The Human Services Agency is celebrating their diverse workforce this Holiday Season with a holiday tree, soaring 15 feet above the lobby of their Home Office on New Boston Street in Woburn. The “African Holiday Safari” – this year’s Holiday Tree theme – was designed to provoke conversation leading to deeper insight into the continent that approximately 60% of NuPath’s dedicated workforce call home.
President/CEO Dan Harrison, who was born and lived in Sierra Leone, West Africa until the age of 16, says the Holiday Safari theme this year is to “help increase awareness to the majesty of Africa and to encourage dialogue in our programs among the people we support, their families and our staff.”
From personal experience Harrison has observed that when the average American learns a person is from Africa, most do not understand of how diverse (and enormous) the continent actually is. “We have staff from Kenya in the east, and staff from Liberia in the west,” explains Harrison. “Those two countries are separated by nearly 3,500 miles – which is 500 miles further than a road trip from NYC to San Francisco!” he adds.
Ask anyone around the organization and they can tell you how valuable the African contingent of NuPath’s workforce is to their overall mission of making life’s journey happier, healthier and more fulfilling for people living with disabilities.
“Our staff is dedicated, compassionate, caring and loving towards the people we serve,” said Residential Director Doreen Mumper. “Many of our team members from Africa have a heightened sense of community engagement and provide the extra support needed to ensure each person’s journey is leading toward a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life into the community of their choosing.”
Leigh Wilmot, Day Habilitation Manager at NuPath’s Westford program, added, “Many of our staff of African descent in Westford are extremely caring, family and community oriented and are great advocates for the people we support.”
For Samuel Muleme, Residential Program Manager at NuPath, introducing some of the cultural cuisine from Uganda was a way for him to share a part of his heritage with others.
“People ate a lot of sandwiches when I came on board, and we all know there are much healthier options if we take the time to prepare them,” he said. “I always make sure we cook fresh food, incorporating much of what I learned as a child from Uganda.”
Muleme also brings a calming approach to his program, which is common in his homeland, as well. His experience in witnessing his elders offer council for others in his community contributes to Muleme’s soothing demeanor when working with the men and women he supports.
“Back home whenever we had a problem, we would always have an aunt or uncle there to talk about what’s wrong,” he said. “I use that same technique with the guys whenever I can sense something’s wrong…and it works really well.”
The experience with big families and communities is something that resonates with Jaarah Salifu. As a native of Ghana, she has been with NuPath for 15 years and says her upbringing has carried over to her work as a Paraprofessional.
“We grew up in big families and communities…and we want to help everyone!” she exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter where people come from; we all come together and take care of each other.”
With a career in Human Services now spanning more than 25 years, the values instilled in Harrison’s African background have never changed since he was growing up in Sierra Leone.
“When I was a child, we lived in big communities and we all worked together under one common goal,” he said. “It was then that I truly found out that it, indeed, takes a village.”
That background has enabled him to appreciate the traits and values the African staff bring to their job every day. “Our African staff might be from different regions of the continent, speak different languages and so on…but so many of us are united our dedication to NuPath’s mission and to NuPath’s vision of creating a world in which people with disabilities live with dignity and respect,” he said.
Across the 52 countries and over 1,500 languages spoken that comprise the Earth’s second-largest continent, Salifu best sums up what unites the diverse community at NuPath.
“We are a big, huge family that will do anything it takes to make the lives of the people we support happier and healthier.”