Security, Community, and a Flourishing Career - All From One Spontaneous Decision

By Sara Porcaro | Nov 11, 2020
Benefits Director, HR, Career, URI, Local History, IDD, Disabilties, Rhode Island, Mobility

How much can change in 26 years? For Perspectives, that change has been primarily through growth: what began as one group home on Kenyon Avenue expanded to the multi-faceted agency it is today, with a variety of services and highly talented professionals to deliver them. But in the 26 years of Benefits Director Mary Nunes' career, what hasn't changed is the camaraderie--the culture of support and respect among people who know how to work hard and have fun doing it--that Perspectives leadership has always fostered with employees and the individuals we support. This December, Mary is retiring from Perspectives, and we're sad to see her go--but before that, we're looking back and celebrating her time with the agency!


Originally, Mary's vision for her working life didn't include the human services industry, or a role within an agency's HR department. A graduate of URI's class of 1977 with a bachelor's degree in textiles and historical arts, Mary envisioned herself working in museums and showing the history of how textiles were once used in America's past. It was something she was always interested in, and something she participates in to this day, volunteering her time with local museums like the Watson House on the URI campus and Smith's Castle in North Kingstown. However, when it came to working after graduation, Mary found herself enjoying a position in a retail setting until 1979, when a position at the Adeline LaPlante Memorial Center opened. She applied, and after being hired, was responsible for helping individuals learn daily living skills.
"I had a lot of fun with the gentlemen I supported," says Mary. "All the while, I still thought I'd move out of Rhode Island and work in a museum, but it was a good job at the ALMC, and as these young men started moving into a new home on Circle Drive, that's how I met Dave."
President Dave Ruppell was working on growing Perspectives--then called Alternatives, Inc.--and interviewed Mary for a role as a Direct Support Professional. She then supported the same individuals from her position at the ALMC in Perspectives' residential services and greatly enjoyed the work she did with both individuals and her team. The agency was later flexible with her personal needs, as after the birth of her first child, she then transferred to a different Perspectives home to provide extra support cleaning and food shopping. Along with the enjoyment she got from her work, she was also happy to have the health insurance coverage and other benefits that came with being an employee--something hugely important to her household, as her husband, being self-employed, had no access to company-wide benefits like those Perspectives offered.


After she had twins, she eventually decided to leave the agency to focus on her children before eventually returning to work at a local textile company, Rugged Wear, as a design assistant in 1984. She worked there, and later another textile company, for ten years, moving from design assistant to a more benefits-focused role. Given her understanding of how important benefits were to employees, it was a position she was happy to take on--and all the while, she kept in touch with the friends she made at Perspectives. However, it was by a strange coincidence in 1994 that Mary met CEO Judy Niedbala; their children were a part of their school's Christmas bazaar, and the two professionals connected right away over their Perspectives experience. When a position for a Benefits Director opened, Judy invited Mary to apply, and Mary interviewed with Dave a second time before joining the team again.
"I've had a lot of fun working with Perspectives--even seeing the gentlemen I used to work with at ALMC. It floors me that to this day, they still remember me," Mary says--and on her work as Benefits Director, she notes, "It's always been my goal for employees to feel good, to feel supported, because I think the more they feel that way, the better they will support the individuals in our programs."
"It's always been my goal for employees to feel good, to feel supported, because I think the more they feel that way, the better they will support the individuals in our programs."
And that's the motivation Mary's had all throughout her career. In the beginning of her role, she went to get an HR certification from Roger Williams University and had the opportunity to sit on benefits committees with the budding Community Provider Network of Rhode Island to discuss how to best bring benefits to employees of RI's provider agencies. With the leadership always advocating for professionals to continue building their skills, and the supportive, friendly working environment, it's been a great time working with Perspectives, and that's why Mary encourages those who are looking to start or advance their career to keep an open mind for the opportunities available. Especially given how many skills professionals like Mary have learned from their time as a DSP, and the many opportunities for trainings and other programs to keep building one's professional skills, Perspectives is a fantastic place to build one's career. Mary is confident that she's leaving her work in good hands--as the HR department is another place that's seen wonderful growth in the past few years.
"Now's actually a great time for me to transition out, given that we've got such a solid HR team," she says. "I'm looking forward to getting back into volunteer historical work, and my husband and I are excited to spend time in Pennsylvania with our daughter's family and new baby when it's safer to do so."
After 26 years of fantastic work, Mary has seen the agency grow and change, all the while being a consistently supportive, helpful, and cheerful part of the team. Her dedication to helping Perspectives' employees get the coverage they needed to stay healthy and prepare financially for their futures, as well as her commitment to answering their questions and helping them through situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, are all things we sincerely appreciate. We'll miss Mary, for sure--but we're also excited for her to begin a new chapter, and we wish her the best!


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