My formal education and background are in finance. However, one of the most important role models in my life was my grandmother, who spent 45 years volunteering for the food bank and Meal on Wheels. I was taught at a very early age to give back to the community. I found that just working in finance was not fulfilling for me, so I decided to make a career change.
In 2006, I started my first job in human services, particularly working for a provider of services for individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD). A completely new world was opened to me. It was a world I knew absolutely nothing about – the struggles families had to go through to get services, the inadequate funding, the overworked and underpaid direct care staff… all of the issues we still face today.
Then in 2008, as I was expecting my son, I remember thinking, “Please let him be healthy and please do not let him have a developmental disability. No way could I handle that!” You have all these expectations for your unborn child: sports, college, marriage and grandkids someday. I look back now and I think I always knew from the time he was born that something was just not right. Immediately, as a newborn he slept eight hours a night. He never cried. He struggled to eat and eventually was diagnosed failure to thrive. By the time he was one year old he had already been hospitalized six times for various issues.
By the age of one, my son was receiving early intervention services. As his mom, I was still in denial at this point. Before he was two, he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder non-otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and autism. My denial had to stop. I went through a grief process. You mourn the child you thought you would have and you accept the child you have. I cried myself to sleep every night. Then in the morning, I would place a smile on my face and take care of my son. He needed me. Eventually, you accept. Your love of your child supersedes all else. That fierce love propels you forward. It creates the fight. A life-long fight for the very best life.
Fast forward, and my son is turning 11 in a few weeks. He is non-verbal, has developed epilepsy in the last few years, and we continue to work on basic self-care. Some days are harder than others, but I am doing the best I can. Caring for my son has allowed me a unique perspective as the Chief Financial Officer of Mainstay. Every decision I make every day, I ask myself: “What would I want for my son? What is best for the individuals we support? What is best for our staff? What is best for Mainstay?” While I take my fiscal responsibility very seriously, it is not always about the numbers. It is more important to me that we provide the best possible care so that the individuals we support can live their best lives.
You have my commitment to always put our individuals first. It is what I would want and expect as a family, now, very much a part of the IDD Community.
Jodie Esper, CFO, Mainstay Life Services