We would like to share with you what a Program Counselor’s job typically entails. It is important that you know about both the challenges and the rewards before applying for a job with Meridian Services. As staff turnover can be hard on the people needing support, we ask that all applicants read this section before filling out an application.
If you have never spent time with a person who has a disability, it might feel uncomfortable at first. If you take the time, however, you’ll soon discover that you have more in common with people who need support than you might think. Many people find direct support work to be extremely satisfying and rewarding.
What do Program Counselors do?
Meridian Services provides a variety of supports to people with disabilities at the Meridian site or out in the community. Most of these individuals need assistance with a variety of day-to-day events such as: reading, writing, and money handling skills; developing social skills through activities such as social interaction; problem solving; and coping with stress. We offer training and support in appropriate grooming, hygiene, and dressing for work and community settings.
As a Program Counselor, you will spend most of your shift in direct contact with the people who need assistance. Some persons with disabilities require only minor assistance, for example, answering questions while they are at their job. Others need significant daily assistance with activities such as eating, toileting, or other personal cares. Your specific duties will vary, depending on the people you support and the hours you work.
In order to become a Meridian Services employee, you must be at least 18 years of age and you will also need a valid driver’s license, car insurance and an acceptable driving record. You will also complete a background check through the Minnesota Department of Human Services, upon date of hire.
Being reliable is very important as many people are depending on you every day. Sometimes, you will be the only one with them, so it is extremely important that you are not late. A desire to help people live better lives and to share your own unique talents is also important.
What Program Counselors Do at Work
As a Program Counselor, you will support people at the Meridian Services sites or out in the community. For some individuals, you may be helping with personal cares such as eating. You may be assisting people to take their medication or to exercise. For other individuals, you may be taking them out on an activity. The range of job duties in which you may be involved differs according to the individuals with whom you work.
While there are plenty of responsibilities in this kind of work, perks of the job include a sense of accomplishment, having fun, getting to know unique people, and participating in new experiences.
If you have not spent much time around people with disabilities, it can be hard to know if this job is for you. Many people find the work of providing direct support to people with mental and physical disabilities is a rewarding and enjoyable career.
Other Duties Include Documentation, Communication and Following Regulations
While the primary role of a direct support professional is to provide daily support, other important parts of the job include:
- Understanding and following the many county, state and federal rules and regulations that govern this type of service.
- Attending regular training and staff meetings, which may be at times different than your regular shift schedule.
- Writing and reading a variety of documents such as daily logs or medical logs.
- Communicating with family members, case managers and other professionals.
- Using alternative communication systems designed for the people you support — for example communication booklets, electronic talkers, or basic sign language.
- Driving the people you support, either in a company-owned vehicle or your own vehicle, to places they want to go.
Scheduling, Pay and Benefits
Meridian Services work shifts include mornings, evenings and weekends. Many of the people served by Meridian Services cannot be left alone; therefore, it is very important that you show up for scheduled shifts on time.
All Meridian Services employees start at the starting wage, which is dependent upon the program that you are working at. Employees are given COLA increases (cost of living annual increases) as passed by the Minnesota Legislature.
Full Benefits are offered to Full Time employees (those working 35 hours or more per week). AFLAC benefits are offered to all employees. In addition, employees are paid for attending training. Please see our benefits section for a listing of all of our benefits.
Training, Orientation and Support
As there is a lot to learn in this field, new employees may feel overwhelmed or unsure about what they are doing for the first several weeks on the job. To help you with this transition, Meridian Services provides you with a 60 day training and orientation period to give you time to learn the skills you need on the job. You are required to attend group training sessions at the corporate office in Golden Valley (such as CPR, First Aid, Medication Administration, Boundaries, Vehicle Safety, and Alternative Intervention Techniques) and have individual training with your co-workers and your supervisor. Our open door policy always allows for lots of questions from new and old staff alike!
The staff at Meridian Services residential sites work together in teams. You will be given the opportunity to talk about your work and to network with co-workers and with your supervisor at scheduled staff meetings. For our in home Program Counselors, the supervisor is always just a phone call away.
After the first 60 days, it will be your responsibility to sign up for and attend additional required training sessions and to assist your supervisor in identifying your training and development needs.
Challenging Behaviors & Behavior Support Plans
Some of the people who receive supports from Meridian Services have challenging behaviors. This might mean that, depending on the situation, a person who you are supporting could yell at you, call you names, pinch you, spit on you, throw something at you or hit you. This may sound scary at first, but with training, many new staff have learned how to respond to people in a way that helps them calm down and move on. You would not be sent to work with people who have challenging behaviors without knowledge or specific training on how to prevent these situations and how to handle them when they occur.
You may find you are good at counseling and supporting people with these needs and will enjoy watching their progress and sharing in their success. Many people with these types of behaviors have been able to change with the help of competent and caring staff.
As a Program Counselor, you will receive training on their plans. You will need to keep accurate records and share information clearly with others. You will be the most important person in helping the person with challenging behaviors be successful.
If you don’t think you could provide support to people with challenging behaviors, you might still be able to work at Meridian Services. You could be assigned to work with people who have other support needs.
Significant Health and Personal Care Needs, Medication Administration
Meridian Services supports many people who have physical disabilities and who need assistance such as transferring from a wheelchair onto a toilet. Some individuals may also need assistance with all of their self-care needs, including help in changing adult disposable briefs. Providing personal care tasks and medical treatments can be awkward at first, but remembering to extend the same courtesies toward people with disabilities that you would expect (such as a respectful manner, attending to privacy, being calm and gentle), will go a long way in keeping both you and the people you support comfortable during personal care.
Program Counselors will be required to take a course in medication administration, first aid, and CPR. Once trained, you will give medications to people to whom they are prescribed. Staff may also provide certain prescribed medical treatments, such as tube feeding, glucose testing, or administering suppositories with training from a registered nurse. Although our nurse is available to train you, provide consultation, and to ensure your competence, she is not usually on duty while you work. You will be expected to document all of the medications you administer and all of the treatments you provide each and every time you complete these tasks. You will also be responsible for monitoring the general health and safety of all the people who you support.
Who Would Make Good Program Counselor?
How do you know you will be good at direct support work? Here are some of the traits of a good direct support professional:
- Caring and compassionate
- Honest and loyal
- Accepting of others as they are
- Flexible and dependable
- Shows initiative and creativity
- Hard working and a team player
- Interested in learning
- Good at communicating with others
For more perspective on what being a Program Counselor is like read this post from The Mighty.
If you feel you would be good at this kind of work, Meridian Services might be the place for you. There are many opportunities for paid training and for growth and promotion within the agency. For many people who work at Meridian, the best thing about working here is the people, both their co-workers and the people they support. Thank You!