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Everyone is in this together

Additional_staff_in_Clarion_County

It has been three weeks since Saint Benedict Education Center changed its mode of operation in response to PA Governor Tom Wolf’s closure of schools and non- life sustaining businesses due to COVID-19. A story posted on this website on March 27th (see story archive) described the work being done by SBEC staff, from home, to serve our clients. The offices continue to be closed to the public, but the work goes on. 

As expected during such an unsettling, frightening time, unique dynamics have emerged. Perhaps two are most obvious. Many of the experiences of the participants, where they need support and direction, are also being experienced by their case managers and all other staff members. Second, there is a need to find ways to lighten the seriousness of life right now with some humor, some beauty, some fun, and some real creativity. 

Given this reality, what do the staff say about their on-going interactions with SBEC participants? What are the needs? What is being shared? How is staff helping participants negotiate life? The situations are similar for everyone in the country, but with the added intensity that comes from having limited personal resources from which to draw. 

Participants find themselves in the role of educator. One staff member expressed her ability to “totally relate” to this since she, too, is trying to be a teacher full-time to her son at home while working full-time. She continues, “I just encourage participants to try to create a ‘new routine’ and make learning fun.” Staff have worked to supply participants with interactive, informative websites and offer other suggestions of ways to engage their children. 

Communication has been difficult: Being attentive and discerning with bogus/scam calls that some have been receiving, especially, but not only, for the refugees; talking with the social security office; negotiating bill payments; arranging for unemployment benefits. Staff encourage, guide and offer specific tips on how to navigate these complex and frustrating systems. 

One case manager shares: “Our clients are social and used to coming and going freely, especially while the kids are in school. Having to stay home all day and night with their children has been the most vocalized challenge.” We share own experiences on what to do during the many hours of ;confinement” as they offer verbal affirmation and support.

In the area of employment, some participants have lost their jobs due to a lack of daycare, or because their employer had to close. Others have been able to work through the daycare situation and are beginning new and different jobs. Some employers have shared their desire to bring back employees from SBEC because they did a good job. We continue to help them deal with these changing situations and also to share the good news. “It is very nice to hear them say how comforting our calls are and how much they appreciate staff.” 

How are the staff negotiating these days? In many of the same ways but with more resources and coping skills from which to draw. They look for the beauty around them and find humor in the ordinary. Clarion County case manager Diana Weaver has found a way to add some friends to her staff. Diana comments, “No worries about budgeting salaries, they are paid in kibble.” 

At Saint Benedict Education Center, everyone is surely in this together.