Insight from OFP Interns: Madeleine Veith, University of Denver MSW Intern

What have you learned during your time at Our Front Porch?

The most profound sentence I have heard from a handful of clients these last seven months still resonates so deeply: “Thank you for not giving up on me.” I am learning from my clients how difficult it is to navigate after a home fire. They share about unwavering stress, profound grief, and a new need to rely on the people around them… something so difficult and humbling especially for my most independent clients. As people navigate finding new housing, recovering items/documents, and renegotiating boundaries with loved ones, it can seem like nothing is going well for them. I work with these clients in case management and therapy, and I am amazed. They navigate such profound difficulty with tremendous resilience, and they often experience a newfound softening towards leaning on others. That is where that sentence—thank you for not giving up on me—comes in. I am always caught off guard, in part because I can forget how exposed they feel in losing the four walls they could safely live behind. Yet, in calling our clients each week, listening to their stories, and empathizing with them throughout the highs and lows of rebuilding their lives, I see their resilience and courage to keep going. I cannot help but feel honored to enter into their stories and offer support in the small ways I can… but more than anything it has shown me the importance of offering support to my loved ones and receiving support as well. We are all so much stronger when we can lean on each other.

Insights from OFP Interns: Ashleigh Cherry, Walden University MSW Intern

What is it like working with home fire survivors?

I have come with no background in trauma recovery, so coming into Our Front Porch has been a great experience to see what ways support can be given to those in my community. This experience has been eye-opening and has shown that this is an area where many need support. Losing one’s home to a fire is more common than I had thought and many people never think it will happen to them. This is a problem that should have more public light than it does. Everyone has their own experience, but many barriers that come up are finding personal identification lost in the fire, receiving clothes or food, finding somewhere to stay, or financial support. Working with someone who has experience locating these resources can save time and relieve some of the anxiety people feel.

Trauma affects us all differently and I have learned that while working one on one with each individual. A lot of the time people just need someone to support them and aid in their progress, and talking it out helps move forward. It is often said that we need to meet people where they are at and this is very true and is something I have learned in general about this work. We can lay out steps and ways to get back on track but something simple to someone like helping hang up pictures or go through boxes of items saved from a fire is what someone really needs.

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

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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Hurricane Harvey Hits Close to Home – Part 2

Our good friend Kim, who lives near Houston, Texas talks more about volunteering with the recovery efforts and community resiliency.

Donations being collected in Dallas for Hurricane Harvey survivors. Photo Credit: Tony Gutierrez, AP Photo

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Working in Long Term Disaster Recovery

Guest Blogger: Carla Williams, Our Front Porch Intern 2016-17

Moving to Colorado less than 5 months ago, was nothing short of my biggest life decision. I knew University of Denver was offering me a chance to be a part of an amazing program I couldn’t pass up. Within our program, we are required to partner with a local internship for field experience. That was when I encountered Our Front Porch.

From left to right, Carla, Heather and Sarah presenting Our Front Porch’s services at the Arapahoe County Resource Fair.

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Three Things I’ve Learned from Being Part of a Start Up

Guest Blogger: Sarah Stone, Our Front Porch Intern 2016-17

First of all, I can’t believe this internship is half over. I feel like just yesterday, I was completing orientation and getting the OFP 101. I took the time to reflect over the holiday break on the growth and development that I have made as well as Our Front Porch.

Scenes from a start up.

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Compassionately Listening

Listening with compassion sounds pretty straightforward, but it is often more challenging than you think. I have had lots of practice, especially when I’m working with disaster survivors, and I still have plenty of room for improvement. I have often gone back to this Dalai Lama quote as I think it so well describes how to truly be compassionate:

“Usually, our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong. Any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other, and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering, just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.”

~ The XIVth Dalai Lama

Heather responding to a disaster as part of the Red Cross Disaster Assistance Team.

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