I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Gabrielle Burton-Hill

Taking pride in her uniform

I am a Hudson Valley Parent, Gabrielle Burton-Hill, mother and daughters, family

Gabrielle Burton-Hill relaxes in Downing Park in Newburgh with her daughters, Jo May, 7, and Ragi, 18. 

In 2010, Gabrielle Burton-Hill’s life was at a crossroads. She found herself separated and unemployed with two young daughters to raise. It was the end of a tumultuous time of her life, and the beginning of a whole lot of uncertainty.

All the while, Burton-Hill kept instilling in her daughters the sense that despite their difficulties, they were going to maintain a positive outlook and persevere. As a stay-at-home mother, she volunteered for various groups in her hometown of Newburgh: literacy programs, food pantries, and even the city’s historian.

“When I volunteered, I took that very seriously and made sure I was on time for every appointment,” she said. “I treated it like a job and I punched myself in.”

The lessons stuck, especially with Ragi. “She was a quiet, introverted child; but she blossomed during that time,” said Gabrielle. “She was my rock. Every time I looked at her, I knew I had to succeed.”

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By 2012, Ragi was 15 and old enough for a part-time job so Gabrielle accompanied her to an open interview at one of the first places she herself worked 30 years ago: McDonald’s.

They were the last ones called in after waiting more than two hours. But once the interview began, the manager was so impressed with Ragi’s demeanor that she hired her on the spot. And once she noticed that Gabrielle had the same demeanor, she tried to hire her as well.

But Gabrielle wanted to wait until Jo May was old enough for full-time kindergarten before returning to work. A year later, with Jo May in school, Gabrielle came back to McDonald’s and asked if the offer still stood. She was soon working for the McDonald’s stores in Newburgh, owned by the Dean W. Colley Group.

It’s safe to say that the arrangement has worked out well. This year, out of 20,000 employees in the New York Tri-State region, Gabrielle was chosen as “Crew Person of the Year.”

She laughs now when she recalls Ragi’s original reaction to her being hired.

“She was totally against it, as most teenagers would be,” Gabrielle said. “They don’t want their parents at their school or workplace because that’s their territory. But then she realized that I’m just another crew person and she can call me Gabby. It was good for us to relate to each other outside of the home. And she’s been there longer than I have, so there were a few times that she had the opportunity to correct me on some things. That was interesting!”

There were more hard times in store. Gabrielle’s father fell ill and passed away this year. But her managers knew that they didn’t want to lose Gabrielle. They gave her as much time off as she needed to be with her father during his final days and even paid for the catering at the funeral.

“McDonald’s went above and beyond for me,” she says. “I think it’s because in any area in life, you get what you put in. If you go to work every day on time and you take pride in your uniform and whatever it is you’re selling, you will shine.”

Today Gabrielle and her daughters have the stability they’ve sought for so long, but the days aren’t easy. Gabrielle’s day begins at 4:45 a.m. with a quiet meditation and a walk through the early morning streets of Newburgh.

Then it’s a rush to first get 18-year-old Ragi off to work at McDonald’s — she graduated from Newburgh Free Academy a year early and is now preparing to enter the Air National Guard and then college — and 7-year-old Jo May off to Balmville Elementary School.

With the kids out the door, Gabrielle heads to whichever of the two different Newburgh McDonald’s she works in. By the evening, the whole family is back home together for dinner, a bit of family time, reading a book to Jo May, and lights out. The next morning, she’s up and at it again, focusing on cultivating the attitude that has helped her and her daughters sustain themselves.

“We have a choice as to the kind of impression we make on people,” she said. “I want to give as much as I get and I make up my mind every day that McDonald’s is going to get the best me.”

Do you know a Hudson Valley parent who inspires you? We want to profile local parents who impact their community through business, politics, volunteer work, grassroots advocacy, you name it. Email our editor your “I am a Hudson Valley Parent” nomination.

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