SCHENECTADY — On Dec. 14, 2020, CSEA member Monique Croxton went to the Capital District DDSO community group home where she works caring for individuals with developmental disabilities.
In an example of extraordinary dedication, except for one brief visit home, she stayed there working until Feb. 9, 2021.
Throughout that time and since, Croxton, a direct support assistant at Capital District DDSO, managed to dig deep to summon the courage and discipline to keep herself and others safe, provide loving care and documenting her journey to lift up her co-workers.
Croxton recalls a day early in the pandemic when co-workers gathered as COVID was picking up steam. She remembers the fear she saw in the faces of her co-workers.
“I saw professional people who never showed emotion [before]show emotion that day,” she said. “We didn’t know what would happen if COVID started in the houses, so I started mentally preparing for mandates.”
Spreading positive energy
Croxton quickly lined up care of her three children, asking her to mother to move into her home.
Her mom questioned why she would willingly take on such dangerous work.
“I said to her, ‘Mommy, it’s not about money. Somebody’s gotta do it,’” Croxton said.
“I was watching the news and I realized that the people who worked in the prisons, hospitals and other agencies like ours were surviving,” she said.
Croxton is guided by 31 years of direct care experience and a personal philosophy that places those in her care top of mind, always considering their perspective.
“Clients were nervous because I have this giant suit on, shields, masks, everything,” Croxton said. “Think how you would feel if everyone around you looked like that? So, I told them — look, I am wearing all this stuff to keep you safe.”
One pillar of care Croxton has used is the “chameleon” technique, putting aside all negativity and being positive and present for the individuals in her care at all times.
“No matter what is going on in my life, the second my hand hits that doorknob to enter a home, it all goes away,” she said.
Croxton refuses to allow negative energy to reach those in her care.
“People feel the frustration,” she said. “If someone just ended a shift and now has to drive to another home and start another shift, they are not gonna be happy when they get here. I tell my co-workers, ‘It’s OK, we will get through this together. We can do this!’”
“These people, our individuals, need love and I try to give it to them,” Croxton said. “When I show up smiling, they know we are going to have fun. I am going to cook for them and we will be laughing.”
Last year, Croxton began documenting her journey on her Facebook page with posts, videos and many photos.
She shared with co-workers the elaborate systems she employs for staying safe, including changing clothes, getting in and out of personal protective equipment, using tents and even living out of her car at times. Her goal was to make co-workers feel safe, to encourage them and to motivate them to cast aside fear and frustration.
To date, she has not contracted COVID-19.
Through it all, her sense of humor remains intact.
“I converted two Kias to apartments and my trunk is lockdown ready,” she joked.
Croxton also finds creative ways to turn negative situations to magical memories.
Before last Christmas, Croxton prepared her kids for the possibility of postponing the special day. Plans to be home for Christmas Eve were foiled when an individual displayed COVID symptoms. She would have to stay on another nine days, missing the holiday and disappointing her family.
Instead, she got one of her girlfriends to deliver a tree and gifts to the group home. She decorated the tree, wrapped the gifts and was joined by her family for an impromptu celebration on the lawn.
“The videos were priceless,” she said.
A year later, with the pandemic continuing, Croxton is still plugging along, logging extreme hours and volunteering for shifts to fill coverage gaps.
She reflected on the craziest weeks of the pandemic.
“It was ridiculous, but I’m ridiculous and I persevere through it and I motivate staff to do the same thing,” Croxton said. “I feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we can do it. We are going to make it.”
— Therese Assalian