Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Holiday Gift

I hadn’t been at the Rise holiday party for 10 minutes when Pauline Niznik, one of our employment consultants, waved to get my attention. She motioned me in the direction of a table where she was sitting with a group of individuals she is supporting in integrated employment.
Recently I had been in touch with Pauline due to a phone call I had received a couple of months ago. The call came in from a parent of someone Rise had assisted in finding a competitive job a number of years ago. According to the caller, her daughter was having problems with a newly hired supervisor at her company and there was grave concern about losing a good paying job. The caller was inquiring about the possibility of re-engaging services with Rise to help stabilize her daughter’s employment situation.
You know, I don’t handle a lot of these calls directly but I guess this was my lucky day. And so I proceeded to ask the caller some questions. Since this was a third-party call, I wanted assurances her daughter and employer knew about this call and shared an interest in receiving on-site technical assistance to resolve the problem. I then asked the caller for additional job and contact information so our staff could provide a rapid response in addressing the situation. During our conversation, I learned this individual had been working as a housekeeper at a major hotel in the Twin Cities. And here’s the kicker…she’s been working in the same housekeeping job at the same hotel for 27 years!
I guess the caller was initially hesitant about contacting Rise because she apologized for bothering me with this issue. “Apologize?” I asked her in amazement. “You’ve just informed me that someone Rise once supported with job placement services is still on the job after 27 years! And you’re telling me she’s making great money and is high on the seniority list of her company. This is the best news I’ve heard all week,” I said.
Of course, I wasn’t sure what the specific employment concerns were at the time. And I wasn’t sure if this individual was in desperate need of a job change after so many years of doing the same work. So we dispatched Pauline, one of our most experienced employment consultants, to examine the issues at hand. Pauline was authorized to work to with this individual and her employer to stabilize the present job situation. And, if necessary, she was prepared to recommend alternative arrangements to support any desired changes (i.e. explore the interest or need for job placement services).
As this story unfolds, Pauline has been working closely with the housekeeper and her employer for a couple of months now. She is helping to smooth out communications, dealing with presenting job performance issues, and coaching the new supervisor on training and support strategies. In short, Pauline is offering supported employment services to monitor the situation and delivering targeted assistance to correct identified areas of concern. And so it appears the working relationship between the housekeeper and hotel management has improved to a level of satisfaction for all parties involved.
So back to the Rise holiday party….I knew Pauline had invited this individual to the holiday party and here she is now motioning over to me so she could formally introduce us. As I reached her table, Pauline went through the social formalities. I shared my pleasure in finally getting to meet her and  congratulated the housekeeper for her long tenure on the job. I especially congratulated her for having the courage to reach out for support when she needed it most after so many years. The housekeeper expressed her gratitude and mentioned Pauline’s guidance and support has been very helpful in working through a tough patch on the job. Further she expressed optimism our services would make a difference in maintaining a job that pays her excellent wages and benefits after so many years with the same hotel chain.
I remember praising the housekeeper for her 27 years of employment and remarked how this was a clear testimony to her work ethic and dedication to her job. As she acknowledged my compliment, Pauline suddenly jumped back into our conversation.
“Hey Don, there are THREE women sitting at this table who have worked in the same job for more than 20 years.”
“Wow, really?,” I shot back in amazement.
Pauline then proceded to  introduce me to two other women sitting at the table who are working in the health care industry. One individual has worked for 29 years as a laundry aide at a local nursing home! And the other has worked as a nursing assistant and dietary aide at a health care facility for the past 23 years. Wow!
It was truly a delight meeting all of these working women and  it was the highlight of my evening. I’ve worked at Rise for 34 years now and it’s still a joy for me to hear firsthand about the job successes of people we have had the privilege to support.
On this particular evening, I learned how measured investments Rise made 23, 27, and 29 years ago were still paying dividends in the lives of people today. And if you think about it, these three women together have logged 79 years in competitive employment! After 29 years, one of them is now retiring from the labor force. And the other two women are still pursuing individual employment goals.
It’s been a couple of weeks now and I ‘m still thinking about these three working women. I was struck by the durability of their employment matches and how Rise's investment in customized and supported employment services many years ago had enriched each of their lives. Success stories like these drive home the importance of making integrated employment an accessible, attainable opportunity for all.
You know, I wasn’t really expecting to receive a gift at the Rise holiday party but Pauline Niznik gave me three. Thanks Pauline!

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