Meet HopSkipDrive CareDriver Jen Gralish
Written by Karen Sampson
When Jen Gralish was looking for a way to make some extra money — one that would allow her to set her own hours — a friend told her about HopSkipDrive. She’s had many meaningful experiences during the almost 2,000 rides she’s completed in the Seattle area, and she especially enjoys driving kids who have special needs.
Where do you live and what market do you drive in?
I live in an eastern suburb of Seattle, Issaquah, so as much as possible I like to focus on that area. But I take rides all over.
Why did you become a CareDriver?
I am a professional tour guide, and I was looking for something to do in the winter when tourism is slow — and I wanted to set my own hours. A friend suggested I inquire about being a CareDriver. In my previous career with community newspapers, I really enjoyed the opportunities I had to interact with kids in the community so I thought it would be a good fit.
What do you like most about being a CareDriver?
The kids are the thing I like most, for sure. I especially enjoy the kids with special needs, such as those who are on the autism spectrum.
How does your caregiving experience play a role in the work you do as a CareDriver?
My personal caregiving experience was/is with senior citizens, and occasionally looking after my nephew. Dealing with kids is surprisingly similar [to working with senior citizens] in a lot of ways, such as they often push boundaries as far as they can. Some want an impartial ear to listen, while others want to be left alone. All of them want to be comfortable in your presence. The challenge is figuring out what makes them comfortable, as each child is different.
Have you had any meaningful experiences as a CareDriver that you can share with us?
As I mentioned above, I really enjoy driving kids with special needs. Each one has a unique quirk that makes them so fun to be with. But all kids have challenges, such as the young man I drove who loves to bake but cannot tell his friends at school. He shares tips and tricks for mouth-watering recipes with me!
Then there’s the transgender student who appreciates that I call her by her chosen name. We make playlists to share.
Thanks to my friend I drive who is a Minecraft expert, “Skeleton Rap” is now on my Halloween playlist!
Then there’s a young lady who lives in a shelter who knows more about life at age seven than a lot of adults I know. She likes to critique pop music, and loves to hear stories about the places I’ve traveled.
But my favorite is the young man who is nonverbal and severely autistic. It took months before he didn’t need to be coaxed into the car. No one could tell me what his interests were. As it turns out, after several months of watching his face and body language for clues, I discovered that he likes it loud in the car but only if we are cranking classic rock. And I also found out that he loves swimming, pasta and dolphins. Now we are able to have a conversation of sorts, and every morning we practice saying his teacher’s name so he can greet her when we arrive at school.
What do you, personally, get out of being a CareDriver?
Most of the kids that HopSkipDrive helps live in challenging situations. You’d be amazed at the amount of wisdom they have. Some of it helps me deal with difficult adults!
How important do you think HopSkipDrive’s mission (to create opportunity for all through mobility) is, and why?
It’s very important. A lot of these kids move around a lot, live in foster care, and have special needs and circumstances. Often, the main source of stability and comfort for them is staying in the same school with all of their friends. HopSkipDrive helps make that possible. It also lifts a burden from parents and caregivers, allowing them to be more productive.