Kara Georgson regards her job as a Residential Coordinator with the Association as just another part of her life. So much so that sometimes she doesn’t even regard it as work. But it wasn’t always her goal to work with the handicapped.
As far as Kara can remember, “working with the handicapped is something that I’ve always done.” She wonders why she didn’t always plan for the work as a career choice. When Kara graduated from high school, she explored college courses in Business Administration and then Education. While studying, she worked in a part time position with the handicapped. She realized that the work was something she loved and decided to pursue a career in the field.
Kara started at the Association in 2001 as a casual group home worker. A “mover and a shaker” by nature, she quickly worked through positions as a day programs aide, residential worker and then supervisor at the 83rd Ave residence. She has been a residential coordinator for the Association since 2004.
Kara remembers being unsure of what to expect when she first began working in the group homes but says that, once she began, it just seemed natural. Supervising at 83rd Ave kept her very busy and was a learning experience that initially overwhelmed her. She soon got organized and before long was ready to supervise more programs.
Kara’s goal from the start was to attain a coordinator position. She wanted to “be a part of the bigger picture” and still be involved with the clients. Great variety in the work keeps her on her toes and that’s what she prefers.
Just when you think everything is calm, something happens and you’re spinning again, which I like. It keeps me going.
In 2002, Kara went on a vacation to Las Vegas with Paul Goodliffe and Wanda Anderson. Paul is a huge Elvis fan and ended up dancing and singing on stage with Elvis. Wanda was in her glory -shopping, shopping and more shopping. As Kara recalls, “It was a long four days. We didn’t get a lot of sleep and put on a lot of miles.” Paul and Wanda made use of wheelchairs and motor carts so that the group could get about more easily and see more than they would have been able to otherwise. Kara is happy to have gone with the clients. She found the experience so interesting because she saw the city from a different perspective. The focus was to participate in activities that the clients preferred, so Kara says they ended up concentrating much more on the visual attractions such as light shows and water shows, which she wouldn’t necessarily have noticed on a personal holiday.
Kara describes a “love/hate” relationship with clients and says she treats them as she would anybody else. She doesn’t feel sorry for them. She always includes the clients she works with in her personal life. Kara has the same expectations of clients in terms of respect as she would from anyone.
Kara says it’s a mistake for staff to approach the work as “the boss.” Just like everyone else, clients don’t appreciate being told what to do.
Really, their job is to ask questions and give choices and help people to live the way they want to live.
Kara now co-ordinates programs where she has been front line staff, so she has some special connections with the clients in her charge. Some of the clients she has become close to are now getting older and some have failing health. Kara wonders how she will deal with the process as they pass away and knows it will be difficult.
Kara would like to see an increase in pay, especially for the front line staff. They work hard and deserve it. “We expect a lot from these people and it’s hard to retain them when grocery stores and restaurants offer the same wages for minimal jobs in comparison.” She is working toward more incentives for existing staff so that they can be acknowledged for their efforts.