Longtime employee shares experiences from a life of service

As a child, Carolyn would go to work with her mom as she provided care in nursing homes and human service agencies. As an adult, Carolyn credits those experiences for her comfort level with all types of people, regardless of ability level.

Carolyn has worked for The Rehabilitation Center for almost 20 years in several areas of direct support. She began in residential, until she took a supervisor position in our SubCon work center. She held that position for 8 years until a back injury prevented her from continuing. She transitioned to our Lifeskills program in Allegany, and then to Day Hab in Salamanca. The Day Hab position wasn’t an ideal fit for Carolyn. “I loved the people I worked with, but being in one room with the same people every day wasn’t for me,” she said. She switched to part time and took a position as a CNA with Olean General Hospital. “I loved working as a CNA, because I am so nosy,” she laughed.

Although Carolyn enjoyed working at the hospital, she missed the people at The Rehab Center. When Allen, her current supervisor, approached her about an opening in our recreation program she applied. Much to her surprise she was offered the position. As a recreation leader, Carolyn’s duties consist of researching, planning, and recruiting participants to attend supervised trips and activities.  It’s a perfect fit, because it keeps her moving, working with different people at various locations in and outside of the community. “I am not one to sit behind a desk,” says Carolyn.

Carolyn and a group on a recreation outing. Eating dinner at Olive Garden before a Sabres Game!

Carolyn still fills in as needed in the residences, with her favorite being Buffalo Road, which she calls “home.” “The people there are like family to me,” says Carolyn. “I joke with them, and make them feel comfortable. This morning one guy was giving me a really hard time, he just didn’t want to get up and go to program,” she said, “so I just kept joking and laughing with him, and eventually he got up.”

As her mother did, Carolyn makes sure to include her kids and grandkids in agency activities, and often brings them to Buffalo Rd. “I don’t want them to be scared or uncomfortable around different types of people or those with disabilities,” she says. Her children have all worked for the agency at some point, and her niece still works at one of our residences. “They were awesome, they all jumped right in and loved it,” said Carolyn. Her siblings also work in human services. “It just runs in our family. It’s something we grew up with and what we do.”

When asked what advice Carolyn would give to someone who has not had these experiences. She says, “Don’t be afraid, they just want to be treated like anyone else. Teach your kids when they see others who are different, to make them feel comfortable. Know that they aren’t contagious or scary.”

Carolyn also credits her time with the agency for making her more aware in everyday life. She gave an example about an experience while on a recreation trip in Lake George;

While out dancing with our group, she saw a boy with Down’s Syndrome watching them longingly.  He was alone with his two elderly parents. Her gut instinct told her he wanted to dance but was waiting for an invitation. Carolyn went up and asked the boy to join her and their group. He flew to the dance floor in seconds. Once the music was over, the boy’s mom and dad approached her to express their gratitude. “Thank you so much. He loves to dance but wouldn’t go up alone.”

Although Carolyn loves what she does but it does have it’s challenges. There are times while out on recreational trips that a person we support has an accident, and as a staff member she is responsible for cleaning it up. Her past experiences have prepared her for this, and she doesn’t bat an eye. “But, it’s not for everyone,” she says, “You have to be able to keep a positive attitude through it all, or they can sense it. You can’t let on if you’re tired or grossed out. This is not a computer or office job – you have to really be here for our folks. I treat them like they are part of my family, because for me, they are.”

Click here to learn more about the recreation program. 

The Rehabilitation Center provides programs and services for individuals with developmental disabilities, behavioral health concerns, and the aging. For more information, please contact us here.