Annie Pigott, Grinnell Corps: Grinnell 2012-13
Annie Pigott's Reports
Annie Pigott, Grinnell Corps: Grinnell 2012-13
Photographer:Anne GeissingerReport 1
Now that classes have started and students are back on campus, I've found myself having to explain what exactly I'm still doing in Grinnell more and more frequently. This sometimes proves difficult, since my job entails a variety of responsibilities, some of which change from day to day. As this year's Grinnell Corps: Grinnell Fellow I work full-time at Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), a local non-profit that focuses on helping families find their way out of poverty and become self sufficient. MICA has offices in five counties and runs a variety of programs, including several Early Childhood Programs, Energy Assistance and Home Weatherization, and a relatively new program called Strong Parents, Strong Children which provides job coaching, relationship and parenting classes, and financial counseling. At our office we also have an emergency food pantry, which provides food as well as hygiene and cleaning supplies to families in need on a monthly basis. The food pantry seems to be one thing that really draws families to our office, and often our conversations with families who come to the food pantry can lead us to refer them to other programs.
There are also a number of ways that we can assist families who find themselves in moments of crisis—here in Grinnell, there are funds available to help with rent, utilities, medication, and gas to get to doctor's visits. However, since these funds are limited and designed to assist families in an emergency situation (not to act as ongoing financial support), we often make referrals to other local social service agencies or programs within MICA that might assist these families in becoming more financially stable. Remembering the eligibility requirements and necessary documents that families need in order to receive assistance from MICA or other local agencies was difficult for me at first—I was relying heavily on several very handy cheat-sheets put together by Allison, the previous Grinnell Corps fellow. Now, after nearly three months at MICA, I'm finally able to make most referrals without scouring Allison's notes first. Of course, I'm always learning more about different resources that are available for families in Poweshiek County and making my own cheat-sheets as I go!
On an average day, I spend time weighing and organizing donations in the food pantry, helping families who come in to get food, and answering any number of questions that families have about resources that are available at our office or at other local agencies. During the past several months, I have also spent a lot of time helping families apply for "crisis funding," which can assist families with utility payments if they are in danger of having their electricity shut off during the summer months. Beginning in October, we will start taking applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which assists families during the winter months with a one-time payment towards their heating bill.
I also serve as the Spanish translator for our office, and spend a good amount of time translating for the other Family Development Specialists during their home visits with Spanish-speaking families, as well as translating for families and individuals who come into the office with questions. Starting next week, I'll also be translating in the Head Start preschool classroom, which has several Spanish-speaking children enrolled this year. I'm really excited to get to spend time interacting with preschoolers and their parents, who I know are thrilled to be starting school for the first time! Translating has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my experience thus far, and I feel like I've definitely improved my translating skills over the course of the summer. I still stumble through plenty of words and phrases, but the families I've worked with have been very patient and understanding.
Additionally, I work as a Family Development Specialist for a program called Project Home Mission, a home-visiting program that is funded through local churches. I meet twice a month with each of the families on my caseload to help them set goals and work through any difficulties they are experiencing. I also try to locate other available resources and activities in the community that my families may be interested in, which has really helped me increase my knowledge of all of the different community organizations in and around Grinnell. I've enjoyed these visits, since they are a great way for me to spend more time getting to know families and their needs. Typically, when our office is busy, I have to move quickly from one family to the next and don't get to spend more than a few minutes talking with each family. With the families on my caseload, I get to know them better and can act as a continued source of support.
I've learned an incredible amount over the past few months at MICA, from both my coworkers and supervisor and the families with whom I work. In some ways I'm very well suited for my job—I'm bilingual, outgoing, and genuinely enjoy getting to do a whole bunch of different activities on a daily basis. In other respects, I still have a lot to learn. Although I may be enthusiastic about my job and learning quickly, I frequently encounter difficult situations I've never run into before and am unsure of how to handle. In those moments, it's great to be able to rely on the advice and support of my coworkers, who have all been incredibly welcoming and willing to answer my questions. Working at MICA has given me a new perspective on the needs of the Grinnell community, and has challenged me to reevaluate my place within it.
Post-graduate life in Grinnell is a little strange—this summer felt almost like a repeat of summer 2011, which I spent interning with MICA and getting ready to start a new school year. Now it's finally starting to sink in—I'm not a student anymore! Although I miss my classmates, I can't say I miss the stress of taking two seminars simultaneously and struggling to balance academics and extra-curricular activities. Now, I have time to try out new recipes, start (and even occasionally finish) a variety of craft projects, read for fun, and write letters to friends that are starting their own new adventures all over the world. I'm thankful to get to spend more time with my siblings, parents, and grandparents, all of whom live here in Iowa and are always looking for excuses to come visit Grinnell. Though I'm occasionally envious of friends and classmates who are exploring new cities or countries, I'm incredibly grateful to make my first attempt at "adult life" in a town I already love, and now have the time to thoroughly enjoy.
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