Jennifer Bleidistel works at the Infant Toddler Center at California State University, Dominguez Hills as a teacher assistant. Like the other staff members, she takes care of the children there, many of whom have disabilities like autism or Down syndrome. For the last ten years, she has read to them, fed them breakfast and lunch, and tended to their basic needs during the day. But unlike most the other teachers and assistants, she shares something in common with many of her young charges – she too has a disability.
Bleidistel, who was born with Down syndrome, found the job at the Infant Toddler Center through Easter Seals Southern California’s Supported Employment Program. On Oct. 9, she will be participating in the nonprofit’s annual Walk With Me event in Irvine as an Easter Seals Ambassador. She will also be videotaped at work in the Infant Toddler Center next week in her role as an ambassador, and introduced at the organization’s national convention this November in Chicago. In addition, she will be featured at Easter Seals events across the country as the National Adult Representative for 2011.
A regular spokesperson for Easter Seals for the last five years, Bleidistel has been featured at numerous events, speaking about her disability and how she has been able to live a fully functioning life, which includes her nurturing family environment, her work at CSU Dominguez Hills, and participation in the Special Olympics.
Bleidistel’s interest in child care stems from her role as an aunt to 12 nieces and nephews – with another on the way.
“They spoil me,” she says of her family, which includes five older brothers. “I spoil them back.”
Bleidistel, who attended public schools in Torrance, learned about child care as a career option through the SCROC (Southern California Regional Occupational Center) program at South High School in Torrance. She also graduated from the Special Resource Center at El Camino College, a program that provides adaptive education for the disabled.
She describes a typical day at the Infant Toddler Center, which was originally established at the university for children with disabilities: “I play with the kids. I diaper them, and feed them breakfast and lunch. Some are here for half a day and some of them are here for a whole day. They have a nap room.
“They learn things through me,” she continues. “We read, sometimes we do a project, art [projects], like making a collage. I like to teach kids who enjoy themselves with me and the other teachers too.”
When asked what her favorite thing is about working at the Infant Toddler Center, Bleidistel says, “The whole thing is my favorite thing. [So is] getting to know the staff more and getting to know all the kids’ names and what their disabilities are.”
Bleidistel’s mother, Adrian Bleidistel (Class of ’84, M.A., special education) served as head teacher of the Center in the 1980s while working on her master’s degree.
“Parents really take to [Jennifer] because their children are disabled,” says Adrian Bleidistel of her daughter’s affinity for the children of the Center. “They look at Jenny and figure that there’s hope for their child to have a job also. It’s been very good for Jenny to be employed there. It’s good for the parents to realize there’s a future for their child too.”
Jennifer Bleidistel has been a participant in the Special Olympics for the last 20 years and, according to her mother, takes part in almost every event, including tennis, softball, and bocce. Jennifer says her favorite sport is “basketball. And soccer. Also, there’s a new sport I like. It’s kind of rough but I like it. They call it flag football.”
“I win medals, ribbons, and trophies,” says Bleidistel. “It’s great exercise for me to lose weight. I compete in every sport.”
When she is not working at the Infant Toddler Center, Bleidistel lives the life of any 36-year-old. She takes the bus to work and likes to go shopping on the way home, mostly for school supplies and treats for children at the Center. She has a boyfriend, a librarian at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library in Torrance, whom she met at a track and field event of the Special Olympics. She loves nature and enjoys visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach with her parents and extended family.
Bleidistel, who was sometimes mainstreamed into regular classrooms while attending high school, hopes that working with disabled children will “help them fit in here.” She says that parents are happy to see her working with their children as a role model.
“They’re glad to see somebody who is nice, like me, who will help their children’s future,” she says.