STRIVE Staff: Empathy and Support

(l. – r.:) Yvonne Reeves and Niashia Dawson

The heart and soul of STRIVE’s Day Program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is its staff, the over two dozen support coaches who spend all day with the members and are vital to their positive experiences. “We really rely on the staff who know our members so well, to be in tune with their feelings and set the tone for a successful and productive experience,” says Ben Fedigan, STRIVE Program Manager.

The STRIVE program at Children’s Aid and Family Services is a member-centered day program for adults age 21 and over that works to foster independence, develop life and social skills, and strengthen community involvement. “Most of the support coaches each work with six members, though some are one-on-one,” says Ben. “What we look for the most in them is empathy and patience. If they show they care, pretty much all of the other important things can follow.”


Support coach Yvonne Reeves works with member Timmy who is limited verbally and was struggling with his day-to-day activities, especially after the long pause in care with Covid. She was able to help him re-acclimate and became attuned to his moods and feelings. “She’s gotten to the point where knowing Timmy loves coffee first thing, she greets him every morning with a full cup, a big smile and tells him ‘Today is going to be such a great day!’” says Ben. “She’s really learned to understand him and he’s flourishing; that’s a skill you can’t teach, you either have it or you don’t.”


From day one, Niashia Dawson acclimated well to her job which seemed to come naturally to her, says Ben. “She’s incredibly patient and caring and is able to wear many hats.”  She had previously worked exclusively with one residential member, always making sure he was engaged, neat and happy, all while displaying poise, grace and understanding. After he passed away, she embraced her position as a floating staff member and then became a support coach for a five-member group. “Wherever Niashia is she has adapted to the circumstances,” says Ben. Her dedication and consistency recently earned her the title of STRIVE’s employee of the month. “We are so proud to have Niashia as part of our family.”

The work of a support coach isn’t easy and comes with many challenges, but it also can be very rewarding, says Ben. “When our members walk in the door every morning and see their coaches with big smiles and a positive attitude, they pick up on that and it sets them up for a successful day.”

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