Tomeka Bullock has worked at ILA for 27 years. She joined the Agency as a direct support professional (DSP) at Butler Avenue, where she worked for 14 years before making the move to Bush Avenue. At the residence, Tomeka guides Individuals on their daily grooming, making sure they brush their teeth and dress appropriately for the elements. Before they head to their day program, she makes sure their clothes are neat and clean. Tomeka has witnessed Individuals blossom as they strengthen their life skills around the residence, such as helping with laundry, folding, and other household tasks. Tomeka’s warm, supportive demeanor has played a big part in their growth.
“My first goal is to treat Individuals as human beings,” Tomeka says. “We start our day with a hug as soon as I walk through the door.” Some people may go to work and sit at a desk, she points out, but “when you get a big welcome like that, there’s nothing like it.”
The deep trust and rapport she has built with the five extraordinary Individuals who live at Bush Avenue were built from day one. “I’m one of the faces they’ve seen since they first moved into the residence,” Tomeka points out. She has fond memories of helping Individuals transition from living at home with their families. “I love that I can help them on their journey. In truth, we are all the same. We just have different routes to take to accomplish our goals in life,” Tomeka says. For Tomeka, her job is much more than receiving a paycheck. It’s about the relationships that are built, which is why she treats Individuals like family. She explains, “I try to think of them like my own family. Life is about taking baby steps. People may get older, but you can still teach them new things.”
The strong relationships she has formed are most apparent when she accompanies Individuals to their clinical appointments. “I tell them it’ll be okay as long as we go through it together,” Tomeka says. She continues to see outstanding progress with one Individual who originally did not like leaving the residence. With Tomeka’s ongoing encouragement, he now goes out into the community regularly, getting haircuts and manicures with a renewed confidence. “The key to succeeding as a DSP is understanding and respecting your Individuals,” Tomeka points out.
You also need to advocate for Individuals, something she has proudly achieved in her many years at ILA. “I’ve had the opportunity to help Individuals become more verbal – to communicate their likes and dislikes. They’re able to make choices for themselves and explore their self-identity,” Tomeka explains.
Even in the most challenging times, particularly during the pandemic and various hurricanes, Individuals got through them under the loving supervision of Tomeka and her ILA colleagues. “When day habs closed, Individuals were home for nearly a year. We all had cabin fever, but we made the best of it,” she recalls. Tabletop games kept Individuals engaged while improving their coordination and cognitive skills. They also received daily lessons in hygiene, sanitization, and mask-wearing. “Keeping Individuals safe and healthy has always been our top priority,” Tomeka says.
When she’s not caring for Individuals, Tomeka is home with her own family. She’s the mother of fraternal twin daughters, age 32, and three other children – ages 30, 24, and 14. She also enjoys spending time with her six siblings. Back at Bush Avenue, Tomeka cherishes the family-like environment that exists, as she and her colleagues help Individuals to thrive. She’s also had the chance to flex her leadership skills, serving as an Assistant Manager from 2017-2019.
Calpurnia Thompson, Bush Avenue Residence Supervisor, is grateful for Tomeka’s dedication and wonderful work ethic. “Tomeka has assisted in every capacity at the residence. She is loyal to both staff and Individuals and never hesitates to assist management in various tasks,” Calpurnia says. It’s a group effort, Tomeka points out. “The teamwork at Bush Avenue is really great,” she says. “I can’t ask for anything better.”
Thank you, Tomeka, for all that you do at ILA!