I’ve decided to just take the plunge and share this. Warning it’s long!
IntroductionJenifer Thomas is a new resident of Maybridge. She is 23 newly graduated with her undergraduate degree in social work. She relocated to Maybridge hours from the state she grew up in , and the city she went to college in. She is about to embark on a two year internship as part of a masters program in social work. During this time she will be mentally and emotionally tested and transformed in ways she could never imagine. She’ll touch and be touched forever by the people she meets along the way and discover herself, her strengths and especially the parts of herself and her life that she thought she left behind in her quest to start over.
Chapter One: The interview
I am startled awake by something. I don’t know what. I’ve been restless and jumpy more than usual. I know why today is a big day for me. I roll over in bed and turn on the bedside lamp. Accidentally kicking my sleeping short hair cat Mazey. She looks up at me totally annoyed.
“Sorry baby. It’s time to get up anyway.”
She’s a pretty smart cat. She knows that “get up” means time for food. She races down the hall expecting me to follow her. I take a minute and gaze out the window. An unexpected late summer breeze blows the branches of the tree outside. That’s all it was, the branches hitting the window. Huh. Well good to know. I probably would have been awake now anyway.
I check the time. Five AM. I have to leave in a couple hours for my big day, so might as well try to have a relaxing morning. We’ll see about that. I go down the hall and into the kitchen where Mazee jumps off the counter (Ugh cats on the counter!) and rubs against my legs. Ok get out the disgusting smelling cat food. Mix it up. Please Mazee don’t be obnoxious today and not eat this and then have a meow fest a half hour from now!
I do think animals understand every word we say. She must have heard me because she eats contentedly. I don’t turn on the tv or music. I like it quiet. It feels peaceful in my little apartment with the windows open letting in the cool air and soon hopefully, sun.
I pour some white cranberry juice heat a pastry. Sit down at the table. Try to clear my head. I can’t believe it’s actually here. The day that I go in to interview for my internship. Interview is probably not the right word. Technically I have the internship. So do all the other students in my program. But professors and seminar leaders have emphasized this as “an interview” to treat it as such as if you were applying for the job. Good practice.
I go through my morning slowly. Clear up my dishes open the curtains so Mazee can do some bird watching. Tidy up the living room even though I’m a pretty clean person. Anything to distract myself. I check the time. Six then six thirty. Time feels like it’s slowly passing in one way, yet speeding by in another. Kind of like a kid at the beginning of the summer who can’t imagine having to go back to the boring routine of school. Then suddenly it’s September fourth and they’re heading to the bus stop wondering where summer went so fast. I’m not dreading this in the same way a kid going back to school would. I chose school after all. I could have easily just not gone back after moving here. But I feel I need this, to prove to myself that I’m a competent intelligent person. After… No. I can’t think about that. Not today. This is my fresh start. Hey look at the time it’s time to go.
I go over to the window and give Mazee a cuddle. Being careful to not get white hair on my dress pants. “Wish me luck!” She puts her head back her ears twitch. Well good enough.
I’m an incredibly anxious driver. Often I wish that I didn’t have to drive at all. But I’m also an incredibly anxious public transportation user. So I guess there’s no winning with this. I hate the crowds on the road I hate the crowds on the bus and metro I just hate crowds. A couple times since moving here I’ve seen big white vans with the logo “The Ride: ADA” Sometimes I wish I could do that, just get picked up and driven somewhere. Of course I’d probably be staring at the driver the whole time anxious over how he’s driving. Sigh.
I listen to the sounds outside the car. Birds chirping kids playing in a park as I drive by. The world getting ready for a late summerday. There is a fair amount of traffic for a good sized city and having to take the main roads downtown where the Crestwood office buildings are located. But I make good time. My interview is at nine and I pull into the parking lot at eight forty five. There is plenty of parking space and I consider just trying to have a quiet fifteen minutes out here before having to go in. But then decide best to make a good impression being a bit early. Plus being a bit familiar with my surroundings might ease my anxiety. Not having to just walk straight through reception to a random office.
Crestwood isn’t what I thought. We were told in our intro seminiar that it is the largest human services agency in the city. It looks like a regular office building. Like there are probably others renting out space with their random small businesses that have nothing to do with human services. People just needing an office to rent. I repress the urge to walk down the halls reading all the signs on the office doors or looking in any of the windows. I go straight into the front lobby. A cheerful kind looking woman greets me at the desk. “How can I help you.”
My mouth freezes for just a minute. I recover quickly not that she noticed.
“My name is Jenifer Thomas. I’m here to see Mr. Chapman.”
“Oh ok great. He’s in his office he’ll be with you shortly. You’re with the Hamond masters program right? I have a feeling I’ll be seeing a lot of you guys coming in here in the next two weeks.” She smiled.
I felt at ease in her presence and hoped that everyone else here was just as kind.
I take a seat on a comfortable couch and look around. It’s a nicely decorated space. With soothing bright but not too bright colors on the walls and paintings of nature scenes. There is a builtenboard and posters announcing various things but I would have to move to see them and I don’t want to seem figity.”
