Friday, January 28, 2011

Birthday buddies

A quick shout out to two very special January birthday buddies:

Darcy Baker, born January 28th & Duane Baker, born January 23rd

That's right--my parents were born exactly 5 days apart in the same wing of the same hospital. Back then mothers and babies routinely stayed in the hospital for five days after delivery, so it's highly likely that my parents (along with my grandmothers, respectively) passed each other in the nursery hallways long before they would officially meet for the first time in middle school. In a sense, they've known each other all their lives, so I think it's easy to see why they are soulmates. Awwww.

This picture was taken 4 years ago at a particularly momentous birthday milestone, which I will not disclose for the sake of modesty.

But that 30th birthday party sure was fun, right parents? ;-)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


It's week four of my internship at Santa Maria Community Services and so far everything is going swimmingly. Today we finalized my learning contract with University of Cincinnati, and it's packed full of great activities.

One such activity is a weekly Meals-on-Wheels route to six elderly women in a neighborhood in East Price Hill. Today I made my rounds for the first time, delivering meals to these residents and chatting with them on their doorsteps. I was a little nervous about how I would be received at these homes, especially being an unfamiliar face in the neighborhood. But my fears were quickly dispelled when I was warmly greeted and welcomed at each home.

That isn't to say I didn't have any excitement along the way. I listened and empathized as a resident told me about her slumlord's unresponsiveness while their entire apartment complex went without heat this weekend. I hollered "Meals-on-Wheels" at the top of my lungs each time one woman in particular kept asking, "Who is it?" I helped one woman connect to assistance with her rent deposit upon returning to the office. I even helped chase down a little dog that had dashed out an open front door.

And you know what? I loved every minute of it. I look forward to further developing a trustworthy relationship with each of these residents over the next 6 months. After all, this is what social work is all about--getting out in the community and connecting with people in need of services. So who knows? Maybe I will continue to participate with Meals-on-Wheels into the summer and subsequent quarters, long after this portion of my internship has finished. It definitely couldn't hurt.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On track

I am pleased to announce I am on track with one of my goals mentioned in my 200th post (as seen here): I'm getting active!

Inspired by my former-fellow-VISTA and good friend Alex's Couch to 5K running program (seen here at her blog), I decided to get in gear with a 5K training regime of my own. (Did you know Alex is getting married in October? And that I'm a bridesmaid?! Yippee skippeee!!)

Keep in mind it's only week one, but so far I have been very successful incorporating a few minutes of running into a mostly walking routine. Even though it is difficult at times, I always feel great when I'm finished, and I look forward to the next time around.

Perhaps best of all, I already have noticed a change in my energy level, and I am more motivated to eat right and take care of myself in order to become a stronger runner. I'm beginning to understand how fitness can be "addicting" so to speak.

For me, being active isn't about losing weight (though I can definitely stand to drop a few lbs.). It's about feeling good and accomplishing something. Sure, I've been successful in other areas of my life--I got all As in school, I was first chair in the school band, and so on--but I've never been physically fit. I've never played on a team (unless you count the junior high golf team or marching band), and I've never met a fitness goal. In other words, I've never really been an active person, so it feels good to be increasing my level of activity and taking charge of my health.

The fear of failure has held me back in the past--I've started something, encountered resistance, and given up so as not to fail in embarrassment. Of course, I realize giving up was the real failure. If I can keep at it this time, no matter how fast or slow my progress, I'll stay right on track.

The goal is to actually RUN in the 5K Price Hill Pacer Run/Walk benefiting Santa Maria Community Services this June. Assuming I am not part of the logistics team on race day, I want to cross the finish line. It will be my first 5K as a runner and I am determined to get there!

You heard it here, blogosphere--hold me accountable!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Last night Taylor and I attended the East Price Hill Improvement Association meeting in...where else?...East Price Hill. There were about 25-30 people in attendance, mostly community council members and a few residents. Even a few non-residents like us.

