Patricia Wright Interview
This is file #48, cycle 3. Today’s date is August 2, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Patricia Wright who is the current Director of Chore Service. She is going to talk about her background, Chore Service and anything else that tickles her fancy. But first we’ll start with…
JM:What is your name?
PW:My name is Patricia Wright, known as Pat.
JM:When did you become the current director of chore Service?
PW:June I, 2015
JM:who were the previous directors?
PW:Ella Clark (See file #37, cycle3, Ella Clark) was the founder and the first director for many years. Then Heather Dineen from Cornwall was the director just before me for 2 ½ years.
JM:You have quite a career background. You have done just about everything. Tell me about being a teenager at Geer.
PW:At Geer? I was working at Geer as a nurse’s aide beck when I was about 18 or 19. My mother was there as the Supervisor of Nursing. I had started working as a nurse’s aide in Gt. Barrington and then switched down to Geer.
JM:In Gt. Barrington were you at Willowwood?
PW:No, I was at Timberlyn Heights? It is actually back being called Timberlyn Height again. There I had done almost everything in the nursing home. I had worked in occupational therapy, housekeeping, laundry, and I learned how to be a nurse’s aide with a good friend of my mother’s. It was good training. It was my first real work with the elderly and I enjoyed it. I was an occupational therapy aide in between my junior and senior year of high school. I really enjoyed that. I offered to drop out of school so I could keep the job. My boss who was also my mother’s boss said that my mother would kill her if I did that.
JM:She was probably right, but you went on to Boston University and got your Masters.
PW:It was years later because when I was working at Geer, I got married and got pregnant and had my first daughter. A couple of years later I found myself single remarried and had another daughter. We went to Kodiak, Alaska. That is where I started going to college. I went to school up there for a couple of years and then came back and finished while we were living on Cape Cod. I got my Bachelor’s Degree from Bridgewater State College and then my Master’s from Boston University. Bridgewater State was a good school: I went there for two years. I had my Associate’s Degree from Cape Cod Community College. It was within commuting distance. I got a good enough education there that I managed to get my Master’s in one year. I got advanced standing.
JM:That is unusual.
PW:Well it was very important for us because my husband was in the service. He had to get a one year extension for me to go to college. They gave it to us, and they kept their word. They moved us out a week after I graduated. It was very helpful that they kept their word.
JM:You said that you did everything except alcohol rehab.
PW:I have worked with people with alcoholism and drug issues just because it co-exists with so many other issues. That was never the focus of the work that I did. That was our purpose because early in my career I had to work with people that had issues with alcoholism. It was just not what I wanted to do. The recidivism and the lack of success rate and the frustration in that made me realize it was not something I had the wherewithal to work with directly.
JM:You found your focus and that is what you stuck with.
PW:I did. I knew when I went to college that I wanted to work as a social worker administrator as opposed to a clinician. One of the nice things about being up in Kodiak was that it was a very tiny place. It was a t the height of the feminist movement and worked with domestic violence, sexual assault victims so I was able to do many things that most people wouldn’t be able to do without a degree. By the time I went to school I knew what I wanted to do. I had already written grants. I knew I wanted to do that so when I went to school, I knew that was the focus I wanted. A good friend of mine told me that social work was the most flexible degree and it has been. My degree was in Social Work and my Master’s program there was a focus on administration, but you had to take courses in everything. I had all of the clinical classes. I commuted with a woman from the Cape so it was a fair commute to Boston. She was very clinical so she took some of my classes and I took some of hers so we could commute together. I had all those clinical courses and it was actually very good, the clinical stuff, it just wasn’t what kept my juices flowing.
JM:I am so glad you came here to share your passion with us.
PW:I am so glad I got a chance to do that.
JM:How much of a staff do you have here at Chore Service?
PW:There are two of us here full time. There is myself and Jane MacLaren who is the Director of Programs. We have a part-time bookkeeper (Stacey Marcin Ed.) who is in a couple of hours a week. Then we have 30-35 chore workers that work part –time taking care of all of our clients in the community.
JM:Most of them are women, but you said you do have a few men.
PW:We do have a few men. Right now we just hired one more so we now have 6. That is a pretty big number for us. It helps a lot because we have a lot of requests for yard work. The spring and the fall are our busiest months May and June and October and November because people are opening everything
up in the spring. Those men are able to help with moving the air conditioners, putting out the lawn furniture. A lot of people as they get older, they just can’t do the physicals things they used to do. Yet they still love to be out on the patio so we have the men and a few women who can do it also.
JM:Do you have a board of directors?
PW:We do. We have a board of directors of 11 people, covering all of the 7 towns that we service. Right now we do not have a board member from Norfolk. Our Norfolk board member had to back out due to her professional commitments. They are all volunteers.
(Board members 2018: Lea Davies, President, Carla Herman, VP, Dinny Greene, Secretary, John Greene, Treasurer, Ceely Ackerman, Michelle Considine, Priscilla McCord, Dolores Perotti, Judy Sheridan, Electra Tortorella, and Mike Volstad. Ed.)
JM:What are they responsible for?
