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Zirpoli: In memory of Virginia and Jenny

Over the last two weeks, our agency, Target Community & Educational Services, lost two friends. Virginia and Jenny were clients who lived in two of our Target homes. Both were medically fragile and succumbed to a combination of medical challenges during recent hospitalizations.

Needless to say, it has been an emotional time for our Target community. Simply put, it just doesn’t seem the same without them.

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Virginia lived with dementia and she spent much of her time during the past year confused. Chipotle was her favorite place to eat and she liked to call me Dr. Chipotle instead of Dr. Zirpoli. No, this wasn’t part of her confusion; this was part of her personality. Virginia had a great sense of humor and she knew how to make people laugh.

Virginia worked in the mail room of the Montgomery County Public Schools central office for a couple of decades. Dementia, however, forced her to retire sooner than she wanted. She loved going to work and would get up at 4 a.m. so that she would be sure to catch her ride in the morning.

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At what point did airports become islands of totalitarianism where everyone who enters must give up their rights and personal dignity?

I met Virginia almost 23 years ago when I started working at McDaniel College and Target Community & Educational Services. In the good old days, when I walked into her Target home she would ask, “What are you doing here?” After dementia set in, however, she would stop me in the office hallway and say, “Dr. Zirpoli, we need to talk.”

I will miss our “talks.”

Jenny had been with Target for less time, moving into one of our homes a few years ago after spending several years in a different Target service that provided her with drop-in support. This, however, was not enough support to keep her safe and treat her medical needs.

Her mom once told me that when Jenny moved into one of Target’s homes, we saved both Jenny’s life and hers. Unless you have a child with significant disabilities it is difficult to understand how all-consuming your role of parenting is, especially when that role continues into your child’s adulthood.

I have been in this field for almost 44 years and have worked with both children and adults with developmental disabilities. It has been a rewarding career. I’m not going to lie, however, taking care of another person is frequently challenging and physically difficult.

America is lagging behind other developed nations in caring for our infants and children.

Anyone caring for elderly parents understands this. Our Target employees work hard to ensure that our clients are receiving the care they need and the quality of life they deserve. With all of its challenges, I can’t imagine a more rewarding field and would encourage our high school and college students to consider the opportunities.

One of my program directors recently organized a trip to take 10 of our clients to Walt Disney World in Florida. When she first proposed the trip, I thought she was crazy. But she wasn’t crazy; she was determined and organized. The trip was a big success. She made 10 of our friends very happy and I have the pictures to prove it. A few years ago she and others took a larger group on a cruise. Knowing how to have fun is part of every Target job description.

Another one of my program managers recently organized a trip to Ocean City. During a recent leadership meeting, she was beaming with joy while telling the rest of us how much fun they had. She did not say a word about the work it took to pull this off given all the physical and medical issues that had to be considered.

I guess you figured out by now that I work with amazing people, both staff and clients. There are not enough words to describe how blessed I am to work with such wonderful people. Virginia and Jenny reminded us of how important it was to have fellow workers who you actually enjoyed spending so much of your life with. They reminded us of how important it is to build a positive work culture and community so that we can survive and thrive, even when tragedy strikes. They reminded us that we are family and that we need to be kind and forgiving.

Virginia and Jenny’s lives were cut short. But their influence on our lives continues. While we cared for them, they taught us, made us laugh and, in the end, made us cry. The act of caring for someone else is a two-way street; the student frequently becomes the teacher.

Thank you, Virginia and Jenny, for being part of our lives, for making Target a better place while you were here, and for the joy you brought into our lives. We will honor you both by rededicating our commitment to the friends you left behind.

We miss you both.

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