The 2017 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Interns have graciously agreed to share their experiences with all of us. From time to time, we’ll be posting ‘journal entries’ from Naiomi Gonzalez and Katy Morton. Below is one of these entries.
You Can’t Save Everyone.
This week, the community of Back Bay Mission suffered a tragic loss, and I was reminded of one of the toughest lessons in the social service world.
As helping professionals, it is often in our nature to want to try to “save the world” so to speak. We want to help everyone, empower everybody to live their fullest lives, advocate for those who are unable to do so on their own, and work towards a more just world for everyone. And, we often get frustrated when we aren’t able to help someone. As with anything, life in the social services world doesn’t always go according to plan, and sometimes we must face setbacks and tragedies. During my time at Back Bay, I have been fortunate enough to form bonds and relationships with both clients and coworkers. Although there are sometimes minor squabbles and frustrations, the Mission is truly a family, and for some of the clients, it is the only one they have left. Everyone is accepted, loved, and treated with respect, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, diagnosis, or past. Whether they walk through the door of the pantry, the Micah day center, or call in on the phone, everyone is greeted warmly, welcomed in, and asked how they are doing. And just like that, they have a family, a place where they can feel accepted and welcomed. A place where they can come if they need help finding food or assistance, or even just a listening ear.
This amazing family mentality that exists at the Mission makes it even harder when a family member is lost. This past week, the Mission tragically lost an amazing soul to suicide. This beautiful, kind woman was someone who had touched the lives of nearly everyone at Back Bay Mission. During my time here, she was a regular client at the Micah Day Center, as well as the food pantry, always ready with a warm smile and a kind word. As I began talking with her more, I learned her story and her determination to get back on her feet after countless roadblocks. Over the past few months, she had run into some issues with her social security disability payments, and had lost her home and nearly everything she owned. Desperate, she came back to the Mission, as she knew she had a family and a support system there. On several occasions, she told me how much the people at the Mission meant to her. The staff at the Mission worked to try to help her get what she needed, and to get into contact with the social security office, but after a lifetime of struggles, she decided she couldn’t do it anymore and took her own life.
Even though I only had the privilege of knowing this particularly client for a few short months, I can honestly say that she had an impact on me. Her story frustrated me, this was someone who had been knocked down so many times and had continued to get back up in the face of adversity, but felt like she just couldn’t do it anymore. As a social worker, it frustrates me that an agency thousands of miles away can make a decision to rip away something that a person quite literally depends on for survival, never even having a second thought about the effects of their actions. No amount of phone calls, emails, or work from that person or staff members of agencies like Back Bay Mission can make the agency realize the effects that they are having on someone’s life by taking away a monthly check. To those people at that agency thousands of miles away, these clients are usually nameless, faceless, simply a number on a form. But, I can assure you, each client at Back Bay Mission is a person, with a story and a unique personality. As a person, the loss of this beautiful soul angers and saddens me. I kept wishing there was something more that I could have done to help her, but I remembered that no matter how hard we try, sometimes we can’t save everybody. This is not to say that I won’t keep trying, and I will certainly never forget her or her story, but this tragedy is truly a reminder that we never know what someone is going through, ad sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can’t help everyone.