“I have been active in all but the very first play that we did,” Joette Gillett said with a smile as she looked back on her 20 years with Home and Community Options. “I was in The Music Man and it was very fun to sing and dance and meet many people that I didn’t know before from the community.” The annual production, which Joette has helped with on stage as well as behind the scenes, is also one of her favorite ways to be involved with individuals that the agency helps support. It was this love of community that brought her to the agency.
After 20 years of nursing in the Twin Cities area, Joette returned to school with the desire to do more. She had been working full time while simultaneously taking care of her family and taking one class each quarter, but with some encouragement from her husband, Joette committed to going back to school full time and moved with her family to Winona to attend Winona State University. Not wanting to return to work in a hospital after graduating, Joette was more interested in community or public health services. “Then I saw the ad in the paper and it sounded nice because it was days and no holidays or weekends,” she said of the open position, which was more than attractive after working odd hours at the hospital for so long.
Since starting at Home and Community Options as a Coordinator in the Personal Care Attendant Program, Joette has become the Director of Division IV and is now the Health Services Director. Her role in Health Services was a new position for the agency, and as a result, much of the work Joette does she has implemented herself. “It is a lot of administration and management type of work,” she says of her position. A major part of her role in Health Services is to teach Medication Administration Classes and a variety of health and wellness based trainings. She also visits programs on a regular basis to check on and assess individuals. As a result, Joette has met with some individuals every month since she began in 1998. One woman in particular has been meeting with Joette since her employment, and acted alongside her in some of the plays. “It is like a friendship with her,” Joette said, laughing as she told about the individual referring to Joette’s husband as Joette’s “boyfriend”.
One of the biggest challenges that Joette has dealt with at Home and Community Options is the changes in financial support over the years: “In our Division it has been all In-home programs, so funding and meeting requirements for what staff need to do has been difficult.” She also noted that this concern is one that wasn’t even spoken of when she began at the agency. The concern continues to grow, and Home and Community Options had to close the Personal Care Attendant Program at the end of last year. Another challenge Joette spoke of was the generational differences she is beginning to see in the agency. “As I get older I have different ways of looking at things than other younger people,” she added, saying that in an agency with employees that have been here for twenty, thirty and even forty years, there has to be a conscious effort in “trying to learn how the newer staff or the newer people that we are working with are viewing things.”
Though the job is comprised of many types of work, Joette says she isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “I might have to retire someday, but I don’t think I will leave other than that.” Joette finds joy in coming to work for Home and Community Options and has very few days in which she doesn’t want to come in. Not only is she inspired by her coworkers and the variety of work that she does, she is also motivated by the knowledge that she is able to help individuals thrive. Knowing that she is considered ‘my nurse’ for many individuals is one of the most rewarding parts for Joette.
Beyond everything, the agency’s emphasis on caring for everyone involved with its mission is what Joette sees as one of its most important characteristics. “Out of all of the places I have worked,” she said of the people at Home and Community Options, “there is just such a camaraderie and caring force in the staff for each other, for those we support and from the management for the staff here.” The care for each other is what makes the agency such a strong force and what continues to bring people to its doors.