Over the past 50 years, much has happened at Life’s WORC. Houses and apartments have been bought, sold, built and opened to new residents. Programs have been added and expanded. Services and staff have grown in number exponentially. It’s hard to even imagine what Life’s WORC was like back at the beginning – at least for most people.
Meet Tina Wilkerson, Life’s WORC’s longest tenured direct support professional. Tina joined the agency in 1980, just nine years after it was founded, and has been with us ever since.
“A friend of mine worked here at the time, and she told me they had an opening for a part time housekeeper at the home in Little Neck,” Tina recalls. “I met with the Director, and history was made.”
In the 1980s, Life’s WORC was creating homes for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities on the heels of founder Vicki Schneps and reporter Geraldo Rivera exposing the atrocious conditions at the Willowbrook State School. As a result, Tina had the unique experience to work with a group of then six- and seven-year-olds – and to stay with them for 30 years. That home in Little Neck, now known as the Rivera house in honor of Geraldo Rivera, was just the start for Tina too, as she would go on to work at the Foont and Conduit residences as well.
“They gave me purpose,” she says of the group she refers to as her “kids.” “I know we’re not supposed to fall in love with them, but I can’t help it.”
Despite having never worked in the field before, Tina took to it immediately. While she has moved on from that first group, and sadly some of them have since passed away, Tina has the same passion for the people she currently works with, now in the Queens Village residence, whom she has been with for 11 years.
“I enjoy doing things for them – shopping for them, feeding them, making sure everything is alright,” she says. “I make sure they look good when they go out – I want everything to be good for them. It’s what makes me happy.”
With a tenure that extends over decades, Tina has seen changes in the industry and at Life’s WORC over the years that affect the way direct support professionals work. “There have been a lot of changes but I am an easy person to get along with,” she says. “As long as it’s what’s best for everyone, I am good with it.” As always, the people she supports come first.
Asked if she plans to retire, Tina isn’t ready to commit. “I don’t know,” she says. “I want to enjoy myself, but I am not ready to leave yet. It has been a pleasure working with so many great people.”
Thank you, Tina, for your dedication to Life’s WORC and its mission, and your innumerable contributions over these 40-plus years.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Life’s WORC, we will be sharing the stories, people and events that have made Life’s WORC the organization it is today, along with our goals and vision for the future. Thank you for celebrating with us!