Name: Al Adams
Title: Lead Cook
Campus: Hillcrest Academy
Year Started: 1994
What’s your current position title?
Lead Cook at Hillcrest Academy, yes.
And how long have you been in this position?
Almost 25 ½ years. That’s how long I’ve been with Hillcrest.
Do you remember how you found out about the job?
I actually came to Hillcrest Hospital to apply there, but back then the Food Service Director was in charge of the schools as well as Hillcrest Hospital. So he didn’t have anything for me there, but he said I have this job at the school if you want to apply there. So I came down here and checked it out. I have restaurant and hotel experience, 45 years in food service.
Do you have any opportunities in your job to interact with the students?
Absolutely! Every day. Breakfast, lunch. All day, in between.
And they know you, they know your name?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course, the ones with autism probably don’t know my name. They know I cook and recognize that I give them food.
And I’ve been at the Center. I’ve cooked at all the campuses at one time or another. I was at the Center and then they asked me to come here.
What are the most rewarding moments for you working at Hillcrest?
There’s a lot, but when you see the kids come in and they like what the menu is, they like what’s for breakfast or lunch. Or, for example, we have watermelon out sometimes and they say, “Oh, I love watermelon!” Or when they come back for seconds. Or the ones who can tell you, “Oh breakfast was great!” “Lunch was great!” So that makes you feel good. I’m a little old school. I try to take pride in my work, do the best I can, and put out a great product.
What are the hardest parts of your job?
I don’t even know that I have the hardest part. Probably, I do the ordering for everything that’s in the kitchen and for special functions and whatnot. I’m trying to get used to closing. We run similar to a public school schedule. When I was at the campuses, we were 24/7, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now when I’m here, there’s no weekends, no dinners, no holidays, and they close for a week. So trying to adjust my ordering to where I don’t have extra milk or produce or anything. Get it right down to the wire. That’s definitely the most challenging.
Who’s the most influential person in your work life right now?
I would probably say my supervisor, John Haughey. He and I have very similar backgrounds and experience. And he’s good to work with. Definitely see eye to eye and we work well together.
Also Jim Clark—the former food service supervisor—has supported me both professionally as well as personally over the years.
What surprised you the most about your job?
I went from working 12 hour shifts to 8 hour shifts here. And I went from working 3 ½ days a week to 5 days a week. So that took a little bit of an adjustment, but I was surprised that I was happy to work just the 8 hours. Because it takes a toll on you working 12 hours a day. And with the 8 hours, the time just flies.
Were you doing the 3 ½ days for years before?
Forever. Since I’ve been here, it’s always been 12 hour days. Especially in the summer when it’s hot. When you get out at night, you don’t want to do much, because you gotta do it again tomorrow. That’s definitely a challenge.
Do you have any advice for new employees?
I would say come here and try to learn everything you can about each child that you’re working with. I don’t know everything about each child, but I try to work with them and keep a positive attitude and learn from everything you deal with.
What kind of person do you think succeeds working at Hillcrest?
I’d say someone who rides it out. You have good days. You may have a bad day here or there, but you just keep coming in. See how the kids grow and how they learn. And try to get to know them and help them. It’s great. It takes a big team here, absolutely.
Do you have any favorite stories about the kid?
I have one that I like. It actually happened yesterday. We put some fresh plums out and they were beautiful.
A student came in and was like, “What are those things?”
I said, “Well those are plums.”
And he said, “Oh, I’ve heard about them.”
I said, ‘Try one, I think you’ll like it.”
And he took a plum and he took a bite and he walked around the corner. Then he came back and said, “Those are great! Can I have another one?” And I was like “Absolutely!” So this is what I mean. You teach. You’re educating a little bit. You put out something. They see something they haven’t had or some food they haven’t had at home that they’re getting here. And it’s nice and rewarding to know that that kid is hooked for life on plums now. Simple. Something simple.
****This interview has been lightly edited and condensed*******
Want to be a part of the Hillcrest team? Check out our job openings! We’re waiting to hear from you.
Don’t forget to read our interview with Clinical Coordinator Valerie Kingsley.