I had coffee yesterday with an outreach worker who offers the same kind of service I do in Dartmouth. She is the Halifax Spring Garden Road street navigator and she would be the one whom would interact with the various street people, panhandlers and persons who would remain at the public libraries all day. The challenges she encounters each day include addiction, poverty, criminal records, abuse, homelessness, mental illness, to name but a few. She has an office on Spring Garden Road but spends a lot of her day on the street getting to know the people she is expected to assist.
Typically this outreach worker meets her clients in three ways, a business owner calls to say someone is in trouble in front of her/his store and needs help or a client her/himself might contact her or someone (friend/family member) who is concerned about someone living near the street calls/emails to say “can you help?” It means her days are never dull, frequently challenging and always full of chaos.
To sit and listen to this trained social worker is to know someone who loves her job. I enjoy these conversations for many reasons, not least of which is the inspiration it provides to me and my work. But there is more. I am learning about resources available in my community that can help people whom I will meet in challenging circumstances. Knowing this person can help and hearing about some of the resources she has accumulated over the past year is information I can bank and draw on when the moment is right.
This is a person who loves to live in the moment. It is obvious a job like hers is suited for her personality and work style. As I reflected on how she and I do our work it was obvious to me there are differences and similarities. I am more structured, I plan more, I make lists, and I try to get a number of things completed each day. She tries to be at different locations at certain times so people who need to reach her in person know where and when to look. She says she is moderately successful in that effort. But both of us put a high premium on personal relationships with the people we are helping and the agencies we refer persons to. Knowing these people by name, some of their stories, allows us to fit them with resources and experiences that may be helpful down the road.
Sitting with someone who does this work “from away” also reinforced to me the advantage I have being a local, having grown up in this town and having lived here for many, many years. These contacts and experiences give me a huge advantage that new people, like this outreach worker, need to learn anew. I know how blessed I am.
I would strongly recommend to anyone reading this blog to take persons for coffee who do work/volunteer work similar to yours. I know some people are intimidated by the experience, worried they will come away feeling inadequate. I have had the experience of doing this and having the other need to tell me how s/he does things so much better than me, a kind of defensive mechanism. I don’t enjoy that, I prefer to ask people for coffee who are not insecure and sure of themselves so we can learn from each other and celebrate our unique journeys and gifts. What a great way to share a coffee and conversation. And these opportunities are far more available and easy to arrange than any of us really know.