Skip to main content

Shooting Stars

UCP Seguin is fortunate to have talented and dedicated staff that work hard every day to fulfill our Mission. Each year staff nominate those of their peers that have gone above and beyond their daily duties to ensure that those we serve receive the highest quality of care and support. Here are this year's honorees:

Debbie Kernell
Best Friend

When a new home support staff member is hired, they report to their assigned home to work with the participants who live there. Even for the most caring person, when they start out at UCP Seguin and there are no personal ties, it’s a job. And then, as the years pass by, that job becomes so much more.

This is the story of Debbie Kernell and Richard, a participant she was assigned to work with and who over the years became her dear friend. There wasn’t much that Deb wouldn’t do to make sure that Richard was happy. They had such a fun relationship! They fed the squirrels together and gave them all names, they shopped, went to the movies, and Deb helped Richard to make new friends. They watched the show “Monk” together and talked about every single episode. They shared a friendly rivalry when it came to their choice of baseball teams; Richard was an avid Cubs fan and Deb teased him when they won, saying they just got lucky. And then she really teased him when they lost because, well, they lost!

Last year right before the Christmas holidays, Richard was admitted to the hospital. Although he was seriously ill, he and Debbie made plans. They talked about what they would do when he was discharged, including deciding what foods she would make for him to eat – all of his favorites. He was in excellent spirits. And then, the day after Christmas, Richard suddenly and unexpectedly died. Debbie was devastated; she had lost her best friend.

Not everyone shows up to work in spirit and builds real, lasting relationships. Richard and Debbie’s friendship was an organic one. They had a lot of fun together, they shared common interests, they bickered in a friendly way. They showed up for each other every single day. Debbie often talks about her best friend Richard, and how she misses him so much. She made a difference in his life, and he made one in hers.

Debbie, on behalf of the Shooting Star Committee and Ana Diaz DeLeon, who nominated you for this award, I thank you for all that you do for the people you work with, and I proudly present you with the “Best Friend” award. You are a shooting star!


Yajaira Jimenez
Count on Me

As human beings, a sense of belonging and engagement is incredibly important to our sense of well-being. Something that can’t be understated is the impact that COVID had, and continues to have, on our ability to connect with each other and to feel part of something. COVID during the past two holiday seasons has made it difficult, and even unsafe, to participate in traditional gatherings with our friends and families and so many people have decided to celebrate in smaller groups and some even virtually.

In December of last year, Yajaira Jimenez got herself a Santa Claus suit and organized a Caroling Tour to celebrate the holidays with participants in UCP Seguin’s home-based program. Each day for an entire week, Yajaira and her group of festive singers gathered after work and decided on their route. Then they set out to participants homes in the community, spreading holiday cheer, singing carols to (and with) participants and their families.

Yajaira is always looking for new ways to connect more deeply with the participants on her caseload. The caroling group is just one example of her obvious passion for her job. She consistently goes the extra mile for the participants she works with, and their families often refer to Yajaira as an honorary family member.

On behalf of the Shooting Star Awards Committee and your nominator, Regina Young, I thank you, Yajaira. I am proud to present you with the “Count on Me” award. You are a shooting star!

Russel Houser
Stepping Out

According to the Illinois PUNS list – Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services – there are more than 14,000 people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities waiting for services in the state. UCP Seguin has a longstanding reputation of being action oriented; we do what we can to assure that people who are referred to us get the services they need, when they need them. This is something that UCP Seguin prides itself on. This is something that Intake Administrator Russel Houser prides himself on.

This past year, Russel has secured services for participants who are living at home in the community, in UCP Seguin’s day program, and has assisted those who needed 24/7 services to find their new homes within our CILA services. Sure, those duties are the essence of Russel’s job, but what is amazing is the agility that he demonstrates while he’s getting it done. Some of these situations are true emergencies and so Russel must drop whatever he’s doing and quickly pivot and refocus. He is a master at changing lanes! He doesn’t only get the services secured, he does so while also assuring that the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed AND he does this while supporting the participant and often their families and friends throughout the process and subsequent transition. He is top notch at his job. We at UCP Seguin are not the only ones who have noticed how talented, empathetic, and kind Russel truly is.

