I have been working with this particular client for the past month, and she has faced many obstacles. She is homeless, has a learning disability, was treated very rudely repeatedly by her shelter staff, and doesn’t have the necessary documentation to open a benefits case for her child. She has said numerous times, “I just feel like quitting. I don’t feel like I’m making an progress. People try all the time and they aren’t put through as much as I am. It’s always one thing after another. I’m so fed up, I just want to quit.” I would then tell her that she is making so much progress and is working really hard. I would also tell her that I have had plenty of other clients that had a lot of work to do, and she isn’t the only one.
She would stop in to see me or call me every other day, always with something for me to add to her file or a question to ask. She would call me really upset from the shelter when the staff would say rude things to her. I would always look at the variety of issues with which she was concerned, speak with my supervising attorney, and form a plan for the two of us to work on the things that she needed to get.
My clients with learning disabilities mostly need help with phone calls and verifying information with workers.. but what a difference it makes! It’s a combination of the client not understanding what the worker is telling them and the workers not explaining requirements clearly enough for the learning disabled person to comprehend. Knowing the law and resources available to the workers also comes in handy.
With this client, her worker said he needed a government document to which she did not have access to open her case. I said, “Isn’t there a government-only copy that you could gain access to as a social services employee? You could verify the information that you need that way.” The worker paused for a few seconds and said, “….Yeah. I could do that.” He seemed like a really nice guy, and I really think he honestly hadn’t thought of it. But the worker tells the client “I need this document,” and they’re firm with the client because they want them to know it’s important, and the clients don’t know that there are ways to fill requirements if you can not obtain them. Also, it’s the social services workers’ responsibility to help the client obtain documentation to open up a case if they are eligible, depending on the documentation. The clients don’t know that either.
This client had an apartment in the works a few weeks ago, but the landlord gave it to someone else while she was trying to get an inspection set up. Two social services workers were also advocating for her to get the inspection. I told the client to contact a certain agency to help her find housing, and I got a call today an hour after the client left my office, stating that the agency had found an apartment for her, and was putting the paperwork through today.
I called the client right before I left the office, and she answered the phone with a tone in her voice I hadn’t heard before. Mind you she has an adorable southern accent too!
Me: Hey there!! How did it go??
Client: I’m gettin’ the apartment!!
Client: ::laughs at my excitement:: Yeah!! I am so excited! I just got here with the lady from the agency, they’re helpin’ me get furniture!
Me: Are you going to stay there tonight?
Client: Yeah! Thanks to you!!
Me: Me?! Thanks to you! You did all the footwork, all I did was help keep you on track.
Client: Yeah but you was making all the phone calls, findin’ out information and everything.
Me: Well, it’s my job and it was easier than what you had to do. You did all the really hard work! What’s going on with the furniture?
Client: We’re getting everything we need! Thank you so much!!!
Me: You’re welcome, but the lady from the agency actually got you the apartment, make sure you’re thanking her too!
Client: Oh, definitely!
Me: This is so amazing. Congratulations!!
Client: Thank you!! I’ll come in tomorrow to give you a copy of the lease!
Me: Okay, great! See you then!
I am so proud. And not even of myself- I know I do a good job, but that’s not what it’s about. I’m proud of her. I hope she’s proud of herself too. She is really an admirable lady.
We all have things to be thankful for. Right now, I’m really thankful for my clients. That I can have any small impact on their lives and propel them into motion to accomplish great things with their many skills. That’s what I appreciate. It truly is an amazing thing to witness someone at their lowest point and see them soar. It is a gift to serve in this capacity.
Update, 07/12/2010- Since then, the client has remained in permanent housing. I helped her request copies of her child’s documents, so he was added to her case and she received the correct benefits for her household size.
This interaction with my client leads me to think about “accepting responsibility.” I’ve always heard the term in reference to something negative, as in accepting responsibility for mistakes or decisions that did not turn out to be very helpful. But do we accept responsibility for the good things we do? Do we accept responsibility for our hard work? Accepting only the negative seems awfully one-sided to me. It’s a challenge to accept responsibility for all personal decisions, good or bad, but it has helped me to become grounded in a different way.
For example, if I miss something cool because I’m volunteering at a shelter, I might say, “I missed it because I had to volunteer.” This is a completely false statement. People never HAVE to do anything, they CHOOSE to. In this case, I would have chosen philanthropy over entertainment, which makes me feel better. If someone says they have to give their wallet to a robber because they were going to shoot them, I believe that’s incorrect as well. They chose to submit to the robber because they chose life over death or harm, with which I completely agree. My client wasn’t accepting responsibility for the work she put in to gain access to housing. She was cutting herself short by giving all the credit to the people around her. Sure we helped, but it is impossible to help someone who isn’t fully on-board and willing to put in the work.
It is in that complete acceptance of responsibility that we can fully understand our self-worth and dignity.