Indra McFarlane, Associate Counselor at Urban Women’s Safe Haven
When I came to URI I was new to the field of domestic violence, but once I started working with this population my passion for the work grew. I am an associate counselor, but I assist wherever I’m needed, whether fielding calls on the hotline, completing intakes, or scheduling residents’ medical appointments. I am also involved with special programs for our shelter residents, such as the Working Internship Network (WIN), which helps our residents build job skills, and URIPALS (People and Animals Living Safely), URI’s co-sheltering program for domestic violence survivors and their pets.
In this type of work, it’s important to acquire the skills to do conflict resolution and deal with crisis situations. In one instance, while I was speaking with a hotline caller, the batterer came to the person’s house, and I was able to contact 911 and save the caller’s life. The next day I received a phone call from the survivor, who thanked me and told me that the batterer was now in prison.
To work for a nonprofit social service organization like URI, you must love what you do, instead of working just for money. I enjoy helping others and dealing with people humanely, and working here gives me that opportunity. It keeps me motivated when I see a resident who entered our facility as a broken person transformed into a smiling, confident person. I feel privileged to see our residents’ happy tears of joy when they are ready to leave the shelter to embark on a new beginning.
Rachel M. Hodges, LMSW, SIFI, Child Therapist, Urban Women’s Safe Haven
As a child growing up in the South, I was taught that hard work never hurt anyone. I have found that to help others through your work, you must love what you are doing. If you don’t like your job, you can’t help anyone, not even yourself.
I have worked in various agencies and with people from all walks of life, in the fields of education and mental health and with the homebound elderly, but my greatest love is the work that I am currently doing in the field of domestic violence with women and children. As a child therapist and acting case manager at Urban Women’s Safe Haven, I give individual, group, and family counseling sessions, advocate for residents, and provide referrals for various family services.
My favorite part of the job is working with girls from 6 to 12 years old in their domestic violence group. Reaching a young girl and helping her to recognize the signs of an abuser may mean that she will know enough to avoid repeating what happened to her mother.
I am a team player, and I enjoy training and educating other staff members to multi-task and work in various positions as needed. When we work together in this way, it ensures that we will be able to provide all the services our residents need. My motto is, unshared knowledge is wasted knowledge. One must never fear educating someone else to carry on their work.
Regina Morrison, Senior Counselor, Marguerite T. Saunders Urban Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Services (MS-UCAS)
Growing up in Sierra Leone, West Africa, “It takes a village to raise a child” was the norm. Intervening and mediating was part of our day-to-day interaction within the family and the community. Through this experience, I developed a great ability not only to help and connect with others who are going through difficult times but to also challenge and encour¬age them to reach their potential. When I was presented with the opportunity to work at URI, it was a natural fit for me.
As the senior counselor at the MS-UCAS program, I maintain an active caseload, provide individual counseling, advocacy, and referral services, and work as a team member to facilitate client recovery and rehabilitation, among other responsibilities. I also orient, train, and instruct counselor trainees, including interns, on the treatment procedures at my site.
Over the years, working at URI has been very fulfilling. I have not only grown as a person, but I have come to realize how much I can have a positive impact on people. Some of my proudest moments at URI include the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy. Despite the suspension of the subway system, two of my clients showed up. One of them happened to be wheelchair-bound and required a home attendant, but he made it to the program on his own, ready for counseling.
Knowing that I have a positive impact on clients and seeing the quality of their lives improve keeps me motivated. It gives me pleasure to see the changes in appearance and behavior of the clients over the course of treatment. Having former clients call or drop by after being discharged from the program to update me on their progress or current dilemma with the expectation of feed¬back is highly rewarding; for some, I have become the “unofficial sponsor.”
URI provides the perfect environment for someone who has the desire to make a difference in others’ lives; who can handle challenges creatively; and who seeks opportunities for both personal and professional growth.
Baron Reed, Recreation Specialist, Urban Women’s Retreat
As a recreation specialist with URI’s Urban Women’s Retreat domestic violence shelter, my work with the children at the shelter involves understanding the various dynamics of domestic abuse and, more specifically, the trauma the children experience. As children experience trauma in various ways, it is extremely important for me to be aware of the warning signs.
To be effective in this role, I need to develop a rapport with the children, increase their understanding of the impact of their behavior on others, act as a life coach, and remain consistent in my approach despite the challenges. I feel that this work is a calling — I enjoy teaching and steering children toward guided discovery. All the children are in need of special care due to their unique circumstances, and URI’s mission of providing comprehensive service plans for clients is the principle that underlies our plan of care for them.
