Interview

Meet Hilary Haake: DCD's new HMIS Program Coordinator

Lara Dorfman, BA

The newest member of the Department of Community Development (DCD) is Hilary Haake. Hilary started as the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) coordinator in early December. Hilary came into DCD with vast experience in managing databases and reporting but this is her first job in the non-profit sector. She had previously worked for corporate profit centers and other businesses where excelling did not mean nearly as much as it does now. At DCD, Hilary feels her work is exponentially more rewarding and that she can indirectly aid people in need by providing key decision makers with essential data to push them in the right direction and better our community.

Hilary was born in the Chicago suburbs but moved to Chester County when she was nine so she is very familiar with the area and how it has grown over the years. Growing up in Chester County, Hilary says she has a strong connection to the County and she’s excited to be able to have a positive impact. Growing up, she admired her grandmother who was not as fortunate early in life. Hilary explained that her grandmother had lived in an orphanage until the age of 14 and found a way to stay positive and determined throughout her entire life, eventually passing that trait and optimism down to her grandchildren. Hilary told me that her grandmother, “always had a clever way of making things better,” even in the toughest of situations.

Hilary never had one dream job growing up because she had so many interests. In high school, her passions were art, history and math. These interests eventually pushed her to develop key analytical and problem solving skills that lead her in this career direction. Outside of work, Hilary is hunting for antiques and vintage collectibles at auctions and garage sales but she has not had much time for that because her free time now is spent helping her sisters plan their weddings.

Hilary has also been quite busy adjusting to her new role at DCD. She never has one typical day, which is a good thing. She spends her time helping providers with their system needs and collaborating. There is consistency in her work though in that a significant and extremely important part of her job is data maintenance. Hilary also has a variety of small projects on her plate at all times. In short, she’s very busy, but she loves it.

“Empathy is the main piece that you need in order to get into the field; the rest will fall into place”. Hilary gets through even the hard days with her positive attitude. She knows what has to be done at the end of the day and she lets nothing stop her. Her personality also aids her work in that she is very analytical, likes mystery and reconstructing things backwards. She’s a problem solver and that is a huge part of the work she does at DCD, constantly brainstorming and problem solving. Her favorite day at work so far was attending the Voice and Vision Meeting where we heard from a panelist of people with lived experience. She found that the meeting was inspiring and so important to move forward as a County and end homelessness. Hilary finds the most significant challenge for low-income families in Chester County to be lack of affordable housing inventory and the cost of utilities. She’s confident that we could end homelessness tomorrow if we only had the resources because we have the skillset in the County.

On another note, if Hilary could have anyone play her in a movie about her life it would be Mira Sorvino. I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about Hilary Haake, our new HMIS program coordinator for the Department of Community Development.

An Interview with Katelyn Malis

Roberta Machin, BA

 

Katelyn Malis, recently appointed Director of Programs at Open Hearth, feels like she’s home again after a lot of twists and turns in her career.  Growing up as an army brat, Katelyn moved around a lot, but spent most of her childhood in San Antonio, TX before moving to Montgomery County in High School.  While in grade school, Katelyn considered being an actress, and participated in all of the school plays.  But she also had an empathetic side to her from an early age.  “I felt very in touch with others, and I always rooted for the underdog,” said Katelyn.  “I lived a sheltered life when I was young – but my parents made a point to make us aware of how fortunate we were, so that we did not take anything for granted.  Still, growing up I didn’t see homelessness unless it was portrayed in films, which you know is incredibly stereotypical.”

Originally interested in law, Katelyn majored in psychology with a minor in justice at American University.  Preparing to go to law school, Katelyn says that her experiences at two internships redirected her career plans.  She interned at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., advising mental health clients of their legal rights, and she interned at a criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia.  “I realized law wasn’t for me,” Katelyn said.  “I wanted to do something more helpful, and I enjoyed focusing on the rehabilitative, rather than the punitive aspects of these experiences.”

At Katelyn’s first job at Fellowship Health Resources in Phoenixville, she worked as a resource coordinator.  “I’d say that 75% of my caseload was struggling with homelessness,” said Katelyn.  “For me, this flipped the stigma of homelessness upside down.  I began to realize that in a county as affluent as Chester, poverty hides in plain sight.  So I started referring a lot of my clients to Open Hearth’s Gateway program, and we forged a great relationship.  After two years, they recruited me for the position of program coordinator.”

