I am RIFA – Marie Geiser
March is National Social Work Month, and we are happy to highlight RIFA’s licensed social worker on staff, Marie Geiser, who serves as the Community Outreach Coordinator. Marie shared some of what her work at RIFA looks like and what social work means to her.
At RIFA, Marie coordinates many of the hunger-fighting programs, such as Senior Staples, Snack Backpack, and, of course, Community Outreach. When we asked her to describe a typical day in the life in her position, she said, “It’s different every single day, and it really depends on who walks in because my main job is to work with the patrons who come in the door and need help. I do help manage some of the other programming like Snack Backpack, Senior Staples, Bus Stop Cafe, and Food Pantries. I help coordinate all of that. So that’s some backend work, but most of what I do is client-focused. It just looks different depending on who walks in. We have some regulars who come in, who I know really well, and we continuously work together on different things. We also have a lot of new people come in. We’ll get a set of people, and I get them squared away, pretty stable. Then, we’ll get a whole new set that rolls in, so I’m always working with new people.”
We asked Marie some of the problems that people in the community face. “I always say hunger is just a symptom of poverty. So a lot of people who come to us need food, but they also don’t have housing at the moment or are housing-insecure, or they have a lot of medical issues. Usually, there’s a whole lot of issues that come with hunger, so I’ll sit down and work with them to try to meet whatever need that is. Sometimes, it’s as simple as making a referral to the Lions Club for eyeglasses. Sometimes, it’s like, ‘We’re going to get on the phone and call to get you some help.’ We might apply for social security; we might call Tennessee Homeless Solutions and get them connected with a caseworker.”
Many people who live in poverty also struggle with mental illness and addiction. Marie told us, “Most of the people who come into RIFA seem to fall through the gaps in services or have burned their bridges along the way, so a lot of our chronically homeless folks don’t qualify for other programs like public housing and public assistance for whatever reason. The people we see have just fallen through the cracks, but even if they can’t go to the public housing authority, they can go eat in the Soup Kitchen.”
Marie has worked as RIFA’s Community Outreach Coordinator since September 2019, and since then, she has helped countless individuals who have come through RIFA’s doors for assistance. Having worked with people in so many unique situations, she shared what success can look like for her and her clients. “We’ve had lots of successes. Sometimes success is like, this person is going to live in a motel, they get to pay their rent every month, they’re going to eat in the Soup Kitchen, and they’re going to draw food stamps. That’s a success for that person because they’re not living outside.
“Success is always relative; it depends on the person,” Marie explained. “A lot of times a good success is a good referral. We had one guy who would come in multiple times and say, ‘I need your help to get clean. I need to quit drinking; it’s going to kill me.’ I would say, ‘Okay, let’s go. I’ll make the phone call, I’ll get you to Pathways. Let’s go. Let’s do it.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, I need to go take care of my daughter’s house,’ or, ‘I need to go call a friend,’ or something like that. I said, ‘Okay, I’m here, whenever you want to go.’ He wouldn’t show up for months, and then he’d come back and say the same thing. I’d say, ‘Let’s go,’ and then he wouldn’t show up for weeks at a time. Finally, one day, he said, ‘Today is the day.’ I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ but this time he was. We drove him to Pathways and didn’t see him for months, and then he came back and he was clean and he’s stayed clean since then. That was a success—for him to be clean. It took him multiple times, and for a lot of people it takes multiple times in treatment facilities before it finally sticks.”
These successes are the most rewarding part of her job, Marie tells us. “Like I said, success is always relative, because I also see a lot of relapse or a lot of zero progress and resistance. I have to look for those small successes, like a certain patron keeping his food stamp card for more than a month. That’s a success; he didn’t lose it.” Reflecting on why she chose social work as a career path, she said, “I was a Bible major, but then I switched to social work because I wanted to be serving in the community. As a Bible major, I spent a lot of time volunteering, and I thought, ‘This is what it’s all about. This is what we’re called to do.’ Social work is how I wanted to help people.”
As we head into National Social Work Month, remember to thank the social workers in your life today and every day for the critical work that they do. We are incredibly thankful for Marie and the everyday hero that she is. Her heart for serving others and her talent of reaching people with the right resources make such an impact on so many members in our community.
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