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El Valor workers move into homes that serve disabled community during COVID-19 pandemic

ABC 7 Chicago logo ABC 7 Chicago 3/26/2020 WLS
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Unsung heroes are emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with truckers, grocery store workers, and healthcare workers, you will find deeply dedicated men and women who are uprooting their personal lives to help Chicago's disabled community around-the-clock.

"This is my heart. I love what I'm doing. I love making sure the individuals have a smile on their face," said Jacqueline Johnson, a house supervisor for El Valor. "All of our individuals are healthy, safe, and their priorities come first."

Johnson works for El Valor, an organization that helps hundreds of men and women with disabilities and their families. El Valor operates six homes for the disabled, housing about 50 people.

The homes are located in Pilsen, Little Village, Berwyn and Cicero.

"If we just walk away and abandon them, they are not going to have anybody," said Jillian Gonzalez, El Valor's senior vice president.

Instead, El Valor has doubled-down on its commitment to serving people with disabilities.

During Governor JB Pritzker's "stay-at-home" order, some of El Valor's staff members have agreed to move into the homes serving the disabled 24/7 for the next 30 days. Rather than just work their 8-hour shift and leave, they are sleeping and living at the homes, ensuring the residents' safety and health.

"When I hear every day about essential workers and essential employees, I can't help but think of my employees who really don't get a lot of thanks," said Gonzalez.

Workers, like Jacqueline Johnson, are unsung heroes in the midst of a crisis. It's a mutual bond.

"I like her, she's nice," said Julie, one of the disabled residents at a home in Cicero.

Nikita, a fellow resident, added: "She fixes us meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything. Even gives us dessert too."

And there are other challenges as well. Most of the residents in the homes have underlying health conditions, like diabetes, or are older, making them more susceptible to COVID-19. Personal hygiene is critical.

"People with disabilities struggle with activities of daily living related to hygiene," Gonzalez said. "So you are in a high-risk environment with a high-risk vulnerable population, and you're taking care of them all day, every day."

The workers are earning just above minimum wages, including a dollar or two more for the extra duty.

But for them, it's not about the money.

"I just like to see the smile on their face," Johnson emphasized. "So it so important to me to be part of the team."

Gonzalez is impressed with her team.

"They're here, and they are happy, they are positive. They are committed to these residents," she said.

And the residents need them, especially now.

As one of the woman named Esperanza said: "I love Jackie. I love my staff!"

Along with the disabled, El Valor is also helping families during this time. If you would like to help their mission, you can donate to the El Valor Community Relief Fund.

EL VALOR COMMUNITY RELIEF FUND: https://elvalor.org/donate

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