If you’ve ever benefited from the work of Case Managers, you know they can make the difference between whether you secure housing, a job, your GED, parole – or not. Case Managers can be the bridge to ensuring your family has food, clothing, legal support, or freedom from violence, eviction or the juvenile justice system. Yet, despite the transformative impact that Case Managers have on people’s lives, their life-healing support is often undervalued and unrecognized.
IFR’s policy has always been to hire staff who represent the community they serve. This means IFR staff are typically bicultural, bilingual, are familiar with the local Latinx community or have been engaged in similar communities elsewhere. It also means their life experiences reflect those of our current clients. This policy has always served program participants well, including those receiving case management services.
IFR employs 14 Case Managers across its various programs. Their insights and stories could fill volumes. We invited a few of them: Eli Gualip Yes, Gustavo Poktzin and Mariaynez Carrasco to share their own perspectives on this work.
Out of necessity, Case Managers must continuously learn about whatever impacts their clients: What is the process for collecting unemployment? How do I successfully work with Child Protection Services (CPS) to avoid losing my child? How can I get off probation and get on with my life? It can be different if your clients are youth versus families, young Latinas versus recently arriving immigrants, transition aged youth on probation versus a transgender person with HIV. It can be specific to the challenges facing that population, or it can be about something altogether different. It’s why one Case Manager had to learn all they could about autism, another about how to help a teenage young woman go to her prom, and yet another whose father couldn’t accept his child was gay.
All three agree that the most important traits a Case Manager must have are compassion, honesty, and a willingness to listen and pay attention. For Eli, it’s important to build a partnership: “My clients are my number one teachers. I’m learning from them. It’s important to keep palabra, so I’m always honest and transparent with them.” As Gustavo puts it: “I believe you have to have big ears and a small mouth.” By way of explanation, Mariaynez offers: “You don’t have to have experienced what youth (her clients) have, but you have to understand what they’re feeling and going through. You need to be nonjudgmental.” (The word salad graphic above graphic came from 10 of IFR’s amazing Case Managers).
These values show through in each Case Manager’s unique approach. Mariaynez was Mission born and raised, so a valuable strategy for her to share a bit of herself when meeting a new client. “I know I appreciated that when I was a youth. If you’re asking the young person to be a little vulnerable with you, they need to feel safe. By sharing a little about who you are, it builds confianza.”
Eli wins clients’ trust in a different way. “They can hold back if they think I’m just going to report what they say to their probation officer. But then, I stand with them before a judge or write a letter of support for them, and they see that I’m working on their behalf and that I can be trusted.”
Gustavo has a similar approach but articulates it differently. “I want clients to know they’re important to me. I want them to know I am their advocate…My goal is to help them find their power.”
Case Managers are notorious for going above and beyond the call of duty. Mariaynez looks for creative solutions to seemingly difficult issues. When one of her clients got in trouble for stealing clothes, she took it upon herself to start collecting clothes that other teens outgrew to make them available to some of her clients. And when one of her clients got busted for putting graffiti on a wall, she hooked him up with an art project to put his talents to work in a positive way.
Eli has had clients who were suicidal and went to the ends of the earth to make sure they were linked with therapists she trusted, that the parents were aware, and that they all had access to the services they needed to heal. Gustavo, whose client included the father who rejected his gay son, continued to challenge the father’s beliefs in a controlled but determined manner.
Why do they do this work? It’s never been about the money; Case Managers have rarely earned what they truly deserve. Eli’s explanation sums it up well: “This is my life calling…I’m learning patience from youth who have seen the worst. I’m a mom now and hope to be a foster mother in the future. When that time comes, I will be ready.”
For Gustavo, this work is part of who he is. “I like working with people. You have to like being with people. It is the most rewarding feeling to know you’ve helped someone facing despair and helped guide them.”
“This position is such a blessing,” offers Mariaynez. “We know Case Managers aren’t well paid. Our payment comes with fulfillment in your heart.”
IFR celebrates and thanks Case Managers everywhere for their incredible contributions to our communities.