Most of us don’t start a relationship with an anticipated outcome from the get go. It’s more likely that becoming friends with your neighbors was an organic process, and over time you would trust them to watch your kids and they would trust you to watch theirs.
For many of us, the most rewarding and enriching moments in our lives have come through our connections to other people. Occasionally these relationships lead to transformational moments. A former colleague recommends you for a life changing job. A friend of a friend becomes your future spouse. You gave a friend a place to stay after she got laid off, and helped her get back on her feet.
Chances are you couldn’t have guessed where those relationships would lead. Full Frame organizations, such as The Salasin Project, a project of Western Massachusetts Training Consortium, understand that relationships are at the forefront of the work. No matter what door someone walks through to get to the Salasin Project, they find a warm and welcoming environment.
Many folks participating in more mainstream social service programs are told which issues to prioritize, from the moment they walk through the door. There might even be a timeframe on solving the problem, which leaves less time for building a relationship. For instance, an expectation might be that in six months the program participant will have secured permanent housing or will be in the process of recovering from substance abuse while working with staff.
The Salasin Project sees the person and the relationship as primary. Addressing challenges and providing resources are part of the work and are embedded into relationship building.
For example, one staff member was working with a woman, let’s call her Sue, who was a survivor of domestic violence. While in the program, Sue was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The staff at The Salasin Project continued to work with her even though the challenge she originally was there to address shifted. Advocacy and support changed throughout the work with her. The staff’s support allowed her to advocate for herself so that she could make decisions about her treatment and the way she eventually wanted to die. The staff listened to Sue about what she needed and responded based on the relationship they had developed with her. They showed that focusing on someone’s wellbeing is not solely about physical wellbeing–dignity is equally important.
Staff at organizations that employ Full Frame practice often talk about how their role is to bear witness to the lives of the people they work with. The role requires them to step back, slow down, and receive guidance from the person they are trying to support. For the Salasin Project staff who knew Sue, it meant truly being of service in a way that honored and respected what mattered most to her at any given time. The relationship itself was the ultimate outcome. And it was the relationship that made a difference in Sue’s life, as well as in the lives of the Salasin staff who supported her.
Leora Viega Rifkin is FFI’s Network Engagement Manager. She staffs the Greater Boston Full Frame Network and in her role spends 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.