Employee Spotlight: Chad Lesman

Chad Lesman is a career and technical education teacher at the Ruth Birch Center, supporting the community-based classrooms.

Why did you want to work in behavioral healthcare?

Grafton is the only place I’ve ever worked! I started out wanting to be a physical education teacher, but when I graduated from college, a job was available to work in a group home and that’s how I got my foot in the door. Not too long after, an opportunity arose for me to teach PE here. I did that for 18 years until I moved into this role.

Working with students with disabilities makes you want to come back every day. Our clients may not be making the kind of leaps and bounds you see in mainstream educational environments, but little things that build over months or years make it so fulfilling.

Now that I work with adults, I notice the same thing as they learn a new job. Clients don’t go out to a new job site and know what to do the very first time. But we go with them and model the behavior and activities. And when they succeed, it’s really exciting.

What is your background? What type of training have you received?

My degree is in Kinesiology. But I went back to school after I’d been working at Grafton for a while, to get a Masters in Education Administration. That’s one of the benefits of working at Grafton – they help to pay for your education.

Why are Grafton’s clients unique?

Every day is a brand new day; no day is like the last. It keeps you on your toes. We’re there to help the students with whatever issues, problems or concerns they are having at any given moment. Of course, there is stuff that’s routine, as there is in every job. But with our kids, there’s an aspect of not knowing what to expect and that makes you have to constantly be thinking in new ways.

What makes Grafton a special place to work?

It’s the students that I get to work with. And it’s also the staff and being able to get along with and work with each other. We care for individuals that have complex challenges, so it’s important to have people on your team that are knowledgeable and that you can trust. I definitely feel that way about my colleagues at Grafton.

What makes Grafton’s approach person-centered?

I help clients find jobs in the community and work with them at job sites. The main goal of what we do is finding job opportunities in the community so that students get the skills they need to, hopefully, one day maintain some sort of part or full-time employment.

For our students, we individualize our approach at every job site. When we go to a water treatment plant, for example, there might be four different jobs that we do every week and we bring several students with us. The goal is for every student to be able to do every different job. Some students will pick up one activity quicker than another. We support everyone so that they can do all of the jobs. We want each person to leave the job site being proficient at every task they have had.

We focus on each person, making sure that, whatever the task, they’re going to be able to do it efficiently and independently. Once they are able to do that job, we help them to move on to another within the building. It may take a few weeks or months, but with repetition, the students are able to master the skills.

What does utilizing a trauma-informed approach mean to you? How does it affect your work?

I’ll be honest, when I started at Grafton 22 years ago, we were doing lying down restraints. So when it came to Ukeru, I was skeptical. But I’ll tell you – I never, ever want to go back to the way it was. I never want to lay my hands on another student.

When I began to use Ukeru, I found that I needed to build a better, more personalized relationship with students. If I trusted them and they trusted me, that was what worked. Now, when a situation occurs, I can talk them down. They understand that Mr. Chad won’t put his hands on them. Building personalized relationships with students, you’re able to intervene without ever resorting to something physical. De-escalating verbally – that’s what we do the most at Grafton.

What would you say to someone who is considering working at Grafton?

Do it for the love of working with children, first and foremost. You’ve got to be there for the kids and the team.

In the long run, if you decide it’s something for you, Grafton will support you. Going back to school, leave time, flexibility, moving internally within the organization – that’s all possible here.

What would you say to a family considering Grafton for a loved one?

For adults, state funding drops at the age of 22. So programs like this one are crucial – there is so much support and so many services available. If you think of a day in the life of one of the clients I work with, think about all of the individuals and support that they have: the overnight staff; the academic staff member who drives them to school; their teachers and therapists; administrators. And then, at the end of the day, they go back to the group home and see the residential staff that many of our clients consider to be like family.

Our clients probably see 20 people that touch their lives each day. That doesn’t even get to all the other people they might see when we go out in the community – people at the business, houses of worship and charities where we work. They interact with the people they see at the restaurants, shops and other places they go to as part of our community engagement program.

There also has been more acceptance in the community because Grafton’s been here so long. People are becoming more aware and more sensitive to individuals with special needs.

Ultimately, we want our students to grow up and become a functional member of society. A few decades ago, there was nowhere for someone to go other than to sit all day at a group home. But our clients want to feel productive and to be a part of something, just like anyone else. I think Grafton is helping them to have that opportunity.