Several weeks ago, Guild School student Thomas “T.J.” Sheppard was scheduled to have his wisdom teeth removed. To help the difficult procedure go smoothly, The Guild offered support and sent a member of the residential staff to accompany T.J. and his mother, Karen.

To the surprise of no one, Renel Desjardins, assistant residential manager of Cedar House, joined the Sheppards. T.J. and Renel have established a close, trusting relationship over the last year, a bond that has eased T.J. during challenging times and helped the 20-year-old cope better.

“I wouldn’t make T.J. go through that without me,” Renel says. “I went there to support him. Everybody was shocked; they didn’t expect it would go so well.”

Actually, Karen had an inkling that if Renel met up with them at the oral surgeon’s office, the operation might not be so problematic. She has frequently seen T.J. and Renel interact, and often hears her son speak admiringly about the longtime Guild employee.

“Renel is so soft spoken and calm,” Karen says. “He has a magical way of de-escalating T.J. I think T.J.’s success since he’s been at The Guild has a lot to do with Renel.”

T.J. especially looks forward to his one-on-one time with Renel. Their favorite destination is Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, where they like to explore the interactive store features, ride the elevators and dine together. They also enjoy frequenting other community spaces, including local malls and movie theaters.

To Renel, the keys to building a strong relationship with T.J. were clearly defining each of their personal spaces, urging him to express his feelings through words and exhibiting confidence.

“Once we implemented those things, our relationship really developed,” Renel says. “I’m pleased to see how far T.J. has come and how happy he is now. I’m very proud of all of the work we’ve done with him. Everyone on the team has done an outstanding job.”