Last night, Lizzy and I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to watch a free screening of Rocky, on the famous art museum steps. There, we met up with some other Haverford students. It was quite a lot of fun, although it was quite hard to hear. Everyone cheered when, in the movie, Rocky ran up the steps we were actually sitting on.
Archive for June, 2011
Over the last two days, we have been celebrating Lizzy’s birthday. Yesterday, we went out to Haverford and had dinner and ice cream with all of our friends. Today (Lizzy’s actual birthday) I made dinner and Kelley brought home flowers and some really nice chocolates.
It turned out quite nicely in the end, with only a few mishaps. Kelley improvised and made a flower vase out of an ice tea bottle. After a few technical difficulties whilst cooking tomato pasta and garlic bread, I felt a lot better after using some burn salve we luckily had on hand (it was bought last week after someone had an accident with an iron).
Every Thursday and Friday afternoon since my internship has begun, I, along with some of the other interns, have been working on a summer outreach plan. Although the WLP receives a lot of calls to our Telephone Counseling number, the WLP knows that there are more people out there with issues that we are just not reaching. The goal of outreach is to increase consumer awareness of the WLP’s free service.
During the spring, a graduate student at the WLP began doing community outreach around Fairmount Park. We took her original outreach plan and further developed our goals and outreach strategies. Then we analyzed caller data to identify target neighborhoods. This involved several afternoons of staring at an Excel spreadsheet as numbers swam before my eyes. Finally, we identified key locations in the previously identified neighborhoods to specifically target with our flyers. (Thank goodness for Google maps).
This week was our first time going out into the community with our newly designed action plan. On Thursday, we walked all along East Passyunk Avenue, which bisects South Philly. Overall, we got a really positive response from local business owners. We even had people run after us on the street to ask further questions. On Friday, we started outreach on South Street. It was horribly hot and we didn’t get that far.
I actually had quite a bit of fun walking around and talking to people about the WLP and Telephone Counseling. My feet, on the other hand, did not enjoy the experience nearly as much.
Next week, we will continue outreach in South Philly. Hopefully, my feet will have recovered by then.
Today, I graduated from being a counselor-in-training to a freshly minted counselor. This means I can offer basic information to our callers without going through my supervisor first. Although it happened with very little fanfare, the transition was quite exciting. It’s amazing how much I’ve learnt in just over three weeks. Before I began this internship, I had no idea how someone went about getting a restraining order –I didn’t even know what the proper name of it was (in case you’re wondering, a restraining order against a current or former household or family member is called a Protection From Abuse order or PFA ). Now I can probably tell you in my sleep.
Over time I think this job must get easier. Certainly I’ve picked up the technical aspects quickly. I can now use our caller database, the automatic postage machine, and the very finicky paper shredder with a high degree of certainty that I’m doing it correctly. For “simple” calls, callers’ whose questions are very common, I know the answer off the top of my head. Some calls definitely still bamboozle me. I’m sure, however, the number of bamboozling calls will decrease as the amount of time I’ve spent at my internship increases.
Sometimes, however, working as a Telephone Counselor is just hard work. There are calls when you don’t have any good answers. As one of my professors likes to say, there is no “right-answer machine” to life. And there are some calls where you do have an answer, but the caller doesn’t like it.
The WLP Telephone Counselors provide legal information and offer potential solutions to callers. We can’t tell them what to do, however, even if we really want to.
If a caller is experiencing domestic violence, we always offer to tell them about various safety tips. The WLP has a comprehensive booklet that explains about safety planning. For those in abusive situations, it can be crucial that they have what is basically an escape plan. Most callers readily accept this information (of course, whether or not they utilize it is their own choice).
It is almost heartbreaking when a caller flat-out refuses to listen to information pertaining to his or her own safety or, after hearing the options, state that they won’t follow them. Some people aren’t ready to leave their home and/or family and “run away.” My natural impulse, which I’m sure is shared by many counselors both at the WLP and other hotlines, is to practically beg these callers to at least consider taking some of the steps. Have a bag packed, plan an escape route out of your home, have a safe place you can go to in an emergency. The only person who can decide to do this, however, is the caller.
As a Telephone Counselor, all I can tell you is what you can do, not what you should do. But sometimes, I really wish I could do more.
The Women’s Law Project has had many interns from the Bi-Co over the years, and this summer is no exception. Currently, there are three Haverford students interning at the WLP for the summer.
Today, Lizzy and I went to the Academy of Music and got student rush tickets to La Fille Mal Gardee. It was Lizzy’s first time going to the ballet, and she really loved it. It was also very easy to get student rush tickets, something I had never done before.