Two years ago, Katelyn left Open Hearth to work in the corporate world – and she hated it.  “I had no passion,” she said.  “Now that I’m back at Open Hearth, I feel reenergized.  I’m proud of what I’m doing and I’m proud to be here.”  As Director of Programs, Katelyn is experiencing a completely new role.  “Open Hearth is a small organization, so I wear a lot of hats,” she said.  “Since I’m a supervisor, my first responsibility is to my staff, supporting them and addressing their concerns.  And since they work directly with our clients, it’s important that they feel supported.  I also meet weekly with our housing team to go over their caseload and problem-solve – that’s how I get energized.”

Katelyn admires her boss, Kelly, for always searching for creative solutions and handling each situation with tact and poise.  She also draws inspiration from her clients, for showing resiliency in the face of hardship and getting up each day to do what needs to get done.  “I don’t know how I would handle being in their shoes,” she said.  For Katelyn, success at her job comes from helping her clients achieve their goals and find permanent housing – and then seeing them years later, still stably housed.  “You don’t always get a thank you,” said Katelyn.  “But you don’t really need one.”

Katelyn feels proud of the work she does, which helps her get through the tough days.  “We are doing something bigger than ourselves, and that leaves a lasting difference.  It’s a ripple effect – if you help one person, they can pay it forward and help someone else.”  Katelyn also admits that some ice cream and maybe a margarita after work helps her destress after a long day – “And I couldn’t get through the day without coffee, and lots of it,” she laughs.

As a perfectionist and a very type A individual, Katelyn gives 110%, and expects others to do the same.  “I have high expectations for the people I work with,” said Katelyn.  “I want to be approachable and friendly, and I prefer to be flexible, not rigid.  In my younger years I was a hippie wild child, but now I like more structure.  Still, accessing my strict side is tough sometimes.”

In her free time, Katelyn enjoys living a simple life.  She loves watching The Office on Netflix with her fiancé and her cats.  “As soon as I move into a house, I want a puppy,” Katelyn admits.  “I have a soft spot for animals in need.  I want to adopt every animal I see.”  Katelyn also loves to travel whenever she gets the chance.  When asked who she would want to play her in the movie about her life, she responded, “Kristen Bell.  People have likened me to her before.”  She would also choose to be a horse if she could be any animal, because they are wild and free.

Katelyn advises those who are interested in beginning a career in social work to separate their work from their life.  “At the end of the day, turn off,” she said.  “The bleeding hearts in this line of work will hemorrhage, and there will be nothing left of them.  Don’t take a client’s failure personally – they weren’t trying to hurt you.  Sometimes, people have opportunities in front of them, but they choose to take a different path that’s maybe not so good for them and end up self-sabotaging.  Even if this happens, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand what’s really going on, and treat them the way you would like to be treated.”

When asked to think about her most memorable day of work, Katelyn recalls working at Fellowship with a client who was very closed off and guarded.  Slowly, she developed trust with him.  Before he left the program, he wrote her a beautiful handwritten letter, thanking her for helping him.  A few months ago, when Katelyn returned to Open Hearth, the client stopped by her office.  “He heard that I was back and came to visit me.  He looked at me and said, ‘I knew you’d be back.  This is where you belong.  You’re meant to help people.’  I had kept his letter the whole time I was gone, and still have it now.  Sometimes, if I’m having a hard day, I reread the letter and think, ‘this is why I’m here.’”

Katelyn is proud to be a part of Decade to Doorways, and a voice among so many important voices within the community.  “I was in the county when D2D first began,” she said.  “I think that we can end homelessness in Chester County, but it’s going to take a lot of time and collaboration.  And even if we can’t, it doesn’t mean that we stop trying.”

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.”

An Interview with Gina Ruggieri

Roberta Machin, BA

 

As Director of Programs with Open Hearth, Gina Ruggieri is no stranger to working hard and overcoming challenges.  Her commitment to her work stems from her parents, whom she admires greatly for their work ethic and dedication.  “My mom and dad immigrated to the United States from Italy,” she said.  “They had to learn how to become adults as teenagers.  They had to overcome language and culture barriers.  My dad quit school to get a job and support his family, and was able to send two daughters to college.  I’m incredibly grateful.” 

