Instead of taking more classes and more tests and doing more research to prepare for graduate school, I now need focus on only one thing: getting experience working in human services. This means volunteering at two local agencies. The first agency, S.O.S., provides services to the homeless, and those in danger of becoming homeless. To volunteer as a crisis counselor with them, I've been participating in their 21-hour training program. The training consists of 4 three-hour meetings on weekday evenings, and one full Saturday. I've done the training sessions called "Homelessness" "Crisis Counseling" and "Game of Life" and next I'll do "Empathy Day" and finally "Assertiveness." There are about 20-40 people in training with me. Some are interns (MSW students), some are volunteers like me (mostly hoping to get into MSW programs, also like me), and some are staff members at S.O.S. Our trainer is a rather gruff black woman named Normea (nor MAY a). She snaps at us if we don't follow the rules, but I'm pretty sure she is secretly a sweetie-pie.
What will I do at S.O.S. once I finish the training this coming Monday? I will start out as a Food Counselor. S.O.S. has a dilapidated old two story turn-of-the-century house in the historic district of Ypsilanti where anyone in the area can come on Tuesdays to pick up bags of food to feed their families. Before getting their food bag, people are required to go into a little office with one of us counselors and help us fill out a few forms. Each individual can only get food four times a year from S.O.S., so we keep a card on file with their name and when they last got their food bag so that we can check to see if they are still eligible. If they need more food, we can write them a referral to a few local churches which also give out food. One of the churches will give each individual food once every three months. Another will give food once a month. Another agency will give clothing and household items (pots and pans, brooms, etc.) to an individual in need once every three months. We keep track of all the referrals we give so that we don't give them more often than the respective agencies are willing to provide. A referral is just a form that we fill out and sign, which the person can take to the next place in order to get their food or household items. I am not sure if these places accept walk-ins without referrals. While we are filling out the forms, we are trying to find out how they are doing, what led them to needing food this month, if they currently have a place to live, if they are in a domestic violence situation, things like that.
I will be volunteering at S.O.S. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (while Naomi is at preschool) until January, when I will do the training at the second agency I want to work for, Ozone House. When I complete their training, I hope to volunteer with each agency once a week. Ozone House provides services to teens, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, which I think the volunteers man. I really like the fact that instead of doing more and more esoteric things in my quest for a doctorate, I am now doing lots of practical, hands-on things, that are helpful to real live people today. That makes me feel more confident that I have made the right choice.