CONWAY It’s been a big summer for Elizabeth Litton. She started a new position as volunteer-services coordinator for the Conway Human Development Center, and she turned 30 in August.
Litton, who grew up in Greenbrier and lives in Conway with her husband and daughter, was originally unsure about her career path.
“I had some people say, ‘You know, school’s not for everybody.’ It gave me some incentive to prove them wrong,” Litton said, laughing.
“My mom likes to tell me I blossomed after high school.”
Litton’s dad got a job in Illinois and moved there during Litton’s senior year of high school, but her mother stayed behind while her daughter finished high school.
By then, Litton had met her future husband, Jerrod, and she stayed in Arkansas.
She attended the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton for a semester before transferring to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where she considered nursing, then early childhood education, but graduated in 2008 with a degree in health education.
“I absolutely loved it. It turned out to be extremely beneficial to me in this position,” she said.
Litton said she knew almost nothing about the Conway Human Development Center when she got a job there in 2010.
“I’ve always been very open and accepting of all kinds of people,” she said.
The residential training facility serves school-age children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Before that, Litton worked with an Arkansas Department of Health agency called Connect Care, then at a private preschool in Conway. That job gave her the opportunity to take some continuing-education courses at Arkansas State University-Beebe.
Her supervisor at the preschool was Cristin Jensen.
“I learned a lot from that lady,” Litton said.
She said Jensen had a commitment to quality, and she tries to model Jensen’s attention to detail.
“She gave me a good set of skills that I brought here,” Litton said. “You have to be on top of your game.”
Jensen praised Litton, too.
“It’s been a while since I worked with her, but she was always very, very positive, upbeat, very joyful, cheerful — a very flexible person, which I think allows you to be successful in any position you have,” Jensen said.
Litton said leaving the preschool to take the job at the development center was bittersweet.
“My last day [at the preschool] was very sad for me. I sat in the parking lot and cried. Those kids were amazing,” Litton said, reaching for a tissue in her desk drawer.
Litton started as a residential-care assistant at the center, teaching life skills to residents — from learning how to dress themselves to brushing their teeth — “literally everything to get ourselves up and ready,” she said.
She also went to the residents’ training classes on campus and to their doctor’s appointments.
After that position, Litton worked in recreation at the center, “which I absolutely loved,” she said.
Litton said she and another recreation employee worked with supervisor James Winnen, who embraced all the creative ideas they had.
“It was like the sky was our limit,” she said. “It was kind of insane how well we worked together.”
Litton said having worked one on one with residents, she knew their personalities and brought that knowledge to her job in recreation.
“Razorbacks are a big deal with a lot of residents, and hunting,” she said. “A lot like manipulating Play-Doh.”
She said one thing she learned was that the residents like the same things she does — music, shopping, trying new restaurants and going places.
“Other than food, music is everybody’s favorite,” she said.
One of the events the residents enjoyed was when Litton brought a motorcycle rally to the center.
“Seeing them, and hearing the motorcycles rev — they so enjoyed that,” she said.
Litton said she loved bringing new experiences and new faces to the residents, and that’s her goal as volunteer-services coordinator, too.
It was a position that didn’t come easy.
She applied for the job and received an email saying she didn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the state job, even though she knew she did.
“I had to do a reconsideration letter and send it to Little Rock. At that point, I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’”
Litton heard that no one was chosen for the position, so she gave herself a pep talk.
“I said, ‘All right, Liz, you’re going to make this happen, so quit your little pity party.’”
After she rewrote her application, she scored an interview and was hired.
“I knew it was meant to be,” she said.
Litton began her new position July 1.
“It was a process, but I did it,” she said.
One of her goals is to revamp the Just Friends program and increase the number of interactive volunteers.
For example, a volunteer might be teamed with a 30-year-old resident and walk to class with her, bring in lunch or watch a movie with the resident on a Saturday in the gym.
“There’s a big need for that,” Litton said. “We just need more interaction with our residents and volunteers.”
Although the residents are allowed to leave the facility, sometimes it’s easier to bring programs and people to them, Litton said.
When she saw the opportunity to be volunteer-services coordinator, Litton said she immediately thought of what she had learned about the residents when she worked directly with them.
She wants to bring in more local bands and musicians. She has one man scheduled to come when the weather is cooler to sit outside on the sidewalk and play his guitar for residents as they go to the canteen to get snacks.
Her biggest task now — and the one she’s spending most of her time on — is to get ready for the annual walkathon, which is scheduled for Oct. 5.
“It’s one of our major sources of raising money to utilize on the grounds for our residents,” Litton said.
The event’s fundraising goal is $25,000, and proceeds will be used to cover walkways, buy workout equipment for the gym and purchase Christmas gifts for residents.
Litton said she wants the public to understand more of what the development center is about.
The mission, she said, “is creating more quality of life” for the residents.
Litton said she talked to Calvin Price, the center’s superintendent, who told her, “This job is going to be what you make it.”
“That sounds awesome to me,” Litton said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.