Name: Deborah Salmon
Position: Senior Supervisor
Campus: ASD Residential
Previous Positions: Youth Development Professional
Year Started: 2011
How many years have you been in your current position?
About 6 years.
Do you remember hearing about your supervisor position and thinking that you would apply for it?
Not really. It was probably just that I didn’t think of applying for it. I just figured I wouldn’t get it until the res coordinator encouraged me to apply.
Did you have a background related to the work you do at Hillcrest?
Yeah, I was a social worker in Jamaica. And then I moved here as an international staff.
What appealed to you about the job?
I worked in Washington DC and it was similar to this job in a lot of ways.
What are the most rewarding moments for you at Hillcrest?
So much. For ASD, it’s just seeing the kids come in and they have so little skills. It’s the small things. Because to them, for ASD kids, it’s the tiny things that count. For some people, it’s a kid being able to drive, but for ASD, it could be a kid getting up and walking from the dorm to the bus. Or walking over to take meds. The simple things that makes it rewarding. [We had a student], they had a new plan for him and we were like, “It won’t work.” And then we did it and it worked and we’re like, “Oh my god, it worked!” That kind of thing.
What are the hardest moments for you?
That hardest moments is, for me is whenever I see staff struggle and I’m not able to help. And sometimes that’s with their personal life. Seeing them struggle. Struggle with the job. And some people come in and they talk to me about personal stuff.
But the hardest moment was when [a former student] passed. She used to be here as a student. And then there was a report that she died. She had left [Hillcrest already.] That was the hardest thing for me here. I think she had been here for two years. Maybe or more less.
Who is the most influential person in your work life?
That is an interesting one. It changes from time to time. It depends on what situation I’m in. Both present and past administrators have been very helpful.
What surprised you the most about working at Hillcrest?
That I actually like it. [laughs] Especially working at ASD. I remember wanting to go to Highpoint the whole time. And one day I got up and I thought, “Oh my god, I like ASD [Residential Program].” I actually like working with the kids. I was like, “Oh, okay!”
When I came in, when I started, I was thinking about going to Highpoint. ASD was pretty new. They had…five kids. So I was like, “No, I don’t want to go to ASD. I want to go to Highpoint.” I used to do overtime at that location, but the longer I stayed here the more I realized, “Oh, these kids are so amazing!” They struggle with the basic stuff, but you also see them overcoming it and the effort they put into it. And it’s like, “What do I have to complain about?”
Any favorite stories about the students?
[laughs] Oh gosh! One of the ones that jumps out at me, they’re are so many, but that one that jumps out at me is Rafael. Rafael came in with so much challenge. He used to bang his head for just needing to go to the bathroom. He had absolutely no skills. And then one day we were eating there with Rafael and we’re feeding him and Rafael goes “More.” [signs “more” with hands] And I said, “Oh my god!” He moved from hitting his head or possibly going to the hospital for just needing water or to go to the bathroom. And Rafael left with so many skills, like saying “more.” That’s like one of the over the top stories.
Or Ethan, who is mischievous, says, “If I can’t watch the TV, nobody can.” That’s something that my kids will say at home. You see them as just kids. Even though you know their limitations, you can see the other side to them.
Do you have any advice for new employees or employees going through training?
For people going through training, come in with the mindset to serve the kids. All of the time, people think that “I am going to change them,” or “I’m gonna do it for them” kind of thing. But if you come in with the mindset that they even though they have disabilities, they have a lot of abilities. They have a lot of stuff that they do very well, and if you focus on that, the frustrating days doesn’t matter because you get to enjoy the moment. You get to enjoy the simple moments.
Don’t come in with the mindset, “Oh, I’m going to change them.” Because then you’ll get frustrated, because you can’t. We’re just a little tiny spot in their life. We’ll be in their life for…three or four years maybe, but someday they’re gonna be 50, 60. So if you see it like that, that you’re just a tiny part of their life, just a little piece of it, you’ll understand just to enjoy the moment.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Even though there is a challenge, one thing about Hillcrest is they take care of the kids. That’s the one thing that really keeps me here. That we’re actually taking care of the kids.
*******This interview has been lightly edited and condensed*******
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Don’t forget to read our interview with Lead Cook Al Adams.