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Terrell Cannon
Home Care Associates
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Interviewed by Lynn Adler and Jim Mayer
Producers of Faith, Hope and Capital

LA: Before you came here, what were you doing?

TC: Before I came to Home Care Associates I was on welfare, sitting home watching stories with my two children at the time. Sitting home watching TV pretty much doing nothing. Just sitting there. Before that it was kind of hard because I was living in the projects. It was kind of hard for me because it was a lot of violence and I was into the roughness. That was pretty much me before Home Care Associates.

LA: You were into the racket.

TC: I was in fights a lot, argue a lot. I never dealt with drugs or anything, so that wasn't my thing. I was just a little violent towards people. Towards my gender, my age group. People would walk past me, look at me, and I would jump on them, "What are you lookin' at?" So, that was me before Home Care Associates.

LA: How did you find out about Home Care Associates?

TC: My case worker at the welfare department actually, she saw potential in me, and I kind of thought it was bogus at the time. She said, "Well, there's this place called Home Care Associates, and they're really new, they just started and they hire home health aids. Why don't you go down there and give them a try?" I was like, "I don't want to do that." I took care of my grandmother for two years. She was dying of complications from cancer. So, I'm like, okay, I'll give it a try. I took care of my grandmother so I can do it. So I came down there and went through the interview with Scott. Scott interviewed me and I was scared to death because his eyes looked like he looked right through you. And during the course of the interview his eyes started to look at me instead of through me. I had to wait over the weekend to see if I was accepted. I was like, "I wonder if I'm going to get the job. What's going to happen when I get the job? Am I going to do right or are they going to let me go? Am I going to get fired?" It was kind of scary. Then I called back that Monday and they told me I was accepted, and I was excited. I screamed on the phone, told my mom and the kids. From there my life changed drastically. It changed a lot.

LA: Tell me how it changed.

TC: It changed because when I started coming to the training class they were teaching me about attitude. I didn't think I had attitude. I had a very big attitude--I didn't think I had one. I learned that it's not totally what you say but what you do that makes your attitude sometimes. So, that changed. Then I started being more nicer towards people, which was strange when I went back to the projects, because everybody's like, "Hi Terrell" They would never say anything bad to me or anything, and I usually would just look at them and keep going. And I'd be like, "Hi," and they'd be like, "What's the matter with Terrell?" It's okay now. I've started to walk through the projects speaking and changing my aspect towards people from this training course. Then I started helping the elderly more. Like, if I learned transferring in the classroom I would go home and practice on my boyfriend and my kids. And if I see ladies trying to get across the street or drop something, I would pick it up for them and carry their bags for them to get home. I started helping people more and it made me feel good.

LA: So what you were learning here became part of your whole life?

TC: It became me now. I try to educate people outside or work. When I see, like if I'm on the bus I see people talking to the elderly arrogant, I'll say something like, "How would you feel if someone was talking to you that way?" or, "That could be my grandmother, how do you know?" And start to make people just think a little bit. I get a kick out of making people just say, "Hmm?" Think about it a little bit.

LA: How does it make you feel when you see, like today, you're doing the training and seeing all these women coming in. Do you identify with where they're at now?

TC: It makes me feel good because I've been where they are now and I'm just anxious to see how many are going to go farther with it. I'm glad to see there's a lot of women willing to try to beat the system and get off of welfare and do something better with their lives. 'm glad that they have seen that there's a place for them somewhere. Some doors are always closed. Some are open to give them a chance and if they don't make it, I'm glad at least they tried.

LA: You were talking about how, when you first came here, you saw people hugging each other, and you thought it was weird.

TC: Yeah, when I came here, when I got to working, I'd walk into the office and they'd say like, "Hi!" and hug me and I'm like, "These people are crazy." I'm like, "Why are they hugging, just hugging all over everybody?" And they were just too friendly. And there's a bunch of women, and I said, "Now what place, with a bunch of women, a workplace, has no animosity, no arguing or fighting, no bickering, in one place, with all these women?" That's not possible. I said, "They're frontin' because we're newcomers and they just want us to be here, and they're not really like this." And Scott would open his door and they'd just walk in and say what they had to say and come out. And I'm like, "He's the boss and they're just walking in his office and getting paper and pens and going in there and taking his calendar off the desk and writing in it, putting it back, and I'm just, this is crazy." I didn't believe it. And then I started asking, "Is it like this all the time?" and everyone's like, "Yeah." And then when I came here for my paycheck and they were hugging me and I just started hugging. Now every time someone comes in the door I'm hugging. Sometimes when the guests come him and I shake their hand and hug them, I know they're like, "What is wrong with her?" It's just so natural, I just appreciate it now. Before I couldn't. If you hugged me, you're going to get hurt. But, now it's like all open arms. Welcome to Home Care Associates!

