Week 9: Project Transitions

August 8th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

The Zen Circle, a symbol of wholeness, completion, and the cyclical nature of existence

The Zen Circle, a symbol of
wholeness, completion, and the cyclical nature of existence

My last week brought my fellowship full circle. I finished everything on my PT to do list for the summer, and made some decisions about my life and my career.

Decision 1: Direct feedback is important for my growth.
As my supervisor and I decided what to do to wrap up my fellowship, she asked me how I would like to get feedback. I decided I wanted direct feedback. She scheduled two roundtables for my last week, one with the programs staff and one with the office staff. During those meetings, I sat face to face with my coworkers/mentors, and one by one they were asked to talk about what capacity they observed me in, my strengths and areas of improvement, where they thought I might be headed career-wise, and any other advice they had to offer. It was my job to sit back and mull over what they told me. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that before, and it was fantastic for my growth. The affirmation of my strengths gave me a new level of confidence and hearing the areas improvement said aloud straight to my face forced me to recognize them. Scary as it was, receiving constructive criticism and confirmation that I am perceived as a valuable part of the team was truly invaluable.

Decision 2: I will never work in financials.
I got the opportunity this week to sit down with our Deputy Director and learn some of PT’s financial processes: I learned about how we do our rent roll and consignment sales tracking for our thrift store. I crunched some numbers and walked through the systems that our DD has so carefully set up. Each one is full of checks and double checks and spreadsheets galore. While I know that my brain works in a very Type A, logical progression, I didn’t particularly enjoy working with the numbers. It seemed tedious to me. I found that my favorite part of being trained in the financials was that I got to spend time with our Deputy Director. I enjoyed her company, not the spreadsheets.
This realization was confirmed in the feedback session; our DD said I was able to grasp the systems well but she didn’t think I’d end up in the financial world. She’s right. I love people to much to spend time with numbers all day. Even when I was working with our housing waiting list, which is a system with lots of files and spreadsheets, I enjoyed it because I knew the people each bit of data was connected to. Entering someone’s substance abuse history into a spreadsheet is like getting a little slice of the life story of a potential client. It’s constructing a context in which we as an organization can best serve that individual. Numbers, on the other hand, are usually the aftermath (no pun intended). It is much more difficult for me to see and appreciate how numbers are directly connected to people.

Decision 3: I am going to create my own major in a field related to psychology.
This one doesn’t sound as big as the other two, but it feels like the biggest of the three. It is the one I’ve struggled with since I started college, and particularly in the last few months. I am not going to be a Chemistry major. That feels so good to see in writing. I’ve spent countless hours in my Chemistry advisor’s office, talking his patient ear off. One of the things we talked about was the importance of hands on experience before making a decision about my major. I am so grateful to have had someone with whom to talk through my conundrum, and even more grateful that this summer has given me the hands on experience that I need to decide that my passion lies in psychology. I learned about and dealt with people with a wide range of mental health conditions during the last 9 weeks, and I’m fascinated by the diagnoses I’ve been introduced to this summer. I’m lucky to say that my supervisor has been an excellent teacher in explaining those diagnoses to me and has continued to feed the passion fire in me that my Cornell psychology professors sparked.

Decision 4: I plan to consider case management as a career path.
I came to this conclusion after my last intake of the summer. I was going over the final paperwork on my last day of work, filling in the important details about the person I did the intake with the previous afternoon: this particular person had what I suspected to be schizophrenia or something similar, was chronically homeless and clearly struggles with trust and stability. As I wrote in all the details I considered relevant, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I love this work. I took a long time to get there, but I know after my fellowship that I want to be in a person centered career. I know my strength lies in dealing with people. Even in everyday conversation, my mind immediately jumps to what resources can best help whoever I’m talking to. I’m always trying to piece together life stories of those around me, and sometimes I feel like a walking referral agency. And now I’ve discovered that a job exists where I could make a career out of synthesizing and walking reference ability.

Decision 5: I plan to start my career in the non-profit world.
I came into this fellowship with the purpose of deciding if and where I fit into the non-profit sector, and I have decided: yes, I fit into the non-profit sector. I made this decision without really realizing I had made a decision at all. During the first of my feedback sessions, my supervisor asked me to tell the staff what my career plans were so that they could give me words of wisdom about where they thought I was best suited. Without skipping a beat, I responded that I plan to work in a non profit in a capacity that deals with directly serving people and requires that I utilize my ability to synthesize. My supervisor stopped me and said, “You made a decision about non profits. At the beginning of the summer you were on the fence; you just made a decision.” I was as surprised as she was to hear those words come out of my mouth, but I knew as well as she did that they were true.

