For more than a year now, Samantha Cousins has been one of the staff at One Sky Community Services working quietly behind the scenes to support the agency’s work with people with disabilities. That the 26-year-old has what is considered a disability doesn’t figure in the responsibilities she has as Medical Records Assistant.
With the aid of Leigh Burley as her Direct Support Provider, Cousins tackles one of those largely thankless administrative jobs that only gets noticed when it’s not done correctly. Working with records in a computer application that links One Sky’s information to the state Bureau of Developmental Services, Cousins must have an eye for detail and a keen awareness of the confidentiality required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA.)
But there is more to being a good worker than simply completing assigned tasks and the familiar sight of Cousins and Burley in the office is a sunny one for their colleagues. With her quick smile and a cheerful word, “Sam” is a bright presence and a supportive co-worker. She is the first to say she loves her job and the people she works with. For her part, Burley calls Cousins “a joy to work with.”
As her mother, Maria Cousins, says, “Sam has a way of making people feel like a rock star.”
It’s an attitude Cousins brings to the rest of her life, outside of work. In fact, she has another job, working part-time at Profile Metal Forming in Newmarket. She also volunteers at the Echo Thrift Store in Durham, joins in many of the activities like theater and dinner club with the Friends in Action organization, hits the gym at least three times a week, and plays guitar in her spare time. Cousins has always liked to stay busy.
Diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, Cousins had the aid of a paraprofessional at Exeter High School where she walked with her class at graduation in 2012. She stayed on for another year after the ceremony when she completed the Early Childhood Education program she was enrolled in at the Seacoast School of Technology. In that program, she enjoyed her volunteer work at the Main Street School in Exeter and when she graduated, she was hired there as a lunchroom monitor. She worked at Main Street for two years and spent her off-time one summer working at Profile Metal Forming. It was a perfect match as she’s been there ever since, starting with a job coach by her side but now working with only the support of her supervisor and co-workers – what’s termed “natural supports” in the world of disability job supports.
“I knew I wanted her to be the best she could be,” says Maria, “and not use her disability as a reason not to do things. It was always our expectation that she would be part of her community, and that she would do whatever she could do.”
The goal for support services for people with disabilities in the state is to deliver those services in the community. And in an ideal future, Maria sees her daughter living in the community in a supportive home setting. “I think the model New Hampshire uses to get people into the community is a great model,” she says. “Unfortunately, there’s not always enough money in budgets for them to be able to have meaningful experiences. And there are not always enough meaningful experiences out there.”
For now, Cousins lives at home with her parents, Maria and Dean. Or as Cousins puts it, “my parents live with me in Stratham.”
Her view is a reminder about perspective and shifting the view to reflect a bigger, wider world. Something disability rights advocate, Prof. Paul Longmore, wrote about in a 1995 article referring to disability advocates who “prize not self-sufficiency but self-determination, not independence but interdependence, not functional separateness but personal connection, not physical autonomy but human community.”
For Cousins, that personal connection to community runs deep in her family, between her parents and her older sister, Alex, and a 13-year old Labradoodle named Sadie who’s been a close companion since 2005. Cousins often spends weekends with Alex and stays in the room with the sign on the door reserved as “Sam’s Room.” When Alex gets married this spring, Sam will walk down the aisle as her maid of honor. Just another role for someone who lives and works in the community.