Name: Jillian Cressman
Type of Project: Internship
My STEP Signature Project took place at Jessie’s World this past summer. Jessie’s World is a restorative housing program that is owned and operated by NISRE, Inc. (Nothing Into Something Real Estate).
A large element of my internship was becoming acquainted with the operations and procedures of a residential program that serves a specific population. For example, Jessie’s World accepts female clients in reentry [from various serious circumstances] or recovery, but most of the Jessie’s World residents I interacted with were women with a history of incarceration and substance abuse. Furthermore, much of my internship involved daytime monitoring at the Jessie’s World housing facilities. I also shadowed various aspects of the wrap-around services offered by Jessie’s World staff, such as referrals to other resources and other case management practices.
Throughout the course of my STEP internship, I was often challenged to take a critical look at myself, as self-awareness is an essential component of human service work. My introspection and feedback from staff and residents from the program allowed me to learn that at times, I may come across as naïve and eager to please people. It became clear to me that the way I think I present myself does not necessarily match up to the way people perceive me. I took away an understanding that I would need to deliberately work on projecting a more assertive and confident air. This transformation was necessary for my internship, but also is essential for my effectiveness as a future social worker.
Additionally, many of my assumptions about offenders, addiction, and family were shattered, especially through my interactions with the residents at Jessie’s World. For instance, I had brought my own biases about family to my internship. My initial idea was that the family is more times than not, the best place for someone to feel protected, safe, or supported in recovery from addiction. That perception transformed after I grew in my understanding of how generalizing individuals in recovery and re-entry limits the human service provider. Furthermore, a person may have ended up in their current position due in part to the negative influence of their family. My grasp on potential family complications grew as I learned the sober-living mantra that one should change people, places and things that remind them of their addiction. Another belief of mine that expanded was my ideas about engagement and treatment involving people who have experienced the criminal justice system, as well as people with AOD (Alcohol and Other Drug) issues. Initially, I came in with an optimistically limited impression that working with these populations wouldn’t be all that different than the generalist practice examples I had discussed in my university classes. After all, I thought, people are simply people in the end. Nevertheless, my views transformed, as I gained understanding about certain approaches needed for someone struggling with addiction, or who was just emerging from prison, which has its own subculture. I can now discern a greater range of warning signs to look out for in terms of addictive behavior, as well as more dysfunctional habits that one may have taken on for survival in the criminal justice system.
My role as an intern involved me interacting with the residents (clients) of Jessie’s World alongside my supervisors, as well as on an individual basis. It was through comparing these two modes of communication that I really came to understand how the women changed their approach, depending on if they were talking to me, or my supervisors. In the beginning, I let what I perceived as manipulation affect me too much, and took it personally. However, my supervisor, Marvetta, was not only excellent at pointing out when a resident was behaving a certain way towards me, but was also wonderful at helping me process it. She helped me understand that often, nothing about how a resident reacts or talks to me is in direct relation to my character or presence. Rather, the resident is doing the best she can do to survive and provide for herself, which doesn’t always measure up to acceptable social norms. Though it wasn’t always comfortable, I am very grateful for the many teaching moments that helped me get a tougher skin.
I was also given the amazing opportunity to sit on a Re-Entry Work Readiness Program for the agency, IMPACT Community Action. Some of the residents from Jessie’s World participate in this program, which focuses on helping people (within one year of release from incarceration) address and overcome barriers to a successful re-entry into society. My original plan was to sit in on one day of the three-week course, but the instructor for the class strongly recommended I stay for another two, in order to take more away from the program. I am incredibly grateful that I took his advice! I feel like I was welcomed with open arms by a group of people who had such radically different life experiences than me. The participants were wonderful at giving me feedback on their first impressions of me, their honest perceptions of me, and what helped them get accustomed to me sitting in on their group. Moreover, hearing about the events of their lives flipped many of the things I thought I knew about the world upside down. Especially memorable was hearing the day-to-day experience of a young man who had grown up to join a gang. His view on the world was so confined, due to the environment he grew up in, which left no certainty for a tomorrow. I will be forever grateful and blown away by the re-entry class participants’ openness in sharing their stories, even with a virtual stranger sitting in on their safe space.
Another event that lead to a transformation in my view of the field of social services was being present during the auditing process at Jessie’s World. Because Jessie’s World is licensed and funded in part by The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), is it routinely audited to make sure it is meeting state regulations. The audit inevitably had large implications, as it could have potentially affected a large source of funding for Jessie’s World. In preparation for the audit, I worked on making sure the community resources binder for the residents was up to date. Even though I worked on a small fraction of what was being assessed by the ODRC, it took hours of research. Consequently, I grew in my understanding of the complicated nature of operating all the components of an agency within a business. I also advanced in my comprehension of the more specific challenges in managing a social service agency. This experience is especially pertinent to me, as my career will involve me navigating various social service settings. Likewise, my agency or employer will most likely be audited by funders or the government.
The personal change and development that happened in conjunction with my STEP project matters significantly to my academic and professional goals. I am a Social Work major, and I am still trying to discern my area of interest in practice. I deliberately sought out an internship that would incorporate elements of social work, as well as expose me to the human services side of the criminal justice system. While my transformations in understanding did not completely clarify my career path, they added to my awareness of what social work in the criminal justice system would entail. That being said, I took everything that the residents, program participants, and agency professionals told me seriously, as it has huge implications for my development as a professional social worker. My face-to-face experience with people helped me apply the concepts I have learned about in class, as well as explore the complexity of a field built on humans. My progression throughout the internship also relates to a personal goal of becoming more approachable and open-minded. So when the opportunity arose in a conversation, I asked people what they wanted to see in a counselor or social worker. Therefore, I look forward to integrating the feedback from everyone involved in my internship and my experience, in general, in my future endeavors.