The Importance of Individual Connection
By Rochelle McCrimmon
When I come to work at Crisis Assistance Ministry each morning and walk through the lobby, I think about the people around me and how they’d probably rather be almost anywhere else. Whatever circumstances led them to the point of being unable to pay their rent or utility bills, they’re certainly now feeling stressed and traumatized. It’s my job as a caseworker to meet them where they are and give them a dignified experience.
At a recent lunch-and-learn session with the staff of the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, my colleague Hadarii Jones and I led a discussion of the emotional challenges people experience in the midst of a crisis.
Drawing on our experiences with families who struggle with limited financial resources, we touched on common emotions we’ve encountered, including:
- fear –“I’m going to lose everything”
- embarrassment — “I’ve never needed help before”
- guilt — “I can’t believe I’m not able to provide for my children”
The key to working with customers under such enormous stress is to recognize that each situation is unique. My job is to listen – truly listen – before anything else. My coworkers and I are trained to approach each customer in an empathetic, nonjudgmental way. For us, an interview is a normal part of a standard workday. But for the customer, it may be the worst day of their life. So, our interactions are critically important to preserving their dignity.
In our lunchtime discussion, I learned that the folks at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy are as dedicated to their customers as we are to ours. While the specific stressors of a legal predicament may be different than those of a financial one, the destructive effect on the person is the same. By recognizing the trauma people in crisis are experiencing and approaching each one as uniquely valuable, we can help our community heal.
Editor’s note: Trauma-Informed Care is increasingly recognized as the preferred approach in medical and behavioral health settings but, as Rochelle illustrates above, its application is beneficial in all types of human interaction. Traumatic experiences include physical abuse, community violence, and the cumulative effects of poverty and racism. “Trauma-Informed Care and Why it Matters”, an article in Psychology Today, provides an overview of this holistic approach and the importance of helping individuals tap into their own inner resilience.
Rochelle McCrimmon is a caseworker on the Financial Stability team at Crisis Assistance Ministry. All told, she has nearly 20 years of experience serving Mecklenburg County families with limited resources. As she meets with those seeking emergency assistance, she listens carefully for ways to help in the short and long-term and to empower families to regain financial stability.