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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

From an intern

I received the following letter late last year from a departing, social work intern who had served with us at CitySquare.  She worked in our Resource Center/Food Pantry.  As she left us, she felt the need to communicate some really encouraging things to me about her experience.  I don't know about you, but I'm encouraged by reflections like these.  I'm grateful to her.  I'm grateful to be working with such a great team. 

Of special interest is what she writes about faith and how that works itself out among us.  Let me know what your think. 

Dear Mr. James,

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve as a social work intern at CitySquare’s Resource Center. My experience has been enlightening, educational and entirely too short. Admittedly, I was nervous about my first placement as an aspiring social worker since I do not have a social services background. Today, my last day, I count the placement as a blessing not only because I personally support the mission and core values of the agency, but because those concepts are actually put into action through the dedication of each staff member.

Of course, the most obvious thing would be to tell you that Lisa Ciminelli has been an excellent supervisor, professional role model, and personable mentor, but I suspect you already know those things to be true. What I want to share is, well, maybe less obvious and less important to other interns; however, I am an older student, who has had a tough road or two to conquer and as a single mother have oftentimes been forced to depend on food stamps and Medicaid as a means of survival. Although, I have never been homeless (due to the graciousness of my dad), I do understand the devastating effects of poverty and the humiliation, which often accompanies being in poor and in need.

As an intern, our tour of duty begins in the food pantry; under Teresa Castaneda’s gentle, but firm supervision I was able to learn something from every staff member and volunteer. Teresa, Don, Jon, Arnold, Mikel, Irene and Sesh, as well as, all the volunteers enhanced my learning and growth, rather they realize it or not. By observing and working along side these amazing people, I quickly realized the skill needed to reach out and make a difference did not come from a textbook or any level of education. They each taught me how to embrace my own style and be genuine in my efforts because they each bring their own unique personality, characterized by dedication and positive energy, to every interaction they have with our neighbors.

Jackie, Iris and Terri enhanced my first “intake” experiences by their knowledge and willingness to teach me while providing me with new tools to use as I began to engage with neighbors on my own. They all do a remarkable job of gathering information and assessing the neighbor’s additional needs beyond the obvious request for food. I will continually strive to cultivate the skills these women shared with me. Likewise, Michelle Kopel has been a god-send in that she always takes time to share tidbits of information or a thoughtful piece of advice designed to facilitate my skills and maintain consistent, caring service to our neighbors. I learned a great deal from watching her and from every moment she took me under her wing. Her knowledge is vast and she has played a key role in my success here. I consider her to be an irreplaceable mentor.

Krystal Lotspeich, my direct supervisor, has embraced her new role very well especially since she was given the task of supervising women who are considerably older than her and who would be her peers in the school setting. She has been professional, yet remained personable and intuitive about my needs as a student and as a new social worker. I walk away today with exceptional words of wisdom that seem simplistic on the surface, but made a remarkable difference in how I was able to adjust and perform my duties as an intern. I have already shared her advice with others and know that I will draw on it as my career progresses.

I can say with all confidence that every staff member I encountered – Kathy Stewart, Will Goldman, Jerry Sullivan, Janet Morrison, Keilah Jacques and the list goes on – has gone out of his/her way not only to help a novice intern, but to provide exceptional service to our neighbors. Coming to the Resource Center is always a pleasant experience because of the warm and inviting, albeit professional, attitude of every one here. I have been in the workforce for more than 30 years and I can absolutely attest that the morale is the best I have ever encountered in any employment setting.

In closing, I want to acknowledge how my perspective has been changed and enhanced by working with the staff and within the agency as a whole. Early life experiences left me less than thrilled to be going into a faith based agency and I am ashamed to say that I expected the staff to be less caring and certainly less personable to those in need because that has been my experience when I have been in need. My experience with CitySquare has given me not only an enlightened perspective on faith based agencies and those who work to fight poverty, but has also reinforced all the reasons I want to be a social worker and impassioned me to want to fight poverty when previously I was absolutely sure that working to alleviate domestic violence was my only calling. Each staff member exudes the attitude that they do this work because it fills their spirit, which makes for the optimum environment to learn and grow as a social worker. Simply said, I learned that social workers come in many forms without the need for education, licensure or a title. The CitySquare staff epitomizes the mission and value of the agency and I will forever find inspiration from each and every one of them.

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to share in the wonderful work done by those who are CitySquare.

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