When Karen Mottern arrives at work at Chick-fil-A in Cockeysville, Md., a job she began three years ago, it’s always with a big smile on her face and an eagerness to get started. Her attitude is infectious, and her helpfulness, hard work and dependability are very much valued by the fast food restaurant’s management and team members alike.
“I love it there and I love my job,” said Karen, who joined Penn-Mar’s Day Program in 2008, and moved into one of the nonprofit’s residential homes in 2014. “The people I work with are very nice.”
A Maryland resident most of her life (she moved to the Old Line State from Rochester, N.Y., with her parents Ele and Ed when she was four), Karen, 51, thrives on being around people and over the years has built a tight network of friends and acquaintances, through her alma mater the Ridge Ruxton School, Penn-Mar, and work. She enjoys spending time with her family, friends and long-time boyfriend Guy and going to the movies. You might often find her putting a complex puzzle of up to 1000 pieces together which she can finish in a day or two, or playing a video adventure game on her game console or iPad.
Karen is very close with her parents and siblings – her older sister Renee Page, who lives with her family only ten minutes away, and her two younger brothers David and Eddie and their families. Her parents, who now live in Florida full-time, after a number of years of “snowbirding,” gather the clan together every winter or summer at their cabin in upstate Pennsylvania, a vacation Karen always anticipates with great excitement.
Finding her Passion and Purpose
Before acquiring her job at Chick-fil-A as a Dining Room Attendant, Karen enrolled in Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment (CE) program with the encouragement of Day Program staff and her sister Renee.
“Although Karen was very content being in the Day Program,” said Renee, “I felt that she needed to get out more and try new things. If she’s exposed to employment opportunities, she just might want to work.” Her hunch was correct.
Working with the CE team of job developers and employment staff, who guided her through the program’s Exploration & Discovery (E&D) process, Karen was able to identify her passions, talents and skills and within four months was a part-time Chick-fil-A team member.
Lila Barchey, Penn-Mar Employment Support Coordinator, has been very impressed with Karen’s work ethic, customer service, and her deep desire to help people. She said she’s never once had to provide Karen with any additional job coaching in the three years she’s been on the job. “She’s a quick learner.”
“Karen’s passion for helping people really came through loud and clear during E&D,” said Lila. “We were also able to identify skills in organizing, light cleaning and stocking, and customer service, all of which have helped her succeed on the job.”
Working Wednesday through Friday, during the busy lunch rush from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Karen is responsible for collecting and cleaning trays from the dining area, stocking condiments and utensils, and assisting customers with refills and anything else they might need. It is the latter of these responsibilities that Brenden Hutton, Chick-fil-A’s Director of Operations, said Karen was thrilled to take on.
“She’s always in here with a smile on her face. Always helping the customers, who enjoy seeing her,” Brenden said. “She’s very pleasant and very upbeat, and she knows how to put a smile on our team members’ faces too. Nobody is disappointed after talking with Karen.”
“She just loves her job and gets pretty giddy about it. Working gives her a sense of accomplishment. She feels useful,” said Renee, who connects with Karen by phone every day, and often has her spend the weekends. “When Karen is with us, the first thing she asks when she comes through the door is ‘what can I do to help?’”