It’s a Friday, and the phones are ringing like mad. It seems everyone in Ojai Valley has a crisis, and my boss Karen has been shooting all over town in the Ferrari (nickname of her rickety Ford pickup), doing her best to put out the fires.
We’re holding down the fort at the Community Assistance Program (the only social services site in the valley), but there's a full moon tonight and things are reaching critical mass. There are no slow days in social work, but this one is extra hectic – our clients face evictions, medical emergencies, and other calamities.
Karen is the captain of this ship, and she’s trained her crew well. That being said, we’re rudderless without her, and it shows as we scramble to get our passengers into the right lifeboats.
Todd’s balancing two food boxes on his shoulders, tiptoeing over the toddlers who play on the floor by Alicia, who’s filling out a rental assistance form in Spanish for the mom, who’s handing birth certificate copies to Whitney, who’s sprinting past Paula, who’s pacifying a full waiting-room… who all want to know, is Karen in yet???
The phone rings – it’s Karen!
“Hi, Mick-Mack!” she shouts.
Something’s happening with a Vietnam vet, a refrigerator, and a bag of tomatoes… but there’s a siren in the background and I don’t quite get it all.
“Back in a while,” she says.
In the meantime, we offer everyone the chance to leave a note with name, number and message on Karen’s desk, with the promise that we will consult and help as soon as possible. Some understand, others are disappointed.
One of the harsher truths at a walk-in center is that not every emergency has a same-day fix, but I try to remember what Karen says – “We didn’t cause the problem, Mick-Mack, we just do our best to help fix it.”
So I press on, knowing that we’ll do just that. It’s late in the day when our fearless leader finally walks through the door and hugs us all.
“Wow,” she says of the messages on her desk. She won’t get to them all in the half-hour remaining, but she flips through anyway. The notes are serious – people need help with food stamps, tuition, funeral services, etc. Then, a single note at the bottom sends Karen into a fall-down riot.
No name. No number. Just this: “Karen, Help! My rabbits are still peeing blood.”
The stress of the day combined with the absurdity of the message puts us all into hysterics. What rabbits? Why are they still peeing blood???
As it turns out, the message was from someone who heard about our ARF grant (animal rescue fund), and would make total sense within the proper context.
But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that these people I work with are special souls –they can weather the storm of every desperate circumstance, use every God-given talent to solve our clients’ crises, and still, at the end of the day, have the lightness of heart to find humor in the absurd.
I wouldn’t want to be serving anywhere else.
Ventura, CA 2014-2015