Spotlight OnMonicaHarrison smlrBy John McGreevy, TJJD Communications

Everyone who excels in their work has their own style, their own approach to how they go about it. What Monica Harrison brings to the job is her love of working with the youth in TJJD care.

“I enjoy working with them and helping change the lives of these young men,” said Harrison, Manager of Operations at Giddings State School.

With over 26 years of service, Harrison has plenty of experience from which to draw, and that can come in handy with her ample daily responsibilities.

“I supervise three different departments,” she said. “I supervise the Recreational Department, the Cafeteria, and the Regulation Safety Unit.”

Along with others, she also oversees operational aspects of the facility that ensure the safety of the youth and staff.

The mother of two children, ages 18 and 21, she says she’s grown and learned many things on the job that have helped her as a parent. “When I first started here, I was pretty young,” she said. “I had no patience and I had less understanding, but working here taught me patience and understanding to work with these kids and to work with my own kids.”

“And I talk to the kids here the same way I talk to my kids at home,” she added.

Harrison points out that the techniques developed at TJJD enable her and her colleagues at Giddings to reach the students and help them increase their chances of success in life.

“I wish the public really knew what we do here,” she said. “There’s always going to be negative stories that they see, but it’s not like that every day. We don’t have bad days every day, we don’t have issues all the time. I think the public thinks that this is a bad place for bad kids. Well, these are somebody’s kids. These are somebody’s kids that we are trying to help rehabilitate and get back into society and be productive citizens.”

For her, it all comes back to loving the work. “I love my Recreational Department because we have to come up with different games for the kids to play,” she said. “Just to see the kids out there enjoying themselves and playing games -- even though in my position I don’t work directly with the kids anymore -- it gives me the chance to supervise my staff and enjoy time with the kids.”

Twenty-six years is plenty of time to compile memories. Harrison says the ones that mean the most are the successes of some of the youth she’s worked with.

“Because of the rapport I’ve had with the youth (some) have called me here over the years and said they appreciate what I’ve done for them.”

Having a breakthrough and making meaningful connections with the youth is what motivates her to keep working at TJJD, she said. “I want to let these young men know that I understand what they’ve been through, and that they can overcome it.”

“When I’m training new hires, I always tell them they have to be firm, they have to be fair, they have to be consistent with these kids, but you also have to be empathetic,” she said.

To do the job, she listens to music and gets into a relaxed frame of mind during her 30-minute commute to and from work. For a more thorough sense of relaxation, Harrison takes brief cruises as often as she can. “My ideal vacation, my ideal goal, is to travel the whole Caribbean,” she said. “I’m about halfway there.”