Helping People Holistically-by SHIM coordinator Lisa - SHIM

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Helping People Holistically-by SHIM coordinator Lisa

Lisa Turske, service coordinatorby Lisa Turske, SHIM Service Coordinator

Some people have misconceptions about the clients SHIM serves. As a service coordinator, I’m on the frontlines working with South Hills residents who need help. I can tell you from my experience that we have much more in common with one another than we have differences! Many of our clients have faced unexpected hardships that, coupled with world events and changing economics, has brought them to our door.

With a background and training in the education field, I came to the social work field later in life. I spent a few years as a substitute teacher in elementary schools and also led children’s programs at the Carnegie Science Center before pausing my career to be a stay-at-home mom. When I returned to the workforce, my teaching credentials were no longer valid, so I looked for a new career path.

I found a job as an activity director for a local nursing home. Many of my skills transferred as I arranged activities for people with different levels of physical and cognitive abilities. I enjoyed planning interesting activities and adapting them to the needs of the residents.

After the coronavirus pandemic, I was looking for a new job but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. Instead of perusing job listings I decided to go straight to websites for local organizations that I knew and loved. As a South Hills native – I grew up in Carnegie and have lived in Bethel Park since 2006- I’d been connected to SHIM for years. I even participated in the SHIM Shuffle a few times! How lucky I felt when I saw that they had an opening for service coordinator.

When I arrived, I realized that my listening skills and ability to assess needs were an asset to my role in helping people address crises. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I quickly learned how important it is for clients to have a reliable place to turn for help. Whether they are facing illness, unemployment, a death in the family, divorce, or even falling victim to scams, many of the people who come to SHIM are facing unexpected hurdles that are out of their control. Coupled with the rising cost of food and fuel, it’s hard for people to manage. Some of your own neighbors who never needed assistance before and had stable finances, are currently finding themselves facing very tough financial situations.

When working with clients, I like to help them see things from different angles. For example, if someone is having trouble keeping up with bills, I encourage them to come to our food pantries so they can save more money to put towards other bills. We look at their situation from all possible points of view to see which programs can be utilized and to see what options are available to them. I do a lot of research to find resources throughout Pittsburgh. I even find helpful agencies and programs scrolling through Facebook! Every time I find a new resource, I add it to my list so that I can offer clients a multitude of options.

I also like to empower clients to think about their ownership of their situation. I ask them what they can do for themselves, because sometimes SHIM can’t help directly. Even if I don’t have a program for their situation, I can encourage them to see things differently. Where can they cut spending? How can they increase income? Can I guide them toward other resources and tools like online financial literacy resources? Sometimes the best thing a client can do is to sit down and calculate their budget based on their income and expenses and see how their income lines up with when bills are due. They gain insight and can better address spending habits to find economic stability. Here is a great set of financial tools from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

One of the things I find most frustrating in my work is when families don’t qualify for services by a small margin but are still struggling to make ends meet. Most financial aid programs have strict income guidelines set forth by the funding sources. We have families that fall just $100 over the maximum threshold and are deemed ineligible despite facing significant hurdles. In those cases, I strive to help the families evaluate their situations, find any resources possible, and encourage them to make changes in their lives to address their situations.

Coming from my work in a nursing home, I am especially attuned to the needs of seniors. I get a lot of calls from seniors facing housing insecurity who are especially vulnerable and scared in this situation. I was surprised to learn that while Pittsburgh has shelters that serve other vulnerable populations like veterans and LGBTQ populations, we don’t have a shelter catering to our seniors. So I encourage seniors who are facing housing insecurity to immediately apply to be on waiting lists for low-income senior communities. Better to plan ahead and keep options open when facing a shortage of affordable housing!

One of the greatest satisfactions I have working at SHIM is helping others. I hope that people reading this won’t feel afraid to ask for help when they need it. We can help you and we can do it discreetly. You might be surprised at what resources are available to you if simply ask for help and keep an open mind.

Looking for help? Check out our Basic Needs Assistance and Financial Wellness Aid to see how we can help you!

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