Kathy Hager is an energetic woman who just exudes a love for her job. As a Coordinator of one of HCO’s residential programs, she supervises 13 staff members who support the six individuals who live there. It’s a lot of people, which takes a big house. With six bedrooms, three living rooms, three bathrooms, and an office, there is plenty of room for everyone to be comfortable. Because there are six people living in the home, it is the only HCO house that must be licensed by the Minnesota Health Department.

Kathy speaks fondly of the people who live there, a diverse group consisting of five men and one woman. One gentleman who lives there is very independent and is involved in a lot of activities. He likes the family atmosphere at the program and has enjoyed living there since he moved in a few years ago. Another man at Kathy’s program has been with HCO for over 30 years and had even lived at HCO’s first program!

When the lady first moved in, it was due to an emergency situation and happened quickly. Her arrival was initially expected to be temporary – she and her family were waiting for an opening to become available at another HCO home with other women. Once the opening became available, however, she decided she wanted to stay where she was and turned it down! Kathy wasn’t surprised, since the men in the house had been so welcoming with the newcomer. They had become one big, happy family. Kathy says everyone in the house treats each other with respect and are great about giving each other space when they need it.

When the pandemic first began and the stay at home order was put into place, the individuals living there had a very positive, can-do attitude. To keep busy, they liked to partake in virtual activities, make crafts, watch movies, play Wii, and other games. They visited virtually with family and friends on Zoom, talked on the phone, or visited outdoors: masked, and six feet apart. While HCO staff and individuals have gotten used to the “new normal” of living life during a pandemic, the energy and excitement have increased as more places continue to open and events start to resume. The return of warmer weather has been a welcome change, too!

Originally from Burlington, Kathy came to Winona to go to Winona State University, where she majored in criminal justice, with an emphasis in sociology and minor in psychology. She wanted to have a job where she could help people and thought she wanted to work with juvenile delinquents. However, when she did an internship at the courthouse, she “hated it.”

After college, she moved back home to save money and began working in another juvenile program. Despite the new program, she felt like working with juveniles was not for her. She returned to this area and got a job in Rochester with a day program for children and adults with disabilities. When the commute from Fountain City to Rochester began to wear on her, she was happy to be offered a job with HCO shortly after she got married.

Kathy and her husband live in Cochrane and have three children in the CFC school system. She has now been with HCO for 23 years, having started as a Primary Counselor at HCO’s first residential home. She supervised two programs for a while during her career, however, when a person who needed more care moved in to her current program, she gave up the other house so that she could concentrate on the program where she was needed most.

When asked what some of the challenging parts of her job are, she had a difficult time answering. After some thought, she finally shared, “I just really love my job!” She admitted that it was hard to supervise people when she first started, but she got used to it quickly. Now, she greatly enjoys her supervisory duties, and loves mentoring younger generation employees.

The job is often the hardest in the same instances as anyone would encounter when they navigate struggles in their life, like when someone passes away or begins to show signs of dementia. Supporting people in crisis or people who are sick, as well those struggling with mental illness or even seasonal ups and downs can be challenging too. But all those things are a difficult part of life anywhere – not just at work – and HCO staff are able to learn and grow so much themselves when they support others who are going through these challenges.

The best part of working for HCO? The people and the variety, of course. One of the men in her house loves to watch sports, for instance, so she is able to take him to games her kids are in, something they both enjoy. She remembers one snowy day in particular, when all the people in the house baked cookies and played bingo. Another time, her husband said he was sorry that she ended up having to work late one Friday evening. “It wasn’t work,” Kathy laughed. “I got to go to a movie!”

She hopes that young people will continue to give HCO a try. Though staffing is tight these days, she shares that the job is fun and also offers so much flexibility. “HCO is very family-friendly,” Kathy says. “It’s an awesome place to work.”