Robin Bowman Marks 37 Years as Dedicated DSP

Stokes Opportunity Center men and women pose for a group photo.

Participants and staff at Monarch’s Stokes Opportunity Center in Walnut Cove include: front row, from left, Leigh Vernon; Marvin Gray; Michael Barnes; John King; Kenny Bennett; Nick Moore; back row, from left, Ricky Rickert; DSP Robin Bowman; James Joyce; DSP John Hartman; Anthony Frasier; Anthony Barker and Ernest Hargrove.

On a late summer Tuesday morning, the sweet smell of simmering fruit, cobbler crust baking in the oven and the chatter of kitchen conversation fills Stokes Opportunity Center (SOC), a day program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Direct Support Professional (DSP) Mary Robin Bowman is helping SOC participants learn how to turn a surplus of nectarines into delicious cobbler. A recipe hangs next to the refrigerator for everyone to follow. The participants are eager to assist with chopping, measuring, whatever is needed to help.

She moves about the kitchen explaining next steps and preparing ingredients. Day program attendees listen carefully, quietly to her direction, asking questions along the way. She watches to make sure each person has a hand in making the cobbler.

In November, Robin will mark 37 years of service to Monarch. She currently holds the distinction of most years served as a Monarch DSP, according to Human Resources records. When asked how it feels to be celebrating such an honor, she smiles and says she would rather share the successes of SOC attendees which totals 15 men and women.

At Monarch, a DSP helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and/or mental illness lead self-directed lives, provide assistance with daily living activities, as well as encourage and support community inclusion. Monarch employs over 600 DSPs across North Carolina.

Early Morning Pick Up

DSP Robin Bowman explains a recipe to Stokes Opportunity Center attendees.

SP Robin Bowman reviews the nectarine cobbler recipe with Nick Moore, center, and Michael Barnes, right.

Robin begins her workday early driving one of two transportation vans to pick up day program attendees to bring them to the Neal Road location in Stokes County. Fellow DSP John Hartman drives the northern route and she takes the western portion. She is grateful for their teamwork and says they work together to make sure everyone is accommodated with over 110 miles driven daily between them.

Attendees express concerns that their beloved day program may not be available one day. The impact of COVID made this worry a temporary reality for five weeks in 2020. Attendees desperately missed their routine and interaction with peers and staff.

During that time, she recalls daily phone conversations with attendees, soothing fears and reassuring them that they would return soon. “We are doing everything to keep them safe. We are here in this building and we are going on with our lives. We are going to have a good day,” Robin declares of post-COVID life.

When staff and peers returned, they decided to begin each day gathering to reflect. “We talk about anything that they have on their mind. Prayer and prayer requests are welcome if they choose to do it. A lot of feelings come out,” Robin shares, noting that in addition the group devotes time to meditation.

Routine is Important

Stokes Opportunity Center attendee, John King, takes a spoonful of nectarine cobbler.

Stokes Opportunity Center attendee John King takes a hearty spoonful of the tasty nectarine cobbler.

She sees firsthand how life-changing SOC services are to the men and women supported and how the activities and interaction help them thrive.

Robin was on staff years ago when the SOC focused on people with I/DD completing manual contract work for larger companies applying labels or filling containers. The move to the current model assists people with I/DD to express themselves through art and work within their community as they choose like volunteering through outreach ministries, the local Meals on Wheels effort or hospitals.

“We are low key. As long as they come in and have a good day, that is all that I care about. It is just about them and making them feel important. When I hear, ‘Robin, I had a good day today’ that is worth it all,” she says.

Each week staff accompanies attendees to spend a day shopping and enjoying lunch out, Robin explains. She says these outings teach how to budget money, sharpen their social skills and interact within their community.

Legacy of Caring

Robin knows each participant well – who needs coaxing, extra motivation or a hug during a difficult day. Her warm, welcoming ways and Southern accent make her feel like everyone’s friend. Her cell phone rings throughout the day with calls from participant’s families asking a question or advice.

“I don’t know where I get it from. It is just there. I had a good mom and dad. My dad used to tell me, ‘Sis do right, just do right,’” she says of her inherently caring ways that have flourished through the years working in day care with children, a facility for children with I/DD and now at Monarch. “I knew when I started doing this, this is where I needed to be.”

John has known Robin for over 30 years and the pair has worked side by side at SOC for the last eight years. “Her dedication to this work for 37 years says more than I can say. She is a wonderful balance between a loving heart and no-nonsense approach, and probably the reason she has lasted this long,” he says with admiration.
John is amazed at how Robin always seems to be one step ahead of anything that can happen or go awry. “She has really good follow through and doesn’t leave things undone. She is really good at being flexible while also having structure,” he notes.

Stokes Opportunity Center attendee, Nick Moore, gets a hug from DSP Robin Bowman, right.

DSP Robin Bowman affectionately calls Nick Moore her “love bug” because he never misses the opportunity for a quick hug.

Lessons Learned

What have the people Monarch serves taught Robin through the years? “How to love unconditionally, to forgive and to laugh. That sounds corny, but that is the truth. We can learn a lot from the people that we serve,” she confides.

Robin believes individuals with I/DD are just like you and me: “They may be a little slower doing things but they get it done. You have to give them their time and their space. They choose what they want to do and tell us.”

“They have brought me so much joy and heartache. I treat them like I would my son or daughter,” she says. “I expect things from them. I am not going to feel sorry for them because they have a disability. . . That is just my way but I try to do it respectfully and kindly and I do have expectations. You do not give up on them.”

Robin appreciates the way her family, husband of 50 years, Russell, and daughter, Amanda, have taken her Monarch family into the fold. “They love what I do and wouldn’t have me doing anything else,” she says.

Interested in learning more about being a DSP at Monarch? Visit here for details and how to apply for job opportunities near you.

Posted on: Tuesday August 30, 2022