September Newsletter

An Interview with Laurie Richardson

Roberta Machin, BA

 

When Laurie Richardson was in grade school, she heard a story about Trevor Ferrell, an eleven-year-old boy in Philadelphia who delivered blankets to people sleeping on the street after asking his parents how he could help the homeless.  This story prompted Laurie to take an interest in homelessness and helping others, because she was amazed that one little boy could possess so much generosity and kindheartedness.  She had always felt drawn to helping that population, and in high school, career aptitude tests indicated that Laurie was well suited for the social work field.

Growing up in suburban Delaware County, Laurie did not see much evidence of homelessness.  “But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any homeless individuals there,” she said.  “They just weren’t stereotypical.  More often than not, the people who were homeless in my town were not ‘bums.’”  Even though Laurie did not see very much poverty firsthand, she still liked the idea of helping people.  Briefly, Laurie considered becoming a nurse, but she decided she could not administer shots.  “I had no stomach for the medical side of it,” she laughed.

Laurie attended West Chester University, and was originally interested in early childhood education, before she began taking social work classes.  For one of her classes during her senior year, Laurie did an internship with Safe Harbor, and she realized that this was the kind of work she wanted to do.  “It doesn’t get boring,” she said.  “There are a lot of different factors that come with being homeless, and you get to work with a variety of people.”  Her supervisor at Safe Harbor, Barb Thompson, was someone whom Laurie really admired for her relationship with clients.  “She had a very forthright personality,” Laurie said.  “She wouldn’t sugar coat anything for the clients.  But the clients were ok with it.  They sensed her warmness, and knew she was trying to help them.  Now I try to take on that personality with the work that I do.”

Currently, Laurie works as a case manager of Independent Living Solutions with Handi-Crafters.  Founded in 1961, Handi-Crafters is a nonprofit organization in Thorndale whose goal is to help their clients overcome challenges so they can achieve financial independence.  The organization engages with over 400 individuals who struggle with disabilities and mental illnesses, helping them learn life skills through rewarding employment opportunities.  They further assist their clients by offering case management.  In particular, Laurie works with people with disabilities who are in housing crisis, in order to find them affordable housing options.

When asked about her day-to-day activities at work, Laurie said, “There’s no typical day.  Some days I take clients to therapy sessions or help them check into a hotel.  Sometimes a crisis comes up that I have to assist with.  I spend a lot of time meeting with clients to discuss their situation, and often I drive to their location because no transportation is available for them.”

Laurie has found ways to go above and beyond the parameters of her job, including volunteering for the yearly Point in Time Count, a one night (overnight) census of all the individuals within the county who are street homeless or living in shelters.  In addition, she has put collection boxes in her office building during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, asking for donations that can be sent to the homeless shelters or the food bank.

When she first started working at Handi-Crafters, Laurie had no idea that she would be helping clients in such a variety of ways.  “I help clients move into new homes, which involves a lot of heavy lifting to get their stuff into the house.  I’ve even helped a client change a lightbulb,” she remembers.  Despite the occasional twists and turns in her work, Laurie believes that it is important to laugh and have a sense of humor.  “Sometimes in a messy situation, you just have to tell yourself, ‘it is what it is,’” she said.  “This job is not routine – but that would be boring.  I couldn’t do a desk job.  With my job, I spend some time in the office writing up my notes, and some time in the community doing outreach.  It’s always changing.”

Outside of work, Laurie participates in a nutrition group and toning classes.  She enjoys meeting people with similar interests and hobbies, and recently she went rock climbing with a group of friends.  Laurie considers raising her daughter to be her greatest success in life.  “I’ve tried to teach her that life is not easy, that it has its ups and downs, but it’s important to continue on anyway.  You can’t wallow in misery or let things eat away at you – you need to be productive despite what’s going on in your life.”

If Laurie could choose any celebrity to play her in a movie about her life, she would choose Angelina Jolie, because she’s a good actress and pretty.  If she could be any animal, she would choose a cat, because they’re sneaky and they have nine lives.  She would also consider being a bird, because she would be able to fly over people and observe and analyze them, without them knowing.

Laurie advises people who are thinking about beginning a career in social work to follow their interests.  “I could never do business – it would bore the death out of me,” she said.  “And you’re not going to make any money in social work.  But you can’t choose a job based on money, you have to choose based on what you like.”  Laurie explained that in social work, it’s important to have a ‘go with the flow’ attitude.  “You can’t let what clients say or do get to you.  Let it go, or you will become burned out quickly.”