The compassion and respect that I have for children who are survivors of domestic abuse fuel my commitment to the field. These children did not ask to be raised under these conditions, and I feel obligated as an adult to model adaptive and responsible adult behaviors for them. My social work training has enhanced my understanding of the issues that may arise during the developmental process, which can have lasting effects on children if not properly addressed.
What keeps me motivated is the social interaction with the children. Some are easy to deal with and others are a little more challenging, as some enter the shelter in survival mode. But I believe in children and their resiliency, particularly when they are given a positive, non-toxic environment.
My advice for those who may want to work for a nonprofit like URI: Find your passion for the work, and share your passion with others who are in need of what you know.
Lehra Brooks, Education Specialist at Urban Women’s Retreat
Can you please describe what an education specialist does? As the education specialist at the Urban Women’s Retreat (UWR), Ms. Brooks intakes and assess the needs of the 70 children residing at UWR. In order to insure that the educational and enrichment needs of the children are both met and surpassed, Ms. Brooks serves as a liaison between the children and families at UWR and the Department of Education. In addition to classroom education, Ms. Brooks has created many recreational and enhancement programs, ranging from family cooking days to Jump Rope Jam—a hip hop jump rope program in which all children are involved.After 26 years, Ms. Brooks revels in the fact that “no two days are the same,” and explains that “we make wonderful miracles here.”
What is your favorite part of the position? One of Ms. Brooks’ favorite programs at UWR is called Butterfly and Young Gents, a program for children ages 4-7. Ms. Brooks helps children realize that although no two children are exactly the same, all children are equally beautiful. When young children enter UWR, it is not unusual for them to be shy and introverted. But, just as all caterpillars eventually break free from their cocoons and become butterflies, Ms. Brooks loves seeing the children who enter UWR blossom into butterflies that are all equally beautiful.
Additionally, Ms. Brooks comments that her family cooking glasses have become so popular that she has had to expand the program. The classes started out serving only children, but quickly began including mothers. As Ms. Brooks describes it, she meets many women who have missed out on some of life’s most precious experiences, and Ms. Brooks provides UWR mothers and children the chance to make lasting life memories.
What is the most meaningful aspect of the job? Prior to joining UWR, Ms. Brooks worked at the Department of Education. What she likes most about her position as education specialist at UWR is that its hands-on approach allows her a wonderful “ability to leave a positive handprint with the children.”
What would you tell individuals interested in joining a nonprofit field in a professional capacity? Ms. Brooks tells all who are interested in joining a nonprofit field that they need to make sure that they not only enter with all of their energy, but that they also must take the necessary steps to maintain that sense of personal energy. As Ms. Brooks says, “Make sure that you never lose your sunshine.”
Shirley Samuels, Job Developer, talks about her time working for the Urban Center for the Developmentally Disabled
Can you please describe what a job developer does? A job developer at URI’s Urban Center for the Developmentally Disabled for the past 17 years, Ms. Samuels goes into the community surrounding UCDD and forges employer relationships. Whether developing internship opportunities or discovering permanent positions, Ms. Samuels works every day to ensure that UCDD’s clients—all of whom have IQs under 70—have an equal opportunity to be gainfully employed.
In an economic climate in which UCDD clients are now competing with more and more applicants for open positions, Ms. Samuels’ superb ability to maintain employer contacts is ever important and invaluable. In fact, Ms. Samuels proudly notes that at one point, there were UCDD clients employed at nearly every store in Brooklyn’s Gateway Mall.
What is your favorite part of the position? Ms. Samuels explains that, after clients have had a door opened for them in the form of a lasting career opportunity, it is not uncommon for those same clients to return to the program and help open a door for someone else. And this, Ms. Samuels says, “gives her a natural high.” Although training can sometimes take substantial time, and it may take even longer to find an appropriate position, Ms. Samuels says that “As long as the consumers are motivated, they motivate me.”
What is the most meaningful aspect of the job? For Ms. Samuels, what is most meaningful is her ability to form lasting relationships with clients even after they have been consistently employed for many years. UCDD is not a program that simply helps clients find employment and sends them on their way. Rather, the entire UCDD staff maintains ongoing relationship with past clients, making sure to help with any problems that may arise and to always offer friendly advice and support.
What would you tell individuals interested in joining a nonprofit field in a professional capacity? To anyone interested in beginning or continuing a nonprofit career, Ms. Samuels emphasizes that “Volunteering is the key to doing.” As an example, she tells of a client who volunteered at a local university for over two years. Suddenly, when a janitorial position opened up and a rush of applicants followed, the client was given the position because of the foundational relationship formed through his volunteering. Ms. Samuels explains that the same applies to careers of any type, and that with time and perseverance any ongoing relationship has the potential to turn into something more.