JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Interning at a local non-profit organization that helps and provides services for the homeless has felt like a calling for Army 2nd Lt. Dori Lapenias, a graduate student in the U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
Lapenias is an intern at Haven for Hope, which provides services for homeless individuals and families through several community agencies and organizations on a 22-acre campus near downtown San Antonio. Haven for Hope offers services and programs to the homeless including job training, employment readiness, educational skills, behavioral health services and housing.
Lapenias is one of four students in the master of social work program at AMEDDC&S Graduate School who are interning at Haven for Hope for the summer. All four of the students in the program are studying and training to become military social workers while earning their master’s degree.
The interns are working with clients at the Haven for Hope campus to connect them to resources and programs that will help them transition from being homeless to finding a job and permanent housing.
Lapenias said helping homeless families and those in need was instilled in her by her parents while growing up in Modesto, California. Every month her family bought food to give to the homeless in the downtown area of Modesto.
Because of that experience in seeing homeless families during her youth, Lapenias said she is drawn to help them.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for homeless families,” she said.
Lapenias feels she is making a difference in the lives of the homeless families she is serving, even if they are taking small steps towards their goals. She said using positive reinforcement and support is the key to keeping her clients motivated in achieving their goals.
“They (clients) come in and tell me, ‘Hey, I got this done,’” Lapenias said. “Just being able to tell them, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so proud of you, that’s great.’ Hearing that feedback is so important to them. Once they do accomplish a small step towards their goals I tell them, ‘That’s awesome. You are really moving forward and I know you can do this.’”
The other three social work program graduate students interning at the homeless campus include 1st Lt. Jean Kirsten, Capt. Angela Park and 1st Lt. Phillip Metcalf.
Park said she has learned a lot by working with the homeless population.
“My experience at Haven for Hope helped me to develop basic social work skills such as active listening, expressing empathy and developing rapport with a diverse population,” she said. “These are skills that I will continue to build upon in my career as a military social worker.”
Kirsten said interning at Haven for Hope is giving her a chance to work in an organization that serves the homeless population and to see how it operates. She is helping five clients, all of whom are women, who are trying to get into housing.
“I think it is a great opportunity to work with the (homeless) members here and see them go from a low point,” Kirsten said. “Then they are motivated to get a job and to get into housing. Some of them are actually happy just to meet with me, which I was glad to see. They are actually going out and doing what they plan to do.”
Metcalf, who worked as a police officer for 12 years before joining the military, said he took the opportunity to intern at Haven for Hope because he wants to interact with the homeless population from a social work perspective, as opposed to the interactions he had with them when he was in law enforcement
During his time as a police officer, Metcalf said there were few options and places to refer or take the homeless to and most of the time they ended up in jail, where they would receive the services they needed.
“San Antonio is kind of unique in the fact they have found this as a possible solution to help those that are in a homeless situation to find housing and to get out of their current situation,” Metcalf said. “I definitely think it is a better alternative. They (homeless) can deal with whatever issues they have right here directly at Haven for Hope with all the different partners. They got a safe place and environment where they can sleep.”
The students, who started their internships in May, will complete their service at Haven for Hope at the end of August.