Interview with Susan Mertz, OFP 2020 Intern

Susan Mertz, DU International Disaster Psychology Intern

What was the most beneficial experience for you at OFP?

I think my most beneficial experience has been working with Maggie and Heather. A lot of times, people see problems and do nothing about them. The fact that OFP started in order to address a gap in services is amazing and a great learning experience. It’s actually really inspiring!

What surprised you about the recovery of home fire survivors?

What surprised me most was how few resources there really are for people recovering from house fires. Initially, I thought the Red Cross did a lot more to help out, but their assistance only last so long.

What are your next steps after graduation?

Hopefully, a job in Program Evaluation! I want to help design and monitor international programs that focus on mental health initiatives.

What was it like working at OFP?

I really enjoyed it! I like how welcoming everyone was and even though I was only there for a short time, I felt incredibly supported by everyone.

How has OFP helped you grow as a clinician? 

It has definitely exposed me to new populations. I had a lot of training and classroom knowledge about people surviving disasters, but I had never directly worked with the populations. Also, any experience interacting with and helping others is something that helps you grow as a clinician. Having a wide range of diverse clients really helps expand your knowledge as a clinician.

What was your biggest take away from this internship?

I think my biggest takeaway has been the importance of social work. Don’t get me wrong, I always thought it was important, but people in the field of psychology have a tendency to look down a bit on it. Why? Probably because they are jealous 😉  After working with amazing social workers, I can see that the skills social work brings to a situation are so incredibly important. I also got to learn a few of those skills, which will be great for my clients and own personal development for years to come!

What did you learn most from the clients at OFP?

From the clients at OFP, I learned a lot about resilience. Most of them suffered one of the worst things of their entire lives, and yet they still keep on keeping on. I think a lot of people could completely shutdown after a traumatic experience, and yet the OFP clients continually strive to better their lives and work towards recovery.

Interview with Nicole Dryanski, OFP 2019 – 2021 Intern

What was the most beneficial experience for you at OFP?

Nicole Dryanski, DU Masters of Social Work Intern

The most beneficial experience for me was having this field placement becoming an opportunity with so many roles and duties I took on as an intern. The experience itself helped me grow, especially being able to work with this particular population of home fire survivors and wanting to become more evolved in this work. Thus, I would like to thank Sheila Babyak for telling Maggie to call me back for an interview.

What surprised you about the recovery of home fire survivors? 

Even though everyone might be different, every survivor shares the same struggles and barriers to overcome.

What are your next steps after graduation?

To move to the city of Chicago and officially be a working member of society.

What was it like working at OFP? 

Through all of the madness, it was such a perfect joy. I loved working with Maggie and Heather; I was more excited for my internship days than school.

How has OFP helped you grow as a clinician? 

I don’t think I could thank OFP enough for how much they have helped me grow as a person, leader, and social worker. During my time at OFP, I was everything from a maintenance worker to a case manager. Overall, I was very fortunate that OFP allowed me to work on interpersonal, case management, leadership, and non-profit management skills.

What was your biggest take away from this internship? 

That this population is so overwhelmingly underserved and overlooked, and unfortunately, I don’t think people understand the impact a disaster can have on a family or individual, and the lack of services being provided to them.

What did you learn most from the clients at OFP?

That we all are pretty simple people, and we all want the same thing: shelter, connection, and security in our lives.

Favorite quote

“If Heather and I ever had a baby, it would be you!” – Maggie

Our Front Porch: Looking Back

Guest Blogger: Erin Stotts, OFP Board President

Heather, Erin, and Maggie at Our Front Porch

I remember going to the first Our Front Porch meeting in January 2014, a setting that many future meetings would include: Heather’s condo, guacamole, exciting ideas, a senior citizen pug, and a hundred different directions it could and should go. At that time, I would have never guessed the journey the next nearly six years would bring, and now that the first house is bought, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on those years.

The first few years were filled with overwhelming amounts of excitement and energy.  Evenings and weekends were spent thinking, dreaming and planning. Maggie and Heather’s knowledge and dedication were infectious, and they made it easy to want to spend my time with them and on this concept, something our community desperately needed.   

