In 1995, Mariah Withrow applied for a part-time job at HCO because her roommate worked at the agency. She was a social work student and thought that a position at HCO would get her some needed experience to help in her career.
When she first started, she says, she did real hands-on work, including taking individuals to medical appointments, yard work, and shoveling snow. She remembers especially the snow shoveling. Since the house was on a corner lot, it seemed the walks constantly needed shoveling. Now she is a Coordinator of 2 programs, and one of them is in the very same house where she started out as a part-time college student.
“When we train new staff, we aren’t just training them to care for individuals, we are training them to run a home,” she says. When Mariah talks to prospective employees, she tries to describe in detail what is involved in the work: cooking, cleaning, bathing, and helping with other personal routines. And, she mentions, staff have to be prepared to deal with people staring, as they sometimes will.
Mariah looks for people with a willingness to be trained, to communicate well, and to have a sincere feeling for the individuals. Part of the pre-job routine is to take prospective staff to the home where they may be working. She says it’s helpful to observe how well newcomers interact with the individuals who live there to see if they are the right fit.
Most of the part-time students she hires come from social work and health care majors, but it’s always a treat to find someone from the math and science fields who is a great fit for the job too. The ongoing training HCO offers and the opportunity to work side-by-side with experienced staff help new hires to find their place in the organization and do a good job. “And for that they get a very sincere thank you, from both individuals and staff.”
She shakes her head when she talks about how many years she has been at the job. She loves the variety, the autonomy, and feeling part of the community. She loves that people at HCO really listen when they ask for your opinion and something comes of it.
She has taken other part-time work from time to time and says she always learns from it. She has even driven a semi-truck! It’s interesting to her to see how other organizations supervise and how their employees feel, and she brings that experience back to her job at HCO.
Things have changed a lot in the years Mariah has spent with HCO, however. Being hands-on is still a huge part of the job. “I’ve grown up with these individuals,” she says of the people in her programs and the staff. In fact, she says, as the individuals in the homes age, she is having to deal with death more often and it is extremely difficult. Not only is she losing friends, but so are the individuals left behind, and it is up to staff to help them through the grieving process as well.
Mariah has concerns about the future. Funding continues to be a prickly problem. People are waiting for services, and she reads more about reliance on “natural supports” to aid the individuals that HCO serves and could serve. “Not everyone has natural supports,” she says. “What happens then?”
The best way to deal with problems, however, is to talk them through. Mariah asks her staff a lot of questions and listens. They have to be ready to adapt if things change. They are constantly asking themselves, “What can we do better, what can we do more of? I want the individuals I work with to be happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. HCO and I can do that. Our job is to know each person and what they need.”