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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.

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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How Our Front Porch Helps

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

Every person in the United States faces struggles on a daily basis. From running out gas, to losing a credit card; the human race struggles in every aspect of life. But what happens when a natural disaster hits and you lose everything you own and love? Would you be able to pick up and move on, know what to do, or be able to function soundly? I know in my personal life, I would not be able handle the most basic of everyday tasks. People are resilient and can handle so much, but sometimes they need help in this crisis period. I say this, because this is what I do in my internship: I help individuals who have lost everything due to a natural disaster.

Residents wade through floodwaters in Beaumont Place, Texas during Hurricane Harvey. Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters/Newscom

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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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Why I Volunteer with Our Front Porch

Guest Blogger: Erin Stotts, MA, LPCC

Being a volunteer for Our Front Porch is something I do with passion and purpose. It aligns with who I am as a person, a community member, and as a clinician. This adventure that started about two years ago has been everything I had hoped it would be, and much more.   Yes, Our Front Porch is an outstanding start up, but the reason I highly value it goes deeper than just being part of something new.

Erins blog photo

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Catch Them Being Good: How to Help Kids During Stressful Times

As a follow up to our last blog, Guest Blogger and Behavior Analyst Kristen Stine, M.ED provides some helpful strategies and tactics for parents to use with kids dealing with trauma and stress after a disaster.

kid playing

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

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Stress After a Disaster: Not Just for “Grown Ups”

Guest Blogger: Lisa A. Mazzeo, LCSW, BCD

When adults feel stressed, they can usually pinpoint the related feeling as well as the cause. They typically take appropriate action and hopefully begin to feel better shortly after implementing a strategy like listening to music, walking the beach or going for a drive. They choose anything that might bring a peaceful feeling back to their overall being.

When children feel stress, the cause, identification and intervention is not always that simple. This is due, mostly, to the fact that children have limited vocabulary to express what is going on, underdeveloped coping mechanisms to deal with it and an inability to make sense of what is happening in their environment.

child angry

Image Courtesy of Flickr

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Dealing with Stress after a Disaster

Guest Blogger: Maggie Babyak, LCSW

They say that one of the top three stressors in life is moving. Your normal routines are disrupted, there are weeks of packing and planning to ensure that perfect move day. Then a furniture delivery is late and your carefully planned move day is disrupted. You become angry with the person on the phone who is just trying to help, you become snappy with your significant other and your stress level skyrockets. However, by the end of the day you are in your new home filled with your possessions, cozy in your beds and your family is safe and fast asleep.

Now imagine making eggs on the stove for the kids, rushing around packing their school bags, checking your work email, and getting the dog out the back door for one last run. Then you hear a beeping sound and turn around to see your kitchen on fire. Instead of scheduled moving trucks you have first responders running to your home to put out the fire. That night you and your family are sleeping in a motel or neighbor’s basement. You have nothing but the clothes on your back.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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