Growing up in Drexel Hill, Gina says she took for granted having a “normal” home and family and rarely noticed evidence of homelessness.  She didn’t have a clear understanding of what poverty was until she started college at Villanova.  There, Gina was able to go on service trips to poor communities in Mexico, Peru, and South Carolina, where she witnessed poverty firsthand.  Originally interested in becoming a teacher or marriage counselor, Gina earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.  However, while volunteering with Mercy Volunteer Corps as an outreach counselor, Gina fell in love with her position and decided that she wanted to help people find homes.  She earned her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Maryland, with a specialization in Social Planning.

While every day at Open Hearth is different, Gina enjoys the unpredictability of her job.  She tries to always be prepared for what might be thrown at her.  She spends some days working out issues with clients, and others filling out reports for funders.  Her work involves switching gears fast and constantly, and it’s never the same.  Gina says that her most memorable days of work have involved crisis intervention and resolution, particularly while she worked as a member of the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) Team for Pathways to Housing in Philadelphia.  There, she sometimes faced dramatic highs and lows due to the unpredictable nature of the job.

Gina enjoys the challenges that social work presents.  “Impoverished people within the community deal with a complex puzzle of issues, and it’s my job to match the resources to each person and situation so that they can overcome the barriers they’re struggling with,” she explained.  Gina has felt the most successful in her career while doing direct service.  “When you help someone get into a house, you feel like you did your job,” she said.  She’s happy that she has experienced a variety of roles and positions, and believes that challenging herself has allowed her to understand homelessness from multiple perspectives.

What surprises Gina most about her work is how intertwined she has become with her clients’ lives, and how much they are willing to let her in.  “It’s incredible how much they trust you to help them,” she says, “and it’s strange that being intrusive starts to feel normal.”  Gina always tries to balance between holding clients accountable and making sure she is being respectful.  She won’t sugar coat a situation, preferring to be firm and direct, but she also wants her clients to feel comfortable and trust her so that she can help them to the best of her ability.  When she can, Gina tries to bring laughter into a situation, so that she can get others to lighten up. 

With the understanding that the work she does is not about her, Gina says she always tries to leave her ego at the door.  “When people only think about themselves or making their own organization better, they lose community support.  It’s not about you, it’s about the common goal: working towards ending homelessness.”

As an incredibly active and dedicated member of Decade to Doorways, Gina is proud to have co-chaired the Systems Change Action Team.  Originally nervous to be in charge of the committee, Gina has proven herself to be a worthy and diligent leader.  She has enjoyed gaining the trust of the group and learning how to lead, and praises her team for accomplishing the goals they have set.

Outside of work, Gina enjoys being outdoors, especially if she’s going for a run or a hike.  At the moment, her favorite role in life is being an aunt to her nephews, whom she loves spending time with.  Gina also loves desserts, and when asked what gets her through the tough days at work, her answer is simple: “ice cream.”

While discussing the biggest challenges facing low-income families in Chester County, Gina said that she is shocked that buses still don’t go to certain areas of the county.  “This prevents opportunities from happening,” she said.  “It all comes down to access.  Since services tend to be in the bigger cities, that’s where people go.”  She believes that it is possible to end homelessness in Chester County, because interest in the issue has been growing.  “As awareness of homelessness builds, people will be more interested in funneling money and resources into solving the issue,” she said.  “Chester County has a manageable homeless population, and DCD is very committed to refocusing their goals and working hard to solve this problem.”

Gina recommends that anyone interested in beginning a career in social work needs to be able to go with the flow.  “Don’t plan, but always be prepared for any possibility,” she said.  “Since you can’t always anticipate what’s going to happen, you need to learn to let go, because there is no rigidity or predictability in this line of work.”

When asked what animal she wishes she could be, Gina responded, “definitely a giraffe, because they’re so gentle and non-aggressive, and no one is scared of you.”  Tina Fey is the celebrity she wishes would portray her in a movie about her life.  “I think she’s a perfect combo of hilarious, smart, driven, bold and engaging,” she said.  “I hope I’m viewed as that at some point in my life!”

Gina will soon be leaving Open Hearth to work at the Philadelphia Office of Supportive Housing.  While the Decade to Doorways community is sad to see her leave, we are excited for her as she embarks on this next chapter, and we are incredibly appreciative of her dedication to her work and the cause.  She concluded our interview by saying, “For nearly 5 years Chester County has been home to my career and I will forever be grateful to all the wonderful and passionate people living and working here. Being a part of Decade to Doorways, the development and execution, has been an important learning experience for me and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of such a dedicated community. It’s been a pleasure to work alongside other providers, advocating for those in need. Though I’m moving on in a different county, I look forward to seeing what D2D does next!”

