Bernadette Rocha, 16 June 2015
After taking my last final of my 5th quarter in a row, it dawned on me as to how far I have come to reach this point.
After graduating High School in 2005, and graduating from a technical school for Medical Assisting in 2006, I never really did much with my life. I was still living in my old mindset where I basically didn’t give a you-know-what about — well, anything. So I did work here and there and just kind wasted the next few years doing nothing. That is, until I started volunteering at a day shelter for families.
By volunteering, not only was I helping staff with the families and children, but I also found that I began to care more. I began focusing my energy on not-caring, to caring about certain things for the right reasons. In this case — how can I personally make a difference in these family’s lives? During my time volunteering, I came to know the staff well, and the clients on a personal basis versus and “outsider” basis. Once you can consider the family’s as an extension of your own, then you know your mindset regarding how you view this population has changed. Via my ideas, how much I got along with the mom’s, dad’s, and their kids, I was able to work my way up to an internship — which is what I am doing now.
The internship started out with me having a few more responsibilities than that of your normal volunteer. Not too different. Then, after gaining trust, I was able to move from working as an intern at that larger site, to working at one of their smaller sites, but which was only open on the weekends and gave the families activities and field trips to do, and was centered around the children. This was a real eye-opening experience for me as, at this point, the families began telling me about how they came to have to stay in a shelter, and I even saw how, even though they were essentially homeless, that they were able to work together and be compassionate with one another — even more so than many people that I have met who had homes and were no where near having to be in this situation. Let me tell you, these family’s also share more of what they barely have than people I have come across who have much to share. This still puzzle’s me. [future post, end of June 2015: “Homeless Subculture: an Observation”]
Once I started the internship, and realized how beneficial it was for me, and how much I felt about how certain…aspects of the center could be run in a different direction, I became more and more interested in what I could personally do for that change to be created, from an administrative viewpoint. One day, I woke up and realized that I needed to get my you-know-what back to school and enrolled in my local college to earn an Associate of Applied Science – Transfer degree in Business Information Technology. I enrolled that Spring, of 2014.
After several months of going to school, and of doing the internship at the weekend location, I was asked if I would like to manage a small two-family (8 people total) shelter on my own. This would be a great learning opportunity for me, and I would still be able to continue at the weekend location (with reduced hours), so I agreed. The family’s that I worked with were both Ethiopian. Both of the mom’s cooked — a lot. They’d spend so much time cooking, and then insisting that I eat with them, that I ended up learning how to cook what they made so that I could help them. Also — aside from Vietnamese food, Ethiopian cuisine is one of my favorite foods!
An issue arose regarding lack of staff at another shelter location, through this particular organization, and I jokingly suggested that if they could find someone for the current space that I was at, that I would go to the other one and work. Apparently, they took it to heart, because within a couple short days, they were already preparing to have me begin working there for my internship instead starting the next week.
This shelter, where I currently work, houses up to five two-parent family’s. Each family has anywhere from 1-4 kids, and is a long term shelter. This means that as long as they are working with the organization doing what they need to be doing, and helping to maintain a calm and clean (through chores) environment, then they could stay until they are able to gain housing. Having been working here for about 5 months now, I can say that it is one of the most rewarding, and challenging things I’ve done. This job requires me to sacrifice a lot of my time, even overnight’s as well. Sometime’s, volunteer’s do not show up when they are scheduled and I have to work longer hours (fortunately, they hired me a helper for four days a week recently).
Working with 5 family’s, from all walks of life (so far: Micronesian, Polynesian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and American) has been a blessing, but is also challenging. Not only must I learn about their different culture’s (which is something I absolutely enjoy doing), but I also have to learn about how each culture solves problem’s differently (as all of them, except for the American family are immigrant). I already had some practice with this from the previous two-family shelter, and the weekend day center, so I wonder if this was also why they had me go there to work.
Fortunately, I’ve only had to get involved with literally just a handful of disputes, but each time I have had to be creative. Since our American family is more individualistic and the other family’s were more collectivistic (thank you Psych 100 for teaching me about this concept), the way a couple of the dad’s viewed a particular problem was a complete culture clash, and ended up in an argument, which I had to intervene. After talking to each of them separately, I found of that the root of the problem layed in not so much the problem itself, but in how each of them viewed how they felt the other person should have managed it. We had to have a talk as a group about cultural differences, and how it was better to just have a conversation about their differences and try to work out a mutual understanding versus closed-minded arguments. Since then, things have been much smoother. This experience also made me realize that I had a lot more to learn in the area of mangement, supervision, and problem-solving in general. It was time to review my educational direction, once again.
Talking to my Adviser, we worked out that it would be beneficial for my current goals, as well as long term goals (which is scientific/psychological research & research based writing), that I should also work on an AAS in Supervision & Management. This would allow me to gain the skills necessary to better manage the shelter work I work (as well as for when I apply for an internal paid staffing position), as well as in the future when I have to manage a research project, or deliver a presentation, or etc. For this reason, this Spring quarter of 2015, in addition to the Business Math course that I just completed, I also took a Leadership/Management course (which involved a lot of writing!), and a Public Speaking course (which showed me how to gather my thoughts/research, organize it coherently, and deliver it).
School, for 5 quarter’s in a row, on top of my internship has been a blessing, but has exhausted me, which is why I am taking Summer 2015 off, and will resume in the Fall of 2015. In the meantime, I am looking forward to hopefully working with the main center (hopefully as staff as I did bring up my interest) during their daytime summer program for the family’s since the kids will be out of school and need something constructive to do. I am having a conversation with them tomorrow and am going to be going through a “new hire” orientation (which they say I should know since I work one-one-one with the family’s). After my conversation with my supervisor this morning stating that she wanted to see me tomorrow to “talk to me about the summer” (since she knows I am taking the summer off — fortunately they work with my school schedule) and assured me that I was not in trouble and was doing excellent, and wanted to make sure that I was going to the orientation, this could very well be really good news!