That's one word used to describe Carolyn Cole, CDA. It's fitting. As she sat down to discuss her Legend Award, she mentioned that she had just recently told a couple of colleagues that she had received the award, even though she knew about it for a week. "I just love working here and I'm very grateful for the recognition," she said tearing up. "I'm not one to brag about myself."
So, I guess we'll do that for her.
For those who don't know, CCH defined a Legend as, "those people who have left an indelible impression on our minds because of their deeds and actions. Ongoing demonstration of hard work, compassion, and a reputation for greatness make someone a legend." And Carolyn is such.
Carolyn has worked at CCH since 1986. She started out in Laundry after deciding that she needed a break from providing an at-home daycare for a few clients. When CCH announced plans to open an Early Childhood Center for employees, Carolyn decided that she missed working with children and opted to apply for the job—she's been there since 1988.
"I just love working with children," says Carolyn. "You know those days when you're a little down on your luck? I will come to work, and walk into one of the rooms, and suddenly a child will look up at me with a grin from ear to ear, say, 'Hello, Carolyn," run up to me and give me a hug. My day will instantly brighten. Kids are so happy and they love you no matter what."
Carolyn has seen many different duties at the Center, and has helped fill the role of Supervisor, Manager, and Director when the organization was seeking people to fill those positions. Noamie Niemitalo, the current Early Childhood Center Director, has worked with Carolyn for nine years, and calls her a model employee. "Carolyn obtained her infant-toddler Child Development Associate (CDA) after working for over 20 plus years in the field. She wanted to set the example for her co-workers."
Noamie and her colleagues will tell you that Carolyn consistently goes above and beyond to help her colleagues, parents and the children who attend the Center. From stepping into a classroom that needs coverage to changing her schedule at a minutes notice, to developing a Center-focused employee appreciation committee that does something special for employees each month, encouraging children to make cards for veterans every year that are sent to Buffalo and overseas, and working with all of the families who receive Department of Family Services subsidies on how to use a new e-filing system, Carolyn genuinely cares for her community. And she has built herself quite a community.
"I hear Carolyn call each parent and child by their name—there's more than 390 children enrolled, so when you consider both parents and sometimes a grandparent or two, Carolyn has connected with a lot of people," says Noamie. "The children are so comfortable with her that many of them call her Grandma, and need to tell her goodbye before they leave for the day."
Carolyn has used these connections with the children to also create rituals around the Center to help the children as they grow. Wellness Specialist Brittney Bunney will tell you that she can remember some of the lessons that Carolyn taught her; and uniquely, she is also now teaching them to Brittney's daughter.
One of these lessons deals with offering children suckers—that she purchases herself—each night as they leave. They have to use their manners to receive the sucker, but it has created quite an engaging environment for the children and their parents when they leave—not to mention helping to teach children the importance of using "please" and "thank you".
"The kids enjoy Carolyn and her treats she has for them—as long as they say 'please' and 'thank you,'" says Brittney. "She has helped make some great changes to our daycare and the programs for our kids. I appreciate, and can tell that others do as well, all the help that she provides me when I have questions about daycare."
Helping children become the best person they can be is clearly the driving force in Carolyn. She's not only engaging with children at CCH, but throughout the community. For more than 20 years, Carolyn has helped organize the Children's Festival. Now in its 37th year, Carolyn remembers taking her three sons—Chris, Jeff and Shawn—who are now grown, to the event. She remembers how much fun they had, and now enjoys making new generations smile. She has been the Festival's president, vice president and secretary, and for the past eight years has been its Treasurer.
Carolyn is also a force in Relay for Life—joining a team in 1998 and later helping the Early Childhood Center form their own, which has continued throughout the years. She chaired the team for roughly 12 years, and is still a participant.
But that's not all. Carolyn served on Festival of Trees for 12 years working on the Family Day event for the committee. A day that became one filled with holiday crafts and fun for children, and their parents.
"Carolyn is a hard-worker, she's selfless and she's dedicated," says Nachelle McGrath, Campbell County Healthcare Foundation Executive Director. "She had the most efficient committee working on the last day when everyone is tired from a long week of events. Carolyn always had the best group of people ready to make a fun, 'free' day for all the kids of Campbell County."
While she loves working with the children at CCH, Carolyn enjoys spending as much time as possible with her family, especially her grandchildren, Derrik, 11; Hallie, 10; and Sadie, 7—Jeff and Erin's children.
"I decided a few years ago that I was going to give them experiences instead of toys or gifts that they would out grow," Carolyn said. And for their birthdays and other occasions, Carolyn stays busy taking them to horse shows, Cirque du Soleil productions, amusement parks and University of Wyoming football games, just to name a few. It seems that working with children has helped keep Carolyn young and silly, and loving, no matter what.
Carolyn Cole, thank you for your dedication to the children of the parents who work at CCH. It makes leaving them easier knowing that they are in such caring and loving hands. You are legendary in the eyes of all the staff at CCH. Congratulations.