Tuesday, September 18, 2012

CHATS WITH THE CHAIRMAN - Two Girls Starting Their First Jobs

Emma and I this year
Last week, I spent five days helping my daughter, Emma, get settled in her new apartment in Greenville, South Carolina. After graduating from the University of Georgia in May, she landed her first job at The Peace Center, a huge performing arts complex that anchors Greenville’s thriving downtown. We were thrilled, and more than a little amazed, that she was able to find a job in today’s economy; of her closest friends who graduated with her, she is only the second one of them to land a professional job. I was so proud to see her last week, heading off to her office each morning, wearing the work clothes I bought her before she left in place of the yoga pants and t-shirts that made up her college wardrobe. It tugged at my heart a bit to see her sitting at her desk, in the ├╝ber chic, industrial space that has been converted into The Peace Center, which coincidentally was previously a textile mill building, just like Merrimack Hall. I watched her through the door, before she knew I was there, with the phone to her ear as she sorted through the mail. My little girl actually has a job and I couldn't be more happy for her. 

Today is a big day at Merrimack Hall because we’re offered a young girl her first job. Carolyn is 19-years-old and just graduated from Grissom High School. Carolyn is involved in many activities, has a darling personality and is a caring and compassionate friend to the many young people she knows, loves to come to Merrimack Hall for performances in our regular season, is furthering her education at a local tech school and has been selected to represent the United States in Seoul, Korea, this winter as an ice skater in the Special Olympics. Oh, and Carolyn has autism
Caroline at her first day of work
Carolyn has an older sister who is in college in Birmingham, and I think Carolyn is pretty proud of herself for landing a job before her big sister. Ashley Dinges, our Executive Director, worked yesterday preparing a new hire packet for Carolyn, so that all the necessary paperwork will be ready to go and Melissa Reynolds, JSAP Director, is ready with a list of duties to delegate to Carolyn. As these preparations were being made yesterday, I wondered about the activity that took place in Greenville before my daughter reported for her first day on the job September 5, and imagined The Peace Center was doing the same things for Emma on September 4 that we were doing for Carolyn yesterday.
I also thought about how grateful Alan and I were to The Peace Center for taking a chance on our young, inexperienced daughter. I’ve worried over the past two weeks that Emma might not be completely prepared for her first job, that she might not know some of the standard business etiquette she should, that she wouldn’t know how to compose a proper business email or go to her boss with questions. I have hoped they would be patient with Emma, make allowances for her inexperience, remember why they hired her if she should do anything to highlight her status as a newcomer to the professional world.
I’m sure Carolyn’s parents are feeling every emotion today that I felt two weeks ago. I know they are proud that Carolyn has found a job that will challenge and teach her, but one that will also provide her a safe and comfortable environment in which to learn, just like I am for Emma. I know they are a bit anxious about how things will go the first few weeks, just as I am. I know they have fingers crossed that Carolyn will catch on to our procedures, will ask for help when she needs it, will be useful to our team, just like I do for Emma. And I know that when they drop her off with us today, Carolyn’s parents will feel the same rush of pride that Alan and I did when Emma left home for Greenville, and will feel the same tug at their heart to realize that their little girl is growing up and becoming more independent every day, just like Alan and I did.
I've known Carolyn and her family for three years now and am excited to have Carolyn join our team. I hope that I will be a patient teacher to Carolyn, that I will provide her with skills she doesn't currently have and help her refine skills she already has mastered. I’m sure that Carolyn will bring new ideas and ways of doing things to the table, will infuse our team with the enthusiasm that comes from someone new joining the staff. Carolyn’s first day on the job will be no different from Emma’s first day. We may have to make some allowances for Carolyn, we may have to compensate for some things she may not be able to do right off the bat. The Peace Center team is having to do the same thing for Emma. Just as I hope Emma’s job will be the first rung in her climb up the professional ladder and will teach her skills that will benefit her throughout her career, I want Carolyn’s experience to offer her new confidence, new skills, new achievements.
Every day, I realize more clearly that we are all more alike than we are different; that our hopes and dreams as parents are the same regardless of who our children are, how old they are, or what they have been labeled or diagnosed with. And while I think Emma is ahead of the game, having landed the kind of job her peers are still dreaming of landing, I think Carolyn is even more ahead of the game than Emma. Carolyn is stepping into her first job having already overcome more challenges, obstacles and barriers than Emma has, which makes Carolyn already a more well-rounded first-time employee than any of her typical peers. Carolyn is used to making adjustments for herself, has an arsenal of skills she can use to help her navigate any hurdles she encounters in the world and knows when and how to ask for help when she needs to. And I’m quite sure that I will learn more from working with Carol than she could ever learn from working with me.

-Debra Jenkins, Chairman

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