Central City Concern

Providing comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness
and achieving self-sufficiency.

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: JVC Volunteer Justin

Jul 26, 2016

Justin Willis has known since adolescence that he would commit his life to serving those less fortunate than he.

“Both of my parents are in education, which lends itself to social justice,” says Willis, now age 26. “They encouraged me to do social justice work from a young age.”

While still a middle school and high school student in Federal Way, Washington, Willis participated in service learning projects through his church, working with migrant farmers in Bellingham, helping out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and working with poor families in Mexico.

As an undergraduate at Seattle University (SU), a school he chose in large part because of its commitment to social justice, Willis taught math to students in a nearby elementary school where 96 percent of students live in poverty.

Willis studied biology and general sciences at SU, in preparation for medical school. He knew that he wanted to do a year of service before applying to med school, but he wasn’t sure where. When a former SU student came back to campus and gave a talk about his experiences as a Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest volunteer with Central City Concern’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP), Willis knew he had found a match.

“I thought ‘this is exactly what I want to do,’” Willis recalls, “work with homeless people in a sort of medical setting.”

In addition to the opportunity to work at RCP, Willis was excited about living with seven other like-minded individuals in a JVC Northwest house and walking through their volunteer journey together.

Willis worked as a patient liaison with RCP in 2012-13, helping clients navigate the health care system, interviewing them at the hospital, getting them established at CCC’s Old Town Clinic, moving them into the RCP facility and helping them transition from there into more permanent housing. He also held weekly case-management drop-in sessions to support patients once they left RCP.

Willis admits that one of the biggest initial challenges of working at RCP was his naivety about people who are experiencing homelessness in their daily lives.

“I came in wanting to make a difference and it was tough when that didn’t happen. I really had to understand that changes come slowly and in small steps,” he says.

As the year progressed, Willis did learn to appreciate the positive changes he and the staff at RCP helped their patients make, such as moving into transitional or permanent housing. He says that the entire RCP community was genuinely affected when good things happened.

Now a third-year student at University of Washington School of Medicine, Willis has continued his commitment to serving low-income communities. In his first two years of medical school, he volunteered and worked as clinic lead at Aloha Inn in Seattle, which provides housing to formerly homeless people. This year he made sure to get rotations in areas with impoverished populations, including one in rural Wyoming and another at Harborview Hospital in Seattle, a Level One Trauma Center serving five states.

Willis plans to go into pediatrics, working with underserved children and their parents to help prevent the adverse childhood events that are most likely to lead to drug use, poverty and homelessness.

Wherever he ends up, Willis will take with him many profound experiences from his days at RCP.

He says, “I learned the importance of not judging and not having preconceived notions about anyone I interact with. By far the most rewarding aspect was just being in the RCP building and talking to patients and hearing the path they had in their lives. Everyone there has incredible stories.”

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Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: JVC Volunteer Carissa

Jul 26, 2016

A few patients gather in the common room of the old building, reading newspapers or grabbing sodas from the vending machine. A man in a wheelchair rolls in, while another takes up his post at a seat in the hallway. Carissa Marston greets them all by name, checking in with each as she makes her way upstairs.

Marston is a case manager with Central City Concern’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP), one of several CCC programs housed in downtown Portland’s historic Henry Building. She first joined the RCP in 2013 as a member of Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest and was hired a year later as a paid staff member.

Before Marston came to RCP, she had never worked with homeless or medically vulnerable adults, but she brought with her skills learned as a resident assistant in her college dorm in Louisiana.

“I had some experience in crisis management and responding to emergencies on the fly. Things usually go smoothly at RCP on a day-to-day basis, but I’ve found that my calm demeanor can be useful here,” Marston says.

One significant aspect of her job is screening new referrals made by area hospitals and social workers, ensuring that arriving patients will be a good fit for the program. All new patients must be able to perform daily living activities independently and have an acute need that can be resolved, Marston says.

“We’re not trying to screen people out,” Marston adds. “We’re trying to screen people in. We always think about how we can tweak the program to be more successful.”