PW:Policy setting and fund raising; they also are very active in fund raising. They are one of the most dedicated boards I have ever worked with. They know the role of the board and they stay within that role. They do not try to get involved in the running of the agency day to day. They are very good about staying in their own role. They are very supportive. They have done everything they can. When I got here things were a little bit rocky financially. They were very supportive to make sure that I had what I needed and that we could do what we needed to do to get the agency back on sure footing. We have done that. The wonderful board is what keeps the executive director someplace. If you have a board that does not know their role, and they get involved with the day-to-day nitty gritty, the executive director doesn’t stay. I don’t plan on leaving.
JM:Oh good we are so pleased.
JM:I have used the service. I know how well it works.
PW:The pieces that we have done over the last three years, before I came there wasn’t full time staff. I think the Executive Director might have been full time, but everybody else was part time. I really felt that it was important to keep Jane, who was already here in her role and to build up her time as much as I could. When I first got here, I backed down to part time so that she could be here and do the same number of hours. Gradually the board through their support and willingness to invest in what we were doing, we both got up to full time. By the end of the first year that I was here, we both were full time which made it much easier and better for all of our clients and our staff. They were then able to reach someone. There are two of us and we do have time off, but there is always at least one of us here that can cover things. Often both of us are here, but there is always at least one of us covering.
JM:That is reassuring. There is nothing worse than calling and getting a machine.
PW:We do a twice a year client survey to see what is going on. The first survey that was done when I came on, was being mailed out and as a result of cutting back, one of the comments there was that people could not reach anybody in the office. That issue was addressed and after that first survey, we have not had that comment come back. The staff is also glad of that because they feel more confident taking on new clients because they know they can reach us and we will are going to be able to help them when they have a problem. When you don’t have someone in here all the time it is impossible. When it was just the Executive Director, she couldn’t handle everything at once. She really needed to have both components taking care of the client and the staff and the administration. So that was our focus was in the beginning; that is how we have managed to function. That is why we are solid at this point.
JM:It takes effort. You have to have a direction and stick with it in order to get where you want to go.
PW:Right and commitment and the background and knowledge of how to get there. You had to have someone come in that had the background and the experience to know where to put the focus and then how to get there.
JM:You recently had a garden party. You said it went well.
PW:It went very well. It is our main fundraiser for the year. We have that and our annual appeal. They bring in the majority of our money. It was at a gorgeous property. We had many things that popped up at the last minute. We usually have a big tent in case it rains. Because of the underground irrigation it was suggested at the last minute that we not have a tent. Thankfully the weather was good. Every year it is in a different location, so everybody gets to see a different garden that someone else has in the area. This year the property was overlooking more mountains and valleys and it was just a gorgeous view. I think not having the tent made it even better because it was more open and you could really see the views and the gardens. Will we do that in the future, probably not because the weather can be very iffy? This year it really worked out well.
JM:How do you get your clients?
PW:Our clients come most often by word of mouth. They frequently will come from the town Social workers, (See file #97, Patrice McGrath, Family Services) a social service agent, sometimes from the Salisbury Visiting Nurses (See file #56, Kathleen Shortell, SVNA), occasionally we get a call from a doctor’s office, we get calls from Geer and Noble (See tape# 147A, Eileen Mulligan) because of the people who come in for rehab and they are headed back home. It may be a return client or it may be a new client that has had an illness or a fracture and they are going to need help when they go home. They contact us. Sometimes it is just because we are out there: we go to the SVNA Health Fair every
year. We put out brochures. We have posters around. Occasionally it is through those, but most often it is word of mouth. That seems to work.
JM:I have used it for my husband. I have used it for myself. I know it works. I think you mentioned that you have men who do snow shoveling.
PW:We do workers, men and women, who if they get to somebody’s house and they see that they need a path shoveled, they will. That does happen. We want everybody to be able to get out.
JM:How do you get your workers?
PW:It is also word of mouth. The most successful workers that we get are word of mouth. They are friends or friends. We do run an ad occasionally. We did run an ad this year for the first time in a number of years and got a few responses. Others will read an article that we have in the paper; there will be a thing like a big thank you for our garden party in the Lakeville Journal. It will talk a little bit about the work of the Chore Service. There was an article in the Waterbury Republican about our garden party. Sometimes people will read that and get in touch with us.
JM:What is your interview process?
PW:What we like to have happen is for somebody to either go to our website or we can mail them an application or they can pick one up. Then we get a chance to look at it, we try to see whether or not we think they are going to be a fit. We interview almost everyone who applies just because at some point they may fit a niche that we have with one of our clients. Our clients have very individual needs; the workers have individual talents and skills. We try to make a match. We do an interview and if it looks like they are going to be appropriate for us, then we do a background check. They do have a drug test before they come to work for us. We also do a check on their driver’s license. They have to have a driver’s license.
JM:Is you interview over the telephone or face to face?
PW:We may have to do it over the phone, but it is usually face to face because of the work that they are going to do in someone else’s home, we do a face to face interview at least once. Usually both of us will meet them; sometimes it doesn’t work that we are both here when they are available, but usually if Jane is interviewing someone, I’ll come out so that I meet them. That way they meet both of us, and they know who we are. JM:You have been getting funding from the Northwest Connecticut Area Agency on Ageing.