As I said, the last week brought this fellowship full circle. As such, I have another book recommendation, as I did in my 3rd blog post. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. It was assigned to me by my supervisor as part of my personal growth this summer, and I highly recommend it. The book left me at peace and has clearly articulated what I have always known, but haven’t quite figured out how to say, is the way that I want to live my life. A beautiful read. You won’t regret it.

Needless to say, I had a great last week. Saying goodbye to Project Transitions and Austin was my final challenge in my long list of challenges this summer. This fellowship pushed me out of my comfort zone time and time again, from case management to the financial systems to grant reporting to hospice care. In my final journal entry, I wrote “I will miss this experience more than words.” This summer was full of more growth, personally and professionally, than I can put into a blog. Thank you to my Project Transitions family for the best first job experience ever, to all of the wonderful Austinites that showed me what a magical city Austin can be, to my family for their everlasting support, to the Cornell Fellows program donors, faculty and staff for making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible, and to you for taking the time to read this blog and share in my experience!

Enjoy the photos!

 

Week 8: Project Transitions

July 27th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

Knowing that I had only one week left, I sat chatting and crying with my supervisor at a fundraiser on Friday as we shared some of our favorite moments of the summer. That alone speaks to the fact that my internship experience has been a meaningful growing experience unlike any I’ve ever had. I’ll share a couple of this week’s moments with you:

ICM: Usually people think of a case manager as in meetings, talking one on one to clients and sitting in an office. I’ve learned, though, as my supervisor often says, that much of real case management happens in a car. When a case manager is on the road, running errands with or for a client, it’s called intensive case management. I was lucky enough to get out on the road a few times. This Monday I loaded up a mattress for one of my clients into the big ol’ company van and drove it to his apartment. He’s had bed bugs multiple times and suffers from a lot of medical problems, including a hip problem that really hinders his mobility. He’s been sleeping on an air mattress for about six months. That morning he called to say that his mattress had popped and he had slept in a chair the previous night. Needless to say, he really needed a new bed. When I walked into that apartment with a mattress, he looked at me with so much gratitude I was sure he thought I was an angel straight from heaven. That moment made every bit of frustrating paperwork 100% worth it. It made me want to case manage forever just to see those kind of smiles on a regular basis. A little favor can mean the world to someone.

Advocacy soup: Following my intakes on Thursday, I walked into my supervisor’s office to drop off the 66 pages of intake paperwork. It is her job to be familiar with each and every client on the waiting list and their paperwork so that when an apartment or community housing spot opens, she can decide who is the best fit for that opening. When I handed her the latest intake packets, she asked me to present the intake cases as clinically as possible: who the clients are, why they would fit into the program and their current needs. Without even thinking, I spilled out what I knew of the cases, complete with life story, financial situation, assessment of mental state, and acuity. I found myself advocating for their case, almost lobbying to my supervisor to admit them to PT programs as soon as possible. When I walked out of the office, I realized I was fighting for their case using my new bank of knowledge from this summer. I felt like I was back in front of Cornell’s Student Senate, lobbying for the Slick Shoes or Hillel budget items using a bank of knowledge about the school, the clubs, and the students. I was synthesizing what I knew about Project Transitions, our housing program, local housing/financial assistance resources, clinical case management language, and the clients. Together all of the pieces mixed, simmered, and settled to create a little bite of information full of the information my supervisor needed to assess acuity. It was pretty cool to know that my mind cooked that up and spit it out.

So those were just a few memories running through my head as I teared up on Friday night at Red Hot, our silent auction fundraiser. After I had my reflective chat, the evening was high energy and loud and fun and fabulous. It was a silent auction event in a local gay bar/club; there were drag shows, good food, and fantastic people. I got to meet some of PT’s board members and volunteers and interact with my coworkers in a casual setting, which is so valuable. I was able to continue developing my personal relationships with them, which I know will continue to make my work environment an even more positive, supportive, enjoyable place to learn and grow. Enjoy the pictures below- it was a rockin’ party and with a rockin’ staff and I had a rockin’ time.

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Anastasia and I
She’s one of the FABULOUS drag queens who performed at Red Hot :)

Two of the other drag queens and Ben, who organized our Silent Auction

Two of the other drag queens and Ben, who organized our Silent Auction

 

 

One more week of smiles and tears; time flies faster than I’d like. Thanks for reading!

