Abubaker started his career at Lifeworks as a direct support professional working with people with disabilities at our Brooklyn Park day program in 2003. Since then, Abu, as he is known to Lifeworks staff and clients, has steadily built his career over the last 20 years, from working directly with people with disabilities to advancing into a senior leadership position. Over the years at Lifeworks, Abu has witnessed a lot of change, both in himself and in the organization.
Abu and his wife immigrated from Sudan to the United States in 2000. Before moving to Minnesota, Abu worked as a direct support professional in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was there that Abu started to build his skills assisting psychiatrists and behavioral specialists in an Early Crime Prevention program for families and children.
Abu enjoyed the work he had done working directly with people, so he looked for similar positions when his family settled in Minnesota. Abu learned about Lifeworks online and soon set up an interview. “For the record, when I tell people about my interview, they don’t believe me, but that had people that are still here,” Abu says as he lists some of the staff who still work at Lifeworks today.
“I have a soft spot for Brooklyn Park because that’s where I started,” remarks Abu as he recalls the many roles and places his journey at Lifeworks has taken him. After starting as a Service Facilitator, Abu worked in similar roles across multiple Lifeworks locations around the Twin Cities metro area. When two programs merged, he found his role moving to a brand-new building in Apple Valley. The new location would provide greater opportunities for people who accessed Day Support services. It is there that Abu solidified his skills and expertise at Lifeworks to take on leadership roles.
“We moved to Apple Valley in 2012 and I moved there with them. After two or three years, Lifeworks created a new position called Team Lead,” says Abu. The Team Lead position offered an opportunity to combine his years of development and experience, both from his own work and from the knowledge and training passed along by veteran staff and other leaders at Lifeworks. “We had good teams where we got trained by the best of the staff we had at Lifeworks and that shaped my career.”
After three years as a Team Lead, Abu became a supervisor before eventually being promoted to Manager at Apple Valley in 2019. Much to his credit, he ensured that the program could continue to be successful even as the COVID-19 pandemic greatly disrupted our ability to provide services. “We went through a lot from 2019 until now,” says Abu. “We worked hard during that time and survived. We are here now!” Now, Abu serves as Senior Manager for all services in Lifeworks’ southern region.
Looking back to his first days at Lifeworks, Abu would have never imagined himself in the role he is in now. Despite this, he is proud of his time spent supporting our mission and growing himself professionally. “I like what I’m doing. I believe in our mission. That led to the offer for my job. There is many story, many cases, and many problems solved during my time. And it shows, even for me, the stuff I know or recognized about myself.”
As a leader at Lifeworks with decades of experience working directly with our clients and learning from and supporting our staff, Abu is uniquely suited to shape the future of our organization. “I’m glad I am in this position because now I have been in the staffs’ shoes,” he says. He believes that his value as a leader is deeply rooted in his history at the organization. “If you see my story, I start from DSP up to now: being considered a leader at Lifeworks. I went to different programs and different teams, and that created for me a different knowledge that I can use to help Lifeworks to move up.”
Having seen Lifeworks change over many years, he appreciates the evolution the organization has undergone, especially when it comes to our values on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility, for both the people we partner with and our staff culture. “I see big change right now from when I started. We talk about it now because we need it. This field in general [is] historically attractive for immigrants or people of color. That’s why we need to make sure we are complying with diversity, culture, and inclusion.”
Lifeworks has solidified our intent to establish a culture centered on accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as co-creating culturally specific programs with rural communities and Black, Indigenous, and people of color as pillars in our Strategic Plan. Along with this, Abu also has more to be excited about for the future at Lifeworks. “What excites me is we have many we generations of staff. For me personally, I have my coworker who is the same age as my kids. That tells me the future is bright and people still want to work in this field.”
While Abu recognizes how his years of investment to the work led to his success, he is also quick to celebrate the many staff he has worked with over the years who provided support and helped develop the culture that he appreciates today. “I am very loyal for Lifeworks. Since I started at Lifeworks, I see the ethics, the professionals, and the great culture we have.” He also acknowledges that if you’re willing to invest in Lifeworks, the organization is also just as willing to invest in you. “If you’re looking to establish a career or looking to have a future within this organization, it’s available for you. You just need to focus and be patient. You show good work ethics and good work, that’s how you do it.”
If you’re looking to establish a career or looking to have a future within this organization, it’s available for you.
Abu is an advocate for others to advance their careers at Lifeworks, whether that’s within a specific program or to take on new opportunities in a different department. John, a Technical Support Specialist on the Lifeworks IT team, worked as a Service Specialist at Apple Valley when Abu was manager. Abu speaks highly of John as a direct support professional, but when John wanted to take on a new position, he encouraged him to follow the opportunity. “He was looking to get promoted and I knew he had just started. But he has quality and skill. His heart is on our mission. I did connect with our IT department and now he works in IT.”
John is grateful for how Abu championed his own career progression and looks to him as a leader who truly leads by example. John remembers days at Apple Valley when the atmosphere was stressful. This didn’t faze Abu, he recalls, “I have this memory of Abu walking into a room, and he would make eye contact with you. He was always so calm, cool, and collected about it and made you second guess whatever stress you were feeling that day.” He laughs and continues, “You let it melt away. Alright, if Abu’s good, then I’m good!”
Abu has now had a few months to become comfortable in his new role as Senior Manager. Even with 20 years of experience, he welcomes the new opportunity as a chance to continue growing in his career. “What I like is the challenge. I came at a time when Lifeworks needed a leader to step up, during a transition time after COVID. I can use my skill and my experience I have now in this field [to] contribute to Lifeworks. It’s the right time.”
For Lifeworks, we are appreciative and optimistic about the next generation of staff at Lifeworks who will be influenced and mentored by leaders like Abu. The partnerships we have with people with disabilities are strong because of our staff and having supportive and empowering staff is a direct result of the investment in our mission from staff before them. He offers up this message as we look to welcome new direct support professionals who will help our organization grow and lean into the future of what can be possible at Lifeworks:
“We need the staff that have their heart on this mission, to partner with people with disabilities. We are going to train them well, I assure that. They are going to be around people who have been in this field for many years. They will take their hand to learn this.”