A Change of Career Opens New Doors

A Change of Career Opens New Doors

Our Legacies magazine is a special anniversary publication, celebrating our history, the people we have supported, and those who have made our mission possible all these years. Here is one of our stories:

Ken Harper is a Program Director of our Broadway, Ives, Kentucky, Cedarwood, Welcome Place, McGlinch, Arkansas, Emery, and Merrimac homes. He has worked with Hammer for 32 years.

I came to Hammer in 1991, after moving here from Louisiana. I had been working in chemical dependency and wanted to get a job at Hazelden (drug and alcohol rehab center). But then I saw a want ad in the newspaper for a DSP role at Hammer. I applied and got hired. After working at Hammer’s Dublin home (now called Emery) for a few months, I knew this was where I wanted to be.

Three guys had moved into the Dublin home from a treatment center and three from their family homes. It was a totally different experience for me than working in the chemical dependency field. The thing that really got me—I would take people to the mall or to a Twins game and the whole way back they would say, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” They thanked me for doing something we take for granted. That made a huge impact on me.

Later, the guys from our Dublin home and I moved to our Ridgeview home. I was a DSP and then Assistant Program Manager for 15 years. Tom Gillespie was a big mentor for me. When I became a Program Manager, he was my Program Director until he became Chief Program Officer. It seemed to be a perfect fit; we had the same kind of personality. I always appreciated that I could reach out to him. Whenever I had something new like running a program plan, he would give me an opportunity to give it a shot first and then send it to him for corrections.

What’s kept me here for 32 years? It’s the relationships I’ve built with the people we support and their families. Aaron moved to Arrowood when he was 13 years old. It was really tough for his parents; 13 is young, but it just wasn’t working out for him at home because of behavioral challenges, it wasn’t safe for him. Now he’s living at our Hampshire home and doing remarkably well. He invited me to his bar mitzvah last year. Seeing him up there, speaking in Hebrew, he was amazing, and it made me emotional. He had worked with the rabbi for months. The ceremony was about 45 minutes long. That’s a long time for Aaron. His favorite phrase is, “That’s too long can we be done now?” You take him to the movies and he’s ready to go after the previews. But he didn’t say it once. Aaron has made such a transformation from when he moved to Arrowood at 13 to the man he is now. Maybe it’s the stability he’s had. I’m glad I was a part of it. But most of it was Aaron.

The people we support have certain challenges but they’re not different from us. I’ve built relationships with the people I’ve supported and treat them like I would my friends.

Joining Hammer has been the best decision of my career.

Ken is pictured above, earlier in his career, with Jim from our Ridgeview home. 

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