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Five Questions: Marie Crinnion, Social Worker

Marie is a social worker at St. Anthony’s Resource Center, which helps guests solve problems large and small. She has been there for two years.

What made you want to be a social worker?

This is a career change for me. I worked in commercial insurance for about 20 years. I left that job because of an illness in my family. And then I started thinking, What do I really want to do? I had volunteered with Project Open Hand since 1990, doing home delivery of meals every week in the Tenderloin. When I thought about what I loved to do, that was at the top of my list. So I started thinking about what careers would align with that activity. I went back to school and got my master’s in social work at San Francisco State.

What’s a typical day like at the Resource Center?

We do drop-ins in the morning and appointments in the afternoons. It’s wonderful here because it’s so varied. It might be a simple thing like helping a client read mail — either because they can’t read, or they haven’t had cataract surgery, or they’re elderly. Lost identification is a common problem, so we do a lot of ID vouchers. We also have a food pantry where we keep emergency food boxes.

Then there are the more complex things, like helping clients do their re-certification for social security benefits or [apply for] rental assistance. Helping people find resources is a huge part of the job. [It’s really about] sitting down with someone and saying, What can I help you with?

For Marie, smiles and thank-yous from her clients are the best part of the job.

What’s the most challenging part of the job?

It can be really tough when someone blows up at you. Sometimes, people just get frustrated. Wayne (senior manager of Community Safety Services), runs a de-escalation training where he asks you to imagine waking up freezing cold because you’re on the street. And then you have to wait on line to use the bathroom. And then you have to wait on line to get something to eat. And then you have to wait on line to use the shower. People’s lives are full of this overwhelming frustration. I try to remember that.

What’s the most rewarding part of the job?

The smiles, the thank-yous, helping someone finally get into a better situation, or helping them achieve something they’ve been wanting to do, whether it’s a client thinking about finishing their high school equivalency or doing speech therapy — just seeing them grow and be more fulfilled.

I have one client that recently moved into better housing. The place where he was living was really bad. It took six months. Now he has his own apartment, his own kitchen, his own bathroom, and a little balcony. When I took him to see it for the first time he couldn’t imagine it was actually going to be his apartment. Meeting him a couple weeks later, he’s well-rested and flourishing.

What would you like people to know about our guests?

I am amazed at the resiliency I see every day. That’s a quality that so many of our guests here have. Because it takes resilience to get through the day. It takes resilience to deal with some of the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. The amounts and types of trauma some people have experienced is mind-boggling. And that they can still wake up every day and come and have coffee or lunch or seek out services — it just amazes me.

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