by Courtney Reimann, with Lori Burrus
Lori Burrus is YAP’s National Coordinator for Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services. Lori started as a direct care worker in Lebanon County PA 38 years ago and since that time, has worked in many different roles and made lifelong relationships with individuals, families, and coworkers. Heading into her 17th year with YAP, Lori has been part of YAP’s expansion into providing a variety of Intellectual and Developmental Disability programs and services throughout Pennsylvania.
"I still have the heart of that young girl who wanted to change the world.
What initially drew you to the human services field?
Being one of very few African American people in my community made me more aware of other marginalized people. There was a young girl named Julie in my neighborhood who never came out to play. She didn’t go to school or anywhere in the community; only to church. We all knew about her, but we didn’t know her. The explanation at the time was that she wasn’t normal. I came to understand that she had a disability and because of this she wasn’t encouraged to be a part of her community. That experience for me at a young age had a profound impact on the way I see things to this day. I’m here to stand up for the person who is left on the sidelines. I want to make sure everyone is part of the community.
What was your first job in human services?
I started as a direct care worker in a psychiatric hospital and also worked in an apartment program in Lebanon, PA. I met people there that I still support or work with to this day. The system has changed so much. People with disabilities have more options for employment and living in and being part of their community. But, some problems haven’t gone away; services are still underfunded and this can be seen with PA’s waiting list for services and low staff wages that results in an ongoing staffing shortage.
What do you do for YAP?
I learn about new services or programs to support people with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and see if it’s something YAP can get involved in providing. If it is, I work with other people to set up a system and start services. I also support individuals and family members who are in tough situations and get to work closely with local managers and directors. My goal is to show people the variety of services available to support people with disabilities and to give staff the tools to work effectively within this community.
Take the time to recognize that people with disabilities are part of your neighborhood and your community. They are people who want jobs, relationships, to have fun, and be a part of life. Pennsylvania has a guiding philosophy of supporting people with disabilities in finding and living Everyday Lives. This mission coincides with YAP’s commitment to providing services that support people within their communities. My hope is that our local leaders and our direct care staff understand the importance of their work. By advocating for people with disabilities to have a place in the community; they are helping to create a world that has a place for all of us.
March is also National Women’s History Month. What it is like to be a woman in a leadership role? How does it impact what you do in your community or in your work?
One of the things that drew me to work for YAP was the number of women in leadership roles and the overall diversity represented by people who work for YAP. I knew this would be a place I could connect with other people and grow professionally. Recently, my community of Lebanon PA started a local chapter of the NAACP. Right away I felt myself being drawn into a leadership role within this group. For example, I’ve started exploring the idea of gathering oral histories of the African American experience in Lebanon and surrounding areas. I’ve had the chance to sit down and discuss this project with many diverse people. My experience and comfort with being a leader, and being respected as a leader, gives me courage to try new things and accomplish my goals. I am excited about this next journey.
What should people know about Lori Burrus?
In 1983 I helped people with disabilities leave places like Pennhurst, and move back to their communities after living for years in state centers and institutions. Today, I am focused on the current deinstitutionalization movement of keeping people with a disability out of the criminal justice system. I often marvel at actors, models, athletes, and singers who are successful but who are also known for having a disability. I hope someday they will be known by their name and their gifts and talents, without being labeled as having a disability.
My goal is to never see another Julie in my neighborhood. My underlying idea of social justice is found in my faith. I still have the heart of that young girl who wanted to change the world. I am now a mature woman with more wisdom who wants to provide hope, respect, and love to a hurting world.
YAP provides services for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities throughout Pennsylvania. YAP also provides Supportive Employment services for people with disabilities who are interested in gaining job skills and finding employment. For more information visit YAP’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website page.