'She makes people smile': Brink bids farewell after 43 years of service at LifeQuest
April 1 proclaimed Deb Brink Day in Mitchell, across South Dakota
MITCHELL — There were tears in Deb Brink’s eyes, but there was also a warm smile on her face.
That was indicative of the mix of emotions washing over her as she attended a retirement party in her honor by LifeQuest, where she has spent the last 43 years working as a direct support professional. While guests, fellow staffers and friends mingled at 401 Create on Mitchell's Main Street and offered their congratulations, Brink reflected on a decade that spanned more than four decades.
“Wow,” Brink told the Mitchell Republic during the reception. “It’s been a long time, but I would not have wanted to work anywhere else. These people have become my family, my friends.”
Brink began working at LifeQuest in 1978 when a relative who worked at the Mitchell Area Training Center, the forerunner to LifeQuest, suggested she apply for an open job with the organization.
“I worked at a nursing home and there was an opening that came up at LifeQuest, which at that time was the Adjustment Training Center. My aunt worked there, and she said come and apply,” Brink said. “I did, and I never left.”
There are many individuals who are glad she never left. Over the years, Brink has touched the lives of countless people and their families as one of the cornerstone direct support professionals at LifeQuest. The organization aims to improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities by way of helping them obtain jobs and perform various roles around the community.
Pam Hanna, executive director of LifeQuest, said the importance of Brink’s contributions to LifeQuest cannot be overstated. In fact, Brink’s time of service with LifeQuest tops that of not only the 160 direct support professionals working at LifeQuest, but of any other direct support professional in South Dakota.
Hanna, who has worked at LifeQuest for 38 years, suspected that may be the case, so she conducted a statewide poll of Brink’s peers.
“She spent 40 years in direct support, and that’s just quite an accomplishment,” Hanna said. “And she’s the longest-serving direct support professional in the state out of 3,200 individuals in that capacity.”
Direct support professionals are the backbone of many programs at LifeQuest, and Hanna called them the foundation of what the organization does every day.
“They carry out the mission working with people to get the care and services they need to have a really good life. Whether it’s helping them in the home, getting involved in the community or communicating with their families. Just all aspects of their life,” Hanna said.
Brink’s dedication is evident, Hanna said, having given over half her life to the cause at LifeQuest. She has a true kindness about her, and it shows in her relationships with the people who utilize LifeQuest services, whether it is the people they support or their families.
“I think Deb’s biggest asset to this job is her heart. She just gives from her heart every day and gives to everybody. She makes people smile. She’s been a mentor to so many people and to her co-workers. She’s a genuine person, and she gives graciously,” Hanna said of Brink.
Leanne Eich, whose daughter Rachel has been supported by Brink for two decades, said Brink’s work has made her more than just someone who lends a hand. She has become so close that they consider her a true friend.
“Deb has been Rachel's direct support professional for 20 years, and she has become a friend of Rachel’s, too. She is not only a professional but a friend,” Eich said. “She cared about her well-being and success. She was instrumental in helping Rachel meet her goals and to reach her full potential.”
Eich said Deb was one of the people who helped Rachel get her job working at Culver’s.
Brink said those were the kinds of successes she strives for with everyone she worked with over the years.
“That was our goal. To get them into the community, to experience the things that you and I experience. And that is having your first apartment, or your first job,” Brink said.
She said her ability to sympathize with the people she works with stems partly from the fact that she understands their experiences from a personal perspective. Two years after starting work in 1978, she and her husband had a son who himself has disabilities. She understands the challenges involved in their world.
“In 1980 we had a son who was born with disabilities. So I was on the other side of the table, both at work and with my son on the other side. I know what it’s like. I know what they went through,” Brink said. "I relied on my son’s staff to be his mom, his friend, his eyes, his ears. So I feel like I developed a great relationship with a lot of the parents because I could relate to them.”
The warm wishes at the reception didn’t stop with the many hugs and offerings of congratulations. On display was a proclamation from Gov. Kristi Noem, which declared April 1, 2022, as Deb Brink Day in South Dakota in honor of her service. And Bob Everson, mayor of Mitchell, was on hand to publicly declare the same day as Deb Brink Day in Mitchell.
“(I would) like to formally congratulate Deb Brink on her retirement from service on this day and personally thank her for her contributions that have shaped the city of Mitchell in a way that the community can be proud of. Therefore be it resolved April 1, 2022, be declared Deb Brink Day in the city of Mitchell in honor of her accomplishments and her impact on the residents of the Mitchell community,” Everson said at the ceremony.
Brink seemed grateful by the outpouring of praise. And there were dozens in the room approaching her, offering handshakes, hugs and more than a few laughs. She had no idea that when her aunt suggested she apply for a job at LifeQuest that she would spend as long as she did working there. But she knows that others can find the same amount of satisfaction she did enhancing the lives of people who need support navigating the ins and outs of life.
They just have to give it a try, she said.
“It’s the most rewarding position a person could ask for,” Brink said. “I highly recommend it. It’s a good feeling helping others.”