Culture

In Their Own Words: Navigating the System

By Shadi Garman on October 20, 2020
Unite Us workplace culture

Navigating the health and social service landscape is complicated. At Unite Us, we recognize that there’s no quick fix; we know that referrals alone do not build healthy communities. Instead, we’re building tools for sustainable, systemic change. From our founders to our newest employees, everyone at Unite Us has a steadfast commitment to this work. In their own words, here are some of our team member’s stories.

“The first thing I thought of when I learned about Unite Us was, ‘If only this had been in place when we were trying to get my son on track.’ This would have been a game changer.” 

Meet Kendra, Community Engagement Manager at Unite Us. “My 19-year-old son has spent the last four years in and out of different programs for his mental health and substance use issues. Navigating the system for him literally became my full-time job for a while. I have a deeply personal motivation to get the platform up and running in my community.”

 

As Kendra and her family supported her son, life was stressful. “My son was bouncing back and forth between me and my ex-husband, during a time with lots of transition. As parents, we were having to manage paperwork across households. Half of my days were spent on Google searches and trying to get people to call us to see if he was eligible. It was so painful.” The time spent dedicated to her son’s care was critical, and Kendra recognized the privilege to do so. ”I took a leave-of-absence from work at one point to manage his care. I was lucky to have resources like transportation to drive all over to see who could help us. When you're sitting with a kid that you’re trying to keep alive, every hour that goes by, you wonder, ‘Is it too soon to call and see if they got my referrals?’ Your whole life is wondering if the doctor is going to call.

 

Kendra and her sonThe struggle with waiting for care and wondering about the outcomes of referrals is one of the primary problems we are solving. Prior to Unite Us, Kendra worked at First 5 Fresno County, helping families in a resource-poor area connect to early childhood services. “Experiencing it as a parent and from the services side, I love that we give power to the patients and clients with real-time updates. From an advocate standpoint, our platform helps level the playing field and creates a system of equity, spreading access to organizations across an entire community.

 

Now, Kendra’s son is stable and doing much better. “He’s working at a car wash, going to city college and taking his first classes. I’m beaming and so proud of him, especially knowing everything we’ve been through. It’s been such a long journey to see him succeeding. Part of my love of this platform is how it relieves the burden. There’s a good chance he’ll need a system and support again in the future, so to know that he can connect to a Unite Us network partner and have all these resources whenever he may need it is so reassuring. There really is a village out there to support my kid now.”  

 

Kendra shares her story frequently  in community strategy sessions and other network meetings. “I’m an advocate, and it is important to share that I also struggle and have challenges. It helps people know that we’re not alone. I’m from the community that I’m trying to serve, and am so passionate about what this provides. If a family that was in my circumstances is able to get help, it makes it all worth it.”

 

“At Unite Us, we often talk about our diverse team and diverse backgrounds. Unlike others on the team, I don’t have a public health background, but I think that life experiences are just as valuable as a degree.” 

 

Mami & I

Diana is a second-generation immigrant who grew up in a low-income community with a single mother. Their family experienced displacement due to gentrification, and had to find alternative housing during difficult times. “Growing up, I was never lacking or missing anything. My mom made sure that I always had connections to our family in the Dominican Republic, making sure I was fluent in both English and Spanish, and was always proud of my culture,” Diana says. Since Diana’s mom wasn’t a native English speaker, Diana often stepped up to support her find resources in a new county. “I was translating government documents at the age of seven. It was my duty as a daughter to help my mom meet deadlines, to make sure she wasn’t being taken advantage of, and to help make sure we could keep moving forward and progressing,” she explains.

 

Now, as Diana’s mother is getting older, there are new challenges to work through. “My mother was let go from a position she’d had for 16 years, after dealing with an injury and losing benefits. Her workplace didn’t provide her with information about services. Now I have to help her navigate the system again. It’s painful to see how people are not given the support and resources they need,” says Diana. It’s been a full circle of supporting her family, from childhood to adulthood.

 

In addition, Diana has confronted her own set of challenges.  As a first-generation college student, she had to navigate resources such as FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) with no parental support, so she had to find help in the community. These life experiences impacted and guided Diana’s career choices. “I ended up working at the same college access program that I attended in high school, helping students like me go through the same process. Later on in life, I worked directly with young women of color, running workshops. I left that experience receiving more than I could have ever taught them. Coming from a nonprofit background, I wanted to give back to my community and this allowed me to do that,” she says. “Now, at Unite Us, I can give back and impact more people and be in a position to influence long-term change in communities. We have nonprofit values with a corporate lens, and I’m learning so much. In my own personal development, I can do well while still doing good.”

 

As Diana shared, “The work we do resonates with me, as I’m able to apply a theoretical framework. Now, I have the terminology for my life experiences. Life experience is why we were founded, and what drives our work forward. If we can make people feel less stressed, more in control, and that the world isn’t coming down on them, I want to be a part of that.” 

 

Diana sums it up best when she says, “Being at Unite Us is a position of power and privilege, as we can really influence the communities we serve.” It is an honor to work alongside the health and social service organizations that have been working for many years to help those in need.  Any of us, from our team, our loved ones, or our partners, could find ourselves in a similar situation as any client we serve. We know marginalized communities are even more susceptible, so it is our responsibility to build the best infrastructure to support anyone, anytime. Join or build a coordinated care network in your neighborhood today – we’re here to help. 

 

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- July 28, 2020

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