An Interview with Anthony Zayas

Roberta Machin, BA

 

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Anthony about his role as Housing Support Specialist with ConnectPoints, and how he got involved with social work.  Tan and cheerful after having just returned from a family vacation at Disney World, Anthony first chatted with me about his trip – including his fear of roller coasters and his lengthy quest for his step-daughter’s lost Harry Potter wand. 

I first met Anthony at a Cross Systems Partnership meeting in Coatesville last winter, and was inspired by his passion for serving the homeless population, particularly during a frigid week where Code Blue was in effect and the Coatesville Library was closed, leaving many individuals on the street with nowhere to escape the cold.  Now, Anthony advocates for the development of a program to distribute lunches to kids in Coatesville during the summer, when school is out and they may not be able to eat all day.

After inquiring about his childhood, Anthony told me that growing up in northern Philadelphia, homelessness was a lot more visual.  “There were more services available in Philly than there are here,” he said.  “But whether or not people were utilizing them is a different story.”  Anthony admitted that he didn’t really have any career aspirations as a kid.  “I didn’t think college was for me,” he said.  “My mom was so proud that I graduated high school.  A lot of the kids in my hometown got into drugs and never finished school.”

After graduating high school, Anthony was unsure of his next step and didn’t have much guidance, and so he worked at a lot of different jobs while trying to decide on a career goal.  Eventually, the fear of unemployment encouraged him to begin looking into college.  Anthony realized that he loved the idea of helping people, and was fortunate enough to find a social work program at Eastern University that offered night classes. Therefore, he was able to work during the day and also complete an internship at a homeless shelter in Philadelphia, where he helped run an after school program for youth.

For the next few years, Anthony worked hard to complete his education.  He also began working at a second internship with the Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville.  Anthony explained that the long days were very stressful, and left little time for him to see his wife.  When he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, Anthony described getting his education despite the town he was from as his greatest success in life.

While at Good Sam, Anthony met Rei Horst, who was working at Family Service of Chester County.  Rei was impressed by Anthony’s people skills and informed him that Family Service was in need of a multilingual provider, and so Anthony applied for and received the job.  Now, Anthony describes Rei as a great role model and mentor in his life, always willing to offer him support and flexibility.  In his role as Housing Support Specialist after the establishment of ConnectPoints, Anthony speaks with people in need of emergency housing, rental assistance, food, and other supportive services on a daily basis.  Anthony enjoys connecting with individuals from other organizations because he believes collaboration between agencies will more efficiently provide clients with the assistance they need.  He also prefers to meet with clients in person, because he has a talent for reading other people’s expressions and analyzing their intentions.

As an active member of Decade to Doorways, Anthony is most proud of his work with the Housing Stabilization Action Team on the Ride Guide, an interactive and user friendly map of transportation throughout Chester County.  Anthony is also interested in becoming a board member at Orion Communities soon.  He enjoys spending time with his family, swimming in his new pool, and watching comedy shows and skits on Netflix.

Having been in the nonprofit world for ten years, Anthony sees himself as quite flexible, a team player, and very much a people person.  Anthony finds his job most enjoyable when the opportunity arises for him to get out in the community and meet with clients or members of other organizations.  Despite being tough-skinned, Anthony still finds it difficult when he knows someone is in a desperate situation and there is nothing that can be done.  He recalls one time when he knew a client would have to spend the night on the street during the winter because the shelters were full, and he felt so upset that he considered paying out of pocket.  But in the end, Anthony says it’s important to keep a thick skin in this line of work, because if you are too soft you can easily be manipulated.

What surprises Anthony the most about his work is that we do not have more resources and affordable housing, considering the level of need in the county.  While he admits that this is partially a funding issue, he also points to the lack of volunteers as a huge factor.  Anthony says he has a hard time finding people who are willing to sacrifice time or resources in order to help out as a volunteer.

On a lighter note, Anthony confessed to me that if he could be any animal, he would choose to be a puppy, because “everyone would treat you good.”  He also proudly stated that he would want Denzel Washington to play him in the movie about his life, because he looks up to the actor.

When asked if ending homelessness in Chester County was possible, Anthony responded optimistically.  “Absolutely,” he said.  “But first the community needs to realize that this is a real situation, because many people are not aware.  We need the general population to come to our meetings.  I think only about 70% of the county knows that ConnectPoints exists.”  I asked Anthony how he thought we would successfully end homelessness, and he said, “If you had asked me this when I first started working, I would’ve said the answer is that we need more shelters.  But now I realize that not everyone has the skills to become stable on their own.  I think we need a housing first approach with more extensive case management, so that we can help people get back on their feet and stay in their housing.”

