For several months I have asked myself this question with the intent to put my thoughts in writing. I continued to get side tracked with having memories; some about events in the past, some comforting, some stressful, some funny or at least funny after time has passed, some joyful, some memories about advocating, some about happy and sad times and some memories being learning experiences. The journey has been close to a lifetime of memories.
I started working in the human service field in 1977 at an institution named Oswald D. Heck in Schenectady N.Y. I continued to work at O.D. Heck while going to college at Hudson Valley Community College and St. Rose College. I transferred to SUNY Brockport in 1981. I very quickly ran out of money and somehow a sign outside of a storefront on Main St. in Brockport caught my eye, so I enlisted with the Army Reserves. A few months later, a student that was in one of my classes told me I should apply to Lifetime Assistance as she worked at the home on Holley St. I started working at the home on Holley St. in 1983 as a Residence Counselor (DSP).
Through the years I have met many people that are kind and supportive and work very hard to achieve making another person’s life a little bit better. Going to work has always been a nice place to be. How many people can say that they have a job that has presented opportunities to be helpful, supportive, be able to assist families, individuals and coworkers? Through the journey, there have been many new experiences and learning opportunities.
One of the most important learning experiences for me has been learning how to handle difficult, stressful and/or sad situations. I’ve learned how to “be sad or stressed for a little bit, but then move on”.
If I only knew back then what I know now. If your anywhere close to my age you’ve said this; many times. If you haven’t, you will, I assure you. In my case this subject often comes up when sitting around with old friends, reminiscing about our youth and thinking if we only knew… how our lives would be so much better today. Well let me share with you a few things that I know now.
1. I once had an opportunity to take over our family farm. Year after year people would return to spend an afternoon picking fruit and enjoying my aunt and uncle’s hospitality. It was a place you could go to forget about your troubles for a little while. I didn’t take it over when I had a chance. Selling fruits and vegetables at a stand seemed too risky, one bad weather season could ruin you, especially when you’re just starting out. What I didn’t know is that it could have been much more than a fruit and veggie stand. It could been a destination for families and their kids, with animals, activities, attractions and food. They didn’t have places like that back then. With the people I have in my life today, we could have made it work.
2. I love Halloween, especially setting up the cool looking displays. When I was younger we made our displays, they were creative, we didn’t purchase them at a Halloween store or online. I enjoyed making trick-or-treating fun for the kids with sound effects and lighting. What i didn’t know is how much i could have learned if I would have volunteered to take part in any of the school productions. I thought school plays meant getting on stage so i stayed far away. Special effects training never entered my mind, I could have probably been working in Hollywood if I had.
3. There are many jobs that pay you a pension when you retire, why didn’t they teach us this is school. I could be on my second pension by now.
Ok, so I may have missed out on some opportunities, but I could have missed out on a whole lot more.
My family for one.
Debbie and I met while working for Lifetime Assistance. And together, over the past twenty-five years, we have cared for four individuals in our home, through Lifetime’s Family Care program. When we started with Family Care, it was a brand new program, a we weren’t sure how things would turn out. Well it turns out to be one of finest decisions of my lifetime. We have provided a safe, clean and happy residence, and together we all made it a loving home. We worked hard to give each individual stability in their lives, they rewarded us with personal growth beyond expectations. The love that flows between us each day is as strong as the love each of you carry towards your own families. Together, the past twenty-five years have provided us with much fun, enjoyment and many special memories. Twenty-five years also provides plenty of times for sorrow and heartache. And when times arose to face said adversities, we faced it together.
To the people we serve:
One of the greatest joys in life is running in to a friend. You gave me that joy, on nearly a daily basis now for almost thirty years. Thanks for the love you give, the kind words, pictures and smiles. Each one of you help me grow into the person I am, it is my hope that knowing me has in some small way, helped you grow into the person that you have become.
To my fellow coworkers:
I have met thousands of you over the years. Thank you for allowing me to learn from each of you. To the ones I worked alongside of. Many of the skills I hold today I emulated from you. When situations arose that weren’t so enjoyable; it wasn’t that bad because we were handling it together, dear friends side by side. So, to the ones still around, I look forward to running into you again.
