Second and Third and Millionth Chances

by Melanie

When I was just learning the ropes as a case manager, I had a million questions. Where do you park? How do I use this phone? Is this a meeting space, or the lunchroom, or both? Quickly, my questions became less office related and more client focused: Are they eligible for this program? Which funding source should I use? Typically, how many food packages can the average client carry if they don’t have a car?

Even though the situation was not relevant at the time, I asked my supervisor a question that often comes up in social services, something to the effect of: How many times can a client come to us for services before they can no longer request help from us?

Minus the social work sugar-coating: How many times can someone ask for help and not follow through before they are denied?

I asked this question months ago, and the reply is still marinating in my thoughts.  

His answer was simple but one of the most inspiring responses I’ve ever heard:

“Well, here at <insert organization name> we’re not only a place of second or third chances, right? We’re also of sixth, seventh, eighth– millionth chances, so we discuss the barriers that the client faced and how this next opportunity will be different than the last.”

Simple. Right.

What I gather from that is: 

We’re a place of second and third and millionth chances.

We are human, too, and we perform our jobs based on how well we can carry out our purpose to serve others, not solely those people we deem deserving of help.  

We need to go one step beyond forgiveness and acknowledge that it is not our position to place judgment. If it’s not our place to condemn, it’s also not our place to forgive. It is, however, our position to serve.

Some people might think that it’s an abuse of the system—that it is inconsiderate and ungrateful to continually ask for help without fulfilling one’s “end of the deal.” That may be true. After all, social workers are not saints. We needn’t necessarily serve a client for the hundredth time with a smile and a pat on the back (wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of patience?). While resources are limited and patience grows thin, I couldn’t possibly say that I’ve been down the same road as many of my clients, and there are a million reasons why a plan with perfectly outlined goals and objectives falls through. One very common misconception about the homeless population is that they just need to “get a job.” To those who believe this would instantly solve the plight of the homeless, I would like to ask them if they’ve seen a job application that isn’t required to be filled out electronically. More importantly, what do the first few boxes on a job application require? An address. What don’t you have when you’re homeless? You probably get where I’m going with this. So when clients come to me and tell me they’ve been looking for a job for over six months, sure, it’s hard to create a plan of action that revolves around income, but we do it anyway. And if it doesn’t work out, we try something new. Try, and try again, because if you don’t even have hope in your clients, how can you expect them to have hope in themselves?

So, here’s my method for trying to avoid being tormented by injustice in the world; I’m still testing it out, but I think it’s working, in my work life and in my personal life:

Try to understand as best you can. Try to focus on the good, on the solution.

Then, try to help.

Try to be a person of second and third and millionth chances.


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