Leadership Changes at OSSA: Jennifer Santiago

Posted by on Oct 21, 2019

Jennifer Santiago, our new OSSA President

Our organization is welcoming new leadership for the first time in nearly five years. We’ll be posting a series of articles over the next couple of weeks to introduce our new officers. We invite you to follow along and get to know us a little bit better.

In August, the Oregon Support Services Association elected Jennifer Santiago as our new President. Jennifer may be new to the position, but she is not new to the field, or to the Brokerage community. She has been bringing her thoughtful contributions based on lived experience, shrewd insight, and tireless dedication to her work for years. We are excited to have Jennifer step into this new leadership role, and look forward to many productive years to come.

Tell us a little bit about your professional experience with Brokerages.

I started working in the Brokerage system in 2006 as a PA and then Lead PA at Inclusion. I found my work as a PA to be rewarding and challenging. Challenging in trying to do everything ‘right’ while also ensuring that I was responsive and attentive to my customers’ needs. Rewarding in the sense of watching people grow and do things they never thought possible. In May of 2008 I was hired to build the Brokerage that ultimately became Community Pathways. We had no computers, phones, office equipment, supplies or staff. We were expecting 17-20 new enrollments per month beginning July first. Starting this Brokerage taught me a new kind of challenge and has presented new rewards. It has taught me what is possible, and what hard work and determination can accomplish. It has also taught me what teamwork means. There is no way I did any of this on my own. I’ve had amazing help along the way.

What is one thing you’ve accomplished professionally that you’re proud of?

Building Community Pathways! Every day I look at the staff and customers we support and think of how fortunate I am. I was given the opportunity to create something from scratch, something made from the dreams of others. I am proud to have developed an agency built on supporting Personal Agents who can, in turn, support customers. Working in human services can be challenging as people’s lives don’t end at 5:00pm, and the needs are always greater than a single person can meet. However, as a team we are able to help people reach long and short term goals, we are able to help staff develop professionally, and we are able to do good things on a very regular basis- not everyone gets to say that. I take my responsibility as an Executive Director of an agency, and now President of an association very seriously. I believe strongly that together we can continue to build a strong community. I use my early experiences to remind myself of the challenges that Personal Agents and customers face.

Give us one hope you have for Brokerage services in Oregon.

I hope that the dream that created Brokerages will be realized by all who are in services. What I mean by this is that everyone who experiences a disability in Oregon is recognized as the expert on their own life, and every service is driven by them. That everyone on a person’s team works in community with one another to help the person realize and work toward the life that they want. This happens in pockets all over the place, I’d like to see it be the standard expectation. Language is important, how we phrase things shapes the direction we are going. As a brief example, Community living supports are so much more than Activities of Daily Living. Close your eyes and think of what a community living support looks like…..now, close your eyes and think about an activity of daily living? I bet they are different. For me, I thought of being out on a sidewalk for community living, and brushing my teeth for ADL. Both things are essential and both can fit into community living supports (i.e. if I didn’t brush my teeth, most people wouldn’t want to be around me). Yet, the reverse is not true; I can brush my teeth and never end up on the sidewalk. It’s important that we talk about the things that are fully inclusive so we don’t leave anyone, or anything, out.

Which is your favorite holiday, and why?

Oh boy, you had to go there.  I think I would choose Thanksgiving because of the connection to family and friends.  I also love how quiet the city gets on this, and a few other holidays.