Employee Spotlight: Kathy McDonald

Kathy McDonald works as an Instructional Assistant at the Ruth Birch Campus in Winchester. She has spent her entire career at Grafton and will celebrate her 36th year caring for clients next spring.

Can you tell us about your job?

I work as an Instruction Assistant in the Community-Based Classroom. We take the kids out into the community to practice different job skills. They usually have a job or two every day – it may be setting up the dining room at a nursing home, working at a soup kitchen, or cleaning bathrooms and floors for local businesses. The students I work with are typically between the ages of 16 and 22. Before they can join our classroom, they need to work their way up by doing tasks around the school, like mail delivery or sorting recycling. When they master those skills, we know they’re ready to head out into the community.

How did you come to work at Grafton?

I started in 1984 as a substitute at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Millwood, where Grafton used to have a children’s residence and a school. I was 19 or 20 maybe. An older girl I went to high school with worked here and told me I would be a good fit. She ended up training me, and I liked it right off the bat.

What made you stay at Grafton all these years?

I just loved it and never really thought about going anywhere else. It’s a struggle at times, but it’s just a rewarding job overall. Some of the children I worked with at Little Red Schoolhouse are now in Adult Services, so I still get to interact with them and see how far they’ve come. When you see them grow out of certain behaviors and mature, that’s rewarding. You start with a kid who can’t pull his pants up, and then a year later he’s pulling his pants up. That gives me joy.

I’m still in direct support, but that’s what I want to do. I’m just happy working with the kids. I don’t want the headache of the higher ups – dealing with the money and all of that. We get to go to the movies. We get to go out to eat. We do all the fun stuff that the kids need to be social out in the world.

What makes Grafton’s clients unique?

They all have their own special skill. I try to pair each student’s job with what they like to do. Some of the people we work with have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and it actually helps them do a particular job better than someone else would. They enjoy getting out and doing things in the community, and they want to do a good job. I think that surprises people. For them, it’s not all about the money. They like to know they’re doing well. It really doesn’t take much to make them happy.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen during your time at Grafton?

We used to hold kids down and do the arm restraints. I’m glad we got away from that. I really feel like it’s a win-win that’s better for everyone. Now the staff is better trained to deal with situations before they get out of hand. You have a much better relationship with the kids when you don’t have to restrain them.

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

Knowing a child’s background and what they’ve been through can prevent a lot of behaviors and makes working with them a lot easier. It gives you perspective on why someone is acting a certain way. We have one student that steals food all the time, and it was incredibly frustrating. It wouldn’t matter how much food he had. He could be full, and he would still want to grab food. Then I learned that he didn’t have a lot of food growing up. Now we give him some food and let him know it’s there for later, and that seems to calm him down.

What makes Grafton a special place to work?

It’s not the money that brings people in; it’s seeing the progress with the kids you’re working with. There are a lot of frustrating times, but when you see that progress it’s a good feeling. I’ve had a couple kids that have left Grafton, and some of them even have jobs. Sometimes the parents will call and tell me how well their child is doing. I think most of them are really appreciative of what we do.

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

If you have the patience and want to help kids, it’s an awesome job. A lot of people think they can’t do it, or they need a certain education or background – but if your heart is in it, you can do it. It’s a very rewarding job. Teaching children how to respect people and live in the community makes it a better world for everyone.