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National Social Worker Month: A Staff Spotlight!

Social workers hold more than 700,000 jobs in the United States and are an essential component of a healthy society. Social Work, as defined by the National Association of Social Workers, “consists of the professional application of social work values, principles, and techniques to one or more of the following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families, and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services, and participating in legislative processes. The practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior, of social and economic, and cultural institutions, and the interaction of all these factors.” The members of the Case Management team at the National Home have a diverse skill set, including individuals with backgrounds in counseling and social work. These backgrounds allow the team to help the families living here identify goals, develop strategies, and connect them to supportive services as they work to overcome their challenges, strengthen their families, and transition to a stable life after their time in our program has reached its end. For Social Worker Month 2020, we would like to feature one of our case managers, Kirsten. “Growing up in a fairly urban city, I saw a lot of families struggling,” Kirsten told us. “I just wanted to learn how to help people in the best way possible. When I started working with the homeless in my first internship, everything clicked for me, and I realized that social work was my calling. I realized I really could help make a difference in someone’s life by giving my support and walking with people on their journey.” Kirsten has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Social Work from Michigan State University. She has continued to hone her skills as a Social Work Professional by gaining additional certifications. Last year, Kirsten finished a certification in Financial Social Work, and it has been a useful tool in her work at the National Home. This certification encourages professionals to think about the financial stressors prevalent in all economic times. The program material goes beyond the dollars, cents, and budgets of traditional money management and engages the more creative side of the brain in financial healing. Financial management issues tend to be a common struggle for our residents, and financial management courses or training is a required part of our program. Before the certification, Kirsten said she relied more on referring clients out to financial classes that were held at the National Home by Consumers Professional Credit Union (CPCU), or other financial management tools. “This program has helped me focus a little bit more on not just the financial techniques, but the underlying “why.” Says Kirsten. “Because most people know about budgets, that they should be using them, and maybe they’ve made a plan in the past to get out of debt, but what is the challenge? Why are they not able to follow the budgets they’ve created? Why do they constantly have the same problems coming up?” The Financial Management program refers to something called the “inner money self,” this inner dialogue that goes on about money. What does that look like, and how did you come by that? What was your family’s relationship with money? That has influenced your relationship with money. When you’re growing up, you don’t have a lot of tools given to you to teach you how to handle money other than the ones given to you by your family. And we live in a very consumerist society that puts a lot of pressure on people to spend rather than save. Credit cards are offered easily. Student loans and other financing options make people sometimes take on more debt than they can pay off. With our program lasting up to four years, many residents see their time here as an excellent opportunity to go back to college. We encourage them to utilize any grants or scholarships that may be available to them, Voc-Rehab, or the G-I Bill if applicable, or consider taking their general study requirements at a community college and then transferring. “Whenever a resident is interested in going to college, I encourage them to work very closely with that college’s financial aid department. Set an appointment and go in and talk to them about the details. I try to get them to make sure that this is the right path for them to be taking while they’re here. What is this going to look like for you when you leave if you take out a bunch of student loans? Do you have a plan to repay these loans, knowing that you cannot declare that on a bankruptcy?” Sometimes residents come to us already having acquired a significant amount of debt. In these instances, we may occasionally refer out to more in-depth debt counseling through places like Financial Empowerment Center or Greenpath. Since going through the certification, Kirsten has been sending out monthly emails to her clients focusing on different topics such as the Inner-Money Voice and Financial Goal Setting. In January, she had everyone do a More Money Wise Assessment, and in the end, it asked them to list three things they didn’t know about themselves and three things they could do to become more moneywise. “In this country, personal finances are such a taboo subject with a lot of hidden judgment underneath it. This course has been beneficial at breaking down some of that. I’ve been having such good money conversations with people, which I hope will eventually lead to people becoming sufficient financially.” says Kirsten. Kirsten is continuing to further her education. She is currently working on a Trauma Certificate at Michigan State University that will help her be more Trauma-informed and looks forward to the benefit that will bring to her work with her clients, especially the veterans in the National Home Community. She also noted other certificate programs through MSU that she is interested in, such as the Combat Veterans Certificate. However, she points out that no certificate is ever going to prepare you as much as your clients will. “It’s important to be open and allow people to teach you. Every single resident that I have ever worked with has taught me something. I hope I never stop learning,” She says. “The residents here invite me into their lives for the time that they live here, which is such an honor and a privilege for me. In every journey I take here at the National Home, I find myself growing even more as a person. I have a shirt that I often wear that says, “I can’t promise to fix all your problems, but I can promise you won’t have to face them alone.” That quote sums up why I love my profession and why I love working at the National Home.”

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