DDI’s orientation brings together new team members to share their stories about what inspired or attracted them to work at DDI. Gina’s story included not only her interest in giving back as a former student but also the inspiration and encouragement she received from her mom, Lori.
At the age of 2, Gina’s parents were worried because she was not making sounds, words, or speaking at all. “As a parent, you know when something isn’t right. We were concerned about her expressive language and had her evaluated. She began receiving services at home but shortly after that, we were encouraged to find a school so she could be around other children.” Lori expressed the fears she had about placing her two-year-old daughter in a school when she couldn’t come home and share anything about her day. “We looked at a few schools. When we walked into DDI's Early Childhood Learning Center at Ronkonkoma, we knew this was the school for Gina. People were friendly, it was bright and immaculate, and the children were learning and happy.”
A few weeks after Gina began at DDI, her teacher gave Lori a poem that she still carries today, “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. Lori recalls the hours she would spend watching through the window and seeing the transformation in her daughter. “First, sounds started, then pointing, then talking, and soon she was socializing and making friends.” Lori credits so much of Gina’s early success to her teacher, Jen Stock, who continues her career at DDI today as an Education Specialist.
As Gina was preparing to graduate from preschool, Lori recalls the day the director asked to speak to her. I can remember what Meryl (Halfon) was wearing and how nervous I was. Meryl was always so supportive and a great advocate for our family. I can recall her looking at me and saying, “Gina is going to kindergarten, and she will be declassified.” Lori described that moment so vividly and filled with emotion, and she knew her connection to DDI wouldn’t end.
While Gina was attending DDI, Lori volunteered often and started a lending library for the children. Two weeks before Gina’s graduation, she was approached to consider applying for a teaching assistant position at DDI. “As an RN, I made a choice to stay home and raise my children. Now my baby was going to kindergarten, and I thought maybe I’ll try it for two weeks.”
When asked what keeps you at DDI, Lori stated, “Watching children learn and grow and helping their families through the process makes this the best job ever. I know I am making a difference in the lives of the children and their families. I have walked in their shoes.”
Gina is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in social work at Adelphi University and is a Phi Mu sorority sister. Lori beamed, “she has been on the dean’s list every semester in college.” Gina can still recall those early years. “My earliest memory of DDI is the summer carnival. I still have the books that my mom made to help me adjust to preschool.” Gina has been working for over a month now in the Early Childhood Services program and describes her experience as making a difference, phenomenal training, and feeling good each day about helping children. “I came to DDI because my mom has worked here for almost 15 years and still looks forward to going to work every day. DDI will always have a special place in my heart.”