Week 7: Project Transitions

July 17th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management


puzzleOn my AP English Language exam in junior year of high school, I learned to write synthesis essays. My first block at Cornell (Educational Psychology), my final 17 page paper was essentially a synthesis essay. When I created study guides to study for my Religions of the World course, I essentially wrote a synthesized cumulative essay. I learned to pull information from all of the corners of my brain and all pieces of my literary vocabulary/research in order to craft a complete picture. Little did I know, those hours of synthesis essays in high school would end up as the foundation of my education, and eventually as social worker at Project Transitions.

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The PT logo. It’s doors opening, but it looks  like a puzzle!  Coincidence? I think not.


I’ve talked about this a little before, but gathering a client’s entire story during an intake is the first step in deciding if and when PT can provide them services. This week I got to run intakes all by myself, so it was up to me to get a complete picture of the clients (side note: there is nothing more exciting to walk into a room with two strangers knowing you’ll be familiar with their entire life story in an hour’s time). By the time the clients walked out of the room, it was my job to gather enough information that I could assess if/how they fit into the program and why. Then comes the fun part: paperwork. Usually that statement would be a facetious, sarcastic comment on bureaucracy, but this time I mean it. The paperwork is where my AP Language, Educational Psychology essays paid off. When I sat down to complete the final paperwork and needs assessment for the intakes, I was drawing on the previous few hours’ worth of interview material, everything I’ve learned about the programs at PT, my interpretations of the clients’ body language/tone of voice, first impressions, and all I’ve ever learned about understanding people. I got to take all of those ingredients and stir them together to make the best needs assessment I can possibly make. It’s like a giant puzzle, and I love every minute I get to spend putting the pieces together.
Earlier in the week, I created packets for a client about a local affordable housing option. I basically went to the website and pulled information about each of five or six options for permanent housing, slapped them into a word document, and printed a couple copies. At first glance, I just described a menial task. The interested part is knowing what information to pull and how to put it together. When I created this packet, I was synthesizing everything I knew about the client (personally, financially, emotionally) and using that “complete picture” to assess what he needed and how I could present the information in the easiest possible way that included what he needs. It was another puzzle. Even when I audit charts (going through a checklist and signing off that everything is there and in order), I am synthesizing everything I know about PT programs and grants as I scan files for the key information our program needs to fulfill our grant requirements.

As a result of all of this puzzle assembly, I now know that I need puzzles to serve as intellectual stimulation. I’ve always known I like puzzles. That’s why I came to Cornell thinking I was going to major in Chemistry, which I consider to be a giant puzzle. It’s cool for me to discover puzzles in other subjects, though, and know that I love puzzles made of people’s life stories even more than I love puzzles made of molecules. In my intakes and case management, I’ve found the intellectual stimulation that helps make my fellowship an academic experience.

Besides the intellectual side of my intakes, it was also really nice to know that my judgment is being trusted. After I assemble the puzzle, I pass the file on to be put on the waiting list. From then on the story that I filed away is the one that PT will reference for the client. It is the packet that our director of client services, my boss, will depend on to make a choice about when and if that client will enter into our housing program. It’s scary, but also very fulfilling, to think my judgment is being trusted in a decision that could change someone’s life.

While I am lucky enough to be part of (hopefully) changing other people’s lives, I’d like to make it very clear that everyone here is also changing my life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my supervisors and coworkers are incredible. I work in a fun, casual, professional office space that allows us to laugh while we work, smile during meetings and rely on each other as a positive support system. Even when our computers run slow or our binder clips run out (as is typical in non-profits; resources are not overly abundant and we do with what we’ve got), everyone in the office does stellar work with a passion that amazes me every day. Every single person has taught me something new about Project Transitions, social work, professionalism, and myself. Only 7 weeks later, I already feel more confident in my professional presentation and less anxious about entering into the work world. They have given me the tools to explore social work as a possible career field and encouraged me to explore myself, not just my work, on my professional journey.

Speaking of exploring, I’ve still been running around like crazy in Austin. I love the city more than ever- I’ve gone to the cutest coffee shops, been on air on the UT radio station, seen a bunch of poetry slams, gone dancing a handful of times….and that’s just a few. Since I’ve been here, I’m pretty sure I’ve done something new in Austin all but 2 nights.

Thanks to all of my Austinite friends and coworkers, my family and friends from afar for their constant support, and thanks for reading!

Week 6: Project Transitions

July 6th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

The hallway at the Capitol where people signed up to register their position on the bill.

