Endangered Coffee recently posted his job history on his blog. He has rocked quite a few jobs throughout the past few years. In comparison, with the exception of side jobs like bouncing, bartending, dishwashing, selling drugs, amongst others, I've only had four "real" jobs since 1981.
This December I will be entering my 19th year in human services. It could be argued that I've been in human services for 26 years. My first "real" job was at Camp Howe in Goshen where I worked for five summers as a cabin counselor, Boy's Unit Head, Boating Director and Recreation Director. The next "real" job I had was working for the Hampshire Regional YMCA from 1986 through 1989. I was a director for their after school programs as well as running their youth sports programs, Y basketball league and summer sports camps.
In November of 1989 I was sitting around with my friend Eric and his Dad, Eric drinking beers. At the time I was attending college at Westfield State, struggling to make ends meet. I was voicing my displeasure about working at the Y, sick of the kids, the parents and the low pay. Eric and I had worked together there for the past few years and as fun as it was playing touch football, "duck, duck, goose" and finger painting each weekday afternoon we were going nowhere fast. His dad was the co-owner of a human service agency in Springfield that specialized in running group homes for the mentally retarded. After we polished off a case of beers and listened to us griping for a couple hours he offered me a job working for him in one of his homes.
"Work with the retards!!" I laughed. "Those fucking dudes freak me out!".
"I have a new program opening up with Traumatic Brain Injury survivors. They aren't retarded. It would be good to have someone like you to work with these guys, take them to Sox games, show them around town; I'll start you at $8.00 an hour"
Not retarded. More money. Sox. Thus the beginning of my career working in residential group homes.
I spent 10 years working for Eric at Brown & Sullivan. Within a month working there I became a manager. In my tenure there I ran various group homes as well as getting my certification as a Drug and Alcohol counselor (stifle your laughter) and counseling mentally retarded people with their addictions (talk about a losing battle). While there I also used my brawn and street smarts working with gang members in Hartford and did outreach with clients with mental health issues. The last three years there I even managed a group home with mentally retarded clients. I learned that some people who look retarded are more intelligent and "with it" than many people walking around the street who "look" normal.
Eric left Brown & Sullivan and soon after I went to another agency who had gotten many of our residential contracts. I am in my ninth year at ServiceNet Inc. I've come full circle and am back directing group homes for brain injury survivors. Sometimes I feel like I am still at summer camp while at work. The staff are called counselors, we have lots of fun activities surrounded by hours of boredom and there is lots of drama (staff and clients alike). Eric had a philosophy that if you find out what makes a person happy and make the effort to help them be happy, then negative behaviors subside. I still adhere to that philosophy. I run my progams as if I were one of the clients. Just short of having keg parties with hookers I try to provide enough fun activities (trips to the Cape, Sox and Pats games,etc..) to give the clients I work with incentive to be better. The better they act the less people will stigmatize them and only then can they make steps toward inclusion. Actually I wouldn't have done this work for nineteen years if it weren't for the trips to the Cape, Sox, Pats etc...its not for the mid-five figure salary.
I often think about doing something else for a living. Opening a bar, managing a golf course, opening a business of some kind. I have over 50 former or current clients and I could see myself hiring one or two of them to work for me. I still keep in some kind of contact with many of them.
A few years back on New Years Eve my phone rang. It was the first client I had ever worked with in Human Services in that Tramatic Brain Injury house Eric pushed me to work in. He told me that he missed me and thanked me for everything I had done for him. I asked him if he was drunk and why was he being so mushy. He said he was sober, but was reflecting on all of the trips and experiences we shared while he was in my care. He was now living at home with his mom and missed doing the fun things we used to do. I wished him a happy new year and he did the same. I lay in bed in the early hours of the new year reflecting on my conversation with Andy, my career choice, perseverating over Matt Dillon's line in "Something About Mary?", "I love those crazy bastards."