one of the many employees who are doing amazing work to continue supporting individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true for the hundreds of employees providing round-the-clock support to more than 300 children, youth, and adults supported in our residential programs. Like Ms. Olasamo, our staff members are demonstrating their commitment to our mission. We’re seeing that this crisis is bringing out the best in people throughout New York City as well.

“People underestimate what we do”

Ms. Olasamo doesn’t regard herself as a hero. Rather, she feels she has a critical role to play. “The public doesn’t realize how delicate [supported] individuals are or how much energy and effort it takes to support them,” she explains. “We are sort of like their parents, teachers, doctors, and advocates. Sometimes, I think a lot of people underestimate what we do.”

Rising Ground operates about 20 residential programs. Program directors, managers, and the organizational leadership have been preparing for the pandemic since February. Personal protection equipment was and continues to be secured; cleaning supplies and food have been stockpiled and are continually replenished by managers. For example, food is delivered and left outside the door at programs where residents have possibly been exposed to COVID-19.

Rising Ground residential programs include 14 residences for adults with IDD; the Residential Treatment Center for youth with emotional and behavioral disorders; the Mother & Child program for young moms in foster care and their babies; juvenile justice placement programs; the Passage of Hope program for unaccompanied migrant children; and Transitional Independent Living programs for runaway and homeless teens. All of these programs have continued to provide safe shelter during these trying times.

As of this writing, the resident with COVID-19 had recovered. The other residents are healthy, as is Ms. Olasamo.

“We are proud of our staff and managers, everyone who came together to support the people in our IDD programs,” says Ryan Garofalo, Senior Vice President of IDD Services. “They’re working day in and day out so that our residents remain safe.”

Alan Mucatel, CEO, notes: “I visited 10 of our residential programs to see how people were doing, and I was impressed. We assured them we’ll continue to be there for them throughout this pandemic.”

Learn more about how we're continuing to supporter New Yorkers in need during this time here. You can show your support for Rising Ground’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic by making a gift to Rising Ground here.