Choice: a decision made of one’s free will. The concept of choice is a recurring theme in my case management training. This week I reevaluated my own definition of choice.
In life, we make choices every moment of every day. We choose what to wear, what to eat, what to say. These are choices that I am used to. Never before have i thought about the fundamental choices that make up my lifestyle. I choose to wake up in the morning, choose go to work, choose to balance my checkbook, choose to complete the projects given to me by my boss. I’ve always considered these choices to be necessary steps, actions more than choice. It’s good for me, so I do it. I never considered who’s definition of “good” I was referring to. “Good for me” has always been based on my agenda for myself. Now that I am case managing, part of my job is to connect clients to resources that are “good” for them. The problem with that is that the only definition of “good” I have to go on is my own. This week, I went with a client to the Austin Clubhouse, a wonderful place that provides a social community for people with some kind of mental health diagnosis. I went with the idea that the Clubhouse would be “good for him”. Based on his other case manager’s recommendation, I went in with an agenda: Get him signed up to be a member. I thought I knew what was good for him. Turns out he wasn’t interested. He didn’t sign up.
From here I had a choice: see the trip to the Clubhouse as a failure or as a success. At first I beat myself up about failing the client. I wasn’t convincing enough, I thought. I didn’t try hard enough. Then I realized it’s not about my agenda, it’s about his choice. I wrote in my journal that night (I keep a daily log of what I do at work/reflections on the day): “My job is not to give him what he needs…it’s to give him an opportunity to choose what I think would be good for him.” There is no single right answer for what is good for any one person. Life is made up of a whole lot of gray area, and that’s what makes life so interesting. People present to each other what they think is right and the choices that result make up our world. I saw this phenomenon loud and clear at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday. I went down to watch the testimonies on House Bill 2, the bill containing new regulations for abortion clinics.

All afternoon I watched people present what they thought was right, giving the committee the opportunity to choose the side they were arguing.

The rotunda where people on both sides chanted all day

The rotunda where people on both sides chanted all day

In addition to the field trip to the clubhouse, this week I also learned how to audit charts for our hospice program (there is a LOT of paperwork required for our federal Ryan White grant), shadowed another housing plan appointment, helped out/chatted with the patients at the hospice house, created an info packet for another client about a resource I think would be good for him, and inventoried a collection of western art that was donated to Project Transitions (we’re going to sell it through an auction house).
Needless to say, I’m still wearing a variety of hats at my job. Social work is still my favorite; it is where I work directly with people. Case management, I realized, is similar to my Residence Life job on campus. When I was a Hall Council Advisor, it was my job to connect the hall councils to resources I thought would be good for them and their hall. Just as I can’t beat myself up when a client chooses differently than the suggestion I offer, I wish I had realized I shouldn’t beat myself up if the hall councils didn’t take my recommendations. I will certainly continue to apply that concept to my role as a Peer Advocate for NSO and hopefully to every job I ever have that deals with people.
Before I conclude this week’s post, I’d like to formally thank the Project Transitions staff. Their support and mentorship has allowed me to use this opportunity as a way to continue my education, not just do a job. Everyone in the office is so willing to teach and answer my millions of questions any time. I don’t tell them often enough how truly grateful I am to learn in such a positive work environment.
Thanks also to all of my friends and family supporting me, and thanks for reading!

Week 5: Project Transitions

June 30th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

multiple choiceAt Cornell, I am lucky enough to know my professors.  They know how I act in class, and through discussion and interaction, they have a context in which to put my paperwork when I turn in exams.  They understand that I am more than a number on a roster, more than a score on a multiple choice exam.

 

A housing plan is essentially a list of goals.   Each of the clients that access PT’s housing services work with their case manager to create one when they are first admitted to the program.  The process starts with what we call an Annual Needs Assessment.  It’s a giant checklist of practically every single aspect of housing, mental health, and/or medical needs that the client could possibly need assistance with. The list contains everything from owing money on energy bills to struggling with family relationships.  The case manager goes through each one and, if it’s applicable to the client, copies it down onto one of the blank lines on a housing plan form. Then the client and the case manager get together once a month to review the plan, as I explained in Week 3’s post.

Check off the checklist, one at a time. Copy. Review.  Repeat.  It sounds easy enough, right? Not exactly.  Paperwork and checklists, I’m discovering, are merely a loose guide, an attempt to encapsulate directions to navigate all of the colorful, interesting, beautiful dynamics of personal interaction in a piece of paper and some ink. Yes, to assess someone’s need,  you must check the correct boxes.  But, just as a multiple choice tests cannot accurately assess one’s understanding of a subject,  checking off items on the needs assessment doesn’t relay a client’s full story.  That’s why case managers exist.  It is our job to talk to the clients and use the little checkboxes as a baseline to understand their whole situation.  Only then can we effectively use their context to connect them with community resources that they need.

This week, I completed my first housing plan. My supervisor told me it was done so well she wants a copy to use in future trainings when she teaches her case managers to create housing plans. (Please excuse my boast; when she told me that I was so happy I thought I might explode so I had to share). Not only that, but I completed an intake all on my own (see Week 3 for an explanation).  The intake reminded me even more of how much there is to a person beyond what is on paper.

