Name: Patrice Nda
Current Position: International Recruiting Specialist
Current Campus: Administrative Offices (AO)
Former Position: Youth Development Professional (YD)
Former Campuses: Hillcrest Academy, Autism Spectrum Disorder Residential
Year Start: 1997
What appealed to you about Hillcrest when you first started?
When I first moved from New York, I was a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). I couldn’t take it because…there are so many dangers. You’re on the front line of everything, right? I went to work one day, there’s someone who’s sick. They didn’t tell you until they’ve taken the bloodwork that this person has this infection, so use your protective gear. In the meantime, I’ve been with the person. I said no, forget it. So I looked around the Berkshires and Hillcrest was the only opportunity. I said I’d rather work with the kids than that place. Because my heart was not in nursing. I’d rather be around the kids. I said, “I’m going to work for Hillcrest.”
I started out as a Youth Development Counselor (now YDP). From there I moved up to level 4 (highest professional level for Hillcrest YDP). I was the only level 4 at the Academy at the time. I was a mentor. I never wanted to be a supervisor because of my own children. Being a supervisor requires some time. You might have to come in to cover a shift so I stayed in my position as a Youth Development Counselor. But I did every training. Everything they wanted me to do to maintain my level, I did.
What are the happiest moments for you while working here?
My happiest time was working with kids age 8 and 12. There was a shortage of staff. And one day one of the clinicians came in [to help] and it was a Saturday. We had 8 kids. [Some] were upstairs. I said, “Don’t worry. Sit down and just keep an eye on this kid.” So I would jump from this dorm to this room.
And at the end of the day, he asked me, “How did you do that? I said, “It is knowing your kid.” You’re not in to win, you’re in it to work with those kids. When you give your everything to them, they listen to you. They know what to do. Sometimes when they do something, I don’t even have to say anything, I just turn and look at them. And they say, “Mr. Nda, I’m sorry, I didn’t do it.”
But if I was somebody who was always not nice to them, they’d never come to me. It’s so nice to give in this world, whatever you can do to change somebody’s life. It’s what Hillcrest is about. To change to those kids’ lives. If you come to work at Hillcrest, you have to accept the whole package. Not half of the package. These kids, they’re not easy. But when you do what you need to do, you’ll see the fruit at the end.
They know you mean business.
They ask me if I have three eyes! I say, “No, our job as direct care staff is 95% watching.” You need to keep your ears and eyes open….because the safety of the kids is on the line. After leaving the floor, I don’t want a call from the supervisor saying, “This happened on your shift.” So I make sure that I have my eyes on each kid. So you go in, you keep your eyes on the kids, you do your job, and at the end of the day you feel happy.
I had a kid named Vladimir. He was very, very…overactive. I mean, a tough kid to deal with. When Vladmir was ready to go home, he cried. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to go because he went from 5, 6, 7, 8 codes per day to being one of the best kids. So when you see something like that. A kid going home. It makes you feel good, peace. And the end of the day, that’s what we do. You cannot change everything, but our goal is to get them to a less restrictive environment. When a kid goes home, it makes you feel good.
Also, what are the happiest moments for you in your current position?Oh my god. Every day is a happy moment because…my background. I’m from Ivory Coast, right? I wanna give it back because those staff, they’re coming from outside. And being here, I’d love to share my experience. When I pick them up from the airport and I see someone coming, I’m so happy. I love my job. That’s it at the end of the day. I love my job. When they come here, I’m in charge of their dormitory. I help them get their fingerprint, all those things. When I’m around those guys…they’re so, so humble. Whenever you do something for them, they say, ‘Thank you!” I say, “Don’t thank me, it’s my job. I get to help you to make your transition more smooth.” I love being around those guys. Anybody from any country. I love them. I love being around them. Every day is a happy day for me.
What is the hardest part of your job?
When you help the kids transition from the classroom to the dorm. You’re ready to do circle up or something. You stand up to help the kid. The kid turns around, starts throwing stuff at you. And you ask him, “What did I do?” They don’t have nothing to say but, “F— you.” If you don’t think twice, if you don’t go back to your training, you might overreact and do something stupid. You always have to tell yourself, “It’s not about you.” It’s not about you. And you have to remember this kid, maybe there was something that happened [in their past and they’re triggered]. It’s not about you. They’re not doing it because they hate you. Remember that and go forward.