It feels like I’ve only just sat down when I hear a low male voice say “ Jenifer Thomas?”
His voice makes me jump. I guess I thought the secretary would just tell me to head to his office when it was time. I didn’t think he’d personally come to greet me. Shows what I know about any of this. Ok ok calm down answer the man.
By this time I turn around and he’s right there a few feet away. Tall with kind blue eyes and brownhair he smiles and extends his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too Mr. Chapman.”
He smiles brightly. “Please call me Tom. I left teaching many years ago to escape hearing Mr. Chapman all day.”
“Ok Tom. I’m happy to meet you.”
I follow him down a long hallway. Turn right and the first door on the left is part way open. It’s a nice space with a big desk, complete with laptop and other computer equiptment . Shelves behind it are neatly stacked with books. On the opposite side of the room there are a couple of comfortable looking chairs which match the paint on the walls and are similar to the couch in the lobby. I’m not sure where to sit.
“Sit wherever you like. Speaking to a man behind a big imposing desk like this one can be intimidating but I don’t mind if that’s where you want to talk. But I set up the corner over there,” he points to the chairs and coffie table “ to make people feel more comfortable.”
This guy is nothing like I expected and was told in seminar to expect. Or at least be prepared for: a stern official type who certainly wouldn’t be asking me where I wanted to sit.
Because the view from the window seems interesting from where I’m standing I head towards the corner.
Tom grabs a notebook and pen a a folder and comes over. “You thirsty? Water coffie anything?”
I wonder when he’s actually gonna get to the interview. This was quite amusing.
He reaches to the side of his desk into a neatly tucked away little fridge and pulls out a water bottle.
We both sit down. “So. Do you like to be called Jenifer or Jen, something else.”
Suddenly a storm erupts in my head voices male and female so familiar to me shouting”Jennifer! Jeniffer? “ Growling, high pitched so loud. And then a smaller voice,”Jenny, Jenny, Jenny”
Oh no not now. I take a deep breath and try to glance out the window for something to focus on and hope Tom hasn’t noticed. The clamor in my head lasted less than a minute but it’s rattled me and I’m hoping I can get my footing back.
“umm Jen is fine thanks.”
“Good. Good. OK so. I won’t keep you in suspense you got the internship.”
I give him a small smile. “Yeah that’s what I’ve been told. This is sort of an introduction.”
“Yes. A chance for me to personally get to know each student learn about them in the same way I would for an actual interview. But try not to be too anxious. There isn’t the pressure of fighting for a position here. In fact as you know you’ll be in good company. There’s more than enough Crestwood to go around.”
I knew this but it still is a relief to hear it. And washes away the panic of a few minutes ago.
“So do you have any questions for me?”
I was a bit taken by surprise. Don’t they start with “tell me about you” or something? I look at him confidently.
“Well I’m wondering about Crestwood. I know in general what you do and why Hamond holds this agency in such high regard. I’d just like to hear from you your perspective on things.
I take a breath. That was the longest sentence I spoke to this guy. I feel drained hoping I didn’t say too much at once. I have a tendency to talk nonstop when I’m anxious.
Tom seems relaxed and open to my first words to him.
“Absolutely. We’re quite a place. A maze of programs really but it’s at least under one roof. Well not technically we’re pretty spread out. Here are our main offices and some other offices, clinical staff, supervisors. We do rent office space upstairs,”
I knew it!
“Mostly for professionals we refer clients to. Therapists in private practice just getting started. Often it’s people who have been with us awhile become licensed and want their own space. But still in the crestwood community. We are like a community here.”
That’s interesting ok. Now what.
“That’s great. It sounds like your agency really does a lot to help staff here feel comfortable. And you’re quite organized. Spreading out services makes sense as it’s such a big city. Can you tell me a bit about what you provide? I mean I kind of know from reading online and seminiar but…”
“ Absolutely. We work with as many populations as we can. We aim to work with people from all walks of life dealing with all kinds of issues. From low income families having trouble just getting by day to day, to teen moms, to children and adults with severe behavioral health needs. We also pride ourselves on being inclusive. We have many clients with additional disabilitys. Our buildings are wheelchair accessible. We regularly have deaf clients and many of the staff know some ASL. With an interpreter around pretty regularly and a VP system. So we really want to look out for everyone.”
I don’t tell him that I have no idea what VP is and I never knew anything about having to know sign language to work here so yeah. But I am impressed. I haven’t had much experience with people with disabilities again didn’t think it was part of the program. But I guess I will learn maybe. Depending on where I’m placed.
“ I hope that helps you understand a bit about our agency. I know your seminiar leaders will go over more of the ins and outs of every department as well as some other things. We love giving detailed orientations to new interns. Would never want to just throw anyone into the deep end.”
Well that’s another pleasant surprise. People I have sort of stayed in touch with from before or those I’ve told in passing warned her that interns are often just tossed around wherever an extra pair of hands is needed and expected to figure it out. Clearly not the case here.
“So I’d love to learn a bit more about you.”
Oh no here’s the question I hate. OK let’s run the script
“Well I’m 23 years old. I have my undergraduate degree in counseling…”
“No sorry I mean I know that I have your resume right here.” He taps the folder.