The purpose of the intake is to gather as much information as possible about a client so that my supervisor can understand his/her story and decide if he/she has the most need of anyone on the waiting list when a spot opens up in our services. The intake is about an hour long, and in that time, there are 33 pages of paperwork to get through. 60 minutes and 33 pages is not nearly enough space to capture a lifetime, and yet we must do the best we can.  It is a gargatuan task, and everyone collects the information in a different way.  The bare minimum is to gather the facts: what is your name?  Date of birth? Do you have a mental health diagnosis?  A criminal background? It could be as simple as asking these questions, one at a time.  I observed three different case managers complete four different intakes before I completed my own, and not one of them simply asked questions. They each had an entirely different style.  Whether it was small talk or jokes or explaining the intake process,  each one had their own way to make the client feel comfortable enough to share their complete stories.  From there they could glean the information they needed for the paperwork and, what’s more important, for understanding the client’s full need when the time comes. The same goes for the housing plan: a case manager cannot simply ask “have you done [insert item on checklist here]”.  It would take hours and there would be no relationship or trust built between case manager and client. Instead we must talk and relate. We must understand what they need and how we can help, whether that’s driving them to a doctor’s appointment , making a phone call on their behalf, or just sitting with them for a minute as they take a deep breath (all of which I did this week). Just as my professors know that I am more than a number on my exams, PT knows the clients are more than 33 pages or x’s on a checklist.

Between the intake, the housing plan, and the client interaction, I have crossed the threshold into the world of case management.  I would like to unofficially add “Junior Case Manager” to my internship title, because I am now officially a case manager.

That’s why I love my job.  I am not running to get coffee or banging my head on a copy machine all day.  Sometimes I am re-programming part of PT’s website, wrapping up our silent auction pick up, or organizing hundreds of intake packets for our wait list (also all of which I did this week) in my office, but this is not an office job. This is a  community job where I work with people enrolled in a compassionate, holistic service that I am lucky enough to take part in.  At my desk, driving to an appointment, or listening carefully to a story, I know what I am doing is having an impact on people’s lives. And I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful organization.

It is difficult for me to sum up my week’s activities in these blogs. I have weekly hour-long meetings with my supervisor to discuss the week/process how I’ve grown, and even in that hour I cannot fit in everything I’ve done and learned.  So forgive me if any of this seems incomplete; it is.  I would be overly ecstatic to talk to anyone who wants to hear more about my job.  In fact, I almost bought a button  that said  “I <3 My Job” in a cute little shop in South Austin…instead I sent a picture of it to my supervisor.  She laughed.

I love my job. I tell people all the time that I love my job. I love Austin. I included some pictures of my weekend adventure floating the river and to a legal graffiti spot called the Austin Art Wall (it’s like the rock or the kiosks on campus, except its the slab from a demolished building and a million times bigger).

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Me at the Austin Art Wall

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My cousins, their friends and me; about to go tubing down the Guadalupe River!

I cannot believe I am more than halfway done with my fellowship.  I keep extremely busy, so time has flown by. I’m living and learning and laughing and growing, and will continue to do so for the next month. Thanks for reading!

Week 4: Project Transitions

June 23rd, 2013


hats-layout

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

I have heard from many an employee of non-profits that anyone working in the non-profit world must learn to wear many different hats. Little did I know, though, that switching hats is much more complicated than changing a head covering; it’s changing personas. I am learning this first hand as I begin to develop my own wardrobe of Project Transitions hats.
The first is my Administrative Hat, which I wear in the office, mostly at my desk. This one transforms me into an efficiency machine. I work quickly through my projects, like creating another Eblast or learning the process of Ryan White grant audits*. While I wear this hat I am careful to maintain a positive attitude (which isn’t hard seeing as everyone in the office is so kind and fun-loving), answer questions in a succinct way, and always wear my eagerness to get things done on my sleeve.

My Volunteer Hat is less about eagerness and more about confidence. This week I found that, when interacting with volunteers, the most important thing is to assure them of how helpful they are being. When a volunteer came to our office during a meeting on Tuesday, I had on my Administrative Hat, so I jumped up to go and talk to her. As soon as I introduced myself, though, I realized I had to slide into my Volunteer Hat. I assigned her a task, maintained professionalism and made sure I was appearing confident in my instructions.