Thank you for allowing me to walk each day with my head held high. I pray that you feel that I am serving you well.
Going back to 1978 and my first day with Lifetime Assistance. Knowing what I know now, what would I have done then? I would do it all over again.
This week, Sheila Matthews is sharing her reflections on her years with Lifetime Assistance and “What Lifetime Assistance Means To Me”:
I recently stuck my head in Jamie Branciforte’s office to say hello and we had a very nice conversation. He asked me how I was doing which lead to the discussion of my department’s move to The Lodge On the Canal and the wonderful view of the canal.
I walked away thinking how great it is that I can just pop my head in to say hello to our President and CEO. This brought about that wonderful feeling of “home” and or “family” which is what Lifetime Assistance means to me.
I started out my 33 years with Lifetime Assistance as a relief staff, specifically for the South Avenue home. This was back when there were only three homes in the agency. I remember walking up to the house and seeing all of these people in the yard and on the porch and thinking “wow how many people was I told live here?”. I soon learned another one of Lifetime’s homes was there for a visit and BBQ.
After a brief introduction I was asked by one of the individuals to go for a walk around the neighborhood. About 6 of us went, and I was told all about everything. At least that is what one individual, Joanne told me. She said she knew both houses and I would do well. After a few weeks doing some day shifts and a few overnights I was asked if I wanted a permanent position. I jumped at the chance as I had already become friends with many of the staff and individuals.
I stayed at the South Avenue home for 9.5 years before moving on to assist with opening Lifetime’s new apartments in Clarkson. Wow, what a new experience! I was an Assistant Manager at Clarkson and started meeting a lot of new people. Scary and challenging are the words that come to mind, but we did it!
For the next 5 years I switched between being an Assistant Manager and Manager as we also opened Ridge Road apartments in that time. Incredible staff, like Barby, Dave, Maria, Tammy and many others made the apartments in Clarkson and on Ridge Road the incredible places they are today.
Family Care was my next venture, and where I have remained for the past 19 years. They wonderful team i work with has helped me grow and I have learned so much from them. “These women get the job done.”
I believe I have remained in Family Care for all of these years s I can assure that everyone I work with and support has a wonderful home that meets their needs and makes them happy. There is nothing more important.
Ice storm, loss of individuals, loss of staff and loss of my family members have been some of the major things I have gone through during these 33 years. Lifetime Assistance has stuck with me through it all. So when asked why I stayed so long……. IT FEELS LIKE HOME TO ME.
Thank you Sheila for your 33 years of service and dedication to the people we support!
I was not even out of college when I came to Lifetime Assistance. I worked one day at Wendy’s salad bar and could not stand it. I needed to feel like I was “doing something”. However, I needed to make money so I could spend my last semester of college in England.
I had heard about Lifetime through my family. I applied and got a call from Pam Price. When I arrived at Holley St, I was greeted by Richard, Elaine and Tony. Quite a welcome! I had never really spent any time with people with disabilities until that time. I went into the kitchen where they were making liver and onions for dinner. Oh boy! Anyway, Pam interviewed me in the office and I was hired shortly thereafter as relief. I started on overnights and when I returned from England, I was hired full time.
My agency orientation training consisted of driving around to the four or five locations that Lifetime Assistance operated at the time and we even had lunch at North Hampton Park. I took first aid and BMAC (now SCIP) in the living room of South Ave. I worked with Charlie Johnston, Maureen Lowery and others who are no longer here. We were family and had a great time with the individuals. I was only 22 years old, but felt so responsible for the people residing in the home. I can honestly say, we had fun! The individuals, and their own unique personalities, impacted me tremendously. I wasn’t supposed to stay. I was supposed to move south; however, stay I did! After leaving Holley St, I went to Day Treatment on Clinton St and gained another group of friends. From there, I moved to Chili in 1989 and have remained there ever since.
While my responsibilities and role have changed over the years, I always go back to those early days. I learned from people like Joanne Mills what my priorities should be (Yup, it was always the people we support!). I can honestly say, Lifetime Assistance shaped me as the person I am today.
