11/06/08 — O'Berry employee earns state honor

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O'Berry employee earns state honor

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 6, 2008 1:46 PM


Tracy Dawson, health care technician at O'Berry Center, prepares a training station for one of the individuals she works with in a group home at the center. She received a State Employees Award for Excellence from the governor's office.

Tracy Dawson enjoys caring for people, but going to work at O'Berry Center, even on a part-time basis, almost changed her mind.

"I remember the first weekend I was here, it was a Saturday. After about an hour, I wanted to quit, I didn't think I could hack it," she said. "Getting to know the clients, I thought, how can I enjoy working with clients that don't talk? But you learn signs, ways of communicating with them, and I'm glad I didn't quit."

Now, more than 13 years later, she credits O'Berry with helping her discover her passion.

"If I had never found O'Berry, I probably would never have gone into nursing and into working with these patients," she said.

A certified nursing assistant, she aspires to become a licensed practical nurse and recently began taking the prerequisite courses toward that goal.

Her role as a health care technician took on bigger responsibilities four years ago when she was assigned to one of the more challenging group homes at the center -- for profoundly developmental disabled individuals who also have psychiatric and medical issues. One man in her charge presented some particular difficulties -- a bipolar disorder caused agitation and an inability to eat and drink, resulting in frequent stays in the infirmary.

Through what she called "process of elimination," working with him one-on-one she found creative ways to overcome the obstacles. One of those was a simple technique of massaging his throat so he would relax and eat.

"He probably hasn't been in the infirmary in two years," Ms. Dawson says now.

Maybe it just took her getting to know him and patiently waiting for him to become comfortable with her, she says.

"You kind of put yourself in their shoes -- it could be you," she said. "Life changes so fast."

She loves a challenge, so the difficulties she saw in her first days at the center no longer slow her down.

"I guess that's the reason I don't tire so easily," she said. "I owe them nothing but the best to keep trying."

Others have taken note of Ms. Dawson's resolve to do her job well.

Her supervisor, Fessor McCoy, program coordinator for the group home where she is assigned, says "she has a way about her" that has prompted many to suggest she be nominated for recognition.

"I have been listening to it almost three years," he said. But he also agrees that Ms. Dawson is a special person.

"Even though the individuals can't talk, she's always talking to them, just like we're talking, and they're smiling," he said. "So in their own way, they're understanding. She just has the love for them. Even when she's on vacation, even when she's out sick, she'll be calling to ask about them."

Ms. Dawson was among 100 workers from around the state nominated to receive a State Employees' Award for Excellence from the governor's office. Recently, she attended ceremonies to receive hers, in the category of human relations.

"It actually comes from the office of state personnel. This is the highest award that a state employee can receive, other than the Long Leaf Pine from the governor," said Anecia Lee, employee/employer relations officer at O'Berry.

The award was created in 1982 to honor state employees for outstanding service. This is the third year O'Berry has had a recipient.

But for Ms. Dawson, it's not about receiving a framed plaque and an array of gifts.

"It's not about winning," she said. "I win every day."

While she was admittedly excited, she said she was "more shocked than anything" but nevertheless pleased that others had taken notice.

"I'm glad that others see that I do care about my guys," she said.

The real rewards, however, appear on a daily basis, as she seeks to make a difference among those she works with in the group home.

They come, she said, "When you actually find something that you like, with them being nonverbal, when you see a smile. It means a lot to me to find something that they like -- that keeps me going."