PW:Yes, we have gotten that since the beginning. The very first piece of funding came from Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (See tape # 167A, Alice Yoakum) while they were waiting for the agency funding to come through. They have provided funding to us for all of 26 years. Other sources were Cornwall Foundation which gave us money and the Community Health Foundation located in Sharon. It provided funding in the past.
JM:Do the towns contribute?6.
PW:The towns all contribute what they can from their budget. We are in the part right now where we will start getting our money from the towns. Thankfully they all appreciate the work that we do for their elderly and disabled in their community.
JM:What do the workers get paid?
PW:The workers just got an increase so now they get $12.50 an hour. That is good for our area: it is in line with the area, but we would always like to pay more. In the past we were paying $12 an hour, but we were able to give them a slight bonus twice a year. This year we increased their hourly wage because we been able to maintain that rate with the bonuses in there for the last few years. We thought it was safe to do so. We are hoping that we can still manage to a bonus too, but we don’t know. We pay a little bit more for those who are doing yard work and heavy outdoor work, but most workers get the $12.50.
JM:Do you pay mileage?
PW:We pay mileage if we have someone to go outside their immediate area where they live. We will help with mileage for them to get where they are going. Also If they are running errands for a client, they do get paid mileage.
JM:Who is eligible for Chore Service?
PW:Anybody who is a senior or disabled qualifies roughly. Our mission is to help those people who need assistance to stay in their home safely. It is designed for those that really need to have somebody to help them so they can stay at home. They can’t afford necessarily to hire privately the help they need because private help is very expensive. We do not do a means test, but we do have people who pay us according to what they can afford. We give a suggested rate which is based on a federal rate, which has not been adjusted in years. We trust people to give us what they can afford. Some people who could hire private help still come to us and they pay us pretty close to the private help rate which helps to cover other people. Anybody who can pay above what our costs are is helping someone else’s ability who has need.
JM:When you say senior, what age limit are we talking about?
PW:With the Agency on Ageing is 60; with them anyone over 60 qualities. We kind of go on that.
JM:The area that you serve is what?
PW:We have the northwest 7 towns; Canaan, Falls Village Salisbury, Sharon, Cornwall, Kent, and Norfolk. It is a pretty large area.
JM:Do you have future plans; programs that you would like to implement?
PW:There used to be an active Gardening Angels and Friendly Visitors which were volunteer programs. They fell by the wayside because more people in the area who were volunteering actually needed to get paid. Our work force is mostly retired and semi-retired and they use us for supplemental income because they can set their own hours. We make a referral to the client and then the worker and the client get together and figure out their schedule between themselves. It works well for someone who is either a young mother, and we do have a few of those who are mothers doing it around their children’s schedule, and we have many older seniors who are workers. We even have a couple of workers who have used us when they had surgery or something.
JM:That is a real accolade.
PW:We had 2 just this summer that have been out for surgery that was not work related, but we were able to help them. They would qualify for our services, but even if they hadn’t we would still help them because that is what we do.
JM:When you became the director, what tasks did you see that you had to accomplish?
PW:The first one that I needed to do was stabilize the organization financially. The organization had gone through a lot of change. They were just ending a state contract that was putting demands on them that were outside of their mission. It was financially draining. First I had to pull everything together and financially stabilize the organization. At the same time that I was doing that, Jane needed to tighten up and put together files and things that hadn’t been well taken care of. When you only have one person trying it run an organization that is not at the top of the list. It took a year for her to get our back records and our clients’ files where they needed to be. Now she is very organized. When she is not here, and it happened last week, someone called with a question about a client, I could pull the file and there was a note so I could answer their question. She is very good about keeping track of things like that.
JM:You said that you do a client survey?
PW:We do a client survey twice a year. It is a requirement of our grant, but it is something that we would do anyway just because it is good to do. Last year we started making them measurable; before they had been just questions I.E. What do you think of Chore? They were too open-ended which didn’t really tell us much. We changed it so there is now a scale. We are about to do our second one. Then we can compare the two. It is really nice when it is measurable because then you can do pie charts and graphs. Jane is really good at those. We can put together a really nice report now based on our surveys to let people know what people think of us as well as what we can change and improve.
JM:What are the plans for the organization?
PW:The board meets every other month. At their September meeting their main focus will be on developing a planned giving program. We know that we have a few people in the community that have us in their will, but a real plan giving program for people in the community. We need to do things like
update our staff manual which we don’t usually have time to do. We are also going to revamp our client packet that goes out to everybody.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t covered?
PW:Just that everybody need to remember that we here. If they have neighbors that need assistance because they have had surgery and need help for a short time, we are there for them. We have a number of clients we have helped just because they broke a leg or an arm, so doing things are difficult. We can come in and help for short periods of time. It does not have to be a long time. If somebody needs help, let us know. Let’s see if there is something we can do to help them stay at home safely.
JM:Thank you so much.