Debra Powers is an Innovative Planning Specialist in CFS’ Innovation and Advocacy Department. Here is her journey of how her approach to her work changed – in her own words.

About working at CFS and Personal Outcome Measures

Debra and Jemma

I started working at CFS in 2011 as a Medicaid coordinator, with a caseload of about 35 people. Then in 2015 or 2016, Nadine Daley did a presentation on “Personal Outcome Measures” and immediately I said, “I have to be in this department.”

Personal outcome measures use 21 indicators to understand how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities want to live their lives and how we can help them do that. I do interviews with the people we work with – we call them advocates (because they advocate for themselves!) – about things like their healthy, safety, work, their aspirations, and hopes, whether they are being celebrated. We educate about and discuss human rights issues, which sometimes are as simple as the right to privacy, or if they want to live on their own, or what color they want to paint their room – and we then see how we as an agency can work to make sure their needs are met. It’s a powerful tool – and it really changed how I understood my work. I’m proud to say that CFS has CQL accreditation with distinction.

I think what sets us apart is… well, I’ve never heard of another agency that has an innovation program that’s specifically to help address what advocates identify as their needs. We offer unique workshops, and collaborate a lot with other agencies to meet the needs that the advocates identify for themselves.

I’ve been at CFS for more than 10 years, in the innovation department for 5+ years and what I love about my job is that I have a lot of connection with the people we work with, the advocates.

Debra with Tamiko, Julio, Deya, Hei-Ti, Oscar, Martha, Faith, Jemma, Kim, Anatoliy, Christine, Rosa, Yolanda, and Kevin

That’s what I love, doing these interviews – I get to know how they really are. For example, someone might share: “I finished physical therapy and now I can do this thing,” and I get to see that progress.

One thing about CFS – they have a very collaborative approach, I don’t work only with the innovation program, I work with all departments. Let’s say another department learns their advocates want to do yoga. They will tell us – and we’ll work with them to make it possible for people to do yoga!

CFS is a family – that’s what distinguishes us, we’re very collaborative. There are always people willing to answer questions, there are so many departments and position that are innovative, and different. It’s very rewarding. We are making a difference, we’re working with the people that we support rather than for them.

On the Term “Advocates”

Anatoliy, Debra, and Oscar

I use the term “advocates” for the people we support, work with because most of the people are part of an advocacy group. They are advocating for themselves, for each other, and for the larger community’s rights. It can be simple things –like, for example, people have been advocating for a different lunch, they want sandwiches, not pizza. So today we’re trying out Subway! But it can also be bigger things – how people with disabilities are viewed, for example.

An Unforgettable Experience

The first thing when I joined the Innovation Department was that Nadine Daley, Director of Innovation and Advocacy at CFS, suggested I go to an Advocacy meeting. I went to Brooklyn for this meeting and I had never met any of the advocates who live in their own apartments, but there were some forty people at the meeting. There was a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Event and Media Officers, essentially all the positions. They called the meeting to order, and talked about what they needed and what needed to happen. And it completely changed what I thought, I just saw that my vision of what services were was so narrow. I always thought we had to do for them, and there I realized that they direct their own lives, and we work with them.

Then in 2016, Kasheena Oatman, an advocate, came out to Long Island where I am and helped establish another CFS advocacy chapter, the Strong Island group, with President, Vice President and Secretary positions – and they haven’t looked back since. It’s just amazing.

If you are interested in working with Debra and other amazing people at CFS, check out our job listings!