Why have I stayed? The people. The people we support, and their families, continue to teach me lessons every day. How to appreciate the little things, what a strong work ethic is, how it is possible to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, how important it is to smile, and the list goes on and on. Hopefully I have made a small difference in their lives. One of the challenges for me now is watching the people (including their families) I have known for 30 years age and pass away. However, there are valuable life lessons in that as well. I really and truly cannot imagine a more important place to be! Thank you to everyone who believes in our mission and puts forth their best each and every day.
I now look back on that decision to come to Lifetime Assistance and why as a 22 year old I recognized the need to “do something”….that something was purpose!
Lifetime Assistance has been a part of my life for over 30 years. Working for Lifetime Assistance has helped me to see the value in every single person that I encounter on a daily basis, because that’s what Lifetime instills in everyone who includes the people that they support and the staff that they hire. Lifetime has had a profound impact on my entire family, especially my children and my husband.
It is truly difficult to sum up what Lifetime Assistance means to me and my family as we see the organization as part of our beloved family. As a wavering young adult, I never dreamed that the work I would do and the people that I would meet along the way (co-workers and service recipients and their families) at Lifetime Assistance would give me so much joy, purpose and fulfillment over my 30 year career at Lifetime.
What does Lifetime mean to me? Lifetime means home, family, giving back, acceptance, learning, teaching, caring and most of all loving.
December 26th will be my 35th anniversary working for Lifetime Assistance. It has been a part of my life for most of my adult years. I started with the intention of making some money while I worked toward my accounting degree. That lasted about 6 months before I realized that working with people with disabilities was really where I belonged.
I have worked as a relief staff, a Direct Support Professional, an Assistant Manager, a Residence Manager and a Senior Manager. I took a break to help my Family for a year, at which time i worked as relief. I enjoyed working for a variety of day service sites during this time as well as my usual residential sites. I eventually returned full-time to the residential program.
Life changes and asks that we change with it. Several years ago I moved to the Quality Assurance Department as an Auditor. I LOVED my work in Residential and while I miss it, I have to say that I continue to LOVE my job!
What Lifetime Assistance means to me is Family. Some of the most meaningful relationships in my life are with people I have met through work. And I can truly say that some of the most amazing people I have known are here. The Individuals are the heart and soul of what we all do each and every day! I have so many amazing memories of trips and vacations taken, of moments of great joy when a goal is met or when progress is made. And in moments of grief it has been amazing to watch people gather together to help each other out. The support received from Individuals and co-workers is inspiring. I have never felt that I was alone here, that there is always someone I can go to. It makes me happy to come to a job that most days doesn’t feel so much like work but more like having coffee with friends.
This week we asked Barb Smith what Lifetime Assistance means to her.
“I cannot believe that it has been 30 years! It truly doesn’t feel like it has been 30 years since I walked into the Day Treatment Building on Clinton Street in Brockport. I began working in the Domestic Unit. It was a great experience because I had the opportunity to work with so many great people! I learned so much from the team at Brockport! It was a fun, caring, place to learn. It was a great start to a profession that I still love today!
Throughout the past thirty years, many things have changed and LAI has grown to include so many different departments and support so many people. I have always felt that I work for a leader in this profession and I strongly believe LAI has helped me grow. With their assistance, I have had so many opportunities!
I had the privilege of opening one of the first IRA’s – Clarkson Apartments. Working in the Residential Program was a great experience and opened my eyes to a whole new world. I thoroughly enjoyed working in a home environment!
When my family needed me to be home during evenings and weekends, Day Habilitation – now Day Services – offered me an opportunity to work in a different capacity. It gave me a chance to support people by utilizing community resources for volunteer opportunities and natural work skills.
When I wanted to enhance my knowledge further and share what I have learned, I joined the Quality Assurance team.
So many people have influenced me throughout the years…..I appreciate and thank them all! I met my husband while working at Lifetime Assistance and have met lifelong friends!
I am proud of being a member of the Lifetime Assistance family and I look forward to continuing to support the people I work with and I hope to make a difference in their lives.”
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.