An Interview with Sandra Lewis

Roberta Machin, BA

 

As a child, Sandra Lewis dreamed that she would one day grow up to be a dancer or train horses.  She initially became a certified Interior Designer, before deciding this was not the career path she wanted to follow.  Her faith guided her down a different path, and she realized she wanted to help homeless and impoverished women and children. 

Growing up in a tight-knit, safe neighborhood in Virginia next door to her best friend, Lewis had no knowledge that homelessness existed within or beyond her protective community.  “It was a different day and time,” she said.  “In the 40's and 50's, you took care of your neighbors.  My family was very compassionate for others.  I never saw any evidence of homelessness in my community.”  Now, she wonders if we are more aware today of the problems that exist among the poor, or if these problems have escalated.

After moving to Coatesville and witnessing poverty firsthand, Lewis’s empathy for the poor grew.  She had always felt that her faith and beliefs held her true, and she was disturbed by the lack of shelter for homeless women and children.  When she became president of the Board of Directors for the Coatesville YWCA (currently the CYWA) in 1981, Lewis saw and heard about many women sleeping outside and in garages, tents, and campers, and wanted to do something about it.  In 1983, she founded the YWCA Emergency Shelter for Women and their Children.  There, she was responsible for supervising case managers, providing individual counseling, establishing a hotline for women in crisis, soliciting funding, and many other projects. 

Three years after founding the YWCA Shelter, Lewis delivered a speech in which she implored the general public to become more aware of the homeless women of Chester County.  Lewis laid out the facts about single mothers trying to survive and support their children on wages that fell below the poverty level, with little to no support from the community.  She said this was “fast becoming a critical situation,” and “answers will not be found until the issues, questions, and situations are posed.”  Concluding her speech, Lewis stated, “dare to look with me into the faces of our homeless women and children, may it haunt us all, comfortable Americans, until we are compelled to help ease the pain.”  A year later, Lewis founded and served as acting director for Bridge of Hope.

In 1998, Lewis received her Master of Human Services Degree from Lincoln University, where she graduated among the top ten in her class.  Two years later, Lewis became the Director of Counseling for the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, where she currently works.  Lewis says that every day is different.  Sometimes there is a crisis she must assist with, and sometimes she is able to celebrate when someone finds safe and affordable housing.

Lewis considers her coworkers to be superior mentors, and enjoys the shared wisdom she receives from working with them each day.  She also names Mother Theresa as a great influence in her life, quoting, “You can do what I cannot do.  I can do what you cannot do.  Together, we can do great things.” 

Lewis believes that the women she helps suffer from multiple layers of a complex trauma.  Since there is not a simple cause, there is no simple solution.  And while she is well aware of the amount of women living in poverty and unstable housing in Chester County, many others within the community have no idea.  “It’s not that they don’t care,” she says.  “They just don’t see it.”  Being so immersed in the struggles of these women, Lewis says she experiences “vicarious traumatization.”  Even though she has not faced the traumas that they have suffered, Lewis empathizes so deeply that she sometimes feels traumatized herself.  Knowing the dangers of this world, she fears for the safety of her own children and grandchildren.  Despite this, Lewis feels confident that she has done the best she can do to help those in need. 

For others who are interested in beginning this kind of career, Lewis advises, “If you’re looking for monetary reward, you won’t find it here.  This is a place to give.”  While her job is emotionally challenging, Lewis believes that “life is all in your perceptions, in how you view a situation.”  Lewis views each day as an opportunity to give love and to be loved.

Beyond work, Lewis enjoys a rich life.  She takes pride in being a confidante for her grandchildren, and relishes every moment she is able to spend with them.  Her parents provided for her a stable and supportive home life, and family means everything to her now.  Witnessing the wisdom of her children has been one of the the greatest successes of her life.  She is also an active participant in her church community and loves to spend time gardening.  Currently, she is learning French from a CD in her car.  If she could choose anyone to play her in the movie about her life, Lewis would pick Sandra Bullock, because she enjoys many of her movies and they share a name.  She would also choose to be a horse if she could be any animal, because she grew up around horses.

When asked by friends and family if she is planning to retire, Lewis responds, “what else would I do?  This is not just a job.  This is a calling.  It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”