Caregiver Appreciation Month: Niki Cooper, Local 1246

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about caregivers. We’re not babysitters. We are professionals who work really hard for our residents.”

Niki Cooper is a caregiver and Oregon AFSCME Local 1246 member, and during March’s caregiver Appreciation Month, we are honored to showcase her story.

Niki has worked at the State’s 24-hour residential Stabilization and Crisis Unit (SACU) for seven years. She has always been drawn to care for other people and after starting in the private sector working with children, she moved into assisting individuals living with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“I felt myself being drawn to this population,” she says.  

In addition to assisting individuals with developmental disabilities, many of the SACU supported individuals Niki works with are also experiencing mental health issues. Her duties vary from day to day, but they always center on the unique needs of the individuals she assists and helping them reach their full potential.

“One individual I work with is nonverbal”, Niki says. “She communicates through pictures and videos.” 

“I’ve helped her use more words and signs and to type a majority of the needs she wanted to communicate. I got her a reference book to help her with spelling. We will sound out words for her and teach her how to spell. We’re also helping her with reading comprehension. Her ability to communicate most of her wants and thoughts to us has improved significantly”

With the unique needs of the individuals she works with, as a caregiver, Niki wears many different hats. Sometimes she is a coach, teacher, mentor, therapist, and friend. 

People who need SACU-level care often come to the facility in crisis and there can be moments when things get intense and clients act out. Niki and her colleagues help get people stabilized so that they can leave SACU for a lower level of care. 

“Anytime our residents are moved away into a more normal life is a huge success for me.”

When asked what Niki would say to other caregivers, Niki said, “keep on going, times are rough but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Oregon AFSCME is proud to represent thousands of caregivers across the state, which gives them a say in their workplaces and the ability to advocate for their  supported individuals and themselves. More and more caregivers are learning about the power of being in a union.