Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Student Reflection

by Annette Popernik

Making Connections

As a helpline that does not provide specific services but rather referrals to service providers and agencies in the local Champaign-Urbana community, we thrive off calls from local Hispanics and people in the community who need to be pointed in the right direction and need to know what agency to contact. We guide them through the process, and we also provide translation and interpretation services. However, during the winter months, our calls drop significantly. Having spoken with Lisa Sink, La Línea’s Director, I decided that a beneficial project would be for me to call different agencies in the community and tell them what we do at La Línea. We have a resources list, a “cheat sheet”, of various organizations and agencies in the Champaign-Urbana area as well as surrounding areas. That way, when a client calls us, we know how to best help them. However, it’s really no use to have these names and numbers if they do not know about us and refer clients to us as well. There are so many people in our day-to-day lives that need our help and assistance and sometimes the connection just isn’t there. They don’t know we exist, and we don’t know they need our help.

Embarking on this project made me think about Social Entrepreneurship. This kind of entrepreneurship, according to Ann Abbott, is a mix of commercial and social components, creates social value, and generates its proper income; it is auto sufficient. La Línea is volunteer-based. The purpose of this project was not to generate income or funds, but it did create other “funds”. At La Línea, we need those in the community to know about us in order for us to help them. Networking with agencies and individuals in the community brings us our commercial and social components. Our “brand” (i.e. the name of our helpline) is out in the community by making connections with other agencies, which will bring us more clients. Every time we help a client, we create social value.

At the outset of my project, I had to decide which agencies to call, taking into account certain considerations and limitations. First of all, I had to limit the number of agencies I called because La Línea is not a large, funded agency. We are a volunteer-based, non-profit helpline working out of the University of Illinois campus. By overextending ourselves, we would limit our capacity to help our clients. I decided to call six agencies, each serving a different purpose in the community. That was the next step, deciding what type of agencies to call. Much depended on what kind of clients they serve. It was in my interest to call agencies that serve English and Spanish speakers since our operators and advocates speak both English and Spanish. I took into account agencies that might have clients who need further services which that agency can’t provide. For example, I first called the Urbana Adult Education Center. They provide high school completion programs, job skill training, interviewing, etc. Since applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) requires the completion of high school or a GED in order to apply, I thought this center might come across people fulfilling their high school requirements in order to apply for DACA. By giving this center our information, clients can have a number to call when looking for DACA information and how to sign up for a workshop, which we help with.

Calling agencies was intimidating at first. I had to call at the right time and talk to the right people. I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive everyone I talked to was. When I called, I would say something like:
“Hi my name is Annette Popernik. I work with a helpline called La Línea. We do referrals to service providers and different agencies/organizations in the community. We also do translation and interpretation (English and Spanish). I was wondering if one of our volunteers could drop off flyers so that you could have them and refer your clients to us in case there is a service you don’t provide but want to lead them in the right direction.”
The representatives’ immediate answers were often full of excitement. All six agreed to receive flyers from volunteers who would coordinate to drop off flyers. One of the agencies I called was the Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC). They work with translation, interpretation, aid with paperwork, citizenship, residency, counseling, etc. I thought this would be the perfect agency to call since DACA and similar concerns such as translation would certainly come up at a center that deals with immigration. Sure enough, very shortly after my phone call to ECIRMAC, the center was already referring clients to us for translation services.

Other agencies I called address issues like crisis pregnancies, domestic violence, and healthcare. By calling agencies that deal with a variety of issues, the name of our helpline will hopefully reach a variety of clients in need of different kinds of help. This project helped me realize the value of making connections and working with other agencies. It was a unique experience and helped me to learn about other service providers in the community. As the Intake Coordinator of La Línea, it was valuable to learn this but even more valuable as a social entrepreneur. The community we live in is stronger because of the people in it that are willing to lend one another a helping hand. That is the whole purpose of La Línea. Corporate businesses and the typical modern day worker become so centralized on advancement, making money, and going up the ladder for profit, it is forgotten why we do what we do. I’m glad to be doing something that benefits the people around me, to be fighting to help my community.

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