“This is My Why”: Growing From RBT to Center Manager, Allison McGarry Makes an Impact Through Autism Therapy
April 13, 2022
April 13, 2022
What gets you up for work every day?
“Because what I do has an impact. My job is important,” is the answer Allison McGarry gave us, and we’re pretty sure it’s our favorite answer to this question.
As the center manager of Hopebridge’s Louisville East location, Allison reminded us that going to work every day is much easier for those who feel they are doing something worthwhile. This is something she learned along her career path, which has evolved immensely over the past six years.
“When I meet people new to Hopebridge, I usually end up telling them my story at some point because it goes hand-in-hand with everything we do here. I feel like it’s important to understand people’s ‘why’ behind doing what they do,” said Allison.
Prior to working at Hopebridge, she worked for years in sales. According to Allison, she had no childcare experience, nor experience working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or special needs, but she did have an amazing supervisor who set the stage for her by encouraging her to go back to school.
Allison graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a focus on research. It was there she met her research partner, Amy Cowles, who became her connection to Hopebridge. After graduation, she came across Hopebridge again online and reached out to Amy to learn more about it, and ultimately, to request she serve as a reference.
“I interviewed with Hopebridge a little more than five years ago, but it feels like a lifetime. The first day I came in, I thought, ‘What the heck did I sign up for?’ I had a psychology background, but I had never learned more than a few principles of applied behavior analysis. I didn’t have kids of my own, nor had ever changed a diaper,” said Allison. “It was all new to me, but I got my first caseload after six weeks, and that’s when I fell in love. It was as simple as that. I’ve never looked back, and I cannot imagine ever working in a different field after this.”
There were two kiddos in particular who had a great effect on Allison and her career. Both were non-speaking, but experienced additional challenges in different ways, from aggression to sensory regulation.
She specifically remembers the day that the mother of one of the kids shadowed his board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) during parent training. Allison had been working on tacting images of family members with the boy, so when his mom came in, she asked him, “Who is it?” The boy suddenly called out “mama!”
He had never called her “mama” before, nor spoke to her at all. He was completely nonverbal until that point. His mom’s eyes filled with tears of joy and Allison said she had to hold back tears herself.
“That was my first ‘a-ha’ moment with a kid. His mom was so grateful,” said Allison. “We’re here to serve our kids, families and the community around us. We also need to remember that these ‘babies’ of ours grow up. It’s our hope that as they get older, our impact translates into who they are as adults. It’s a huge honor and responsibility.”
Learning and growing is a significant part of Hopebridge’s culture, and there are a multitude of opportunities for growth, both vertically and laterally. For Allison, this meant big steps in professional development and new roles, all within a few years.
When she started in the Jeffersonville, Indiana center, she joined as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). Just a few months later, she became program coordinator, followed by ABA trainer for a year and a half.
During that time, Allison went to lunch with the BCBAs one day. By the end of it, she had decided she was going to apply to become assistant center manager (ACM). Before that, her biggest reservation was wondering whether she’d lose the connection with the children. She’s since learned that yes, center managers are operational, but they serve as a bridge between Hopebridge’s clinical and business sides.
“I had to teach myself that although I’m not in direct therapy anymore, everyone serves the mission in a different capacity. My work now opens a larger umbrella, making sure services are accessible to our community, while also supporting the awesome team that works with all our kiddos,” said Allison.
While serving as ACM, Allison had a great mentor and support team. Jeffersonville’s center manager, Percy Atkins, was there for her to not only see her succeed in her role at the time, but also to set her up for future growth.
“He gave me the tough love I needed. I naturally sway to be more on the nurturing side, but he taught me it’s ok to be both firm and nurturing in this role. He spent a lot of time that he didn’t need to in order to help me become a good ACM, as well as to prepare me to become a center manager. His support was vital to my leadership development, and my transition was 20 times smoother because of it,” said Allison.
