Margaret Zamarripa is celebrating 30 years as an employee at United Cerebral Palsy Central California in August. In that time, she’s worked as an instructor and now a floor supervisor.
“She just has a calm way about her … that makes her special,” says Lusty Callison, supervisor of fiscal and human resource services.
That’s probably because working with people with disabilities is a family affair for Zamarripa.
We talked with Zamarripa about her life before she “came across the pond” in 1990 from Colchester, Essex, England, and why working with people with disabilities is important to her.
What brought you to UCPCC and what made you stay for 30 plus years?
I was married to an Air Force man, and he retired … in Atwater. We lived in Merced for a year. I worked at a group home there. Then the following year, in 1991, we moved here to Fresno. There was a girl who used to do homebound (UCPCC’s home adaptive program) in Merced. She asked if she could put in a word for me, and she got me the job here.
I started as an instructor, and then I went to Sunnyside Convalescent where we had a satellite program. I ran that over there – I was head instructor over there. Then I came back here and was an instructor and then took the floor supervisor position.
As floor supervisor, I try to keep everyone on track of their responsibilities; I check that students’ needs are being met and staff are following protocol. I walk around to make sure students are engaged in activities as much as possible; and I bring to Kelly’s attention anything that needs to be repaired or replaced. (Kelly is Kelly Cunningham, director of adult program services.)
I fill in as needed. I have assisted the nurse. I help out in basic care when needed.
What’s kept me here is my love for the students. It’s all about them. I was brought to this kind of environment, to this type of job, because I had a brother who had epilepsy growing up. … (The students) touch my heart, whether it’d through the way we can communicate verbally or through eye contact. Each one has their own special place. The staff are good too. I like working with the staff. The staff here are compassionate and have hearts for the students.
How did you know this field of work was a good fit for you?
My brother had a big influence in this. I have four sisters and three brothers. My brother with epilepsy passed. We saw what my mom went through with my brother. Way back then, it wasn’t like it is nowadays. She had a difficult time with him. When we were younger, that’s what we did: We would go visit him when he was placed in a home as it became too difficult for my mom alone to take care of him – that was instilled in us.
My sisters work in convalescent homes, in England. It’s a family thing. We’ve all gone in that direction.
This kind of work is not for everybody. Some people just can’t get past feeling sorry or can’t get passed the basic care. But for those who are here, they’ve got heart.
What’s the best thing about working at UCPCC?
The students. They just brighten my day. Their smiles are contagious. If I’m having an “off day,” I just spend some time with them, and it gets me out of the self-pity mode.
Do you have a special memory of your time here that you’d like to share or that holds significant meaning?
I have seen students who came that couldn’t walk … and with physical therapy and assistance they are able to walk and stand up now with just some limitations.
They say you shouldn’t have a favorite student but I did have one: Little Gwen. She’s passed now. But every time she saw me, she would ask for a snack or coffee or something. I would always be giving her snacks or treats. Kelly used to say, “You should wear a trench coat full of snacks” because I’m the “snack lady.”
What would you like people to know about UCPCC?
We are compassionate. The staff are so compassionate. You can’t be here for a paycheck - you have to be here for the students. It’s a fair company to work for. They take your needs into consideration. … I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to be here this long. The hours are great. The benefits are generous. And they try to accommodate our needs while making sure student needs come first. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to be here this long.
What do you think the future holds for UCPCC and its students?
Well, I hope things go back to the way things were or even better after this pandemic is over. I would like to see our students out in the community more. I’d like to see the community accept their disabilities more and make way for them. And for schools and parents to educate students about people with disabilities and their needs.
If you could build a wish list for UCPCC, what would be at the top of the list?
Donations to meet the needs especially with our buses being vandalized. We really need more donors. More equipment, more lifts, special hydraulic tables. Art supplies, anything really. Computers are great but we can always use more technology stuff. And space – we need to have space that we can take our students to out in the community. We go to quite a few parks, but when the weather is rough – when it’s raining or when it’s too hot – we just don’t have spaces that can accommodate students like ours.
What do you like to do when you’re not working at UCPCC?
I spend a lot of time with my grandkids. That’s my thing. I like to go for walks - I enjoy taking my two little dogs for walks. I always spend time with the grandkids on the weekend. I have four grandchildren: 10, 11, 17, and 20 years old. My son and daughter live close in town. I enjoy going to the coast occasionally to get out of this heat. The rest of my family is in England. I haven’t been back since 2004, but we do Facetime and call each other.
Being here in the U.S., what are some British things you miss?
I miss the beautiful green countryside and some of the food there. And, of course, family.
Before I left there and came here, life was slow. It was nice. A lot like it is at the (California) coast. I miss walks in the countryside and thatched cottages.
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
The Beatles, just because I listened to them more growing up. I also liked The Monkees. Everyone loved Davy Jones, but my favorite was Micky Dolenz.