Case Manager and Antiques Dealer—Janet Surawski Codair

Social Worker
Janet Codair and her spunky dog Link at Acadia National Park. (Photo by a Codair)

Janet Codair is kind, funny, and sometimes blunt. She’s been working with intellectually-disabled adults for almost 30 years, and has been selling antiques for 24 years. Selling antiques is fun, and she feels like she’s giving back when she works with individuals.

Let’s start with case manager because that came first, antiques were in the middle, now I’m back to case manager. When I was 22 I started working in the field with intellectually-disabled adults. Back then I did direct care in a vocational setting. I worked with adults that were three to five years old intellectually. They wanted to earn a paycheck, so we started doing job training, and they did piecework and earned checks anywhere from $1.50 to $10.00, but they’d be so excited because they got a paycheck.

[Now] anyone with a disability [must] be paid equally, not judged on the disability. But this was 28, 30 years ago and they were just coming out of institutions. They were living in good homes and going to sheltered workshops. Sheltered workshops are outlawed now; the last one closed a year and a half ago.

When I worked with them then, I was only in my 20s or early 30s. It was 1988 to 1996. I did vocational. Then, when I had a baby I did residential, which was working in a group home. Then I [worked] with individuals in co-apartments. One of them had one of the first jobs at Kmart processing phones. I dealt with everything from taking them to doctors to shopping, hobbies, sewing and boyfriend issues.

When my daughter was little, I started the antique business, but I felt like there was something missing and I wanted to give back so I got back into the field, and I ended up at the same agency I had worked at 30 years ago. It was really funny because the old people that I’d worked with were there, and they’d grown older and chubbier, but they were still exactly the same. There was one guy I thought, oh he’ll never remember; when I had left he had wanted to go out to lunch and when I went back and he saw me he said, when are you taking me out to lunch? So there was no time. Twenty-four years [had passed].

Now I do individual support, which is basically case management for individuals that are really high functioning that live at home. All of them are awkward because these adults [are] kind of stuck in adolescence.

One woman became friends with a married couple, and she had a boyfriend that liked to swing, and I remember saying to her, you hang out with these guys you don’t do anything [because] they’re married. But I get a call from the husband, I’m not happy. They had a sexual encounter, a three-way, without the husband. So then the wife had guilt. They were all supposed to stick to the lie like teenagers, but instead they came clean. The wife felt too guilty and cried to the husband and instead of him being mad at her, [he said] “It’s okay honey, it’s okay honey, you don’t have to worry. I still love you, I forgive you.”

There are other agencies that will pay higher. Haverhill has a higher pay rate, it pays up to $18 an hour, which isn’t too bad. But the agency that I work for does not give their direct care people raises. (The managers [get raises].) When I was younger, after I did direct care, I was a rehab counselor, and my pay was higher. I would do individual service plans for clients. If they needed to be removed from a situation, they would come down to my office and we would talk about it, develop a behavior plan with a psychologist.

When you’re out in the field, you get paid less. But at this stage of my life, I don’t care. I enjoy the work that I’m doing. I like knowing that I’ve made a difference. Some individuals have moved from apartments that were in really bad areas to now living in nicer areas. They’ve learned how to use cell phones—smart phones—which is a major thing. They’ve volunteered at the TV station: they’ve learned how to use cameras to edit. They’ve grown, and that’s all I want [is] to see them grow, and learn from them.

I started [selling antiques] because I needed to make some money. I was working nights at a residence, but [my husband] Jim’s mother was sick so I started going to yard sales and I’d sell to an antique dealer, and I made a little bit of money. And then I found out about this trade magazine called The Antique Dealer. I’d buy things and books and study, and I’d go to yard sales and I’d sell things in the trader and they’d be sold nationwide. Once eBay came out, the trader disappeared, and no one bought the newspaper anymore. There were some deals on eBay where you make some really good money. I bought a print once, and I paid $100 and it sold for $4,000. There was a hay day when the Dot Com thing was happening, and people were paying more for things than they were really worth. We knew the bubble was going to bust, and during the recession it did, and that’s when I said, well, I better get another job again.

[The year] 2007[or] 2009 was phenomenal, maybe $50,000, $60,000 sales on eBay. Sometimes I’ll go out and I’ll make in one day what I made in three days that I worked. Sometimes it’s very tempting to say, why am I doing this? But it’s a nice balance.

It’s the hunt of the treasure. I’ll go to Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and I love just getting out there and driving. I know people all over New England because I’ve been going for years. When I go, you know, you have conversations, you find treasure, and I’m alone. When I was doing this full time, before I went back into the field, I was alone too much.

You don’t catch too many colds or headlice or scabies, like I’ve got from individuals. I really didn’t catch [scabies] but I was scared that I might have, so I used the cream just to be safe. I went back to my car and one of my individuals had headlice, and I felt so bad for her so I [cut] her hair, and I came home that night and found one in my hair, and I freaked.

Both jobs are independent because I’m not really supervised in my casework. The hours can be scheduled need-based. I get so much paid time off, besides the Mass sick time. Because of the pay, I would always want to do antiques.

If you want to find something in life that you want to be independent and make some money at I’d go on Ebay and study and see what sells and what doesn’t. Walk through thrift stores and yard sales, and you might find yourself a second career without any boss.


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