Within Chester County, Laurie admits that while the goal of ending homelessness is admirable, it might not be too realistic.  “We don’t live in a perfect world,” she said.  “You can’t control people.  They’re going to make their own decisions.  And mental health/illness is unpredictable, and long term treatment is difficult, financially.”  Laurie believes that the high cost of living accounts for the amount of individuals currently homeless.  Despite this, Laurie has heard from many clients that Chester County has a wonderful social service system with a lot of useful resources.  “A lot of other counties don’t have these kinds of services,” she said.  “In Chester, we’re doing our part to eliminate as much homelessness as we can.”

9/11 National Day of Service: Commemorating Tragedy and Triumph

Lara Dorfman, BA

 

On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, we look back on a tragic day in American history. Much like previous anniversaries, it can feel impossible to deservingly commemorate the victims, survivors, and heroes who risked their lives without a second thought. That is why in 2009, Congress designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. A day so vividly remembered but hard to comprehend has now become a day to give back, to honor the fallen, and to take note of the resilience and compassion that first responders and everyday citizens showed on this day sixteen years ago.

On Friday morning, just a few short days before the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, several members of the Chester County Department of Community Development teamed up with Friends Association in West Chester for a Day of Service in remembrance of 9/11. Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children is Pennsylvania’s oldest continual running child welfare agency. Friends Association works with families who are experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness by providing emergency family shelter, homeless prevention programs, and outreach to homeless families. Friends relies on volunteers to keep administrative costs minimal, which in turn allows the money to be better spent on programs and services.

The Chester County Department of Community Development volunteers split into two groups. The first group stayed in the Friends Association office and helped prepare for the release of their newsletter. Friends Association explained that a few hours of stuffing envelopes saves over $2,000, which can then be used to assist a family in need. The second group set out to Friends Association’s Emergency Family Shelter down the street, where the morning was spent cleaning, weeding, and moving a family of five from a small apartment to a larger two bedroom apartment, where they will be much more comfortable.

The Chester County Department of Community Development recognizes the importance of embracing different ideas and working together as a team, the same way our 9/11 heroes did sixteen years ago. We volunteer to bridge the gap of our differences and work hard to implement solutions that benefit humanity. As we march forward together, we give back in remembrance to those who lost their lives, lost their loved ones, and risked everything to help others on September 11, 2001.

Hear Our Voices: D2D’s Week of Advocacy and Awareness

Roberta Machin, BA

 

Did you know that the Community Development Block Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, serves 5,877 households in Chester County alone?  These funds aid the men, women, and children sleeping in homeless shelters or teetering on the brink of homelessness, and support the rehabilitation of our neighborhoods, roads, and homes.  In 2017, 2.285 million dollars were allocated for CDBG-funded services within our county.  But a 6.2 billion dollar decrease to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was proposed in the 2018 federal budget, including the complete elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

As a response to these proposed budget cuts, Decade to Doorways hosted a Week of Advocacy and Awareness from August 22nd to 25th.  At 5:00 pm on the 22nd, the community came together to kick off this week with a fun event on the front lawn of Uptown Theater in West Chester.  Stages Art Initiative performed live music throughout the event, and Giant Food Store provided snacks and desserts.  At the Kick-Off, Decade to Doorways provided information about the services funded by these crucial federal dollars, and the traveling photography display “Humanizing Homelessness in Chester County” was exhibited so that attendees could learn more about real people within their own community who have experienced homelessness, and the process of their recovery.

Everyone also had the opportunity at the Kick-Off to fill out a postcard to their legislator, explaining why they personally feel that supportive services and affordable housing programs are beneficial to their community, and urging legislators to vote in support of the preservation of the funds for these programs.  Decade to Doorways was able to distribute nearly 1,000 postcards at the event and to staff members at organizations throughout our community that rely on these funds.

On Wednesday the 23rd, Decade to Doorways asked that the whole community take a moment to call their legislators and speak with them about the importance of preserving federal funding for supportive services.  Thursday was Email-In Day, and D2D provided information about democracy.io, a website that allows you to easily find contact information for your legislators and email them about specific topics, such as homelessness.  Then on Friday, the final day, D2D asked that everyone complete their postcards and mail them in to the members of Congress that represent Chester County.

Although Advocacy Week is over, it’s not too late to voice your opinion!  It is critical that we continue to stand up for the people within our community and throughout the country who rely on these federally funded services.  You can continue to make your voices heard by visiting, calling, emailing, and writing to your legislators, and educating others on the importance of these programs that aid people on the brink of and experiencing homelessness.