Journey to aMAYzing Manager: May's Unique Approach to Hiring and Retaining Direct Care Staff


Recent JaMM graduates include (1-r): Emily Bolinger, Lyndsi Forgeron, Linus Eyong, and Emmanuella Cantave.

Although most of us need a job that provides a steady income and good health benefits, many of us also long for a meaningful career – one that will help us make a difference in the world. 

For many staff at May, taking on the role of a Direct Support Professional, or DSP, is just the beginning of a meaningful work experience that can prepare them to become a Program Coordinator (PC) at a May residence or center.

Those who have moved into a PC position – whether they started out as a DSP at May or came to us from another organization – will tell you that this is one of the most rewarding and demanding jobs in the human services field.

Across the human services industry, it is an ongoing challenge to find and retain these vital frontline caregiver/managers – especially on the Cape and in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Journey to aMAYzing Manager
However, thanks to a new training program called Journey to aMAYzing Manager, or JaMM, May is making progress – and creating new opportunities for our staff – even in the midst of the current tight labor market.

It all began when a few members of May’s Human Resources (HR) staff and its Cape leadership team began a conversation about ways to help new and current employees become effective managers who could successfully fill PC positions on the Cape as they became available.
“We needed to address the challenge of finding qualified program coordinators who really know how to make a house a home for the individuals we support and who can also manage staff effectively,” says Stacy Leger, May’s Talent Acquisition Manager. “It’s a lot to ask.”

Initial brainstorming sessions led to the development of JaMM, a training program designed to help May promote from within. It enables current employees to build on their experience as DSPs and PCs, become even better at their jobs, and prepare to take on more challenging, higher paying management opportunities. It is also designed to attract and retain new employees seeking to build meaningful careers in human services.

“Employees want a company that will invest in them and in their growth and development,” says Jane Shamaly, Senior Director of Talent Management at May Institute. “When we ask job seekers what they are looking for, training and development and work/life balance top their lists. This program addresses those needs.”

The Ultimate DSP
The four-month, multi-phase JaMM training begins with a two-day kickoff to introduce the program to participants. “We let them know what will be expected of them and what will be given to them in terms of support,” explains Stephanie Furzland, an Assistant Residential Director (AD) who was involved in developing the JaMM pilot program that was launched on the Cape. “We talk about how their work will impact the lives of the individuals we serve and spend some time engaging in team-building activities. Participants also receive the section of the JaMM workbook titled “The Ultimate DSP” during the kickoff.” 

Stephanie and fellow ADs Tina MacMillan and Elisa Lynch worked with May Institute’s HR staff to put together the workbook, which has now grown to 265 pages. It’s an invaluable resource for new hires and seasoned DSPs and PCs as well. 

Program participants spend the first part of their training (or review) working on the DSP section that focuses on important aspects of the DSP role including ethics, observation, communication, decision-making, and documentation. 

Early on in the Ultimate DSP training, participants are introduced to the idea of the “Platinum Rule,” which differs from the Golden Rule. Instead of treating others the way you would like to be treated, the Platinum Rule guides us to treat others the way they would like to be treated. “We need to take ourselves out of that equation,” says Stephanie. “It’s not our ideals or principles that matter, it’s their ideals and their ideas and what they want their lives to be that are most important.”

The manual also covers more mundane but important operational information. “This is really the nuts and bolts of household management and how to oversee the personal expenses of each individual, among other things,” explains Tom Stanton, Senior Vice President, May Center for Adult Services, Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts. “I do a budget-type of training. It’s not a technical training, it’s more of ‘this is where they money comes from session.’”

“I think the training I got the most out of was when we did the clinical training and working with our mentors regarding money and the background aspects,” said Emma Cantave, a recent JaMM graduate. “That’s what I’m interested in – the background work. What do you do to put the whole system together?”

Building Supportive Relationships
Mentoring is a key component to the program’s success. During the first week, participants are partnered with mentors who interact with them regularly. They start to build their larger network and support team, which helps them avoid the perils of a “sink or swim” situation in a new, challenging job. JaMM participants know that their mentors and peer supporters will be just a phone call away after they graduate from the program. 

Building supportive relationships and engaging in roleplaying activities to work out potentially problematic situations help new PCs feel less isolated and more confident in their new roles. 

“My biggest issue was that I wasn’t a strong leader,” said Emma. “But after this program, I’m more willing to go out there and share what I need to share and say what I want to say. I’m more confident, which is great for the individuals because they love to see confidence. The better I can do my job, the better it is for them.”

Another vital component of the program is an individualized Leadership Development Plan that participants create during the leadership phase of the training. These plans are very helpful to participants as they work on their capstone projects, a requirement for graduation. Capstone projects begin with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Strengths) analysis that helps participants focus on the group home they manage. What is working? What could be even better? The primary goal of these projects is for them to find ways to better support the individuals in their care. All the capstone projects require the participants to present to their peer group and leadership teams.

“My capstone project focused on nutrition,” said PC Linus Eyong, a JaMM graduate. “I talked about my project with my mentor and also reached out to some of the nurses for input. We developed a nutrition booklet that has guidelines for helping the individuals health-wise.”  

JaMM’s leadership week is all about helping participants find their own voices. It focuses on encouraging participants to take the initiative to reach out to take ownership and develop leadership skills. 

With several trainings completed, the Adult Services team on the Cape and in Southeastern Massachusetts is beginning to feel the impact of the JaMM program. “This type of formal management training is unique in our industry,” says Tom. “We are currently recruiting for newly created ‘Managers in Training’ positions.” 

The organization is working to expand the concept of JaMM to other centers. 

“In any industry, we know that the better the manager, the better the product,” continues Stanton. “And our product is service to people. When there is a well-trained manager in the home or center, things happen in a consistent way. In our industry, the individuals directly benefit from that consistency. It’s a win-win.”

[May's JaMM training was featured in an article published in The Cape & Plymouth Business magazine.]