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Where I belong: working at Elmcrest

Interim Program Supervisor De'Ondray Tape, left, poses with his mentor, Ishmel Berkley, in front of Elmcrest's Cottage 3. (They removed their masks briefly for this photo.)

“I have had a lot of jobs -- did everything I can name -- but I have never been happier than where I am now.”

De’Ondray Tape speaks with pride of his work at Elmcrest Children’s Center. As interim program supervisor at Cottage 3, he leads a staff team providing round-the-clock care to nine boys, all of whom are facing major obstacles in life. He and his team create a home-like environment for the boys while helping them develop the skills they need to thrive outside Elmcrest.

De’Ondray “shows a lot of leadership and a willingness to learn,” said Ishmel Berkley, Elmcrest’s Campus Manager Supervisor. “He is very knowledgeable about the kids, and they react well to him.”

For De’Ondray, doing his job well starts with listening to the children in his care.

“Most of them say they never get heard” by adults, he said. “I listen. And then I help them think about things. I do that with every kid.”

De’Ondray, 27, has been honing his youth development skills since he was a youth himself. From age 14 to 17, he worked at the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn. He enjoyed working with the younger kids, helping them with sports and talking with them.

De’Ondray earned a degree in graphic design from SUNY Polytechnic Institute in 2016. Since then, he has worked as a graphic artist, a warehouse worker and a truck driver, among other jobs. He wasn’t satisfied with his career, though, until he came to Elmcrest in April 2019.

“This is where I’m most successful,” De’Ondray said. “I’m able to wake up in a good mood. I’m able to love what I do.”

Hired as a youth development professional (YDP), De’Ondray soon earned a reputation for helping the boys in his care maintain their routines and stay focused on learning. Within five months, he became a student advocate in Elmcrest’s on-campus school. Three months later, he was promoted to shift supervisor at Cottage 3. Then, when his supervisor, Sharda Sanders, went out on maternity leave, he was chosen to take on her responsibilities.

De’Ondray said Sharda is one of several leaders who have helped him grow at Elmcrest. He credits his first supervisor, Andrew Straughter, with providing a foundation in the challenging work of helping young people who are struggling.

 “I’ve had a lot of help from mentors at Elmcrest,” De’Ondray said. “You have to have thick skin so you don’t get upset when kids say things. You need to be willing to learn and I had many resources – people who helped me learn to set the tone.”

De’Ondray said he has learned the most from Ishmel, who started as a YDP himself seven years ago.

“Mr. Berkley is my guide,” De’Ondray said. “He has helped me to remain steady through a lot of ups and downs... I am very happy to be here, with the kids, and to work with people who are so supportive.”