So why were we there if we aren't residents of that neighborhood? Well, East Price Hill is home to one of Santa Maria's 3 locations and many of the agency's clients live in Price Hill. I thought it would be helpful to attend so that I could get a better idea of the issues specific to the community. Because social workers take a person-in-environment approach in practice, it would definitely help to learn more about the community environment of many of our clients.

The meeting started at 7:30 in a neighborhood Methodist church. This was my first community council meeting in any neighborhood, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Mostly there were a lot of regular agenda items like reports from various standing committees and such. I did notice, though, that regardless of what committee was presenting, the main focus was on crime. It was clear that the incidence of crime in the neighborhood was a major concern for the people who live there. Many residents believe that if we make more arrests and take the bad guys out of the neighborhood, then we can fully eliminate crime and turn Price Hill into a thriving community. I agree with that--to an extent. Not all of Price Hill's problems can be reduced to crime alone. We still need employment opportunities, income enhancement programs, access to affordable health care, reliable transportation, quality childcare, and so on. On the other hand, if the neighborhood is safe it will be more attractive for such growth and development, allowing the community to really prosper. It's definitely all connected.

Lucky for Price Hill residents, Santa Maria (among other local agencies) is working hard to implement programming in many of those areas. Combined with crime reduction, these social services will help Price Hill thrive.

In the meantime, I intend to spend more time in Price Hill patronizing local businesses, attending local events, and getting to know the residents. It's the neighboring community to our Western Hills home and I should get familiar with it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A day off

Last year on MLK Day I wrote about making your day off a day on in service. But this year I'm not practicing what I preached--I'm taking the day off.

As you might have noticed by the lack of blog posts, I haven't been around here much this past week or so. That's because I've been getting settled at my internship, adjusting to my classes, and juggling both of my jobs. It's been a lot to balance, but I'm hanging on!

At my internship last week, I distributed 2000 flyers for a free tax service, attended a staff meeting, and read through Santa Maria's board manual and employee handbooks. I also finished meeting with 9 of 11 program managers (just two more to go!) to get a better idea of the range of services Santa Maria provides to the community. My next step is to draft my learning contract with UC that will lay out everything I will work on over the next two quarters. It's quite a task--I've got to narrow down all of the program and project opportunities to something that is manageable between now and June. Because I can split my time between direct practice and administration this time, I've got a lot to choose from, which is exciting!

I've now had all of my classes, and I'm getting into the groove of the new quarter. Two of my classes are about working with individuals and families, and I'm already realizing how introspective I'm becoming with each class. In fact, I have two assignments in which I am to specifically reflect on my own family's experience. One is a Genogram, which is like a very detailed family tree. Not only does it show how people are related and the dates of their births, deaths, and marriages, but it also shows the relationships between each relative. Once that is finished, I will use that information to write a detailed paper about my family. I'm realizing that the more insight I have into my own family, the better prepared I will be to help others gain insight into their families, too.

And then there's my jobs. I'm now working regular hours at both Rape Crisis and House of Peace. It's great to have steady income, but the trade off is my down time. I now have one day off a week, if you count doing homework and housework as a a day off! So when you get a holiday like MLK Day, you really cherish it, especially when your life is already all about service.

So today I'm giving back to myself. I'm going to hang out with a friend I don't get to see nearly enough and then enjoy a lovely dinner with my husband. I'm learning that it isn't a bad thing to take time for myself, and I shouldn't feel guilty for taking a day off. Without a day off, it's hard to have good days on!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Right place, right time

Part of the requirements of my new internship is a background check and fingerprint screening so that I can work with various populations and programming. Before the end of the day on Tuesday, I received a slip with instructions to go to the Hamilton County Justice Center any time between 7am and 4pm Monday through Friday, and Santa Maria would be billed for the screenings.

I didn't make it there on Wednesday, so I attempted to go yesterday morning before a meeting in Lower Price Hill. I knew it could take a while to complete, so I left with plenty of time. But when I got downtown I realized I was missing two very important things. Parking money and a plan. I hadn't looked ahead to see where I would park and even if I had, I had no cash on hand for the overpriced garages or lots. I don't know what I was thinking.