As she transitioned to oversee her new center, Louisville East, Allison appreciated the support she received beyond her mentor and center’s therapy team, as Hopebridge also has regional managers to provide guidance and feedback.
“Jeffersonville was my Hopebridge heart. I had been there for four and a half years and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about working at another center where no one knew me,” said Allison. “It was a big leap, but I’m totally in love with Louisville East now,” said Allison.
The mentorship doesn’t end there, either. Allison is making a point to take what was given to her and invest it into others, as she’s currently doing with her center’s ACM, Sara Beth Phillips, as well as supporting everyone in her center.
“Since I started at Hopebridge, I have been in love with the kids and serving the mission. Having that mission-driven reason for doing what you do is everything. I always told myself that I wouldn’t stay in a job if it wasn’t rewarding for me and for others around me. That’s why I shifted careers; I wanted to make change,” said Allison.
Allison was drawn to Hopebridge because of the impact she is able to make, not only on children, but also their families. She knows everything she and her team do in the centers translates into the home to support kids, their parents and their siblings. She is also passionate about autism awareness and advocacy; constantly working to expand access to services and make life easier for this population out in the community.
While the vision of working for these kids brought her to Hopebridge, what sets it apart from other autism therapy providers is the vast amount of growth opportunities available. There’s not solely one career path. Depending on their strength and passions, employees can carve their own ways while continuing to develop their skills and serve others.
In her position as center manager, Allison is still able to spend time with the kids at the center—she just also gets to expand her reach by helping her team members develop within their own roles. It is not only gratifying for her to watch them grow, but she also values the influence she has as those same team members serve their community’s families.
Allison loves to share her personal experience with potential new hires, but she also knows her journey is not the only way to get there. In addition to a network of possibilities through locations around the country, she likes to highlight the potential for growth right within each of the centers. From promotions to positions like ABA trainer and regional BCBA, to opportunities for fellowships, continuing education and collaboration, there is something to motivate team members at every level.
“I like to hire people who express interest in growth from within Hopebridge because it shows they’re invested in the mission,” said Allison. “Personally, I would have loved the chance to be part of the RBT Leveling Program when I was starting out. It’s great for bragging rights and developing new skills, but also includes financial incentives. Others might find our monthly BCBA pod meetings appealing, as they provide the chance for more education and clinical development while on the job.”
“When I started working here, I didn’t have kids of my own yet. Because I never had relationships with neurotypical kids and really only got to know children when I started working here, kids on the spectrum were the ones who were ‘typical’ to me. I wonder what our world would be like if everyone had that perspective,” said Allison.
“When it comes to working in this space, there is no judgment, no qualms about personal history. We’re all here for the same reason and we’re all buds. I want everyone to have that experience.”
Now is the time to experience this powerful and inspirational community for yourself. If you’re ready for the chance to see where working in autism therapy can take your career – all while helping children lead their best lives – check out our open positions in locations across the country.
Soon-to-Be Party of Five: Allison has a 3-year-old daughter, Delaney, with another baby on the way! But she also plays “mom” to a dog that is half mini poodle and half wire-haired terrier. They rescued Danny from a hoarding situation. “Danny is a great dog and Delaney loves her to pieces. We take her everywhere with us!”
What She Does Outside of the Center: “When I’m not wrangling the tiny tyrant in my house, I love to read. Growing up, I was the kid in book clubs and diving into non-required reading in the summers. My love for books was re-born at the beginning of the pandemic when I was home for a few weeks. It’s currently my way to unwind while my daughter naps.”
Currently Reading: “Right now I’m reading The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It’s pretty good. Before that I had just finished the Outlander series and its spinoffs. The books are like bricks and the font is tiny. I’ve been reading them since the start of Covid and was devastated when they were over.”
Next on Her Book List: “Our trainer just brought in a bunch of books for me to read as I’m preparing for maternity leave. Next up is Little Fires Everywhere and Conversations with Friends.”
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