According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 people in the US have some kind of disability. There are all kinds with varying degrees of severity. Some impact hearing or vision, others limit or prohibit motion in various ways. In order to minimize the impact that their particular disability has on daily life, many opt to undergo physical therapy, and that’s where people like Diane Stevens step in.
Stevens, born and raised in Holden, Massachusetts, is a physical therapist for Porter County Education Services. She moved to the region in 1978 after receiving a job offer from PCES, and though she originally planned live in the area for a couple years, she fell in love with the work. Stevens currently lives in Valparaiso and works with physically challenged kids up to age 21 from across Porter County, helping to improve their quality of life and minimize the impact of their disabilities. For her, this work has been a lifelong dream.
“I think that I’ve always wanted to help people,” Stevens explained. “I had a friend in middle school who was mildly physically disabled, and my mom, who had a brain tumor when I was in high school. That kind of just solidified it and I’ve never changed my mind since.”
One of Stevens’ favorite aspects of the job is that she can remain involved in a child’s life all the way through to adulthood. She meets so many amazing kids and families, and getting to be a part of someone’s growth and helping them live the way they want is irreplaceable to her.
“I really, really enjoy working with children,” she said. “I love being in a school system versus an outpatient clinic, because I might know babies from when they’re born until they’re 21. I feel like I can be really involved in helping them, and I very much like that. I hardly look at my work as “work” and I’m really lucky that way.”
That love for her work lets her keep up with her jam-packed schedule. She serves kids all across Porter County, and travels to meet them or visit different schools. Starting at PCES, visiting schools, making two or three house calls, which can sometimes spill into the weekend, every day is filled to the brim.
“I am very busy,” she laughed. “In a good way though. I did appreciate the 2-week holiday break, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t look at any of my work as negative at all.”
Even in her time off, Stevens’ is not one to rest on her laurels. She enjoys reading, knitting, yard work, gardening, hiking, her pets, and especially hiking with her pets. Most of her family is adoptive, or very close friends, she also has cousins in Vermont and Finland. She’s ended up becoming something of a globetrotter.
“I’ve been to Finland,” she said. “I’ve been to almost all the states in the US except about four. I’ve also studied in England four different times, so I’ve also been to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Norway!”
Even considering all that she’s seen, Stevens is still happy to call Northwest Indiana home. Love for her job, and a few other notable appeals, kept her in the Region.
“A lot of it comes from my work, basically,” she explained. “Porter County Education Services have been so supportive of whatever kinds of services I say the kids need to improve, whatever kind of equipment I need to help kids stand and walk better. That’s not that common throughout the country or the state.”
Right now, Stevens is focusing in on one issue, spreading the word about Porter County Association for Handicapped Children and Adults, a United Way agency.
“What the agency itself does is important,” she said. “It’s a very small agency with 10 volunteers on the board. One of the big goals right now is to try and promote and communicate about the agency to people. Even the group of people we serve is large, we want to make sure to reach others in the community as well.”
From helping kids learn to walk as toddlers, to seeing them grow into adults, people like Stevens and the rest of Porter County Education Services are an essential part of what makes Valparaiso and Northwest Indiana as a whole so great.
Porter County Association for Handicapped Children and Adults