Moments after sitting down to talk with me about their 30 years with ArcGNO, the atmosphere shifts from an interview to old friends reminiscing. Milton Batiste, director of transportation services, and Lamar Smith, program coordinator at the Westwego Community Center, fire back and forth names of past co-workers and inside jokes. Both men began their journey with ArcGNO in 1988 – Batiste as the janitorial crew supervisor and Smith as a 1:1 support.
Batiste assumed different roles before assuming his role in transportation services, from program manager over two day programs to contract manager for mobile crews. He says, “I kind of took [transportation] on voluntarily and became coordinator for transportation just before Katrina.” Batiste completely changed the landscape of ArcGNO’s transportation services. At the start of his time in transportation, ArcGNO only had four vans. Today, transportation services oversees the deployment and maintenance of over 50 vans. By increasing the number of vans at ArcGNO, Batiste directly impacted the number of people to whom ArcGNO could provide services.
Smith remarks that he just “stumbled into it,” when asked how he began working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. His stumble turned into a sprint as he worked his way through the various departments at ArcGNO before landing as the program coordinator in Westwego. His time at the Westwego Community Center began in ‘04 when he was hired as the Lead DSP. Following Katrina, he became program coordinator for the center and has remained there since. He has developed a reputation as coordinator for being eerily timely with his work – if given a task on a Monday, Smith has it completed by Tuesday morning.
Neither Batiste nor Smith are all work and no play, however. Smith boasts that his favorite thing to do at ArcGNO is attend Westwego Community Center’s Mardi Gras Ball – not for himself, but to see his participants dressed in formal attire and having a great time. Batiste dedicates much of his time to the Krewe of Arc, a club he helped create in ‘07. The club’s purpose is to give adults with disabilities the opportunity to engage in the same social activities available to anyone else. “To see them in the community being accepted, without being stared at…I get joy from that,” says Batiste.
While their journeys with ArcGNO may differ, their reasons for remaining with the organization for 30 years are remarkably similar. “Everyday you have the opportunity to impact people’s lives,” says Smith. Batiste continues, “Seeing them grow, learn, and prosper. That’s my number one thing, you know, is them. They come first.”
It’s clear that for both Batiste and Smith, their number one priority is, and has always been, the people they support.