Kelly Brooks is an intensive case manager at Saranam in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her day starts at 8:15 a.m. when families begin to arrive for classes. Saranam works with single mothers, single fathers, and couples. Every year, Saranam admits about six families for transitional housing, education, and supportive services to help them move beyond homelessness. Currently Saranam is working with seven single mothers, one of whom is in recovery.
Kelly’s office represents so much of what Saranam has to offer. There is a donated car seat for an infant. There is also a collection of zip lock bags full of donated make up and personal supplies on the table outside her office. Kelly says, “When women come in for parenting and life skills classes, they stop by my office to say hello. They’ll tell me that their baby was up all night. They’ll share that they are really struggling or maybe that they’re doing well,” says Kelly.
Every Wednesday Kelly meets with each program participant one-on-one for intensive case management. They talk about the issues each one is facing and how Kelly can support them with resources, help navigating systems, and problem solving.
Kelly shares that the birth of her own child has given her a new capacity for understanding the mothers at Saranam. “Having a baby really changed me. Before I had Grace, I thought I knew about parenting. People would tell me that I would understand once I had a baby. What I understand now is that I knew nothing,” admits Kelly. She understands the exhaustion of sleepless nights and parenting alone when her husband is out of town. This is what single mothers do all the time. “Going to courtrooms and waiting rooms with the women is a big part of what I do. This is when your family would normally be with you. These journeys and my own journey have opened my eyes to the women I work with,” says Kelly.
In this program, women are not alone. Families live in an apartment complex together within walking distance from Saranam. They support each other in their transitions out of homelessness. Saranam covers all housing costs, utilities, phone services, bus passes, and gas vouchers. The program also covers education costs through the Central New Mexico Community College (CNM). Mental health services, trauma counseling, and primary health care are provided by outside agencies through Medicaid referrals. Families also receive childcare vouchers from the Children, Youth, and Families Department.
At the center of Kelly’s work with families is her belief in the healing power of supportive family and community relationships. She began her work in human services as a college intern with New Mexico AIDS Services, the Albuquerque Rape Crisis Center, and other non-profits. “New Mexico AIDS services really taught me about the value of family and community support. I worked with men who were dying. The work was so much about loss. Many men talked to me about the struggle and pain of losing family relationships,” says Kelly.
Prior to working at Saranam, Kelly was the Executive Director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network in Albuquerque. She learned a great deal in this position, but found that she missed working with families directly. A serendipitous meeting with Saranam’s Executive Director, Tracy Sharp, led her back to the work that inspires her.
“Being here for the women I work with is a humbling experience,” says Kelly. On the day that Kelly and I talk, Kelly is in the midst of seeking out support services for a woman in the program who has one year-old twin boys. “She came to us from an abusive relationship that she managed to leave despite the fact that her family did not support her leaving. Following her stay at a domestic violence shelter, she arrived at Saranam,” says Kelly.
Today the woman has been diagnosed with a complex medical problem that will require inpatient surgery. After learning of this complication, the mother came to Kelly in tears fearing she was going to get kicked out of the program for missing classes. Instead, the women and staff at Saranam are rallying around her to take care of her twins, bring them to daycare, and walk the journey together.
“The family she has created in the program is beneficial to everyone. It is a huge testament to how a family of any kind works,” says Kelly. At Saranam, staff and participants support each other, walking together for two years regardless of where everyone started.
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