We also walked around near City Hall while waiting for the doors to open. I had never seen City Hall up close before: it is quite a cool building. Currently, the centre courtyard is under construction, and they have hidden the work behind murals.
One of the things I like about living in Philly, I’ve decided, is the huge variety of things to do in our spare time. I think the real problem is getting to do them all!
Over the last two days, I have spent my mornings at Family Court. It is quite an overwhelming experience. People are dashing back and forth waving papers. The court officials are trying to be heard over the general din of people. At one point, an official was reduced to bellowing in order to get the attention of the waiting room.
All of the court staff were super friendly and welcoming when I introduced myself as a student coming to observe court. Also, I spoke to several lawyers in the waiting room who were equally friendly.
It was a good job that everyone I met was obliging. The thing that struck me the most was how complicated the whole process seemed. I have no idea how plaintiffs or respondents navigate Family Court without help. Yet, the vast majority do not have representation: they have to work it out somehow by themselves.
Philadelphia’s Family Court is certainly very different from what criminal courts look like on TV and in the movies.
I began my second day of counseling in the same manner as I did yesterday: I returned calls, asked for additional information, and then talked to my supervisor before I gave the callers information. So far, so good.
In the late afternoon, I took my first Priority 0 call. A call denoted 0 means that the caller is facing an emergency situation in which she is facing real danger.
I knew before I returned the woman’s call, this would be a hard conversation. I perhaps, however, underestimated the difficulty. As the caller’s story unfolded, it got worse and worse and worse. I’m not sure what part got to me more: the fact that the justice system had failed this woman time and time again or her quiet dignity when talking to me about the whole terrible situation. She was so grateful that I was even willing to listen to her story.
As I scribbled a note asking for help and passed it to the Telephone Counselor sitting next to me, the WLP staff sprung into action looking for resources for my caller.
Once I got off the phone, I realized that I had a huge surge of adrenaline. I was angry at everyone and every institution that had failed our caller. I was upset by the caller’s story. I felt that the responses I gave to the woman’s questions could never be sufficient. When she asked me why the justice system had failed her, I hardly had the heart to tell her what she already knew: this is sometimes just the way things work out. It is not right, but it is the way it is.
Hopefully, what we told the caller will help her ameliorate her problems. Maybe it won’t, but the best I can do is hope it will.
(After reading my post, my supervisor responded by saying that my “having listened and devoted so much time to this caller may be the one beacon of light in her darkness; it surely helped her to feel a little bit better. We hear this time and time again from callers. They feel less alone after talking to our counselors.” As well as making me feel better, I think her words reminded me that an important part of this job is to simply stand witness to our callers’ struggles and let them know that someone hears them.)
Today, my supervisor told me that I was ready to make my first call. Honestly, the first thought that ran through my head was an inarticulate, panicked “woah, not ready.” Then, my second thought was that I had to start somewhere and I would be starting with a lot of oversight.
Usually, when a Telephone Counselor contacts a caller, she can offer the person information in the same call. Then she talks to her supervisor to check the completeness and accuracy of her counseling. When a Counselor-in-Training makes her first calls, she talks to the caller first and then does not offer any information without first verifying it with her supervisor. That is what I did today.
The issues raised by my callers today ranged from custody to divorce to domestic violence. The problems my callers faced were fairly typical of the majority of those who call into the WLP. However, this made them no less hard to listen to.
My initial worry about counseling had been about the information I could provide. My apprehension was that what was I, as a young college student, doing offering advice to mature women who were dealing with some issues that I have been privileged enough to have never encountered? This fear was soon, mostly, alleviated. After perusing the vast manuals the WLP has written, listening in on other calls, and talking to my supervisor, I quickly began to get the hang of what kind of information to offer each caller. The Telephone Counselors provide callers information drawn from the years of experience among the staff members at the WLP; the individual counselor has access to a much greater body of information than their own personal knowledge.
The hardest part, I soon came to realize, was the emotional aspect of the calls. The callers ranged from angry to upset to resigned. Some of the callers thanked me profusely at the end of the call for giving them information. Whilst I am very glad that they felt more empowered by their new knowledge, I also felt a little guilty for not being able to offer them the “right answer” to their problems. All I could offer them were potential options; sometimes none of them were particularly good.
This training process has opened my eyes so much, and the learning curve has been huge. I think it will continue to be hard, but hopefully my callers will benefit from the information the WLP can offer them.