Like most organizations in Massachusetts, REACH had to transition to working remotely in March due to COVID-19. While this was a huge adjustment for everyone, it was an especially unique challenge for our newest staff members. Check out the reflections from Katiana Nicolas (Residential Advocate), Pam Jordan (Community Advocate), and Olivia Milne (Development and Events Coordinator) about their experiences starting at REACH during a pandemic.
Starting during the pandemic has been a little challenging, but overall rewarding. I had my initial interview at the end of February just before the pandemic caused multiple lockdowns in the country. I immediately grew worried the offer would be rescinded prior to my start date due to the overwhelming impact COVID-19 has had on Massachusetts. Thankfully, my anxiety was diminished when Deb Heimel, REACH’s Associate Executive Director, reassured me of her interest in moving forward with me as an applicant. I am overjoyed with how kind and welcoming everyone has been. I am also very impressed with how willing the REACH team is to modify trainings to accommodate not only myself and other new hires during this time, but also continue prevention related trainings with the community.
It has taken some flexibility and patience to start during pandemic. I was not able to meet clients in person, which felt unnatural especially since I was working in residential previously. I also did not have a work phone and was not able to access resources that were in the shelter. I had to learn with the primary support of the Residential team and utilize the tools we had at home. The team has done a great job of helping me during the transition to take over as advocate to my clients. They even made themselves available to answer any questions or provide clarification when needed. This was essential for me especially because I was limited on resources. New hires and volunteers participated in a weeklong training via Zoom. This was very beneficial as I was able to review tools of working with this population and gave me an opportunity to start to develop relationships with staff and volunteers. By working from home, I missed being a part of a work community, so it was nice be able to interact with everyone for more than an hour.
Due to not being able to work with clients in the shelter, it has taken some time to build rapport with them, thus slowing down my ability to begin advocacy work. This has been hard for me because I consider myself a people person. Now, I have to rely solely on my active listening skills and ensure the tone in my voice was kind and open. This provided me an avenue to connect with the clients. It is still a work in progress, but I am making it work. The clients are warming up to me and slowly but surely, we are moving towards making their goals. Clients have voiced that it would be nice to see who they have been sharing their life story with. I validated their feelings as I shared the same one. I can only hope that whatever our new normal is will come soon and permit me to do the job I was hired to do in the shelter.
When I started working at REACH as a Community Advocate in late February, I was excited to start this new chapter in my career and was amazed by the work that the amazing staff at REACH does every day on so many levels. As I was settling in meeting staff, survivors, and people from so many of the agencies that we partner with, I couldn’t wait to get in the trenches and start working. However, in mid- March, COVID-19 hit Massachusetts and we were closed down and began working remotely from home. This came with its challenges as an agency as we all had to adapt to a new type of working environment that was very different. As a new employee, I left with my laptop and supplies and was not sure where this road would lead and if I would know exactly how to do my job remotely; as a huge part of my role as a community advocate would be working directly with survivors in the community.
Working from home has been entertaining at times as my pets became my “new coworkers” and they enjoyed having me home and would often enjoy popping into the picture during online meetings and workshops. As I got settled, the support from my co-workers and management was truly amazing and I started to build my caseload in a different way. As I began being assigned new cases, I was “meeting” survivors over the phone for the first time, trying to build rapport and trust in order to help them move forward as survivors, instead of feeling “stuck” or alone during this time of seclusion. By checking in with survivors throughout the week and having conversations centered around support and their needs, I have been able to connect with so many amazing women and provide the guidance they need to be brave every day.
In uncertain times, we all have to pull together, and that is what we have done. My coworkers at REACH are the most compassionate people that I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and together we continue to get our work accomplished, whether working from our homes or hopefully being back together in our office that we know also feels like home and that we all miss so much every day.
Beginning a new position and then beginning to work from home has definitely been challenging. I was only in the office for about a week in March before we all started to work remotely. When I first began working from home, it was somewhat of a challenge to really feel like I was a part of REACH and the work we do. Luckily, I have some amazing colleagues on the Development team who checked in with me regularly, providing guidance and frequent FaceTime calls! I was also lucky to go through REACH’s Summer Training along with our new interns and volunteers. While this looked a little different doing it remotely, I spent a week learning about REACH and how we do our work. I’m so grateful that every member of our staff has made me feel so welcome.
While I can’t pop by my coworkers’ offices to ask a quick question, or eat lunch with them in the conference room, we have all found innovative ways to stay connected during this uncertain time. While I’m looking forward to the day we can all gather back in the office, I know until that day comes we will continue to support each other and do amazing work!