This story was published by The Caring Force as part of their "Workforce Hero Spotlight" series.
The Caring Force is pleased to announce that the TCF Hero Spotlight honoree is Ekechak Waters, a direct service worker at an Advocates group home for men with autism spectrum disorders. She is deeply committed to the residents, and “lived in” for several weeks, first in a hotel and later at the agency’s isolation center, to care for an individual who was ill with COVID-19. She emigrated from Nigeria in 2017 and is now studying to be a nurse. Her authorization to work in the US expires at the end of June.
Here is what Ekechak had to say when we asked about her career in human services:
How did you decide to pursue a career in human services?
“I am committed to helping people who are vulnerable and need assistance. Years ago, as a young girl in Nigeria, I became pregnant; my church and family considered this shameful and disowned me. It was a very hard time when I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. Eventually I found my way to the father’s family, and they took me in and cared for me.
They were a light in a very dark time. I swore to myself back then that if ever someone were in need, I would do my best to help.
I lived with them through the birth of my son, and for a year and a half following. Eventually I was able to reconnect with my own family and I returned home with my son. I applied for and attended university for a degree in accounting and worked for a time in banking. I married, but the relationship was abusive, and I ended up coming to the US for a visit. I stayed on to work, first in a relief agency, and then as a direct care worker at an Advocates group home, where I am now, while studying to be a nurse.
My experience shaped me, made me want to be a better human and continue to do anything I could do to make other people’s lives easier. Perhaps my story might inspire someone else to keep pushing no matter what they’re going through in life.”
What is your favorite professional memory?
“There are so many, I can’t name just one. I work with a wonderful team and manager, and every day is different. Everyone who lives in the program has autism, and they are all very different. I am happy doing whatever is in their best interest.”
How have you coped with that challenges of the Pandemic?
“One day, I was giving one of the individuals a shower, and noticed he was shaking. I knew something was wrong and took his temperature – he had a high fever and was eventually diagnosed with coronavirus. He needed someone to take care of him, to live with him, and I volunteered to do this. I was frightened, and I prayed – I was taking care of someone who couldn’t take care of himself, and I prayed that God would take care of me so I could continue taking care of him.
I cared for him in a hotel for a while until Advocates set up two isolation centers, and eventually we moved to a center where there were other staff and individuals. There were times when he was unable to eat, so I spoon-fed him, and sang to him. I cared for him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for several weeks, without going home. We were very worried about him. Eventually he recovered and returned to the group home. I followed him there, returning to my role as a direct care worker at the group home. All the while I’ve tried not to let the fear get to me. I have tried to keep a positive outlook, say my prayers, and do everything I can to stay safe.”
Thank you to Eekchak and all the other tireless staff helping to provide services to clients and families throughout the pandemic. You are the Commonwealth’s human services heroes!