Presently, the hardest part of my job is when I get to the airport, and after two hours, I don’t see the person coming. I call Michele (Vice President of Human Resources). It was the second time I went to pick up a guy. We didn’t get much information. Now I communicate everything with them a month before they get here, so I get all the information. But before it was not like that. So Michele said this person is coming. We don’t even have the flight number. So I was looking, looking, and after an hour and a half, I call Michele and say, “I don’t know. Maybe they’re not here.” She says wait a little longer. So I went to ask the TSA. Is a flight from this country coming? So I’ve been waiting at Terminal A, and the international terminal is E. So I have to go to the other side of the airport. Nobody. And finally, Michele calls and said the guy called the office. So I go and find him. And then I couldn’t find where I parked the van. I finally found the guy, but I couldn’t find the van. So I told him, “Stay here.” And I go looking for it. Luckily, we have a remote control alarm. So I went through four floors on the parking lot. All of a sudden I heard the alarm, beep beep beep. Went back and found the guy. When I got back to the office, they were laughing. I found my guy, but lost the van. That doesn’t happen anymore.
What surprised you most about working for Hillcrest?
That I Iasted this long. I didn’t know I was going to last this long at Hillcrest. I learned so much. And the people that you work with, there are so many good people. I owe so much to Ms. Allison. I wish everybody was like her. She didn’t even want to let me come to AO. She said the only way she was gonna let me come is if I come back and do my mentoring until they can find somebody else. But I was with her and the Academy for 4 or 5 years. She’s a great person. I learned so much from her. She taught me a lot. We are around good people.
When I was on the floor, every time they asked me to come to AO, I thought, “Uh oh, I’m in trouble.” The minute I started working here, I realized this was the best place to be. People here are so, so nice. Everybody. And my heart goes to my boss, Michele. Oh my god. She’s an incredible person. I hear from so many international staff, oh my god, they love the people at AO. That’s what we want to hear. We’re all in this together. It’s a good place to work.
Do you have any other advice for new employees? I feel like you touched on this.
My advice is always remember that those kids are here for a reason. Always remember your training. Don’t take anything personally.
Also, when they started bringing in video surveillance cameras, people were not happy. And I said, “You know what, I like it because the cameras are not there only to protect the students. They’re also there to protect you. It goes two ways.” So if anything happens, I always tell them to have a pencil and paper in their pocket wherever they’re going [so you can write down exact timings and other details.] Because when you’re writing an incident report, you have to be accurate. If something happens, and you write your incident report and it’s not accurate. Hillcrest can’t defend you. Don’t try to make up stories. If they go back and look at the cameras, and it doesn’t match, we can’t help you. Please always take good notes.
What kind of person succeeds working with the students?
You have to have empathy. Because, those kids come from different backgrounds and if you don’t have a good heart, if you don’t like those kids, it’s going to be tough for you to work here. Because sometimes the kids try to say to you, “You’re here because of the check.” No, no, I’m not here because of the check. Yes, I have to pay my bills. But I’m here because I want to change someone’s life. So people have to really love their job and want to help those kids. If you don’t have that love, it’s hard to work here. If you go in just for a paycheck, this is not your place.
We’re all here to help those kids. You don’t see until a student is ready to go home [that they like you], because those kids, they’re not going to show you that they like you. The staff that they like the most, is the staff they try to hurt the most to see if you stand up to them, accept them. When you see a student be tough on you, don’t worry, because when you’re not on the floor, they’re going to talk good about you. When you’re there, they pretend they don’t like you, but they do like you. At the end of the day, you’ll see.
Before they get to us, they’ve been in maybe four, five, six places before. And it’s an attachment issue. So they’re saying, “Oh you come here, and then you’re going to leave, right? So why should I have to like you?” They’re going to push you and push you and see if you still come to work.
I always tell the staff, you’re not just there to write them negative reports. Make sure that when you catch a student doing something good, write something positive and give them a copy. When you’re on the floor, talk to them, empower them. When you go to work and only talk about what they’re doing wrong, it’s not good. It’s not going to help you. Try to also catch what is good and right, and make sure that they know that. You’re not there to make their life difficult. You’re also there to help them. So write both. Try to write more positives. Empower them.
*******This interview has been lightly edited and condensed*******
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