My final hat, and perhaps my favorite so far, is my Social Work Hat. This is the one I wear when I interact with clients. I have observed two different case managers wear this Hat during intakes and appointments, and I know now that it looks a little different depending on the case manager. Both, in my observation, have the same outcome (assessment of need) but they obtain it with their own style. Watching them has allowed me to start formulating my own style. When I wear the Social Work Hat, I become a listener. I listen to clients with an analyzing ear. Whether I am listening to a client’s story in an intake or their updates in a regular housing appointment, I am constantly asking myself how the information I am receiving fits into the client’s well-being. Is what the client is saying an indication of a problem? If so, how can it be fixed? If it’s not a “fixable” problem, how can I best support the client emotionally or connect them to someone who can? I respond to the need the best I can in a way that maintains my listening ear. I try to answer in a way that validates the client’s feelings and still addresses their need.

As I said, my Social Work Hat is my favorite persona thus far in my internship. I am seriously considering case management as a possible career path, or at least something in the non-profit world that deals directly with the clients receiving services. It is the most rewarding part of my internship. Case management is where I get the privilege of forging personal relationships with clients. I get to see the impact PT’s services has had on them and walk with them on their journey to improving their quality of life. I get to listen to their incredible stories and piece them together like a puzzle, just as I would a synthesis paper for a class or a cumulative final project. Beyond reconstructing their stories, though, I get to problem solve with them in essentially a teamed brainstorm to figure out the best way to support their life. When I wear my Social Work Hat, I become an analyst, a problem solver, and a compassionate helper.

I am learning more day by day which hat is most applicable at any given moment. Some of the personas overlap, of course; it’s not as though I lose confidence when I go from Volunteer Hat to Social Work Hat or lose compassion when I go from Social Work to Administrative. I do, though, have to be mindful of which hat is most appropriate at the time, the same way I would be aware of my Hats at school when in the presence of Peers versus Staff versus my professors. I love that about the job. My role is constantly shifting from social worker to development employee to student to confidant to teacher to observer. I have to be on my toes at all times. The job is dynamic, and the longer I’m here the more I learn about all of the Hats in my closet.

On another note, I traveled to Houston this weekend to visit a friend, and again I felt so lucky to be in Austin where I am on the doorstep of endless cultural opportunities. I cannot believe my stay here is almost halfway over- even more reason to make every moment count! Thanks for reading!

*Ryan White is the main source of federal funding for Project Transitions’ hospice program. It is money specifically set aside for assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS. The audit process is essentially the government’s check that PT is fulfilling the grant measures, the strings attached to the money.

Week 3: Project Transitions

June 15th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

“You never get caught up” seems to be the catch phrase of the non-profit world. In my time with non-profits in Denver and now again at Project Transitions, the list of tasks seems to get longer and longer and unfortunately the days don’t stretch themselves out to accommodate. Slowly but surely, I am learning to accept that I will not be able to do everything I would like to do at Project Transitions this summer. The good news is that I will never be bored. I will never go a day without a jam-packed full schedule. This week was no exception, what with learning how to input data in ARIES (the statewide Texas HIV/AIDS client database), record grant statistics for the Ryan White grant (a national source of funding for people living with HIV/AIDS), organize payment and pick up for about 50 silent auction items, run a credit card machine, and understand medical shorthand. I’m always busy, and I’m always learning. Immersing myself in Project Transitions from day one has given me an understanding of how the organization operates unlike any outside observation could. My list of what I’ve learned is growing faster than my task list simply because I have experienced so much in the last few weeks.
moonwalking w einstein I’m reading a book right now about memory. It’s called Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer and he talks a lot about how our memories don’t have a list-focus, they have a locus-focus (he doesn’t use that exact verbiage, but it rhymes and I like it). In other words, humans’ locational memory is much stronger than their semantic memory. As a result, we remember things when we have a mental place to put them, not just a disconnected string of words or images. I would argue that this is the reason real-world experience is so important to employers. Skills learned from a textbook are like lists; when you learn skills as you apply them at a job, they become locus-focused. My Educational Psychology course with Kerry Botswick discussed a similar phenomenon: learning a new skill in an experiential context helps the brain create more physical pathways between neurons and thus makes the skill more easily retrievable for recall.
All of this neuropsychology gobbledygook came to mind when I sat in on my first client intake and housing plan appointment this week. Both appointments transformed my list learning into locus focus. I began reading through the case management manual on Monday, and let’s just say it’s not an easy read. Full of confidentiality agreements, liability releases, grievance procedures, and hundreds of other forms, the manual is full of language specific to housing programs and social work terms that are unfamiliar to me. I spent quite a while working through the first few sections. Then I sat in on the intake and housing plan appointment, and all of the sudden the boring forms that I didn’t previously understand had a context.

