Continuing with our 40th Anniversary Celebration we asked Senior Vice President, Ernie Haywood what Lifetime Assistance means to him.
Upon receiving the request to answer the question, “What does Lifetime mean to me”, I was struggling with exactly how to put my thoughts on paper. Then the recent death of a person who lives in one of the homes we oversee, reminded me of what Lifetime means to me. Her death while tragic was a shining example of what sets Lifetime apart from other organizations. Throughout this tragic loss, I saw firsthand how staff put their own grief aside to help the housemates and co-workers, deal with their grief. To me the epic center of our success as an agency and the defining moment for Lifetime is the point of interaction between the staff and the people we support. Over the years I have seen many changes; however, the constant that has kept Lifetime Assistance unique from other agencies is our amazing staff and their commitment and dedication to our mission to provide opportunities of a lifetime to those we support.
During my 37 years at LAI, I have had the privilege of working in several different positions. I started as a Relief Worker, and throughout the years have been a Manager, Program Director for Residential Services, Program Director for Day Services and most currently, Senior Vice President. Throughout all my years and various positions what has kept me grounded, and quite honestly has kept me at Lifetime, has been the faces of the people we support and the staff who support them. Lifetime Assistance is all about people and relationships. Be it the hundreds of people I have supported over the years, their families or the countless amazing staff I have had the privilege of working with, the commitment and dedication to improve the quality of lives for the people we support has been my inspiration. The smiles on the faces of those we support when they have overcome so much and the joy on staff faces as they celebrate these accomplishments along with them are the very essence of Lifetime.
My career at Lifetime began as a Relief Worker in the fall of 1981. I recall my interview with the first Executive Director. He asked what kind of commitment I could give to Lifetime and in response to his question I said I would commit to one year. Well, it has been the longest, but best year of my professional life! Prior to Lifetime, I had worked at a local institution, and I remember the horrible conditions and how awful the people were treated there. When I left, I pledged to myself that if I ever worked in the field again I would do whatever I could to assure people with disabilities were treated and supported with dignity and respect. I have been honored to be involved with so many individual’s lives and to be a part of every aspect of growth at Lifetime. I recall when I started working at Lifetime we supported just 30 people and had less than 15 staff. Just as we do now, the people we supported then always came first and that fact is what makes Lifetime so great. We have never lost sight of our mission over the years as we always put those we support in front of us. What a tribute to our founding board that, 40 years later, we remain true to their commitment to always put the individuals we serve first and to provide supports and services throughout their lifetime.
For me Lifetime stands for…
L is for Life and all we do to support people to have a good quality life.
I is for the Independence and all we do to support and promote greater independence
F is for Family and Friends who have partnered with us to enhance the lives of the people they care about and we support.
E is for Engagement and our efforts in pursuit of opportunities for the people we support to engage in their communities.
T is for the Time we all spend in supporting people to have the opportunities of a Lifetime.
I is for Inclusion and our efforts to advocate that people with developmental disabilities be fully included in their community as all others are.
M is for the Meaningful Relationships we strive to foster and maintain for the people we support.
E is for Excellence that we strive for in everything we do in support of people with developmental disabilities.
What does Lifetime Assistance mean to me? It’s difficult to explain in a nutshell how more than 35 years of experiences at LAI have affected my life, but I’ll give it a try.
I began my association with Lifetime Assistance, Inc. in the summer of 1981. A good friend of mine, who was one of the first people to be hired by the agency, encouraged me to volunteer. I still remember the first day I showed up to begin my service. After being introduced to several employees, I was given a tour. My first impression was that this was the happiest and kindest “work place” I had ever witnessed. The people who worked there were obviously knowledgeable, deeply caring, and extremely patient. The people who were being served varied in age and abilities and it was clear that they had bonded with the employees. The atmosphere was one of respect, love, and fun.
I was assigned to the domestic unit of the Day Treatment Program, one of only a few LAI sites in existence at this time. (LAI consisted of this site, a workshop, 2 group homes, and were soon to open a 3rd home.) My assignment was to “work”, individually, with three specific people – Noel, Patty, and Robert. I had never spent time with or really known anyone with developmental disabilities before coming to LAI. I had a lot to learn and it was very challenging for me at first. The employees were as patient with me as they were with the people they served and I soon gained confidence. I discovered I loved this work and felt that I could make a lasting contribution to the agency’s mission. I was hired as a Residence Manager several months later.
Lifetime Assistance has grown and changed considerably since I first came here in 1981. We have many more services, programs, employees and people we serve, but our values remain constant. The same dedication and commitment, kindness and caring I saw when I walked in on day one has not changed and that is the essence of Lifetime Assistance.
I am coming to the end of my time at LAI, but I will retire confident that the people who continue to work here will always give their best to the people they serve.