Open Doors, Endless Opportunities

A reflection on my journey with ACLD

By Derek Baumann

Our door is always open; it’s a phrase we’ve all heard on TV, in movies or even in our professional lives. It’s one of those clichés people say but don’t actually mean. For me, this phrase was echoed several times throughout my last week at ACLD- from my coworkers in Human Resources, by my director, the Chief Program officer and even the President/CEO of ACLD. Sure, we’ve all heard this phrase, but how many of us have gone back to see if the door had, in fact, remained open for us?

I have always known that my path would lead me to a career where I would have the opportunity to help others. After college, I wasn’t sure what that career was or what the path would look like; I just knew that whatever it was going to be, it would have to be a job I wanted to get up and do every day. Beginning my job hunt, I sifted through countless openings for months until, one day, I came across a posting for an HR assistant at ACLD. My father works for a similar organization, so I was familiar with the work that ACLD does and was driven to apply. I was hired in October of 2022 as the HR Assistant for Human Resources, a part-time position.

When I initially took the position, I planned on continuing to look for a full-time job, but what I did not expect was to immediately blend right into the department as if I were here for years. Within the first few weeks in my role, I was welcomed into ACLD’s distinct work culture. One of the things I admired about ACLD was the organization’s commitment to setting its employees up for success. Being my first job out of college, I heard so many stories of my friends being “thrown to the wolves” after their orientations at other companies. When I became a part of ACLD, I was quickly shown its commitment to training, educating and supporting its staff throughout the organization. It became clear to me that ACLD was one of those rare companies that understood that entry-level is about nurturing staff to have the ability to do well in their role excel in it.

Within the first few months, I learned so much that I could have never learned in a classroom, and other companies would not have taken the time to teach me. I was happy to find myself at an organization that truly valued the people who dedicated their careers to work for its mission. Coming up on my year anniversary at ACLD, I was confident in my role. Still, with college loans quickly approaching, I knew it was time to find full-time employment. Though I loved the work I was doing at ACLD, I was unsure if I was on the right path, so I began looking elsewhere.

At the beginning of the summer this year, I was offered a full-time position with another company outside the nonprofit sector. Taking a leap of faith like this in your career is always daunting because it is hard to tell if you are making the right choice. My family and friends all assured me that this was a smart career move for me and that this offer would provide me with more connections and an opportunity to build a strong foundation for a long career. But to walk away from my department and the organization would be challenging; My relationships with my coworkers had evolved into true and genuine friendships that I valued. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take that chance that I may not be laughing like I do every day at ACLD– I’m not exaggerating when I say we are laughing every single day in my department. Ultimately, I decided to take that leap of faith and accept this new position, which meant my time at ACLD was coming to an end, or so I thought.

Though my coworkers were sad to see me go, they were excited for me, rallied behind me and supported me on this new path I had chosen. I was reminded during my last two weeks that what makes ACLD so special and why I stayed, to begin with, were the people who worked there. Each person I worked with embraced me with an immeasurable amount of support and demonstrated that no matter where I ended up, being part of ACLD would never leave me. My department threw me a party to celebrate my new position and my time with ACLD. I was sad to go, but at that moment, looking around the room of sincere smiling faces, I recognized that each person looking back at me wholeheartedly wanted to see me succeed in anything I chose to do. I said my goodbyes, but the echoed ‘our door is always open’ eventually proved to be truer than the overused cliché I always saw it as.

By lunchtime on my first day in my new role, I knew I’d made a mistake leaving ACLD. In hindsight, I think I always knew subconsciously that leaving ACLD was not the right choice for me, but I allowed the excitement of a new role and all that it presented to overshadow my own intuition. After my first full week in the role, I took an even bigger leap of faith by reaching out to ACLD to see if that door really remained open. I left ACLD on July 14, 2023, and returned on August 14, 2023, in a new full-time position as a Junior Recruiter.

Very often, employees describe their companies as being like a family, yet another cliché I’ve never particularly liked. I’ve never found that sentiment to be true in most cases and a façade that organizations put on to create the illusion of happiness. I think a more accurate characterization of ACLD’s culture is that we are an organization that is filled to the brim with caring people with the same goal; to create an enviable life for the people we support. It is this kind of environment that gets me up every day, eager and ready to get to work. Those who work here, do because they want to work here, not because they have to be here. This kind of comradery and desire for a common goal is not something that can be taught in training. Instead, it’s deeply woven throughout all aspects of the organization.

Last month, I was elated and proud to be promoted to my third role at ACLD, now as a Human Resources Generalist. Being in Human Resources, I see how we continue to strive toward creating that experience in all parts of the organization. I have the incredible privilege of sharing my perspective with others as I interview them for openings in the organization. Working in human resources in the nonprofit sector has created a unique experience I would not get anywhere else. While I may not be in our programs, schools or residences working with the people we support daily, I have the honor of interviewing and hiring the people who do. One of the most selfless tasks one can do is to dedicate one’s time to ensuring others are living the most enviable lives they can, even on days when they aren’t. I have gained such an admiration for those who work in direct care. Some of my favorite days at ACLD are when I get to visit our sites. It is incredible to see first-hand the connection between our staff and the people we support. Taking the time to experience this reminds me, and many of my coworkers, of why we work at ACLD. We all get to play a part in supporting a mission that creates real and meaningful experiences and opportunities for people who turn to ACLD for support.

I am incredibly grateful that ACLD proved that their door was truly ‘still open’ for me. I may not know where my career will take me in the future, and I may have had the quickest turn-around in history, but what I do know is that the decision to continue my path here at ACLD was the best one I could have made.

A group of individuals posing and smiling at a bowling alley

Derek Baumann (left) with employees from the Human Resources Department for ACLD