When Jesse Paez first started working at YAI in 2007, he figured the experience would help bolster his resume for grad school. Little did he know, the position as a direct support professional in a residence for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) would alter his career path and his overall outlook.
“When I got into grad school in Syracuse, I was still so attached to the job that on the weekends I would come down [to Manhattan] to work,” said Paez. “Then I realized it was just too much...So I did my degree, I worked, and then a few years later, I came back.”
Paez is one of a growing number of former employees who has come back to YAI. In 2023 alone, more than 60 former employees have returned to YAI and its affiliates, a workforce of 4,000 employees.
Returning employees, also known as “boomerang employees,” are not unique to YAI. In fact, according to a March 2023 large-scale analysis in Harvard Business Review, boomeranging is more common than previously thought. The study found that 28% of new hires across industries are former employees who had resigned within the past three years.
At YAI, these returning employees help shape the organization’s culture and often have unique insights into what makes YAI a special place to work.
Ravi Dahiya first joined YAI as a Supervisor in 2000. After three years, he moved on to work at other I/DD agencies, eventually coming back in 2016. Today, he is the organization’s Chief Program Officer, and he says his time away from YAI gave him a new perspective.
“Nowhere else has the kind of support for programs that YAI has...[At other organizations] programs tended to be very top-down,” said Dahiya. “At YAI, there’s more collaboration. There’s participatory management. There are different voices being heard, so decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.”
That collaborative, flexible atmosphere allows for people to bring their whole selves to work, which is one of the reasons Paez has found himself coming back to YAI at different moments in his career—once after completing grad school, and again after taking care of a sick family member abroad.
“YAI is very flexible with me, and they always meet me halfway,” Paez said. “Now my role is a cook, and it’s fantastic. I love it because it’s still hands-on, and I’ve tapped into a creative side.”
According to Tech Target, Paez’s confidence and happiness in his newest role is common among boomerang employees. They tend to contribute right away because they feel more confident than novice employees, and they tend to bring new perspectives and approaches thanks to their time away.
“In the beginning, you only see the work and not the people,” Paez said. “But now I can tell who’s new and I try to provide a bigger picture and help them zoom out...I start with, ‘What is your ultimate long-term goal?’ and then I zoom in, and I say, ‘This is how YAI can get you there. This is how YAI can provide you the tools and the skills.’ Some people get it, and they stay and do a good job. Other people leave, and you know what? That’s ok, too. There are certain types of people that are needed in this field.”
The reasons why people return to YAI vary. Some moved away and then move back to a more convenient location, others return after advancing their education, but many return because of the mission and their connection with the people they support.
Seeing Allan Fraser DJing at the Central Park Challenge in June 2023 was a full-circle moment for Dahiya. He supported Fraser back in 2000.
“Back when I first worked at YAI in Brooklyn, we had started a monthly kind of nightclub,” Dahiya said. “And it was run in all aspects by people with disabilities. And I remember working with Allan to train him to be a DJ, so that’s how he got his start.”
For Dahiya, seeing Fraser flourishing as a DJ more than 20 years after they first met, underscores the benefit of boomerang employees at YAI.
“Ravi was always helpful,” said Fraser. “We did a lot of stuff in Brooklyn, and he recently came to our meeting on Zoom. He’s a very nice man.”
"Staff here have an obligation to ensure that YAI’s culture continues to thrive,” said Dahiya. “The culture of collaboration, professionalism, and understanding the role that a staff person has of supporting rather than ‘taking care’ of people with intellectual disabilities...That's very difficult, I found, to bring about at an organization. And it's what makes YAI unique.”