April 9, 2012
By Tam H. Phan, Director of Community Affair, LaborPress
Dedication to diplomacy—that is Carolyn Washington. She has been with AHRC for 33 years and has worked in Direct Care and Direct Support for that entire time. Her work requires the highest degree of patience and interpersonal skills. Every day she is tasked with helping folks who are mentally challenged learn life skills from tying their shoes to reading to typing. The work is challenging.
As if that weren’t enough there are constant changes in laws and program directives handed down from Albany that make it harder for direct care workers to perform their duties. As soon as a program is developed, implemented and has momentum, such changes require her to operate differently. Whatever gains that were made is then erased and she is forced to start over. In addition to program changes, there are funding cuts. For example, the passing of Managed Care decreased budgets for staff and operational needs. Carolyn had to repeatedly adapt to programmatic changes as well as structural ones.
Carolyn has not wavered and always stood fast in the face of these obstacles for one reason—her work is rewarding. The goals individuals achieve are celebrated as triumphant victories. Accomplishments are measured on an individual basis. Every milestone reached means a step towards a more meaningful and well-rounded life for the individuals. Along the way, she gets to share the joy with each and every one of them.
Carolyn is not only able to empathize with the individuals she helps, but she connects with her fellow workers as well. For that reason, she is Vice President of Local 253. She transforms the experience of three decades in the field into a diplomacy, which she uses in her capacity with the union. “Working with people, you have to be helpful and supportive,” she says. “In organizing, the collective must be brought together because it is everyone’s fight. There has to be buy-in. Each person needs to understand the necessity of the struggle.”
Her current tug-of-war is with the city where she is trying to have a bus stop in front of her center relocated to the next block so that individuals can board and unboard safely without having to worry about the dangerous traffic congestion. Here, she will once again diligently use her dedication to diplomacy to find a middle ground where her individuals and the city can both win.
Reflecting on her work over the decades, Carolyn says somberly, “Lots of people died for unions so that workers can be protected,” but then with a smile adds, “I live for the union.” Indeed, the way she sees it, workers are protected so that the people they serve can be protected.