Nurses Week: Meet Jennifer Stephens

Jennifer Stephens. (Photo courtesy Lori Dill.)

Jennifer Stephens cried the first time she came to St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, for a clinical placement while she was studying to become a licensed practical nurse. She thought it would be too heartbreaking to be around children and young adults with severe disabilities. “I saw everything that was ‘wrong’ with the children, and what the children couldn’t do,” she said. “After I worked here, all I saw was what they CAN do.”
She ended up enjoying the experience so much that she went to work at St. Mary’s Home four years ago after she finished nursing school at Sentara Obici Hospital. Stephens, 28, commutes from Como, N.C., a drive that takes 70 minutes one way.

Stephens’ commitment to children with disabilities began in high school. She was so inspired by the boy she teamed up with when she volunteered for the Special Olympics that she decided to study special education. After one semester in college, though, she realized she wasn’t meant to be a teacher and switched to nursing, initially studying to become a certified nurse aide, while she worked fulltime as an assistant manager at a grocery store. 

Her colleagues describe Stephens as a “very cool LPN” and a “sweet soul” who’s always looking for ways to help the children and to help other staff with their work. She’s dependable, quick-thinking, conscientious, passionate, easygoing and joyful. When told of this praise, she modestly said that she’s just doing her job and that it’s a privilege to work with the children at St. Mary’s.

But, like many at St. Mary’s, she does more than her job. One little girl she knows particularly well because they both arrived at St. Mary’s around the same time. She’s bought clothes and other items for Jenny, and, with the permission of the girl’s family, she occasionally takes Jenny home to visit with Stephens’ family.

National Nurses Week: Meet CNA Gwen Dickens

To celebrate National Nurses Week, we’re highlighting several members of the nursing department at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, as voted on by their colleagues. Today, meet Gwen Dickens, a certified nurse aide:

Hamda and Gwen Dickens. Photo by Re:Act Media. 

Gwen Dickens started working at St. Mary’s Home about 36 years ago, following in her sister’s footsteps. Her colleagues say Dickens, who has studied early childhood development, is a great team leader who loves children and has a sweet nature that brightens everyone’s day – and that she often goes beyond the call of duty.

After working mostly night shifts, Dickens switched to the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. shift about three years ago. That’s when she was assigned to Hamda’s room. Hamda didn’t smile much, and Dickens made it her mission, in addition to her regular duties, to make Hamda happy. 

The two have grown extremely close as they’ve established a daily routine centered around talks, walks throughout St. Mary’s 88,000-square-foot building and story time, with Dickens reading books that Hamda chooses. Hamda now smiles a lot as a way to express herself, especially when Dickens is around. Dickens also is Hamda’s constant companion during field trips into the community, such as excursions to the library or shops. 

“This is a special place and when you see a child’s accomplishment, it does your heart good to know that you have contributed in some small way to foster that accomplishment,” said Dickens, 55, of Norfolk. 

Photo by Re:Act Media.