I pulled over at a random parking meter at least a half mile down the street and rummaged through my purse for some coins. But as I slipped each coin through the slot, my minutes weren't adding up as much as I would have thought. Suddenly, I found myself out of coins with only 33 minutes on the meter. I wasn't confident I would get down to the building, get through the line, finish the screenings, and get back to the car in that time, and I wasn't willing to risk the ticket, as I had watched several eager parking police guys converge on a car across the street just minutes earlier.

Dejected, I decided to leave the Justice Center for another day. As I drove out of downtown, I recognized the entrance to one of my favorite parks. I still had about 40 minutes before I would need to get to my meeting, so I pulled in and parked for a walk along the river. It was cold, so there weren't many people out, but as I approached the end of the loop, I saw an old woman huddled in a big winter coat on a bench near the path. I said good morning as I passed and we made a bit of small talk about the weather, the ducks in the river, and the new year. I kept walking, but about 5 seconds after I passed, I heard her call out to me and before I knew it, we were walking together back on the loop back towards the parking lot.

We talked for a bit about the day; I disclosed I was killing time between meetings for my social work program and she said she had come down to feed the ducks. A few minutes later she started to share about her volunteer work and some of the depression she had been experiencing. I listened as we strolled, offering an occasional thought, but mostly just listened. As we continued on the loop and passed the parking lot, I knew I should think about getting back to my car so I could make it to the meeting in time. I didn't want to get too far down the trail and take too long to get back. Still, something told me to keep going, so I did.

We made our way down the path, and several minutes later I knew it was time to turn around and go back to the car, so I slowed my pace. And suddenly the woman disclosed that she had been raped more than a decade ago. She said she had never told anyone that before, and wondered if maybe that could be contributing to her depression.

I couldn't believe it--I have a lot of training in this area, and if ever there was a time to put it to use, this was it. Suddenly I didn't care about the clock; I knew I needed to help this woman. I told her this was my area of expertise, and I carefully explained how her feelings could very likely be related to her assault, especially if she hadn't emotionally dealt with what had happened to her all those years ago. As I spoke, tears streamed down her face. She said she believed God had put me in her path today so that she could get help. I told her how glad I was that she trusted me and told me her painful secret, and I suggested that she look into counseling to process everything in more detail in the long term. I referred her to Women Helping Women and she said she would call them when she got home.

As I said good bye, she hugged me twice, thanked me for listening, and encouraged me to keep going in school because I would make a good social worker one day. I was flattered not only by her compliment, but that she remembered my program I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation.

My friend from the park served as a poignant reminder of why I'm doing this in the first place. We all need help sometimes. We all need someone to talk to, someone to help us find our strengths, regain our coping skills, and set us in the right direction. That's what social work is all about.

I don't know what will happen to her. I hope she finds peace and happiness, but I'll never know for sure, unless, of course, I run into her again. And if I do, I'll know it was for a reason.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Keep fighting

Just wanted to post a quick update about the Walmart Fighting Hunger Together grant that I mentioned in this post. If you remember, the metropolitan community that received the most votes on Facebook would receive $1,000,000 and the 5 runners-up would each receive $100,000.

The winners were announced yesterday and the results are as followed:

1. Salt Lake City, Utah with 5,320,392 supporters. They win $1,000,000!
2. Fresno, CA with 4,125,544 supporters.
3. Columbia, SC with 356,020 supporters.
4. Ogden-Clearfield, UT with 305,512 supporters.
5. Charleston-Summerville, SC with 167,684 supporters.
6. Bakersfield, CA with 157,880 supporters.