“What I meant was about you. For instance, I came to crestwood after teaching at Hammond for many years. I was getting really tired of there being no actual experiential learning for students. Back then they didn’t have nearly as comprehensive a program as they do now. I had been talking with people over at Crestwood so much to try to persuade them to be more flexible and perhaps give students more responsibility and support there. Some people got fed up with me but the director didn’t. He called me in and wanted to hear what I had to say. And then said I might be a good fit. We’d try it anyway. That was about ten years ago. Back then crestwood was still finding it’s identity. It was doing well but there were far fewer programs. I would like to think I’ve helped to shape the organization as a whole.”
“You probably did.” I said politely. I was getting tired. This interview wasn’t going like I’d prepared myself for for weeks. I just wanted to say my scripted speech on my life, leaving out anything even slightly unsettling and be on my way.
“Well I’ve always felt like I wanted to help people. Really help people. I’d babysit neighbors children and notice things. Like maybe they were always a little anxious around the time there parents would be coming home or they were really tough to handle on some days. Hard to keep them focused moody. It seemed deeper than general ups and downs of a child but I didn’t know how to put that into words. “
I look over. His eyes are on me his face open and calm.
“And then I’d be on the bus or walking into town and see people. Just watch people go by looking sad or frustrated or just clearly fed up with life and I wanted to know why. And why they were able to walk down the street day after day passing all these other people and yet no one seemed to reach out ever. Not that I wanted to just go ask a stranger about their life story but you know.”
“I do you seem to have a deep emotional connection to this work.”
“Yes I do. I know I will have a whole lot to learn. But my heart will always be in the right place.”
I wouldn’t have said that last part if I didn’t feel like Tom would understand. It sort of came out too not really rehearsed. But it is true. And it’s why what happened before was so painful. I can’t keep thinking about that. I’m sitting in front of a man who is the total opposite of what I expected a supervisor to be and I seem to be making a good impression. I dig my nails into my palms impatient with myself.
“Jen are you ok?”
“Oh yeah. Yes sorry. What were we talking about?”
“Oh don’t worry nothing actually. You just looked a bit deep in thought for a minute.”
Oh that’s nothing. Sorry I’ve been accused more than once of daydreaming.” I try to laugh it off. There’s a beat of silence where it seems like he might ask more questions. But then he says “Ok. Good. Well I do have a good idea now about you. I always want to know in the person’s own words what’s lead them to this work, what drives them. There is great reward in this work but also great struggle and can be emotionally very draining. I want to find a person’s strengths right away to help them when they’re feeling a bit burnt out.”
Ok well that’s nice and all but I am soo uncomfortable with this guy wanting to have these personal chats.
“That’s great. Thanks. That means a lot that you care so much.”
“I do. Most people here do in fact. So now on to the nuts and bolts.”
He stands up and opens a desk drawer. “Here is your folder. It’s thick I know but a lot of it is just reading more about the program. Our expectations, how we work with your supervisor and staff at school that kind of thing. As well as a schedule of team meetings for each department and the order in which your orientation will go. As you know a huge advantage of the program is that the first month is taken up by leading small groups of you through the different departments and services. According to your preferences. You check your choices on this form. I won’t promise you’ll get your first choice but you’ll get some. We really try to match people with things that resonate with their interests and abilities. However a big part of the job is expanding your comfort zone. So you may end up in a department doing something you never thought you would. You might like it you might hate it but we all need these experiences as professionals and people in general. Builds character.” He smiled.
“OK so I’ll see you in two weeks when you join your group for the intro seminar . I really look forward to working with you Jen.”
Finally it’s over. I look at the clock. It’s been an hour and a half. How long are these things supposed to go for again? Oh well. All I want right now is a breath of fresh air and a nap. I’m sure Mazee won’t mind. I stand up and shake his hand. “Really looking forward to working with you.”
“Would you like me to show you out? I’m going on break anyway.”
“No no that’s ok.”
I wanted to just get out no more friendly chatter. I wave as I turn down the long hallway and into the lobby. The secretary looks up. “Jenifer hey how did it go?”
Jenifer again something jerks in my head. I’m surprised she even remembered my name.
“Umm fine, great. He’s really nice. And just umm I like to be called Jen.”
She smiles. “ No problem. Look forward to seeing you soon Jen.”
I walk out the door down the path to my car. The sun now shining brightly in mid morning. I’m free. Well for two weeks anyway. And then I start this thing that.. I’m so lost. This Tom Chapman seems to go against everything I’ve been told. And I have to read up on that packet he sent. Somehow I missed the stuff about going around to different departments for a month and filling out choices. And that thing about “expanding my comfort zone” scary! And I just really hope it’s not in the disability program. I realize how judgmental that sounds. But hey I’m talking to myself finally in my own head with no pressure to be anything. But yeah I mean I just have never worked with or even met many people with disabilities. So that’s all. Just don’t know what I’d even do. Especially with the whole sign language thing. Oh well best to not worry about it at the moment. Time to go home and have a cat nap, as in a nap with my cat.