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Redefining community at the Good Samaritan Center

December 29, 2017 – There’s an easy comradery between Jennifer Chappel and Michelle Vasquez, which is good, because there’s very little that’s easy about the work they do.  The two are case workers at the Good Samaritan  Center, where they help local Excelsior Springs residents deal with poverty-related issues, from hunger to homelessness.

Chappel has been doing this work for a decade. Vasquez came onboard over two years ago, and started working in case management in November. “I’m learning,” she said. “Always.” As case workers, Chappel and Vasquez meet with people in need, determine what their needs are, and work with their clients to figure out how the Good Samaritan Center can best help.

“We use a process called strength-based case management,” Chappel explained. “You allow the client, through help and guidance, find what their strengths are. And then, ideally, they come up with the solutions to their problem, and then, together, we figure out how the Good Samaritan Center can fit in and help them fix the problem.” For example, Chappel explained, perhaps someone needs a job. She then helps them assess their skill sets, and discover any training they may have had. Then, together, they figure out what boundaries may exist that is preventing the client from employment. “Maybe they can’t get a job because they don’t have valid identification,” Chappel said. “Or maybe they need gas to get to work. Those are things we can help them with.”

People are often frustrated initially, Vasquez said. But the strength-based case management relies on client interaction and initiative.

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“Our people often do already know the answer to their problem,” Chappel said. “They just need guidance. We find them a goal, an opportunity, and that gives them hope.”

The two caseworkers keep plenty of people in what Chappel refers to as their “toolbox.” One of the difficulties in working with the homeless is that it’s hard to know where they are at, at any given time, and because many homeless people deal with mental health challenges, they are the first to become victims. Concern for their clients runs high. “But we have caseworkers, police officers, friends. Everyone keeps an eye on each other. We have so many hands – it’s one of the greatest things about Excelsior. If we notice we haven’t seen someone, we start making calls. We all come together,” Chappel explained.

But it’s a job that can often take a mental toll on its workers. “There are days when I am far more exhausted after working in here than I ever was, hauling and moving boxes all day like I did when I worked over in the thrift store,” Vasquez said. “But, it’s kind of like childbirth. It can be so painful, but it’s also so rewarding, that you just forget about how hard it can be.”

For Chappel, working at the Good Samaritan is a chance to impact her neighbors every day, and for Chappel, everyone is her neighbor. “I had been looking for a chance to use my past and my experience and find a Christian way of affecting my neighbors,” she explained. “My husband grew up here, but I didn’t. I’m from Michigan, and I didn’t have the same sense of community there that you find here. When we were deciding to move here, a friend who lived here said, ‘Do you know what’s great about this community? Everyone living in it is your family. They belong to you. Even the drunk at the end of the bar is your drunk, part of your community, part of your family.’ And I took that to heart, and I’ve tried to live like that since we moved here. Everybody is mine. Everybody is my family, my friend, my neighbor. I care about each person deeply, and that’s what I offer.”

In the end, it’s a lot to offer to a segment of the population that is often overlooked, as Vasquez pointed out. “Our homeless don’t necessarily look like the homeless we see on TV, huddled under newspapers on benches. Our homeless are more hidden, but they are still here.” And, as Chappel stated, they are part of our community.

“We treat them as the human beings they are,” she stated. “They are part of our community, just like any other neighbor. And we want to make sure they are warm, and fed.”

RELATED: ASK EXCELSIOR: What do you love about our hometown?

The Good Samaritan Center began in 1986, under the guidance of Father Larry Speichinger who wanted to address the growing need of families in Excelsior Springs. It began as a St. Vincent de Paul group but grew into an independent social service agency, dedicated to providing emergency assistance and advocacy to families and individuals in the area, according to their website.

By Samantha Kilgore •

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