by Brandi Salas and Kaydee Johannsen
At Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH), we have many employees, volunteers and donors who have continually served the organization and its participants with disabilities or special needs. Here we would like to highlight one Program Manager, not only because of her enthusiasm, expertise and good reviews from her current and former staff, but for her dedication to serving those in need and being an advocate for Hawaii’s families with keiki with disabilities or special needs.
Dawn Williams, Easter Seals Hawaii East Sultan Early Intervention Program Manager
November would mark a meaningful milestone for local girl and human rights advocate Dawn Williams. It would mean for ten years, she would have served the local organization Easter Seals Hawaii through her many roles as a Social Worker, Care Coordinator, Interim Program Manager and now the official Program Manager for East Sultan Early Intervention.
What would call someone to a profession in the nonprofit sector? One word: passion.
Dawn’s source of passion stems from an experience that changed her life. In 1991, at the age of 26, she was a young mother to her healthy son Jordan and had just received her degree in Psychology. One night, her then husband (Jordan’s father) was involved in a near fatal car accident. He sustained a serious head injury, forcing him to quit his job and seek physical therapy. Dawn was faced with the problem of financially supporting the family and sought out a social worker for advice and resources that would help her with financial planning, her husband’s temporary disability, support groups and affordable daycare for her son while she was at work.
“I was overwhelmed. I met all the types of people I work with now: social workers, speech-language pathologists, etc. They gave me support during this traumatic time and shared resources. Without them to guide me, I’d have been lost,” said Dawn. These individuals were instrumental in establishing stability in her household and eventually empowered her to seek a slightly different path in her career. “I went back to school and got my Master’s Degree in Social Work. I put myself through school because the work and care of these social workers and therapists resonated with me,” she said. Dawn explained that she wanted a hands-on experience with determining what these families need and offering the appropriate resources.
Getting involved in fulfilling the mission
After receiving her Master’s Degree, Dawn was hired as Easter Seals Hawaii’s very first Social Worker/Care Coordinator that was not from the State Department of Health. She accepted the dual position with in 2003. In 2008, she moved up in the organization as the ESH East Sultan EI Program Manager who is also a part of the Policy and Procedures Committee as a Practicum Facilitator.
The Easter Seals Hawaii East Sultan Early Intervention Program staff
Dawn currently manages a diverse staff of 13 people who are Care Coordinators, Social Workers, administrative staff, Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and Teachers. “A lot of the resources I had to look for during that time in my life are all at ESH,” she said. The ESH East Sultan EI Program offers services such as evaluations for children, detecting any developmental delays and even family support and guidance. “We are looking at the QA stuff, evaluations, working with families to find them the resources they need.”
According to Dawn, the way ESH builds a program is like a support and resource center for children with disabilities or special needs. “A lot of my staff has been in early intervention. I’ve loved it the most, you’re working with a team of people.” ESH President and CEO, Christopher Blanchard, commends the program for their success since their official blessing and opening in March of 2013, “This program has great morale, cohesiveness and a great leader. The staff is extremely engaged in everything Easter Seals Hawaii is doing to provide excellent, individualized services to our participants.”
Staying focused, inspired and grateful
Jordan, Dawn’s son, keeps her grounded and encourages her to work hard and help those in need.
If there’s one thing that keeps Dawn inspired and focused on helping others, it’s her pride and joy, her son Jordan, now 26-years-old, who admires her hard work at Easter Seals Hawaii. A large framed photo of him sits proudly on her desk and she will happily show it off to anyone who enters her office. Even when she has a bad day, she uses his photo to reconnect to the mission and refers to one of her favorite inspirational mottos.
“One of the quotes that I always say to myself is ‘Live with an attitude of gratitude.’ Always be grateful for what you have, because I am.”
For those who are interested in a career as a Program Manager at Easter Seals Hawaii, Dawn has some helpful tips:
- Try to be well-rounded in behavioral, medical fields and environmental issues.
- The top three things a Program Manager at ESH needs to have are organizational skills and be team oriented and creative in problem solving.
- Be ready to have a full plate all the time with multiple projects and multiple deadlines.
- The State requires you to do things for your staff. You regularly deal with contractual requirements and organizational things.