By Evan Beck
This month’s “Our Stories” feature is written by CJFS Social Work Intern Evan Beck. Evan is working toward a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Alabama, where she expects to graduate in May.
In January, when I began my internship at CJFS, I was excited to be working with an organization that has had such a profound impact on the community over the years. What I never would have expected, however, is the impact that CJFS would have on me, both professionally and personally.
Half of my time during this semester has been spent at the CJFS CARES respite program – a program that, in my opinion, could not be more accurately named. The staff and the volunteers genuinely care for each of the participants in such a dynamic way. This is apparent as the participants enter the building each and every day.
CARES participants are affected by memory or movement disorders such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s or stroke. Each participant is unique in personality and background – and so is the attention each of them receives from the staff and volunteers. This level of attentiveness and intentionality was astonishing to me at first – but I soon found it is contagious! I was surprised at how quickly I began to care for our participants as individuals and think of innovative ways to reach each of them. Before I knew it, I was developing activities to appeal to specific participants. In the evening or on the weekend, it isn’t unusual for me to catch myself brainstorming activities or games that “Mrs. A” or “Mr. Z” might enjoy.
One of my best days at CARES so far was when a fairly new participant was leaving at the end of the day. As we said goodbye, I told her that I’d had a great day with her and I hoped she enjoyed her day. My intention was to offer encouragement to someone who I perceived was a little overwhelmed with starting something new and being in an unfamiliar environment. To my surprise, her response was, “Of course, I had the best day ever!” Just the week before, this woman was noticeably (and understandably) apprehensive about joining the CARES program. To see that in just a week’s time she was responding in such a positive and uplifting way is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The joy that was so unmistakable, on her face and through her words, was remarkable.
In addition to spending time at CARES, I am also spending a portion of each week meeting with clients in CJFS’ Case Management program. One day, that may mean providing support to a client who is filling out an extensive apartment application. Another day, it may mean calling dental clinics in the area so that CJFS can provide referrals for clients with dental needs. I have also been able to assist participants in the CJFS Cyber Seniors program who needed a little “extra” help after the program ended. These older adults learned to use smartphones, tablets or laptop computers through Cyber Seniors and needed a quick “refresher” on some of the topics. It has been inspiring for me to witness the impact that technology has on the aging population and the eagerness and steadfastness with which these older adults work to master these technologies so they can use them in their daily lives.
As a social work intern at CJFS, I know that I play a small role in the CJFS’ overall impact. But the impact of CJFS and the CARES program on me this semester has been unparalleled. I’m extremely thankful to have been placed here and to have been able to learn and serve through CJFS.