To clarify, an intake is when a person eligible for Project Transitions’ services has an appointment to learn about the specifics of our program and fill out initial paperwork. They are then entered into our files and placed on the waiting list and, according to their need, given services if/when they become available. Every Thursday, Project Transitions has up to three intake appointments. I sat in on two intakes this Thursday.

A housing plan appointment is like a check-in. A client meets with their case manager about once a month to talk about how the client is doing, follow up on any problems they’re working on together, and confirm where they are in the process of getting into a more permanent living situation.

As I sat in on both appointments, one by one all of the forms that were nothing more than a bunch of legal language became meaningful. I am gaining an understanding of the purpose of the millions of case management documents, how they help protect clients and case managers alike. Sitting in also helped me form a plan for how I would want to conduct intakes and/or client appointments. The case manager I shadowed, of course, has her own unique style of dealing with people. She has a way of making her clients feel comfortable and open, primarily through storytelling. She tells stories about her life to relate to her clients‘ lives and encourages them to do the same. I’m not her, though, so as a case manager I would have to figure out how I would achieve the same ends in my own way. It was wonderful to be a fly on the wall for both intakes and the housing appointment because I got to observe how the case manager delivered the information and how the client reacted. Next week I have more appointments to shadow with a different case manager, and I can’t wait to see how his style differs from the first. My observations of both case managers will give me a starting point to develop my own style of interacting with clients and set my own boundaries.

I also somehow fit in time to have a four hour shift at the hospice house (which will be a weekly shift from here on), take over the silent auction wrap up from our fundraiser since our event planner’s contract finished, and sit in on the Housing, Maintenance, Management, and Hospice meetings.

Like I said, the list gets longer and you never catch up. I am so grateful to have an internship that throws me in head first, trusts me with important projects, values my perspective, and respects that this is a learning opportunity. This opportunity is giving me invaluable real world experience and feedback along the way that is helping me understand myself and this wonderful world we call the non-profit sector!
As always, thanks for reading!

Week 2: Project Transitions

June 7th, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management
My supervisor called me a workaholic-in-the-making on Tuesday at 5pm, an hour and a half after I was supposedly “done for the day”.  A red flag flashed repeatedly right in front of my mind’s eye: WARNING. I know that I’ve always had trouble leaving projects unfinished, but this week was a prime example of why that quality may not always lead to the healthiest life choices for me. Naturally, I came in the following day and stayed even later. I know, roll your eyes. But hey, at least I love my job enough to stick around after hours. Regardless, I clearly need to work on setting myself some time limits.

I am not proud to say that, up to this point, this is not an uncommon conundrum for me. As I said, unfinished projects frequently drive me up the wall. As a student on the Cornell Hilltop, there is always something going on while I’m at school, be it a twelve page paper, a Student Senate meeting or a midterm exam. I am used to having a long to-do list. In fact, I relish having a long to-do list. So when I was presented with a spreadsheet a mile long of event signs to be created for Texas Swing (including but not limited to 95 gift certificate labels, eighteen reserved table signs, and over twenty miscellaneous event signs), I was anxious to start crossing items off the list. I buckled down, saddled up and printed more than 50 color pages of signage to be hung all over Saturday’s fundraiser (which, unfortunately, I have to miss as I am currently out of town for the weekend at a family bar mitzvah).

As I experimented my way through the labyrinth of multiple graphic design programs, I was grateful for the experience of having previously designed lobby displays for Cornell Theatre productions and countless fliers for campus activities. Hours of practice in my residence hall or on my computer or in my professors’ offices primed me to work on visual projects quickly under pressure. It has developed my eye for what looks good and developed my computer and motor skills so I can produce what looks good fast. Practice over the last two years saved me boatloads of time and frustration while I worked to contribute to Texas Swing. It let me focus on what I was doing and not how I was doing it.
And I did fully focus. It proved to be such an engrossing project that my twenty hour, 3 day work week became almost thirty hours. I was just making up for the time I am out of town this weekend, right? Jokes aside, though, I did learn a lot this week. Among other things, I can now

-Use Adobe InDesign

-Run a Facebook campaign as a business (scheduling posts and everything!)

-Assemble silent auction materials for hundreds of people, and

-Mail-merge any Microsoft Office programs under the sun in very little time.

As she helped me put together the above list in my weekly wrap-up /processing meeting, my supervisor, asked me what personal skills I had learned in addition to the logistical skills. I was reminded then of why I am in Austin. This fellowship is not just to learn the logistics of computer programs or the semantics of event planning. It is also to learn about me. Logistic skills are great and now I won’t have to learn them later on, but equally as important: This week I learned to exercise my patience, reel in my perfectionism in order to produce a quality product in a timely fashion, and attend to my own personal needs, even (and especially) when that involves setting myself some time limits.

