Eye-opening experiences

Stephanie Birchfield is a Human Services Leadership major starting her senior year at UW-Oshkosh. Originally from Neenah, Wisconsin, Stephanie moved to Stevens Point shortly after graduating high school to pursue a degree in Elementary Education. After spending two years studying at UWSP Stephanie realized that while she loved helping children learn, her true passion is helping those in need. As a result, Stephanie transferred to UW-Oshkosh her junior year in search of a career in Human Services.

Stephanie has had the pleasure of interning at the UWSP Continuing Education office as well as volunteering at organizations such as the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade, and the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. She is looking forward to helping others in a new setting as she begins her initial Human Services internship this fall. Follow along as Stephanie shares her experiences at the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley.

This past week was an interesting one at the Emergency Shelter. For starters, one of the big projects that I have been working on is researching different breathalyzers that are available to purchase. The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley is a zero-tolerance facility and the staff members believe that a breathalyzer would be a very beneficial tool in upholding this policy. My research has come together quite nicely and I was asked to present my findings to the Executive Director of the Emergency Shelter this past week. This was an interesting and educational experience for me, as I have never had to give a presentation of this type before. After my presentation to the Executive Director, I was asked to research different possibilities for grants that may cover the expense of a breathalyzer. This is an exciting opportunity, as I have never really been exposed to the funding side of a non-profit. While I have been lucky to have quite a bit of experience working one-on-one with clients at the Emergency Shelter, I am very happy to have more experience in the administrative side of a non-profit organization as well.

Last week I was also given the opportunity to ride along with the case manager who runs the Emergency Shelter’s Street Outreach Program. This program focuses on those homeless individuals who are literally living on the streets and struggling with mental illness. The case manager who runs this program typically works out of the office, and spends more time in his car driving to see his clients than at his desk. During my ride along he took me to see a few of the spots in Appleton that those living on the streets use as shelter. These included areas beneath bridges and small, secluded, wooded areas that offer some shelter during the cooler months. It was heart-wrenching to see how these clients live. Many of them scrounge up whatever they can find to provide some comfort in these practically unlivable environments, whether it be tarps, filthy couch cushions or tattered jackets and blankets.

Up to this point, my ride-along with the Street Outreach case manager has been one of the most eye-opening experiences for me at my internship. I think that oftentimes we are not nearly as aware as we should be of the scope of the issues we will be dealing with as Human Service workers. This experience showed me how much I have yet to learn about the issue of homelessness. When helping clients in the Human Services field, I think it is important to gain as much exposure and knowledge as possible of the issues that they struggle with. I learned quite a bit about homelessness outside of the shelter during my ride along; I am hoping to have more experiences like this one to help me gain even more knowledge and a better understanding of the clients I will be serving in my internship and in my future career.

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