Have you ever been in the hospital and asked a loved one to stop by your favorite spot to get you a treat? Maybe it was that banana split from your favorite ice cream parlor or the wings that you eat every Sunday while you watch the game with your friends. That treat represented some type of normalcy in the midst of a situation where you might not have had much control.
We all seek to build stability in our lives through creating rituals of predictability or habits. The Full Frame Initiative often refers to these as anchors. They are incredibly important to our wellbeing, but may not make sense or may seem trivial to others. These small practices and habits are especially critical in moments of uncertainty.
Everyone has a right to wellbeing, but not everyone has equal access to it. One way Full Frame organizations support program participants’ wellbeing is by allowing staff to have flexible roles so that they can prioritize what matters most to each person they work with. This includes prioritizing things that may—from the outside—seem trivial.
One member of our Greater Boston Full Frame Network, On The Rise in Cambridge, MA, understands that the roles their staff play in the lives of the homeless women who are part of their community might be seen as unorthodox in more traditional agencies. On a recent visit to On The Rise, a couple of front line staff told me stories of hospital visits to the women they work with, and the support they provided.
One advocate talked about how, on her way to visit a participant in the hospital, she stopped at this woman’s favorite spot to pick her up her favorite dish—a heaping plate of fried clams. In relaying the story, the advocate wanted me to understand the significance of this: that staff at On The Rise don’t dictate to people what they need because of their situation. Instead, they let the person decide what is helpful. Another advocate from OTR recounted a story of a woman who has been in the hospital for two years and continues her relationship with On The Rise. The woman called up the advocate and gave her a detailed list of very specific soaps and shampoos to bring to her. This is an example of someone who is really trying to hold onto the routines that contribute to her stability, not someone who is being picky or difficult.
From the outside, bringing someone clams or shampoo may not seem like a traditional staff role or equate to formal program service delivery. But Full Frame organizations have a completely different approach to the work—one that makes them particularly effective in supporting people’s wellbeing. On The Rise sanctions flexibility of staff roles because that is what is required. Their staff members understand that Full Frame work will often challenge the traditional notion of boundaries and of what constitutes services. However, navigating the messiness of that process is worth it to them because it’s the best approach for the women they work with.
Leora Viega Rifkin was FFI’s Network Engagement Manager. She staffed the Greater Boston Full Frame Network and in her role spent time at the member programs to document how Full Frame practice looks in a variety of practice settings. For a list of Greater Boston Full Frame Network members, click here.