We sat down with the Pleasantville campus’s Director of Child Care “Woody” Johnson to reflect on his 35-year career with JCCA.

I started with JCCA in 1988. I was 24 years old and about to graduate from St. John’s University. My wife and I were excepting a child. Needless to say, I needed a job. So I went to a job fair, where I met someone from JCCA. At that time, JCCA had a number of group homes across the city. I was hired to work weekends on call at a few homes in Queens. I was a young guy who liked sports, so I figured I could play basketball with the youth. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

We worked crazy hours in those days. I’d show up in the afternoon, work until bedtime, sleep at the facility, and then wake up, make the kids breakfast, and start all over again. The pay was modest and I only planned on stay with the agency for maybe six months. But I found that I liked the work and I kept getting moved up. 35 years later, I’m still here.

Looking back, I’m proud of the work we did at those group homes. We never had a kid go homeless. We graduated lots of kids, too. One became a lawyer in DC. Another got a graduate degree and came back to JCCA as a social worker. And of course I advanced in my career, too.

The organization has changed a lot since I began. There have been bumps along the way, but overall things have moved in a positive direction. The financial difficulty we had around the 2008 recession in particular led to a few difficult, lean years. Diversity and inclusion have really changed over time, too. We always had a lot of African-American frontline staff, but when I began there were not many people of color in leadership. I remember when Keturah Pierre was hired as our first black social worker. That felt like a big step at the time, but in retrospect it was just the beginning. We now have people from all walks of life at all levels of the agency. I give our CEO Ron Richter a lot of credit for that.

I’d like to think that I’ve grown alongside the agency. This work has kept me grounded and brought me into contact with so many different kinds of people. I’m sometimes asked how I’ve lasted so long. I say I have no idea! But as the agency has changed and the populations we serve have shifted I’ve stayed adaptable. I’ve raised a family and put three children through college with the support of this job. Eventually I was promoted to a Director on our Pleasantville campus and in 2015 I was honored with an AARC award for my work.

It’s a tough job but I like what I do. And JCCA has been good to me. If it were any other way I would never have stayed so long.