Marston, one of five full-time caseworkers, begins her rounds each morning with juice and granola bars as a “peace offering” for waking up her patients. Throughout the day, she helps them get to medical and counseling appointments, and also helps prepare them for life after RCP. Most patients stay in the program for two to six weeks.

The 24 year old, who grew up outside of New Orleans, says that the learning curve at CCC was fast and furious, especially since she started the job soon after graduating from college.

“It was mind-blowing and eye-opening in every way,” Marston admits. One of the most important skills she’s learned over the years is how to communicate with patients, as well as how to communicate with those who don’t work in similar fields.

Living with four other people, all of whom have volunteered with JVC Northwest in the past, helps her deal with the intensity of the job. “It’s good to have that kind of audience,” Marston says.

The work has also been invigorating for her. Marston had long been considering a career in medicine, but was reluctant to make a commitment without experience.

“I’ve really enjoyed being here, at the borderline between medical care and social services. And I’ve had some really great mentors at Old Town Clinic,” she says.

At the end of the summer, Marston will be leaving the Northwest to start a three-year physician assistant program at Duke University in North Carolina, but she hopes to return to Portland when she earns her degree. Her dream job? A position with CCC, right back where she started.

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Don't forget to visit our other JVC Volunteer Spotlights!

       



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: JVC Volunteer Amanda

Jul 26, 2016

Getting into a recovery program. Making it to medical appointments. Finding housing. These are just some of the life-changing steps that Amanda Foggia, patient liaison with Central City Concern’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP), sees her patients taking. For Foggia, witnessing patients achieve goals they once thought impossible is her job’s biggest pay-off.

“Moving someone into their own apartment, seeing them get their own keys, is one of the best things we do, “ says Foggia, who is in her second year as an RCP volunteer through Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest. “My mindset of success has changed dramatically since coming here.”

Originally from outside of Albany, New York, Foggia attended Fordham University, where she studied psychology. At Fordham, she also got her first exposure to the Jesuit philosophies of social justice and service work. She participated in several service immersion programs during her undergraduate years, traveling to India twice to work in orphanages and a home for sick women founded by Mother Teresa. She also worked with underserved populations in Montana and Colorado while still a student.

After graduating from Fordham, Foggia considered various volunteer positions around the country. She liked the urban locale of RCP, as well as the warm reception she got from JVC Northwest. She began working at RCP in the summer of 2014 and found it so rewarding that she signed on for a second year.

Foggia’s main responsibilities include determining who is eligible for the program and helping patients ranging in age from 18 to 86 meet their goals, from staying off drugs and alcohol to finding employment and reconnecting with family members.

She says that, initially, she spent a lot of time observing patients and other staff members, learning how to work with a population with which she had little experience.

“It’s an intense and challenging place,” Foggia says, “and at times it can feel overwhelming. You have to figure out how to stay fresh and positive.”

Living in a house in North Portland with seven other JVC Northwest volunteers has provided Foggia with much-needed moral support, but communal living also comes with challenges. She and her housemates hold weekly meals, household business meetings and spirituality nights. They also make all household decisions, such as how to spend their limited stipend for groceries, communally.

“The reward has been getting to witness my own personal growth and the growth of the people I’m living with. Also learning how to love people even if we don’t see eye to eye or have completely different views on things,” Foggia says.

RCP has expanded rapidly in the past year since winning a Health Care Innovation Award and being included in a national study on health care for the homeless. According to Foggia, better partnerships and increased awareness at local hospitals have also fueled the program’s growth, with referrals rising from an average of 17 per month to 29 per month.

All of this has added to Foggia’s own learning experiences. She says, “From the volunteer side it’s a unique position. You get to see so many things, it’s an opportunity to see the whole wrap-around services.

“Working at RCP has been a really great learning experience,” she adds. “It gets me out of my bubble.”

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Don't forget to visit our other JVC Volunteer Spotlights!

   



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