I'm not sure where the Cincinnati-Middletown community fits on the list of 100 neediest communities, but I saw a lot of my Facebook friends voting in support of our community. Some of those voters don't even live here, but supported the community because they know how deeply I care for this community (and probably to get me to stop talking about it so much!) So I thank you for doing your part and speaking up for our community. I bet Walmart will do another similar competition in the future, and when they do, we'll be ready! In the meantime, you can donate your time or money directly to the agencies working to make a difference here at home. Let me know if you need any suggestions--I'm getting to know plenty of donation-worthy organizations that I would gladly point you to!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Just an intern

I just completed my first two days (read: first week) of my 16-hour internship with Santa Maria Community Services. And after only two days, I know I have made the right decision and I'm in the right place.

My desk is in the administrative office in Sedamsville, just a 15-minute drive from home and about a 5-minute drive from the other two Santa Maria office locations. Staff just moved into the Sedamsville office, so when I arrived on Monday morning, I found the building full of boxes and cleaning supplies as everyone continues to unpack and settle in. It was exciting to be a part of the big move from the beginning, as I also established my own desk space in my own office!

On my first few days with Santa Maria, I spent most of my time meeting with my supervisor (the President and CEO of the agency) and setting up meetings to learn more about all of the programming at the different locations throughout Price Hill. As I meet with each program manager, I find myself growing more and more excited about all of the different opportunities within each area of the organization.

In a couple of weeks I will need to turn in a learning contract to my field liaison from UC that outlines my goals and projects for the next two quarters. As I told my supervisor, the hardest thing will be narrowing down which programs I'll have time to work with! Fortunately, I will be at Santa Maria through June 2012, so there will be plenty of time to explore all the agency has to offer.

First days are never easy--there's so much to learn and it's easy to become overwhelmed. While I still have a LOT to learn, I appreciate the warm welcome I received by the staff of the agency. Everyone was so friendly and patient in explaining various aspects of the organization, which really put me at ease. No one referred to me as "just an intern" and I felt like a valued member of the team from the beginning.

If the first two days of my internship are any indication of the next year and a half, I think I am really going to enjoy my time at Santa Maria.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New resolve

Every January 1st, millions of people make millions of new year's resolutions, abstract statements aimed to drastically change their lives over the next 365 days. And yet by the following December 31st, many people haven't met one single resolution.

But why? Surely people are capable of meeting goals, otherwise no one would ever really accomplish anything. And heck, they have a whole year to do it!

The problem with resolutions, though, is that we set big, lofty, year-long goals and then we get impatient, tired, and discouraged. In a society of instant gratification, a year becomes too long to stick with something so seemingly impossible. And one month into the new year, we've lost steam and pretty much jumped ship. For example, many people resolve to lose weight at the beginning of the year. They say, "This year I'm going to lose 50 lbs. No! 60 lbs! Yeah!" But when February rolls around and they've lost only a couple of pounds, the end seems so far away that they abandon the means and go for that slice of cake after all.

So what if instead of setting grand yearly goals we broke up that goal into monthly, weekly, or even daily goals? Then it wouldn't be one insurmountable mountain, but a much more do-able set of steps. Both lead to the same place, but it's the way we get there that makes the difference. In other words, if we set ourselves up to succeed, we probably will.

That's why this year I'm not going to make a resolution in the traditional sense. But I am going to make some easy changes to my daily routine that should lead to some big changes in my life.

Lately, one of the major themes of my life has been gratitude. I mentioned a bit about that in this post a few months ago when I started a gratitude journal to help me recognize the good things in my life and to help me stay present in good moments. Sadly, my journal efforts fizzled out in the past couple of months or so, and I have found myself complaining more than usual about the little things. So this year, I "resolve" to be more grateful by consciously recognizing the good in my life. Whether that means writing it down in the gratitude journal, saying it out loud, or jotting a quick thank you note, I will be more aware of my gratitude. In fact, I was inspired to share my gratitude with others after reading about a man who wrote one thank you note a day to the people in his life, which you can see here.

The more I think about it, maybe the best way to accomplish a resolution is by not calling it a resolution. How's that for a little reverse psychology?

So what about you all? Any non-resolutions this year? Happy 2011!