Jae’s story with AbilityFirst is a reminder that steadiness and commitment are proven building blocks in achieving success. Initially joining AbilityFirst as a volunteer in the kitchen at Camp Paivika, he is now the director at Joan and Harry A. Mier Center in Inglewood.
Jae shares with us, “I did not have any previous experience working with, or even being around, individuals with disabilities before I started with AbilityFirst (which was then called Crippled Children’s Society of Southern California.) I was just a teenager with too much time on my hands in the summer.”
In 1985, Jae was a high school freshman. He had neighbors who helped out at Camp Paivika and who were, relatives of Camp Paivika former camp director, Mark G. One day when Mark was in town, he ran into Jae. Jae said Mark encouraged him that if he “didn’t have any summer plans, why not come up and volunteer at Camp Paivika.” Who would have known that little push of mentorship would one day find Jae as director of the Joan & Harry A Mier Center in Inglewood?
Jae took up the offer and was given a position doing kitchen work. He appreciated the experience so much that he headed back to Camp when the next summer rolled around, and the next, and the next! Jae continued volunteering through college in a range of roles from maintenance to counseling and eventually becoming assistant program director.
After earning his BA in psychology, Jae felt his time at camp and the people he worked with kept pulling him back and in 1997, Jae became an activity coordinator for the AbilityFirst community center in Huntington Beach. Afterward, he moved on to become the children program supervisor at the Long Beach Center and soon after that, Jae took on some additional responsibility by becoming an interim director at Joan and Harry A. Mier Center, and then interim associate director at the Long Beach Center.”
Anytime Jae saw a need, he enthusiastically stepped up to the challenge! Each new position brought Jae new insight and enhanced management skills. He took the helm as the Center Director at Joan and Harry A. Mier Center six years ago, and has helped build the center into the third highest grossing community center for AbilityFirst. Jae shares, “it’s not so much about the fundraising and money, but rather the services we provide the community – before the Coronavirus, we were at capacity with some individuals on a wait list.”
After Jae’s decades of dedication with AbilityFirst and when he sees others just starting their work with individuals with disabilities, he has a message for them:
“Be patient. It is about the participants, not about you. When they are happy, it will make you happy. If you enjoy what you do, it will show in how the individuals that you work with respond to you.”
When we asked Jae what he loves most about his role, he shared, “I get to see the small breakthroughs. We had a participant who would not speak or interact with her peers, but I took time to sit and talk with her. After asking lots of questions, I was able to figure out her interests and I engaged her in an activity I thought she’d respond well to. Staff members saw how I interacted with her, and with my guidance, were able to increase her social interaction with staff, as well as her peers.”
“Seeing the smiles in our program participants and our staff members is what I love most.”