Sparked by his own career journey, HFH Executive Director John Greenwood recently hosted a Welcome Back Breakfast to celebrate employees who have returned to HFH service and kick off a series of conversations with team members throughout the 420-staff agency. John started out as an Operations Assistant at our Prospect Family Residence. He held several positions at Prospect and Williamsbridge and moved on from HFH to further his education and gain more experience in the government sector, rejoining the organization six years ago, and being named Executive Director in 2020.
John discussed the importance of connection between staff who work at Central office—e.g., Operations, Finance, Buildings, Human Resources—and the staff who work onsite at HFH family residences—e.g., Safety, Education, and Family Services staff.
“It’s been nice to have been able to start off by working in the shelter because I like to think I bring that perspective of having been in the field to Central [and] trying to make sure we do things to connect the Central office and the field,” said John. “I think the staff that I’ve tried to build around me are people who have an appreciation for the work we do and maybe have done some work [in HFH shelters] themselves.”
HFH staff across various occupations attended the gathering, both from the Central office as well as staff from the shelters. They discussed their reasons for coming back to HFH and compared career trajectories. Many of the staff started in junior-level positions and advanced in the company or were able to transfer their skills into other departments and disciplines. This is something the management team—including Deputy Executive Director Gretchen Hernandez who stopped in to listen to the discussion and congratulate staff—is hoping to promote more broadly throughout the organization, even if it means that someone leaves to pursue their education or another position and then shows interest in returning.
Tyrone Squire started at HFH Summer Camps as a Camp Counselor in 2010. His time at HFH piqued his interested in homelessness, and once he graduated college, he moved on to assume various education roles in Afterschool & Rec at Prospect. After a brief hiatus, Tyrone was drawn back by the opportunity to return to camp—this time as Camp Administrator.
“Camps has been life changing for me,” said Tyrone, “I was super excited to be back, and I am very grateful.”
Nereida Santiago also started at HFH in 2010, as a Housing Specialist. She left to pursue another position and returned 6 months ago as Administrator of the Clinton Family Residence.
“I have done everything in the social service field. I’ve been a Housing Specialist, I’ve been Director of Social Services, I’ve done administrative work…so this is like the top at this point—running my own facility,” said Nereida.
“I wasn’t restricted to one thing. My role wasn’t just one thing. I loved that. I love the children; I love the outreach. Coming back just felt like coming back home,” said Jackeline Loyola, Assistant Administrator at Allie’s Place who started as a Family Support Coordinator at Prospect and has been with HFH for a cumulative of five years.
Gerzon Giron, Custodian at our Williamsbridge Family Residence, had been with HFH for almost three years before retiring. He rejoined the HFH Team over a year ago after realizing he had more to give; he wasn’t ready for retirement.
“The treatment is nice, and I get along with the people,” said Gerzon.
The group had a lot in common: They enjoy the community, and they appreciate the opportunity to explore different roles and grow within those roles.
Lurissa Parr, Case Manager at our Saratoga Family Residence, who spent three years in various roles at HFH Summer Camps, shared a similar sentiment.
“The two months I spent at Camp—as rewarding as it was—it wasn’t enough time,” said Lurissa. “As much as I enjoyed seeing [the kids] come back session after session, the goal is for them to get permanent housing. If I can play a role in that … that was really important to me.”
“I had been on the research side for a while. I wanted to do programs,” said Special Projects Manager Andrea Pizano, who has been with HFH for a total of seven years. “There is opportunity here to be involved in different things. I always liked that flexibility.”
After catching up, John used the gathering as an opportunity for the staff to share their hopes and suggestions for the future of the organization.
“I’d like to see more connection among the sites and Central office,” said Linda Bazerjian, Managing Director of Communications who set up the first Communications Team at HFH 12 years ago, “So that people at Saratoga know people from Clinton [etc.] because while you have a different population and different needs, you’re also going through the same thing…and knowing that you’re a part of something bigger, that has more resources for you… I’d love to see more ways to connect everybody.”
In addition to this event allowing staff to connect with coworkers and brainstorm ideas for the future of HFH, it proved to be a great way to get the ball rolling on some of these initiatives. It is clear that HFH has a dedicated staff who are invested in the organization and its mission: to support both the families and staff at our sites. We are already looking forward to the next one!