Next week I start training for case management. I will be shadowing real life case managing sessions, reading a training manual thicker than my dictionary, and preparing to take on my own case. Butterflies in my stomach cannot even begin to cover it.

I am itching to share more about my life in Austin, but one blog post can only hold so much. I will leave it at this: another week, albeit a short one, has flown by faster than I’d like. I am so lucky to have the time I do in such a rich, nurturing city and workplace. Thanks to all who have made it so and thanks for reading!

Week 1: Project Transitions

June 1st, 2013

Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management

Preconceived notions are wrong in approximately 99.8% of all circumstances. And 77.2% of all statistics you read are made up. As a result of both, we must come to our own conclusions. I came into my internship with preconceived notions I didn’t even realize I had. I’d like to go through them one by one and go over why my first week has already flipped them on its head. Before I do that, let me give you an idea of where I am and what I’ve done so far:
project transitions
Project Transitions (PT) is a non-profit transitional housing, respite care and hospice organization that serves people in central Texas living with HIV/AIDS. The organization has a few apartment complexes, community housing and a hospice house. PT provides people not only with a roof over their heads, but also medical attention (if necessary), connections to any local resources they might need, and, above all, a community that loves and supports them.

My position is as the Programs/Development Intern in the administrative offices. I am privileged to work alongside the staff as we take care of all of the nitty gritty details and logistics. Over the course of the summer, I will get to dip my toes into all of the worlds within Project Transitions. I will be doing everything from reporting on grant funding to managing social media to hopefully taking on my own client case management load.

This week, I was introduced to all of those worlds. I said I would dip my toes in, but I suppose a better way to describe it would be what we Cornell folk are accustomed to- “drinking from a fire hydrant”, as my Directing professor likes to say. As a student of the OCAAT system, I’m used to diving in headfirst and accomplishing a huge amount of intense projects in a single week; and this week, it paid off. I happened to join the PT staff two weeks before one of their biggest fundraisers of the year. Needless to say, it was a busy week. Our staff was keeping up with program duties on top of planning this major silent auction/dance night/gala fundraiser. I was lucky enough to be thrown right in. This week, I:

-Attended meetings for Housing, Management, Hospice (all weekly), and Texas Swing (the big fundraiser)

-Wrote, sealed and sent letters directly to clients inviting them to get involved in another local ASO (AIDS service organization)

-Took over social media publicity and sent out mass emailing for PT/Texas Swing (Check it out- the last week’s worth of posts is a taste of my work: https://www.facebook.com/projecttransitions?fref=ts)

-Overhauled last year’s program for Texas Swing and updated it to prepare it to be sent to the printer yesterday

That was all in 4 days, and those were just the big highlights. Just like the block plan, when you do so much in so little time, I learned a lot. This is where my preconceived notions come in.

I assumed, for some reason, that everything in the professional world worked like a well-oiled machine. I thought everyone would know exactly what they were doing and how they were supposed to do it, and that everyone would be all work, all the time. I never truly considered the social aspect of the office. This week has made me realize how important it is to take time to socialize with coworkers, and that social time is a vital part of the work day to keep people happy. Don’t get me wrong, we work a lot and we work hard-but if you do that 8 hours a day with no breaks like I did my first day, you burn out really quickly. Social time, though it may not be “work,” can be incredibly productive.

The other major conclusion for me this week was the realization of how similar this job is to the work I’ve done in student organizations at Cornell. Just as some of my clubs have different levels in formality of their meeting structure, so too do the different PT administrators have different facilitation styles and quirks (some of which I will attempt to emulate in the future, some of which I know now don’t work for me and I’d like to avoid). Just as I had to learn dance lingo as part of the executive board of Slick Shoes, so too I must learn federal grant lingo to understand the proceedings of a PT housing meeting. The work I’ve been doing as a student leader on campus (running meetings, event planning, etc.) has been directly translating to my internship. I hope my experience will continue to inform my work, and that, with the wonderful support of the staff, I can confidently work through anything and everything PT throws at me! It’s quite the whirlwind so far.

On top of all of that, after learning about case management I found out I might get the opportunity to act as a case manager and take on a client of my own. That person would be mine to connect to resources, walk through the housing process. I cannot possibly put into words how excited and nervous the prospect of my own case load makes me, but I can tell you that my heart skips a beat just thinking about it. I’ll keep you updated!

This week has been more than I hoped and nothing I expected- here’s to 8 more weeks of experiencing, doing, and learning! Thanks for reading!

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