Nicole DiStefano grew up thinking of Northeast Arc’s Middleton House as a second home, shadowing her mother, Cynthia Gagne-Zemar.

DiStefano has since returned “home” as a residential social worker for Arc.

“It’s been wonderful having her work for the same company that has become my life,” said Gagne-Zemar, who is celebrating her 25th year with Arc.

As a certified home health aide, Gagne-Zemar started out in a relief position at Middleton House. She was a mother of three young children at the time and needed flexible hours. She then transitioned to a full-time position as house coordinator, then assistant program director and now program director of residential services. She still looks back fondly on her early days, taking residents to their activities such as swimming, horseback riding or bowling, and being welcomed to a shift by individuals calling her over to “come sit.” Now, she’s enjoying learning the different systems involved in maintaining a home.

“Working with other directors has been a great learning experience,” she said. “They offer a support system that is welcoming and helpful. Being able to assist with the needs of the individuals on a managerial level and seeing the end result is very rewarding.”

“She will do anything to help anyone,” said DiStefano. “Hopefully that’s the nature of everyone in this job, but she really taught me that at an early age. When you grow up and learn about diverse needs in the community, it enlightens you and makes you want to help.”

DiStefano started working for Arc part-time in 2012, at the recommendation of her mother.

“When Nicole was graduating high school, I encouraged her to come work for the Arc,” said Gagne-Zemar. “It offered the same flexible hours that it did for me 25 years ago and would be perfect for a college student.”

DiStefano later transitioned to full-time and was working as a program director while earning her master’s in social work.

“A social work position opened up at Arc and that was it,” said DiStefano. “I have my dream job.”

Gagne-Zemar’s husband, Adil Zemar, is also celebrating a milestone at Arc — 10 years. He is a direct support provider on the overnight shift. Their son, Ryan, who is 13, may be the next to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

“He, like Nicole, is part of the Middleton family,” said Gagne-Zemar. “I foresee another Zemar at Northeast Arc in about five years.”

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