Donna Hammock
Donna Hammock
Director of Parent Voices

Donna Hammock, director of Parent Voices, a program that helps parents of children being served by Damar navigate the care experience, meet other parents and learn through educational workshops. Hammock understands both the reward and struggle of having a child with multiple diagnoses, including behavioral disabilities. Her 15-year-old grandson, for whom she is legal guardian, is being supported on Damar’s residential campus.

Damar team rises to the COVID-19 challenge

3 minute read

As we’ve all been going through the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions, I’ve seen the people at Damar rise to the challenge and do whatever it takes to take care of the kiddos in residential care. It’s just fascinating to me that they can adjust to everything, take on extra jobs and work extra hours when they’ve got their hands full with approximately 170 kids on campus. It’s pretty awesome.

Of course, I’m not surprised. My grandson, 17-year-old Kevin, has been at Damar for four years, and I’m also the director of Parent Voices, so I see Damar from a couple of perspectives. And from both of those perspectives, I see an organization that rises to every challenge.

As Kevin’s guardian, I can say that, in his time at Damar, Damar has done a miracle on him. Born with Down syndrome, he’s come so far in four years. And, while it’s been difficult to only be able to communicate with him through FaceTime once a week and able to talk on the phone every day during the pandemic, I know that he’s safer and better off spending the “lock-down” time at Damar than he would be at home.

Kevin and Donna

At the same time, as Parent Voices director – a role that makes me the connection between parents and Damar – I’ve not heard any complaints or negative comments about the way Damar is handling the COVID-19 restrictions. Of course, no parents or guardians like the fact that they can’t visit their children, but they seem to understand that it’s for everyone’s best interests.

It helps that Damar has made it as tolerable as possible by doing so many things right.

For one thing, Damar – and especially Dr. Jim Dalton, CEO – has communicated a lot about what’s going on. I get regular emails from Dr. Dalton, with detailed information about how things are going and what plans they’re putting in place. He explains everything. He’s very transparent. Parents and guardians can connect with their kiddos by phone or FaceTime and, if they have questions, they know they can contact anyone at Damar and get an answer.

As someone who has had to stop by campus a couple of times to get quick computer app downloads, I have seen the amount of detail that goes into keeping everybody safe. Everyone I saw was wearing a mask, and, since I didn’t need to go into a building to get my downloads, someone came to my car to help me. If I had been going into the buildings, I would have had my temperature checked first. And I know that, if anyone on staff gets sick, they are sent home and put in isolation until they’re all clear. Those kinds of precautions help to explain why they’ve had so few COVID infections among staffers, and not a single infection among the kids living on campus.

I also know that the staff members have, as usual, been willing to do whatever it takes to keep things on track. When the pandemic forced the closure of Damar’s ABA clinics, workers from those sites trained to take on other jobs on campus. When daycares throughout the area closed, and Damar workers suddenly found themselves without care for their kids, Damar created a daycare for its workers, staffing it with employees from the ABA clinics and from Damar Charter Academy.

Again and again, employees stepped up with big ideas and simply found a way to make sure every child on campus was cared for and every staff member had what they needed to get their jobs done. In the kitchen, at the daycare, in the school, on the residential units, in the administration building and everywhere else, Damar people simply step up to get things done.

It’s been that way the whole time Kevin has been at Damar, and now he’s about ready to leave. He’ll be 18 in July, and ready for a group home. I’m pretty excited. It’s unbelievable, really. I can’t believe it took that long, but it was well worth it for him. He was having a rough time before he went to Damar … and so was I.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a woman who is having a rough time now. She’s trying to get her son placed at Damar. He attends school, but his behaviors have gotten out of control, and she was absolutely distraught – in tears – about the process required to get the school and state approvals required to get him into Damar.

I felt so bad for her, but I also felt good for her son. I believe that soon she’ll know what I know: that the people at Damar will do whatever it takes to help her son rise above his challenges. They’ll find a way, no matter what it takes. It’s just what they do.