LA: You're now not just a worker, but you're also on the board. What's that like?

TC: The board is fun, and hard. It's hard for me because I'm representing the home health aids, and then sitting on the board and representing the company too. And it's hard when home health aids come ask. They want this done and they want that done. So it's kind of hard when you're in the middle. But it's fun because the first time I ever sat on the board it was so formal, and everybody's like "Yay, Nay." I was confused at first. "Wow, they really do yay and nay." We had the time keeper and the secretary of the board, and the treasurer, and I'm like, "This is strange." But now it's good and I look forward to board meetings every Wednesday, and you eat at the board meeting, and they have refreshments for you, so that's nice. It's good for me because I get to know the ins and outs of the company, and I'm glad that I'm on there because I've been here since the company was started, so I was able to see from 1993 how we have changed to now, and that's the amazing part. And I've been in it, actively.

JM: How about talking about the difficult financial times.

TC: The first year we got a good dividend. We got six hundred some odd dollars. The next year we couldn't give out any dividends. And in this hard time of money we had to make some cutbacks, and the workers out there fought through this. We had the strength, we walked through it. In the cold. We walked through the cold too. You know, they traveled on these buses that broke down, they couldn't get home. We had to give something, but then I understand that we had to pay back the lenders, we had to pay all of the bills and it's like, "What are we going to do?" And I'm fighting. My worries were, if the workers weren't here, we wouldn't have any bills to pay. So what do we do then? How do we set a line where we both can compromise? That was a very hard meeting. Because then we had to take it to the worker/owners and see if they approved it, which meant, you're trying to explain to them that they're not going to get a dividend like they got the year before. And, of course, they want the money. And it's like, when you took this in, we told you that in some years you're making nothing and if the job goes bankrupt and you get nothing back. So, would you expect to get nothing or just a little bit. So, that's what evened it out. They were able to accept, "Okay we're here, and if we keep the money in the company and build our little savings pot up then we can have it better for later on in the future." So, that's what made the difference.

LA: So, how are things now?

TC: Now we're booming. We're doing fine. We have a lot of opportunities that we're trying to get into, and the home health aids are wonderful. There's no home health agency that can beat Home Care Associates home health aid. They're working through it, and when they're in trouble and they say they don't know exactly what's going on in their lives and whether they want to go further or whether they want to quit or stop. We have a counselor that can help them get their issues in their head in order. Everybody works with each other to help everybody get further.

LA: You've been part of the change. You're on the board, and you look around here and there are mainly women, mainly African-American women, and have you ever thought about replacing Scott?

TC: No, I haven't thought about it. We can't get a better Scott. Scott is wonderful. I wouldn't want to change him and have to get a person where I can't openly talk to him about how I feel or if I have a idea, he'll take it seriously, like he does. It was strange to me because most bosses you go to, the president of a company, you don't see him, often. You have to ask the secretary to set you up a meeting that's three months down the line, and with Scott it's like I see his book, I see an empty space, I pencil myself in, and put the book back down. I like that, because he's there to listen, he's there to help, and he's not brushing you off all the time. That's what I like because he allows time for his workers. I wouldn't change that.

LA; Sounds like he's kind of working for you.

TC: In a way he's working for all of the worker/owners. All of us who own a share of stock in the company, he works for us, and it's up to the board to decide if he stays or goes, if he should be fired. But they love him too much. We're not going to let him go.

LA: Have you had a lot more people come in here to apply to go off welfare, because changes in welfare are taking place? Has that made a big difference?

TC: We usually take people off welfare. We try to get people off welfare and give them a good, decent job with some benefits, just as a stepping stone at least to make a movement in their life. And, since the welfare reform we've been getting a lot of people. Some which think, well, I have to do this because welfare told me to. The majority are like, "I'm sick of it. I don't want welfare anymore. I want to do something better for me and my kids. I want to live a better life." Those are the ones where we're, "Okay, we'll help you," and we'll take them in our hands and help them to reach the goal that they want to reach for themselves.

LA: Sounds like you see potential in them that somebody . . .

TC: ... saw in me. Exactly! I have to do that. Because I came from welfare I can relate to what it's like to stand in a line and wait for some money, free money, to be degraded by people in general. You go to clinics and they're like, "She's on welfare, we'll make her wait." And you go into the store and spend your food stamps and they just make fun of them all the time. I've been there. So, I wouldn't want anybody to have to continue to go through that. So, if I can help you I will, and I'll try to if I can. At least I'll try to help in some way.