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Tom Zirpoli: Surrounded by wonderful people, I have much to be thankful for | COMMENTARY

My life is good and I am thankful. Tomorrow I will sit down with my wife and children and their spouses (and others) and together we will be grateful for the food we eat and the company we keep.

I have a great life partner of more than 40 years and two amazing children who contribute to their communities in significant ways. In addition, my children added to our lives with their own partners who are just as special. We are thankful.

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My son is an attorney at a law firm in Washington, DC. He has great values and does his share of pro-bono work to help others. His wife is an assistant professor of physics. Her care and concern for her students are inspirational and remind me of why I first became an educator.

My daughter graduates in May from medical school and will start a residency in internal medicine in July. She also has great values and is always advocating for others less fortunate. She volunteers at a medical clinic in Baltimore, even while she is busy with fourth-year rotations. She will be an amazing doctor. She is already an amazing person. Her husband volunteers for a program called Soccer Without Borders in Baltimore.

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Yes, our lives have been enriched by our children and their spouses. Their extended families have become our family.

My wife has worked as a special-education teacher for most of her career and now teaches other educators on reading instruction for students. She has saved many students from life as a nonreader. She is an amazing teacher.

On a daily basis, I am surrounded by these smart and good people in my life. And in a few weeks, my daughter and son-in-law will give us our first grandchild (in between hospital rotations). Yes, we are thankful.

Our personal lives are certainly not perfect, of course. Like everyone else, we have our own family struggles. Our moms are in their 90s, need daily assistance, and caring for them long-distance (Virginia) is logistically, physically, and emotionally challenging. But even these challenges have their life lessons and remind us of the simple things we cherish in life, like the opportunity to be in our own home with our children for this holiday.

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For the past 25 years, I have held the Laurence J. Adams Endowed Chair in Special Education at McDaniel College, which allowed me to serve as the president and CEO of Target Community & Educational Services, a nonprofit providing residential, vocational, and personal support for children and adults with developmental disabilities. The job has been challenging, but it has been a wonderful journey.

I will end this journey in June when I retire after 26 years. I will miss the wonderful people I have come to know as an important part of my life. Indeed, I work with about 230 dedicated employees — they are my heroes — working as part of our Target Community & Educational team. They provide direct care to more than 230 children and adults with disabilities throughout the year. In dealing with COVID-19 over the past 18 months, they kept most of our services operational. The few programs we did suspend for a couple of months were quickly reopened as we reorganized to keep everyone as safe as possible. I am grateful for the lessons my colleagues have taught me on how to be a good boss and, importantly, a better person. I hope that over the years I have returned the favor by building a positive work culture and environment.

The work and positive attitude of our employees, and all direct care employees, sustains me and I am thankful for the important work they do. Unfortunately, finding people for employment across the fields of direct care is challenging everywhere. Hospitals and nursing homes are finding it difficult to find and keep nurses and other health care workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has made working in the health care industry challenging. Employee burnout, short staffing issues, and abusive patients and family members are just some of the issues these folks face daily.

I am grateful for all the medical providers who go to work every day with a smile on their faces and with a positive attitude about caring for those in need. They are also heroes and I hope the rude and ungrateful folks don’t bring them down or deter their important careers in health care. We need them.

My life has been filled with wonderful mentors, teachers, and friends who have guided me and protected me. They say that life is about relationships. So true. Building those relationships takes time, of course. And lots of forgiveness! Before you get angry with someone at the dinner table tomorrow, think ahead and ask yourself if this will be important in 20 years. Probably not. Let it go, smile, and be thankful for the meal in front of you and the people around you.

Enjoy your day tomorrow and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster and his column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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