Four months ago…
Four months ago I had never heard of Common Ground or been to Jefferson City. I thought social service agencies were gloomy and filled with hopelessness: that the clients would be angry, frustrated with a system that has let them down; that I would not be able to connect with people living in poverty, because we are from such different backgrounds even with all the knowledge and education form the social work program I have. Four months ago I believed that poverty was so complex that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference in a client’s life, because I am just a practicum student, what could I do for them?
Four months ago I started a new learning and life journey as a practicum student at Common Ground working under Kristen. Here I am now at the end of my journey, and I can say that I have seen first hand how much courage, passion and resilience exists in this agency. Frequently I would hear about situations from clients that I could never imagine making it out of. However, not once did I see a client hopeless or angry. Courageously every client came, and opened up some of their darkest facets of life, hopeful of any assistance they could receive. Four months later I saw prospect in every client. Each and every one of them with strength they could identify and be proud of. To me that is social work in its sincerest form.
Four months ago I thought it would be hard to connect with clients at Common Ground. Now I recognize clients by name outside of the building and feel genuinely excited to have the opportunity to talk with them. One client in particular, she is my new favorite acquaintance: the woman who changed it all for me, who taught me a lesson I thought I’d never understand – the reality of how hard it is to rise above situations where you just cannot get ahead. No lecture or poverty stimulation could do what her story did for me. I don’t know what it is about her story in particular that made such an impact on me. I was able to feel the highest level of empathy. It didn’t matter she had just been released from prison with a past some may consider unforgiveable. All I could feel was a need to understand and help her. We connected.
Four months ago I thought I would not be able to help that many people, I doubted all that I could actually do to provide change in people’s lives. Was I wrong! Four months later I have done so much. Things I did not think four months ago I could do: personally assist over one hundred homeless individuals; provide assistance to clients in an assessment that I led myself; and sign up close to one hundred clients for a market! Never did I think I would be able to do all these things and feel so much compassion doing them. Along with how grateful I am that I was given the opportunity to do so.
Lastly four months ago I did not know who Kristen Hilty was. I could probably write another entire blog on her alone so I am going to try and capture all that she does quickly. This is the best example I can think of… Project Homeless Connect was right around the corner (planning it while already being the director at Common Ground). As well as taking ownership in handling the (extremely large and complicated) grant, she still did little things like run to Walmart to pick up nametags and pens for the event! While we were at the store doing these last minute tasks, she stopped to grab supplies for her daughters birthday, and remembered to make sure to pick up her favorite cookies, and in the right frosting color! Because nothing is worse than you Mother grabbing the wrong cookies for your class birthday treat! She does the big things, and the little things! I also forgot to mention how on our car ride to Walmart this remarkably smart woman, director, mother, wife and my teacher discussed with me the most important complexities of assisting people in poverty and how programs and assistance should be provided. Her ideas and values are ones that can truly make a difference and be the change we need in dealing with these issues. Saying that I feel honored to have worked and learned under her would be an understatement. I do not know how else to say it besides, thank you! For taking the time to mentor me and teaching me lessons I will have forever!