Sometimes Good Things Happen
By Joanna Doyle, Diagnosed 2002
I am sure many of us have faced difficult work situations, and I am no different. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, I was in tough shape for about five years. My wonderful supporters and family helped me maintain my long-term job, with reduced hours, for some time. As these friends moved on and the workplace changed, I decided to leave the position with no other gainful employment in sight. In many ways, I enjoyed unemployment because I didn’t use all my available energy for work. I expanded my art career, and was able to go out to lunch with friends and spend more time with family, including my Golden Retrievers, Genevieve and Jean Luc, also wonderful supporters!
Clarendon Early Education Services leadership team:
Margaret McDonald, Cheryl Finney and James Dube.
In addition to needing a paycheck and health insurance (in a big way, as I’m sure you all understand), I am dedicated to my profession as an early childhood specialist providing professional development to early educators. I wanted to work, but despite my skills and experience, it proved difficult to find a good match. Early on during my unemployment, I sent a resume with a post-it attached (very professional) to Cheryl Finney, the CEO of Clarendon Early Education Services, Inc., who I had known and admired for many years. The post-it read simply, “Cheryl, please let me know if you hear of anything good!”
A few months later I received a call from Cheryl asking if I would be interested in some contract work, and of course I was. I developed a proposal for the work to be done that included a former colleague, and we got to work. Things went very well and the project was successful. During that time, I got to know both the leadership and staff and was very impressed. In addition to providing high quality services to children, families, and educators, these people were kind. We started to talk about actual employment, and though no specific funding was available, we struck a deal that has proven to be a win-win situation. I chose to tell Cheryl and Margaret that I had MS, and it didn’t seem to influence their decision to hire me in the least. Jim Dube, the Director of Finance, also welcomed me warmly.
As a result, I have worked with Clarendon Early Education Services, Inc., for nearly four years. While many employers have written policies to support people with disabilities, the Clarendon leadership lives the vision in daily practice. Here are a few examples:
Joanna Doyle (center) receives 2011 outstanding employee award from Clarendon Early Education Services, with leadership team members Margaret McDonald (left) and Cheryl Finney (right).
Clarendon is flexible. Margaret McDonald, our Executive Director, frequently suggests that I work from home and “Rest up!” or “Feel better,” in a lovely Irish accent, by the way. She also complimented me about the amount of work I get done when I’m home sick. As I’m sure many of you understand, a little boost to self-esteem when you’re feeling low means a great deal. By the way, if I’m working at home, I am not required to use sick time. The nature of my work allows for flexible hours, which the leadership fully supports. When I have to cancel training events, both Margaret and Cheryl understand that I feel guilty and respond by trying to make it “less stressful” for me, and by finding alternatives to reduce pressure. Who does that? I believe I am the only person with MS on staff, but the flexibility holds true for all staff.
Clarendon is family-friendly. Cheryl, Margaret, and Jim make it clear that taking care of one’s self and family comes first. Although it is always hard to balance personal issues and work, every member of the leadership team is supportive of staff during difficult times. The message is clear that staff need to feel supported in order to do their jobs effectively.
Clarendon provides excellent benefits, which isn’t easy in this economic climate. We have great, affordable health insurance that actually motivated me to get married to my life partner in order to add him to the plan! My new colleagues made me a lovely wedding hat with veil and gave me wedding presents within a week of my employment.
These are kind people. Kindness is cultivated. Staff are encouraged and supported to be empathetic to others.
I am grateful for many aspects of my life, including wonderful family, friends, dogs of course, what I characterize as “manageable MS,” and the ability to work and sometimes have fun and make art. Clarendon is a model for what people with disabilities need to succeed, and my gratitude to the leadership of Clarendon is beyond words. I hope to express it through my work for many years to come. I sincerely hope that many more “MSers” can experience the joy I have found working in such a supportive workplace.