The following few years I became less involved due to starting a new job, but I never once stopped believing in and giving as much time as I could to OFP. During this time, I realized that I could have never anticipated the copious amounts of grit and time it takes to get a start up off the ground. I was constantly impressed with Heather and Maggie for never once giving up, not even a little. In fact, they seemed to only push harder where anyone else would’ve thrown in the towel.

They are completely selfless in every sense of the word and that is why Our Front Porch is what it is today, an actual property that will serve hundreds of clients over the years. It has been truly inspiring to watch two people give everything to something that they don’t need and get essentially nothing in return for it. I know that in the years to come Denver will owe these two ladies a huge thank you for the amazing service they have brought to our community, and I feel very lucky to have been along for the ride all of these years.

Beyond the Lights and Sirens – An Emergency Manager’s Perspective

Guest Blogger: Dr. Enessa Janes, Community Resilience Coordinator

When people hear the words “disaster” or “emergency management,” they typically think about first responders (police, EMTs, or firefighters) or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Although these groups are crucial to response efforts, when it comes time for families and communities to begin recovery, it takes a diverse group of partners and expertise to be successful.

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How to Get the Most Out of Renters Insurance

In the last blog, I discussed the nuts and bolts of renters insurance and how affordable it is… so there’s no excuse not to have it! And while renters insurance can be very helpful, if you don’t know how to use it, it can end up being a tremendous headache.

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This Work is Hard

Guest Blogger: Paxton Leibold, Our Front Porch 2017-2018 Intern

Hurricane Harvey. Photo Credit: Olivia Vanni/The Victoria Advocate/Associated Press

Coming into this internship, I did not know what to expect. I had little to no clinical experience, I had never worked with the ‘short term’ homeless population nor clients who had severe trauma, and I honestly did not know how to do case management, let alone effective case management. However, while being a part of this organization, I learned how to do all of this and so much more. I learned that trauma can manifest in completely different ways within the same disaster, and that people are the most resilient when something tragic happens to them. From clients that have anxiety and depression, to clients that just want to move on; they are all resilient and deserve help. Another thing that I learned is that I am so irritated with how our society is ran. These types of clients (short term homeless) get little to no assistance through resources through in communities; why you ask? Because these people are physically not living on the street; per the homeless requirement in Denver, so they do not meet the criteria for government aid.

How messed up is this?

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Sympathy is a Garbage Emotion

Guest Blogger: Taylar McCoy, Our Front Porch 2017-2018 Intern

While working at Our Front Porch I have been able to hone some really useful skills, but one thing seems to stick out the most. Our Front Porch has given me an outlet to truly understand the difference between sympathy and empathy. Some people see these words as synonyms, but they are quite different. There are four words that I would consider to be related, but distinguishable: pity, sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sympathy and empathy tend to be the two ideas that are intertwined the most. I would argue that empathy includes a component of connection and emotional intelligence that only comes from practice.

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The Art of Communication

Maggie’s Perspective

As one of my favorite Phish lyrics states, “I see the path ahead of me and in a minute I’ll be free”.

I am now free and living the so-called American Dream. It has been two months since I joined OFP full time and it is amazing. I work for myself, make my own hours and have no one telling me what to do.

I have worked very hard my entire career and have been focused on getting to this place. I’ve developed clinical programs, managed a variety of professionals, and am confident in my work surrounding disaster survivors. Heather and I have worked together for several years and have our flow down.

Heather & Maggie at Colorado Impact Days.

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The Art of Communication

Heather’s Perspective

I can honestly say that I have been looking forward to Maggie being full time at OFP for a long time – probably even longer than she has. I knew we needed to get to this point for a thousand different reasons, but mainly because I knew I couldn’t do it alone. As the one with the more flexible schedule for the last 2 years, I was the one who kept this ship sailing on a daily basis. Now, that is not to say the ship was moving in the right direction. It was just staying afloat.

Maggie and I have always talked daily about OFP, but it was typically me throwing out a few ideas and asking her input on what was a priority. She is a natural leader and can see the big picture way more clearly than I can. I get stuck in the weeds over the smallest details and always looked to her to put me back on course. It’s the perfect partnership. So what could possibly be difficult about us working together full time?

Maggie & Heather’s contrasting DISC personality test results.

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