DIXON – For some, finding their bliss can be a lifelong search. Jackie Allen was only 8 when she knew what would make her happy – teaching.
You won't find her classroom in the public or private school system, though. For 42 years, Allen, 69, has taught at Kreider Services, 500 Anchor Road, teaching the developmentally disabled everything from sign language to nutrition, reading to independent living skills.
That job ends Friday with her retirement, but Allen won't soon won't forget the friends she's made, or the people she's helped along the way.
"For me, it is important to teach someone how to be independent," Allen said. "My job is to look at someone, ask them what it is they want to do with their life, and help them achieve that goal."
It all started in Mason City, Iowa, where Allen grew up.
"My father sent me to summer school at our church, but I didn't attend any of the lessons or classes. Instead, I spent my time downstairs volunteering for the Easter Seals Society of Iowa, helping those with dyslexia."
Easter Seals provides services to people with disabilities or special needs and their families, to ensure they have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities.
"One day, the pastor called my father, and I thought I was in big trouble for not attending summer school. But he looked me in the eye and asked me, 'Is this your dream?'
"So I said yes, and he told me to always follow your dream, so that's what I did."
In high school, Allen got a taste of what was to come.
"One of my two best friends lived in Dixon at the time, so every other summer during high school we would take turns visiting each others' town," Allen said. "One of those friends recommended that I work for the Dixon State School. I interviewed there and they told me to bring my high school diploma and I would have a job there, so I did."
Allen honed her skills for 9 years at the school before starting at Kreider. She also studied at Sauk Valley Community College and Northern Illinois University, in between working full-time.
The best teachers she had, though, were the people with whom she worked, whether she was trying to figure out a way to teach the disabled how to apply stickers or pack boxes, or help someone get over a fear of touch and social interactions.
"I learned something new every day working with my clients. It's hard to come in to work with a negative attitude when I compared my life to theirs," she said.
"It's such a joy when working with the deaf, blind, and people with less fingers than you, to see them come in with a smile every day, living their best life. They were my best teachers."
Allen has a piece of advice for those not sure about what to do with their lives: "No matter what you do, make sure it is in your heart, and be open-minded to new and different things."
FAREWELL FOR JACKIE
Celebrate Jackie Allen's retirement with her at a party at 4 p.m. Friday, at the Dixon Elks Lodge, 1279 Franklin Grove Road.