Faith guides Chetachi Dunkley’s approach to advocacy
As we pause to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, his message of inclusion, equality, and love for all reminds me of many of the ideas that led to the creation of Casmir Care Services, which aims to improve the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities through care, comfort, and compassion.
Long before Chetachi Dunkley founded this agency in 2008, she worked as a dialysis technician and saw social workers dealing with clients with kidney disease. She would ask questions. And she had a lot of empathy for those who were receiving dialysis treatment. Along the way, she learned that some of the people who were getting dialysis did not have anyone at home to take care of them.
When she went back to school, she studied social work. After graduation, she worked as a support coordinator, essentially doing the work of a social worker. In that position, she dealt with individuals with disabilities. “And I saw myself in all of them,” she said. “I saw my children in all of them.”
What did they all have in common? Just like the rest of us, she explained, they are all God’s creation. Regardless of their conditions, they are all individually blessed, she said. “Each of my individuals, they’re unique,” she said. “They’re special, and I don’t see any reason why people will look down on them. How can you look down on anyone with a disability?”
Growing up in Nigeria, she noticed that people called those with any kind of disability names. But even back then, Chetachi did not understand why they were treated differently. And each time she met anyone with a disability out in public, she would always give them something, usually food or water. Later as a support coordinator, she felt a similar call to give to the world.
Anyone with any kind of disability is special, said Chetachi. She sees autistic individuals as special, for instance. “So it was in my heart to serve them, because I believed that they needed something better,” she said. “They needed someone to advocate for them.”
As a support coordinator, her advocacy involved making sure they got the appropriate waivers and the appropriate services from the state. She ensured that any caregiving agency was actually providing the services detailed in its plans. She went out of her way to make sure that her individuals were taken good care of, because all of them were so special to her, she said.
Founding Casmir on love and empathy
The way she saw it, God created all of them. All of us are equal. And none of us should lack love, she said. And none of us should lack services. None should be treated as if we’re different. As human beings, all are children of God, said Chetachi, and need to be taken care of.
In 2008, Chetachi founded Casmir Care Services, because she thought that by starting her own organization, she could do more for individuals with disabilities. She knew she could make a bigger difference for the people she serves.
She still remembers one of her early individuals, a woman who had seizures that affected her speech. She was beautiful and talented. And she wanted to make beads and braid hair. “And I knew that I could help her achieve all those,” said Chetachi.
Several other individuals who came along, and for whom there were doubts about the capacity of the young agency to handle, have all seen great overall improvements and have become active members of the community. Some have jobs as well as do volunteering activities.
It helps, said Chetachi, that when you look at individuals and see yourself in them, you can empathize with them. “Then you will be able to take care of them,” she said.
Another part of the solution, she noted, is that in order to take care of somebody, you have to meet that person exactly where they are. It takes some time to learn about the individuals, their behaviors, their likes and dislikes, etc. The knowledge helps make a difference for staff working with individuals.
Seeing them as family
What sets Casmir Care Services apart is its emphasis on treating every individual they serve as a family member. “We treat them like our brothers, our sisters, our mother, our father, and we look at them as family,” Chetachi said. “That’s what Casmir Care Services is all about. It’s about love and caring. It’s about having empathy. It’s about understanding. And it’s about going above the call of duty to take care of the individuals.”
Since it started out, Casmir Care Services has not shied away from accepting the most challenging and difficult individuals. Some of the toughest cases, with profound behaviors are accepted at the agency. We accept these cases, because we know that we can do better for them, said Chetachi. And we know that with love and caring, these individuals will become the best.
Since the agency was founded in 2008, one thing has stayed constant, said Chetachi. We’re still the same one big family. And the same philosophy applies: You have to love yourself to treat others with love. “If you see yourself in someone, then you will be able to take good care of that person,” she said.