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Debbie Barisano

PCA testimonial

What it means to be a personal care assistant

Debbie Barisano says becoming a personal care assistant let her discover a profession she loves. This is her story:

For twenty-five years I worked in a high paying job as a computer programmer, but I was not happy. The job was very stressful and I was sick a lot. I had volunteered for two organizations working with people with disabilities, and I wanted to find a job in that area where I would be happy going to work every day.

I decided to enroll at Manchester (CT) Community College in the Disability Specialist Program. One day Cathy, a woman with a severe physical disability, came to my class and spoke about her life. She mentioned that she needed a personal care assistant. I was interested, but at the same time I was scared. I had never done anything like that. I waited a month before calling Cathy, but I found out the first night that there was no reason to be nervous. She explained everything and I fell in love with the job. I have worked for Cathy since 1999, and I have loved going into work every day. In my first two years, I had only had two sick days, and I stopped needing some medications since I became a personal care assistant.

I have had to make some sacrifices in order to work full time as a personal care assistant. I moved into a smaller place in affordable housing, and I do not have extra spending money any more. I also do not have any health benefits. But I would not trade my new profession for the extra money.

The relationship between a personal care assistant and an employer is unique. It is rewarding knowing that I am supporting Cathy so she can live an independent life like everyone else. I think the hardest part of being a personal care assistant is the emotional side of the job. Cathy and I have developed a good working relationship, but we have also become good friends. Sometimes it is hard to see her struggle with obstacles in her life. Knowing that I can be there to support her is wonderful.

I may have opened doors for Cathy, but Cathy has also opened doors for me. She has taught me to be confident in myself, and has introduced me to many contacts who will be important in my future. I have been advocating for the profession of personal assistance with state legislators and agencies. I have started a new organization, the Connecticut Association of Personal Assistants, to provide a support system for personal care assistants and to educate the public about our profession.

Read Cathy's story.

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