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Full circle

Childhood and career intersect at Redwood

Some days at work, Erin Koke must think her life has come full circle. Born nearly three months early and diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 2, she began treatment at Redwood, a not-for-profit therapy center near Fort Mitchell in Kenton County, which offers a wide range of therapeutic, educational and vocational services for several hundred children and adults with disabilities.

Over the next 17 years she and her parents, who live in nearby Cold Spring in Campbell County, made regular visits to Redwood for outpatient treatment of the deep muscle constrictions affecting primarily her legs and hips, and for therapy that helped her walk with forearm crutches. She later earned an associate degree in human services from Gateway Community College.

Today, at age 25, Erin is a fixture at the front desk of Redwood’s welcome center. Hers is often the first face people see when they arrive, the last when they are leaving, and the first voice they hear when they call. She was hired as afternoon receptionist at Redwood in 2019, and now makes the daily 15-minute bus ride to and from work at the facility, which serves an average of more than 500 clients.

“She’s the perfect person to have at that front desk, not only because she has a great personality and she’s really smart, but also because she has faced similar challenges to the people that we serve,” says Brittney Burkholder, employment specialist. “You have to know a lot to do that job. You have to know everyone in the building and what they do, because a lot of people call and aren’t clear who they need to talk to.”

“She’s been a godsend,” adds Redwood Human Resources Generalist Maria Meade. “She is the most kind, caring person. The families have really gotten to know her. One day I had given her a little break, and while she was gone one of the parents walked in to get their kid and said, ‘Oh…you’re not Erin.’ And they waited until she came back, because the little boy wanted to give her a hug before they left.” 

“I think the front desk fits my personality well, but I don’t think I’m all that special,” Erin insists, noting that it’s possible her disability may be partially responsible for enhancing her people skills.

“Because I have a disability and people look at me more often—and ask me questions about it all the time—I need to explain to them, ‘here’s what it is, and here’s how it affects me,’ and I think that’s brought my voice out more.” 

Then there are the little moments she takes home with her from work on some days, like the trusting smile that always warms her heart from a little boy named Logan. 

Maybe in his eyes she sees herself as a child of 5 again, coming through those same doors that now have brought her full circle at Redwood.

BYRON CRAWFORD is Kentucky’s storyteller—a veteran television and newspaper journalist known for his colorful essays about life in Kentucky. Contact Byron at About/People.

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