One of the many things that makes Russel such a strong advocate is the lens with which he views not only his job, but life in general. During this past year, Russel has boldly stepped out to share his own experiences as a person with a disability who is also a professional in this field. His story and his willingness to share it have had impact not just at UCP Seguin, but also on a much bigger scale. Just this year, he presented at the Arc of Illinois conference and has willingly shared his story with UCP Seguin staff during Disability Awareness Month. As if this wasn’t enough achievement for one year, Russel has gained even further distinction - this time at a national level! He has been awarded the Rising Star Award by The Arc of the United States! He will be presented with this prestigious award next month at The Arc National Convention NCE Awards Luncheon in Denver.

There are so many reasons to recognize Russel. Every day he makes positive impact for people with disabilities – the people he helps in his role as Intake Administrator, of course, but also systemically as he bravely shows up as his authentic self and excels in all that he sets out to achieve.

On behalf of the Shooting Star Committee and Laura Gonzalez who nominated him, I am honored today to present Russel Houser with the “Stepping Out” award. Russel, you are truly a Shooting Star!

Bettye Dorsey
We Are Family

What is the true meaning of family? Is it being related by blood? Is it through marriage or adoption? Is it all those things? None of those things?

Bettye Dorsey would likely agree that the meaning of family certainly includes one or all of those components, but she would also likely agree that you really don’t need any of those things to make up a family. And Bettye would know; she not only created a family atmosphere in the CILA home where she spends an awful lot of her life, but she also invited Sam, the participant who she supports, to become a member of her own family.

Over the last year, Bettye had been planning and looking forward to her long-anticipated family reunion. She was extremely excited about the reunion and because she is with him so often and they have a close relationship, she talked to Sam about the trip. He was so interested in hearing about it and learning about what it meant to have a family reunion. Bettye spent a lot of time explaining to Sam about why the reunion was important to her and why family should take the time to celebrate each other together. Sam told her he understood – he said, “I understand because you are my family, Bettye, and we are important to each other, right? That’s why you come back to work with me even when I have been bad?”

At that moment, without even thinking twice, Bettye invited Sam to join her on her out-of-state trip to her family reunion. His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree as he said “YES!” and gave Bettye a big hug. He spent the weeks leading up to the reunion shopping and getting prepared to go and he happily told everyone he saw all about his upcoming adventure with Bettye. He was joyful at being accepted and treated as a unique and complex person and not a person defined by his disability and the challenges that go along with his diagnosis.

A sense of belonging is something that every one of us needs to truly thrive. Sam had quite possibly never felt that sense in his life before. When Bettye included Sam in her reunion plans and made him an honorary member of her family, she gave him the priceless gift of belonging.

We thank Bettye today for opening her heart and her family to Sam and creating a sense of belonging for a person who has struggled to belong his entire life. Bettye and Sam are a shining example of a non-traditional family, but family is what they are.

On behalf of the Shooting Star Committee and Shantina Pugh, who nominated her, I am proud to present the “We Are Family” award to Bettye Dorsey. Bettye, you are a Shooting Star!

Sarai Arteaga
Girl on Fire

Between March and July of 2020, UCP Seguin lost roughly 200 employees to complications related to COVID. Although since the exodus we’ve come up with new solutions to service delivery in many program areas, UCP Seguin’s Employment Department was really struggling to hire some staff to support participants working in the community. Heidi Russell-Green and her team really needed some help and so Heidi reached out to the HR Department for assistance. They quickly sprang into action.

Sarai Arteaga immediately switched gears – a skill she has perfected – and began working with her teammates to search far and wide, screen applicants and screen them again sometimes. Because of the time and attention to this impactful staffing gap, there are now several new UCP Seguin team members that now make up an awesome Community Employment Team. Heidi has said that “we have several newly appointed employees who have the dedication and skill sets to get carry on the duties that are needed in our department and without the training and professionalism of Sarai and the HR staff, our team would be at a great loss. I have witnessed Sarai greet our staff, participants, and guests with such great customer service.”

One of the many challenges we have been faced with at UCP Seguin for several years now is the staffing crisis. Attracting new staff and keeping the ones we have – including all of you and there are literally HUNDREDS of years of service in this room today – is never easy. But when the first interaction that applicants have is with Human Resources Generalist Sarai Arteaga, part of the battle is already won!

On behalf of the Shooting Star Committee and her nominator Heidi Russell-Green, I am proud to present the “Girl on Fire” award to Sarai Arteaga. Sarai, you are a Shooting Star!