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Day in the Life of a Community CARES Specialist

Aug 4, 2023 | Blog

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DaVania Mitchell, Community CARES Specialist

The Community CARES Specialist works in the JLB Community Resource Center on 5th Avenue in Troy, and maintains a Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4pm schedule helping to support our community’s needs with short term case management, seasonal programs, referrals, volunteer outreach and other impactful work with the community.

Our most recent Specialist, DaVania Mitchell, held the role for around 15 months before needing to leave the position for personal reasons. We are looking for someone to fill this role (now called the Community Resource Specialist) and are hoping this Day in the Life will help capture what this rewarding work is like.

DaVania is a longtime resident of Troy. She currently lives in Lansingburgh but has been a resident of South Troy and Corliss Park. She is also a YouthBuild graduate. The Community CARES specialist position works closely with the community, referring them to internal and external resources and supporting several seasonal programs. DaVania’s close connection to the community has been a huge asset in this role.

8:30am

DaVania arrives at the CRC and makes her way to her second-floor office to settle in for the day. The Community CARES Specialist position is hands-on and varies from day to day.

“When I come, I like to give myself 30 minutes with my door closed to review my to-dos, look at my calendar, see if I have gaps, and if I do, add walk in times. Depending on what’s going on with the community, I may already have a lot of appointments booked, or if it’s quiet I can accommodate the public with walk-ins.” walk-ins can be accommodated more readily when DaVania’s day does not include outreach events or community meetings. She works closely with Marly, at the front desk, to be sure to communicate her availability.

In her role, DaVania, helps support customers with various needs and oversees sign ups and logistics for CEO’s seasonal programs, many of which take place in the fall/winter.

Thanksgiving Basket: A CSBG funded program that helps provide Rensselaer County residents with the pantry items, fresh produce, and a gift card to purchase a turkey so they can prepare a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.

Christmas Basket: Similar to the Thanksgiving baskets, this initiative provides families with gift cards, and pantry supplies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for up to three days.

Grab-and-Go Bags: An initiative that works with partners such as Joseph’s House to supply simple meals and necessities for the unhoused population or other folks who need immediate assistance. Bags include things like electrolytes, Kind bars, cans of tuna fish, etc.  These bags are also available for customers who arrive to CRC and are unable to prepare meals.

Coat Program: A program to provide residents in need with coats (adults and children), funded through donations from MVP and News Channel 10.

Baby Bundle Program: An initiative in partnership with New York State to provide any moms with children up to the age of one with physical and educational resources.

Unite Us:  A referral and resource database offered through a partnership with Healthy Alliance to support a variety of short-term needs that our customers may be facing.  This platform also offers a rideshare program to support customers with certain transportation supports.

“As we get closer to fall doing signups for programs like Thanksgiving baskets, that phone rings all day,” she says.

9am

DaVania takes a few minutes to check in with the other programs in the CRC. She likes to take a moment to talk with Marly at the front desk and see how the appointments for the Food Pantry are looking for the day. Likewise, she stops in at WIC on the second floor to check in regarding the day’s WIC appointments that might include families eligible for the Baby Bundle program.

“You never know when information is going to be useful. I might have some information that the family advocates can use, or vice versa.” she says. DaVania also regularly tries to reach out to each of CEO’s Early Childhood Centers regularly to see if there are any new needs, or to help promote existing programs. For example, DaVania has helped staff members get clothing in some of CEO’s rural centers to help families out there, or she may provide bus passes to some of the parents at the LFRC who have a need.

“Jasmine, the Family Advocate at the LFRC, will call me when families are being evicted. I have tough skin; I love a challenge. I will get through to someone. It can be hard sometimes to find the resources you need in that moment, so I love it when our programs lean on me. I love to do that research and get back to them.”

9:30am

DaVania gets her first walk-in customer of the day. Customers who walk in without an appointment may need help with figuring out resources available to them, or navigating applications for benefits like SNAP, or more. This customer came in with some questions on resources available to them while changing jobs.

“I can relate to a lot of people coming in looking for assistance. I see people that are just over the poverty level and just need a little bit of help. I see a lot of people who get a great job for New York State and then aren’t going to get their first paycheck for five weeks, and that is a shock, but that’s also information I can give them and help them plan for.”

DaVania notes that it’s difficult right now for the population CEO serves, there can be lots of barriers to accessing the resources that are available: childcare, transportation, technology, etc. DaVania can help connect customers to the resources available through CEO: WIC, Food Pantry, Head Start, Weatherization, Foster Grandparents, etc., but even if CEO does not have a resource or program available for a customer, DaVania will work to connect them with community partners in Rensselaer or other counties that may have something available.

The challenge of navigating the systems in place can also leave customers frustrated.

