This blog post was submitted by Julie Ann Avin, Executive Director/President of Mental Illness Recovery Center, INC.(MIRCI).
I started working at MIRCI on April 1st of 1991 – twenty-four years ago. At the time, I was one of only three staff members, and ready to save the world. Of course, now it’s 2015, and I haven’t come close to saving the world. Now I’m one of 65 staff members, and I have the distinct privilege of watching caring, passionate staff at MIRCI trying in their own ways to save the world. While none of us can or will save the world, we certainly can make the world in which we live a better place, a better home for the folks with whom we work.
Over the past couple of decades, MIRCI has become specialized in providing housing and behavioral healthcare to individuals with chronic mental illness. Many of the individuals we have the honor of serving entered MIRCI from a state of homelessness. We have an Outreach Team that engages homeless individuals where they are – whether it’s in the library, at a bus stop, at one of the area shelters, or a plethora of other locations.
Being an outreach worker is like walking a tight rope – trying to save the world and not lose oneself in the balancing act. Often members of our Outreach Team have to remind themselves that folks don’t become homeless overnight; and we can’t engage, provide treatment and house someone overnight. But that doesn’t mean these caring people let go of their dreams of saving the world. Instead it means they see the world through a different lens than perhaps you or I; they always have something in their possession to give to homeless individuals they encounter; their openness attracts and engages people; and yet somehow they manage to make it all seem so effortless.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time in our downtown area of Columbia with members of our Outreach Team for numerous reasons. None of those reasons was to be part of an outreach effort. But whether walking down Main Street to a meeting, or staffing MIRCI’s booth during the Soda City Market, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing firsthand how these workers’ view engages folks. I’ve seen faces light up at the sight of one of our outreach workers. I’ve seen shock and gratitude when one of our workers has given a snack to a homeless stranger; not that he’ll be a stranger the next time he encounters this worker. I’ve watched in awe as this special team touches people with the smallest of gestures.
Those of us here at MIRCI often say May Kirby, our Homeless Outreach Coordinator who leads the team, always sees unicorns and rainbows. May and her team of outreach workers and benefits specialists do see the world through different lenses; they do see more rainbows than many of us; and while they aren’t saving the entire world, they are making it a better place, a better home for citizens in our community – one person at a time. People are recovering in the areas of their lives impacted by their homelessness and their mental illness; and for them, perhaps this Outreach Team did save the world.