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Josette Sobers is driven to make inclusion the standard

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

We would like to introduce Josette Sobers, who brings a wealth of experience, and perhaps more importantly, passion, to the Olean Center’s new position -- Director of Community Partnerships. In this role, Josette will work with participants in the Shared Living Arrangements program, Vocational Services, and those making the transition from Children’s Services to Adult Services programs. In addition, Josette will focus on how we can best serve individuals who self-direct their services.

While studying to become a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, Josette took an entry-level job with the James L. Maher Center, which has offices in Bristol, Middletown, and Newport. She ended up staying for eight years, advancing to new roles and responsibilities. In an unfortunate twist for the Foreign Service, Josette had discovered her true calling!

Now, in addition to a passion for sailing, Josette spends her time advocating for more inclusive lives for our fellow Ocean Staters with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We are so fortunate to have found a person with the experience, passion, and can-do attitude that Josette brings to us,” said Executive Director Ruth Tureckova. “Josette is an ideal advocate who will support inclusion in every aspect of her work. She will make sure that our community partners are fully informed and engaged in the lives of those we serve.”

As she begins this new chapter, we asked Josette what drew her to this career path and the Olean Center specifically.

OC: How did you start in this industry?

JS: I started at the James L. Maher Center and worked there from 2008 to 2017. I was a direct support professional working the overnight shift in a group home and studying for the foreign service. I was living aboard my sailboat in Barrington and thought that I could sail around the world and explore while I worked as a foreign service officer. I lived aboard with my family when I was younger, and we sailed from Maine to the Bahamas. I wore a lot of hats at the Maher Center – group home manager, support coordinator, job development, and eventually government liaison between the Center and state agencies.

OC: Why the Olean Center?

JS: I see a lot of potential here because of the commitment and dedication of the staff and the local communities’ support. I love Westerly and I love how the town is centered on community activities. I worked for a landscape company in Richmond for a while and I worked on a lot of properties in Westerly and Stonington and I came to love the area and the people.

OC: How do you see your role taking shape?

JS: I’ll be working to expand the Shared Living Arrangements program, Vocational Services, and the transition program between Children's Services and Adult Services. I also hope to expand support systems for these folks who self-direct their services rather than going through providers like the Olean Center. I will work for our individuals to seek competitive work opportunities, more inclusion in the workplace, and competitive wages.

OC: What are your goals?

JS: I want to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities achieve their desired level of integration in the community. In RI the big push now is conflict-free case management which ensures services are focused on achieving the goals of individuals for whom we work. It is all about finding the right support for each individual. And I want to help grow staffing and reach out to more individuals seeking support in Westerly and then Chariho. My focus is on quality over quantity. I want to make sure we’re providing the right services for each individual.

OC: What do you see as the biggest challenge to the industry?

JS: The naysayers who say something can’t be done.

People focus on the negatives of transportation issues and work abilities. That’s limiting. We need to look to the positive and help our participants explore what’s out there.

All of the agencies that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should and do cooperate with each other. We need to have a beehive mindset – where we’re all working for the queen bee and the queen bee is the participant.

OC: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the Olean Center?

JS: The size. We need more staff, but our small size is also a plus because we can make changes quickly and be nimble. We can be a model for the state in working with schools, the community, and our participants.

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