After earning undergraduate degrees in Social Work from Governors State University this spring, Dionna Gordon and Jocelyn James-Moore immediately put their coursework into practice as AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates at Ford Heights Community Service Organization (FHCSO). Dionna is spending the summer helping out in the Coordinated Entry program, where she works one-on-one with people experiencing homelessness to connect them to supportive services. Jocelyn is plugging into FHCSO’s Cornerstone Project, which assists families in a wide variety of ways, such as through locating housing, securing employment, counseling, and fostering healthy relationships.
While Dionna and Jocelyn both work directly with clients, this experience has also made them think about resource allocation and service delivery on wider, systemic levels. Jocelyn, who hopes to continue working with children in the future, was interested in the Cornerstone Project because she “wanted to see the needs of a family as a whole system versus just from the side of the head of household.” Both VISTAs said the most challenging part of the position is dealing with the limitations and gaps in social services. “It’s really discouraging when you can’t provide someone with the services they need because they don’t fit the qualifications or requirements,” Dionna describes. “I’ve shed some tears here, I’m not going to lie. But it’s so rewarding when you’re actually able to help someone. It makes you want to keep going and go even harder so you can make changes in the world.”
Working in case management has also shown Jocelyn and Dionna that there are many differences—and similarities—in how people experience poverty. “Recently, I’ve worked with a domestic violence victim, a veteran, and someone struggling with their mental health—all are experiencing the same types of disadvantages to a certain degree,” Dionna shares. “Not everyone has the same story, but it just shows how we all have some ups and downs on this road we call life.”
For Jocelyn, this experience has motivated her to be more civically engaged outside of her VISTA service. “I never really cared about politics,” Jocelyn says. “But when you’re dealing with direct services that people’s lives depend on—when you see the need for different resources and start to realize how government funding affects that—it really makes you start paying attention.” After helping out with a first-time homeowners workshop, Jocelyn became interested in learning more about community development and supportive housing. She hopes to one day see an apartment building in the area for low-income families that has an on-site daycare facility. “A lot of young parents want to work or go to school, but they don’t have the transportation or resources for daycare,” Jocelyn describes.
Dionna also mentioned how this service term opened her eyes to the issue of affordable housing. “This experience makes me want to be part of a campaign that works with affordable housing and actually builds units,” Dionna explains. “I want to do a mix of social work and community organizing in the future. When you think about it, that’s what social workers do: they advocate. You can’t stop advocating.”
Learn more about Ford Heights Community Service Organization’s work.