We at Gateway Center have recently implemented one of the great and longstanding traditions of American employment: The Employee of the Month Award. Yes, there’s a gift certificate and a ridiculously huge trophy involved that calls to mind the Pinewood Derby competitions of our youth. We would have even thrown in a premiere parking space if our downtown Atlanta location afforded us such a palatial luxury.
When all the voting dust settled we emerged with a winner: Kimberlyn Dixon, a case manager who works on the 4th floor with our Veterans. It was a beautiful moment when her name was called as everyone started shouting and clapping and standing up. Our team was truly united in how excited we were for Kimberlyn. Being a good case manager is not to seek out praise or recognition and it seems the best ones get to their desk on time and descend into the hours of listening, working, and caring for their clients. People like Kimberlyn just do not have the time to seek out attention. Naturally, that meant that I would have to seek her out. I went to her cozy 4th floor office earlier this week to ask a few questions and get to know her a bit better. As it turns out, there is so much depth to this woman that, upon a closer look, I realized that the background and history in Kimberlyn’s life has slowly formed her into the fantastic social worker she has become today.
“My father worked for AT&T, so there would be periodic transfers for his work when we were children”, Kimberlyn started out by saying. “I graduated from Commonwealth High School in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, where the American students learned Spanish and the Puerto Ricans would learn English. It was a great experience.” Kimberlyn graduated college with a degree in Psychology from Bloomfield College in New Jersey, but in her early post-college days she decided to make a run at a modeling career. “I went to New York to shop my portfolio” and there she made contacts in the marketing industry that allowed her the income and flexibility to pursue the dream of making it as a model. “It was a lot of fun, but then everything changed on 9/11”.
Kimberlyn’s life took a major turn on the day the Twin Towers fell. “I could see the smoke of the buildings from our downtown office. We were located not far from Ground Zero and it was incredibly scary. Manhattan was completely shut down and people were stuck in the tunnels for hours because no one could go in or out of the city. F-15 jets were soaring overheard; we thought we were at war.” Kimberlyn was living in Brooklyn at the time, and had no way to get home given that the subway was closed. “Our bosses opened up the offices for anyone who needed a place to stay and they went across the street and got a lot of food from a deli. A girl working with us who was on her first day and didn’t know me at all invited me to stay with her, which was wonderful. We walked all the way from the east side of town to the west side, and I used her cell phone to keep in contact with my parents since I had unfortunately left mine at home that day.”
From that day, life would be different. “The jobs completely dried up. I was laid-off just a few weeks after September 11th and I began to think that maybe it was the wrong time for my pursuit of a modeling career.” Kimberlyn’s brother is a PGA golf-pro in Phoenix, Arizona and soon he was inviting her to move there to clear her head. This transition led to her first job in social work. Later on Kimberlyn made the move to Georgia to be with her ailing father who had just been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer. “I needed to be near my mother and I stayed in order to help her.”
In this big, family-focused move, Kimberlyn applied to work at Gateway Center. By this point, Gateway was still young. “I started just three months before we transitioned from being part of Atlanta Mission to being fully independent.” Kimberlyn was originally working as a case manager on the 1st floor with Services, but eventually she was persuaded by the Executive Director, Dr. Vince Smith, to be a part of the new Veteran program. “At first I was reluctant, but now I am so thankful to Dr. Smith for the opportunity. This position has really been a perfect fit for me and has opened my eyes and understanding to so much of the veteran world.”
When asked how she relaxes and escapes the stresses of the day, Kimberlyn confessed to being religious about daily exercise. “They make fun of me for bringing my gym bag with me to the office, but that’s what works for me.” Vacations are spent surfing and traveling. She loves South Beach and San Francisco, where her boyfriend is currently living. “We met in college but lost touch for years, until fate led us back together just two years ago.” Kimberlyn and the boyfriend are planning marriage and kids for the future, but for now they are concentrated on enjoying each day as it comes. “You have to enjoy your life. It’s important to give and take care of people, but that’s only possible when you’re taking care of yourself as well. I strive for that healthy balance.”
Kimberlyn says that the key to good case management for her is to be a great listener. “Sometimes, I just provide the place for them to express themselves and in doing so it makes them feel more comfortable. They have the chance to let go of all that energy that’s been building up. When they’re ready, I’m able to offer my advice and help.”
“The best part of this job is being in the process of people’s lives changed. We get to help our clients set these goals, and then we have the opportunity to walk them through to the positive outcomes of sustainable income and housing. It’s incredibly rewarding.” Kimberlyn went on to say, “Peering into another person’s existence, their trials and tribulations, can lead to a broader perspective on life.”
Kimberlyn Dixon is a fantastic example of what we are about at Gateway Center. Her commitment and work represents the passion and vision of our entire community’s fight to end homelessness in metro Atlanta. “Where do I see myself 5 years from now? I want to be helping people in some facet in my own business. Also, I have a great idea for a sci-fi screenplay that I need to pitch to Tyler Perry or Steven Spielberg.” Honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a blockbuster. Thank you, Kimberlyn!