“Our customers get doors shut on them a lot, and so I like to have conversations with them, and I don’t mind if it goes on for a while. When people are in fight or flight mode, they need a little time to come out of it so that they are in a place to receive that information you are trying to give,” says DaVania.

DaVania was able to connect the customer with an appointment at CEO’s Food Pantry, some bus passes, and a plan for transitioning and budgeting over the next few weeks. CEO provides bus passes for customers through the Community CARES program; transportation is often a barrier for folks who come to CEO. CEO also has a partnership with Healthy Alliance and uses the “Unite Us” database to directly connect customers to resources. It’s a great process, because it allows CEO to watch the referrals work and see case notes added and know when the customer got their need met or if it didn’t work out.

11am

After wrapping up with the customer, DaVania covers the front desk at the Community Resource Center for a half-hour while the CRC receptionist takes lunch.

CEO uses a database program, CAP60, that helps track customer information across the agency, so she is easily able to access it at the front desk as well. As she checks in Food Pantry customers, she takes the opportunity at the front desk to listen to customers and provide resources and referrals as needed. One time she was able to distribute about 5 Baby Bundles to qualifying families while covering the front desk.

“Rental assistance, utility assistance is such a tremendous need right now, it’s unfortunate that there isn’t funding for it at the moment,” she says. While rental assistance and utility assistance are strong needs in the community, there are fewer consistent state-funded programs to support these needs.

12pm

DaVania heads back to her office to follow up with some customers she has been working with. “For a lot of our clients, the system is the barrier for them,” she says. “People don’t provide up-to-date contact information on forms and applications for services a lot, and that might just be because they don’t have it. So, I will follow up to see if I can get them alternates if they don’t have an active cell phone at the moment. Things like Google Voice, free phone resources, or free community mail service (if they are homeless) could all help. I hate to see someone not get the assistance they need because they couldn’t get a phone call.”

Lately DaVania has been providing customers with basic employment information too. She doesn’t get too in depth but will help with resources on how to create a basic resume, how to get an Indeed account set up or can direct them to cover letter templates. “If mom’s biggest hurdle is that she has five kids and makes $13 an hour, I’m going to try to help her find a paid training with the state or help her with her resume.” DaVania tries hard to set her customers up for success.

“CEO did that for me.  I don’t know where I would have been if it wasn’t for YouthBuild.”

1pm

DaVania takes her lunch.

1:30pm

DaVania has another appointment with a customer.

“What I see on a day-to-day basis, is a lack of information. People just don’t know.  Sometimes when people are met with a ‘No’ from a state or county agency like DSS they think that’s the end, but there are other questions you can ask, and avenues you can take beyond that ‘no’. I really enjoy providing people with information because I love seeing people advocating for themselves. “

DaVania likes to talk customers through potential next steps, whether it’s sending a follow up email, asking for a fair hearing, or just who to reach out to. She thinks empowerment and options are so important and coaches her customers on advocating for themselves.

“You won’t get in trouble for advocating yourself, you just have to be appropriate. You are heard a lot more when you stay calm. People in DSS or the Food Pantry don’t want to be in these situations, so I understand how hard it is to stay calm, but staying calm is what’s going to get you to step two. I have tissues in my office, so they can cry it out here so they can have a better approach out in the world. All I had to do was take 30 minutes out of my day to listen to them. I’m not a case manager, but I’m a helper.”

After the customer leaves, she goes back in Unite Us Database to check in on the referrals she made to see if there’s anything else she can do for the customers she’s been working with. The Unite Us Database is great because CEO can both provide referrals through it, but we also get referrals through it that we need to follow-up on, do case notes, and resolve in a timely manner.

“If you qualify for Medicaid, WIC, SNAP, etc., you qualify for so much else. Sometimes people get hesitant with the poverty guideline language, but if they are our customers, odds are they qualify for some other resources.”

3pm  

DaVania begins wrapping up her day. With so many customers and threads, she likes to take the last hour or so of the day to review what needs to be done. ” That doesn’t mean that if someone shows up at the Food Pantry needing a bus pass I won’t help them though,” she says.

“I update my whiteboard, and enter my notes for the day, so I remember where I left off in the morning. I talk to a lot of different people during the day and things shift for me, so I rely on my notes, so I don’t forget anyone. I don’t want people to think I forgot about them.”

What is your favorite part of your job?

“I like to see people do well. I am my nicest self when I’m here. All my energy is spent while I’m here interacting with people and providing them with information. I love seeing people advocate for themselves.”

What is one thing that you want the community to know?

“I want the community to know that we are here, and that although we may not have the direct resources available, we are still here to listen and point you in the right direction. We need to hear what our community needs even if we don’t have something immediately lined up that can assist them; that helps us help the community.”

If you’d like to apply for the position of Community Resource Specialist, fill out an application through our online portal.

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