Jenn Hobbs supports those who support adults with disabilities

Jenn Hobbs supports those who support adults with disabilities
Hampstead local Jenn Hobbs serves as the Associate Director of Development with Penn-Mar Human Services. (Courtesy Photo)

When Jenn Hobbs goes to work, she thinks about the funding gaps that might separate a disabled individual from their caretaker.

“In a world that’s increasingly inclusive and diverse, people with disabilities are still so often overlooked, and I love working to change that,” she said.


Hobbs, who was born and raised in Carroll, serves as the associate director of development at Penn-Mar Human Services, which offers residential, educational and vocational services to people with an intellectual or developmental disability.

The Times caught up with the Hampstead resident to talk about her work.

Q: How long have you been working [at Penn-Marr]? What drew you to your (fairly) new position?

A: I just started at Penn-Mar in October. I’d been with another nonprofit for years and wasn’t looking to make a career change. But the more I learned about Penn-Mar, the more I realized that they’re industry leaders, whose efforts are having huge impacts in the field, especially for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). DSPs are trained caretakers who not only manage someone’s physical needs, but learn to communicate with them, and help them live as independently as possible. Barring their families, DSPs are the most important person in the life of someone with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD).

I’ve spent years in this field hearing parents who have a child with an IDD ask that heartbreaking question: “What’s going to happen when I’m gone?” When I learned about the groundbreaking things Penn-Mar is doing to ensure that we have the best DSPs, who can take the best care of your children, I knew I wanted to be a part of those efforts.

Q: Do you have a “typical workday,” or is every day different?

A: Every day is different! That’s one of my favorite parts of my job. My focus is working with our families and donors who support The Penn-Mar Foundation, which allows us to “close the gap” between what traditional government funding covers, and the often very customized services and care our individuals need. Much of my time is spent meeting with our supporters, keeping them up-to-date on the Foundation’s efforts, and working on any communications (like our social media) which help share the mission of Penn-Mar Human Services with the public.

Q: What’s one project you have worked on recently that you’ve been passionate about?

A: The Michael James Pitts Endowment for the Advancement of Direct Support Professionals launched about this time last year, thanks to a transformational gift from the Pitts family, who were Carroll residents for years. I’m working to grow the endowment to support our DSPs, whose government-funded positions have incomes at 25-50 percent below a living wage. This critical workforce is directly responsible for other human lives, but they make very little money, are infrequently recognized for the complexity of their roles, and wind up burning out or leaving the profession for more sustainable career paths.

It’s distressing for an individual with a disability to repeatedly lose quality caretakers; costly for taxpayers and providers like Penn-Mar to constantly rehire and retrain an entire workforce; and tragic that our selflessly-devoted DSPs often work multiple jobs just to put food on their tables. The endowment’s intent, in partnership with the National Alliance for DSPs, is to create a career path that comes with better wages, professional development, and recognition. I’m proud that we’ve already launched our second Career Ladders class, and that out of only 250 certified DSPs in the entire country, Penn-Mar has 16 in our first class and 27 in our second.

Q: How did you find your career of working for organizations that work with adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities? Was this a field you knew you wanted to go into from early on?

A: People often ask if I have a loved one with an IDD, and if that’s how I ended up in the field. I actually stumbled into it, and I tell everyone it’s the happiest accident of my life. After college, I thought I wanted to go to law school, but knew it would be wise to get some job experience first. I answered an ad for a human services organization, and fell in love with my job and the people we served. I quickly realized that nonprofit work was more than a career; it was a passion.

Q: What are some of your favorite things to do around the county when you’re not working?

A: I’m a sucker for the Carroll County Humane Society’s kitten yoga classes. I also love the adult dance classes at Contempic School of Ballet, and I drink way more coffee at Snickerdoodles Bakery than I should admit!