A $1 million donation from a Carroll County family will help an area nonprofit serving the disabled offer better training to support personnel, assisting it with a staffing crisis that has exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Penn-Mar Human Services announced the gift Thursday from the newly created Zgorski Family Endowment for Staff Training and Aid Fund.
The nonprofit, which provides services to about 2,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities per year at three locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania, will use the donation primarily to fund training programs for direct support professionals.
“Direct support professionals are the people who work on our front lines,” said Kathy Rogers, chief advancement officer at Penn-Mar. “They are the people who work directly with someone with a disability to facilitate them living their best life.”
These professionals help run several Penn-Mar operations, including a community living program, where disabled people live together in small homes with support staff. They help operate 56 residential homes, each housing one to four residents.
Penn Mar has residential services in Carroll and Baltimore counties in Maryland in addition to York County in Pennsylvania.
The support staff also serve as job coaches and volunteer coordinators for participants looking to work in the community.
The donation will pay for more extensive training of existing support staff, which can lead to higher wages as employees achieve higher levels of certification.
Penn-Mar recently raised the starting hourly minimum wage for these employees from $13 to $15.50 through internal changes. Endowment funds were not used for this increase.
But the endowment and other donations do pay for most new training, according to Rogers.
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“We’re funded, primarily through traditional sources like Medicaid, which limits our ability to pay the wages we want to pay our [support staff] or provide special learning opportunities,” Rogers said. “We rely on the generosity of donors to help us make that a reality.”
Service providers like Penn-Mar have struggled to build up their workforce in recent months. During the beginning of the pandemic, some staff were laid off as people with disabilities stopped attending day programs and receiving other in person services.
Penn-Mar is looking to hire, offering more competitive wages to retain staff.
The donation comes from Michael and Dawn Zgorski, who live in Hampstead. Michael’s late sister had developmental disabilities, fueling his commitment to helping service providers like Penn-Mar.
“The work that their [direct support professionals] do is totally selfless and filled with compassion,” Michael said in a news release. “My wish is that with our help, Penn-Mar can retain and continue to nurture these valuable healthcare professionals.”
The new endowment also will fund community scholarships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who can’t afford some recreational outings at day programs.
“Sometimes we go to the movies or we want to go to Ocean City and there are some folks that we support, for different reasons, that would not necessarily have the financial ability to participate in community activities ... and we never want poverty be a barrier to full inclusion,” Rogers said.
A previous version of this story misstated the specific use of the endowment. It should have said the funds will be used to provide training and education for existing direct support professionals.