I have been writing this blog for almost three years now. During that time I have tried, with only a few exceptions, not to focus on myself. We have so many people, particularly our employees and their families, that provide such wonderful ideas and material to work with that there is always an abundance of interesting topics to explore. But just this once I want to explain how thankful I feel to be working at the Meadows.
I was recently at an all-day training event, and a lady approached me and introduced herself. Unfortunately I didn't recognize her, but she said that was understandable because we had only met once, more than ten years ago at one of our Walk-A-Thon fundraisers. At that time she worked for a group home, and she said the reason she remembered me was because she had never met anyone who loved their job as much as I did. She was right. I don’t know of anyone who enjoys their job more than me.
Because the work we do at the Meadows is unique, people are frequently curious about how someone ends up in this particular vocation. Obviously everyone has a different reason, but in my case it was because of a childhood friendship.
I grew up in a neighborhood where there happened to be several children with disabilities. We all played together without giving any thought to any differences we might have had, but one boy named Stephen, who had a developmental disability, became a particularly good friend. For several years we spent time with each other and did things together just like any two kids, but then one day, without warning, Stephen died. There was no indication that something was wrong, there was no long illness, it just happened. But his brief life made a lasting impression on me.
Because of my friend, I became intensely interested in all types of intellectual challenges. That led me to volunteer for several years in the late 1980’s at the J.D. McCarty Center in Norman. It was a rewarding experience because I got to work with individuals who had a wide range of disabilities. Eventually, after being self-employed in our family business for almost thirty years, an opportunity came along to sell the company. At that point I instinctively knew this was the field I wanted to work in, and fortunately that was when I found the Meadows.
During the time I’ve been with the organization I have performed many different jobs, but the position I have now is my favorite. However, it is actually difficult to explain to people exactly what it is I do for a living. While it is true that being the Program Coordinator means dealing with a substantial amount of paperwork to keep us in compliance with state and federal regulations and programs, for me the most meaningful part of the job is trying to ensure that each of the individuals we employ has the best day possible.
That means the job is not only about keeping them physically safe but also about protecting them emotionally and psychologically. It means making sure they know they are valued and that they are important. It means being part of a team that assists them in reaching their full potential. It means supporting them when they struggle, without rendering judgment, and it means being patient while they process information so they can make good choices. It means putting on band aids, heating up meals at lunch and sitting and listening when someone is upset. It means being willing to hear a story you have heard many times before because it is important to them. It means respecting them as a person and allowing them to maintain their dignity at all times. It means accepting them for who they are and appreciating their particular gifts and talents. It means never taking for granted the joy they are so willing to share.
It was just by chance that I found this place, and I sometimes try to imagine how different my life would be if I had not been hired. It is incredible to think of everything I would have missed. The fun, the laughter, the happiness and the relationships that have occurred during my time here have been amazing. I have countless memories that I will always treasure.
However, the principal reason I have remained at the Meadows for so long is because I believe in our mission. Men and women with developmental disabilities have the right to work. It is that simple. If they can be employed in the community that is wonderful. We have had individuals leave here and successfully make that transition because of the job skills they developed with our assistance. But for those who require more intense support and a closely monitored environment, we are able to provide an employment setting that meets their needs.
During the time I’ve been here, many individuals have come to us who felt uncertain about their ability to hold down a job, and I have seen them transform into people filled with confidence. We have worked with adults who were so shy they could barely speak to others who now enjoy being the center of attention. I’ve watched as men and women initially struggled to learn new tasks but because they refused to give up, they overcame their particular challenges to thrive and become productive in all areas of our business. We have had people join us who lacked self-esteem, but with the proper guidance and encouragement they began to believe in themselves and to understand that they had every right to feel proud of their accomplishments.
It is examples like these that makes being part of an organization that changes lives such a privilege. So many people are trapped in jobs that have no meaning for them and that leave them unfulfilled. I’m not sure why I was so lucky to fall into such a perfect situation, but I will be forever grateful.
It is startling how fast the last fifteen years have flown by. It makes me wish I was a couple of decades younger so I wasn’t so close to retirement age. But until that time comes, I will try to remind myself each weekday to appreciate the fact that I am where I want to be, with the people I want to be with. That is something many people never get to experience. Which is why, even on the most difficult days, I know how blessed I am to have this job.
Only a few are fortunate enough to find a workplace where they fit in, where they have the opportunity to make a difference and where they feel inspired. For me that place is the Meadows.