The Surprising Hidden Benefits of Dishwashing    

Hillsides doesn’t typically employ our residents. However, we do strive to follow our clients’ initiative to help them become successes.

A few months ago, one of our staff members approached me, hoping we could provide an opportunity for one of our residents who wanted to work in the kitchen as a dishwasher. The staff had taken the time to really listen to this client and to try to accommodate his wish, and they felt it was a great idea. So the client got the job, feeling empowered and respected.

At first, the youth was just interested in making some additional spending money, but the experience turned out to be much more meaningful.

From the start, the kitchen staff served as role models who demonstrated a wonderful work ethic. With the staff as mentors, no matter how challenging the day may have been for this resident, he managed to compose himself sufficiently to make it to the kitchen to wash the dinner dishes. One time I remember seeing him arrive, check in, tie an apron on, and begin the routine of preparing to wash dishes. He was very focused and methodical in carrying out his tasks. No doubt he was trying to impress me so he could justify the raise he frequently requested.

Working in the kitchen not only taught this resident about responsibility, it gave him a sense of self-worth. The staff valued him for his role in the kitchen, and with this validation, he began to feel more confident in the kitchen and outside. A very gregarious and engaging youth, his focus in the kitchen matched his single-minded determination to get better, achieve in the classroom, and to reach his ultimate goal of moving to a location closer to his mother.

He also enjoyed the camaraderie of the kitchen. During one of his discussions with me about raising his salary, he advocated not only for himself but for all the kitchen staff. Despite his own traumatic history and challenges, he nevertheless was sensitive to the needs of others.

Now the dishwasher has moved on. His goal of moving closer to be with his mother has come true. I sat with him on his last day at Hillsides and asked him what the best part of his stay with us was. Without hesitation, he said working in the kitchen. Although the typical response of clients is to identify some of the staff members who provided care, his answer was no surprise because the kitchen had been such a growth experience and an outlet for him.

I thanked him for his great work and told him how proud I was of him. I said I hoped he would always feel welcome here at Hillsides. He assured me he would stay in touch, and then promptly asked for my e-mail so he could do just that.

Often when we talk about the impact Hillsides has on the children, youth, and families we serve we refer to markers such as well-being scores, improvements in behavior, and grade level advancement. Never do we mention “served as an excellent dishwasher.” However, I think we have just added one more outcome indicator to our list, a lasting impact that demonstrates his initiative, confidence, and empowerment!

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