For Jan Smith and Kathleen Lara, energy assistance outreach is the sort of work that requires reliable wheels and understanding hearts.
Taking the mission of SNAP on the road can be a challenging task, especially during turbulent winter weather. Yet for Jan and Kathleen, their role in keeping homes warm and bringing cheer to clients is well worth any struggle.
“You go home knowing you helped make people’s lives a little easier,” Jan said “You listen and they feel heard. They have a chance to tell their story.”
Starting each October, this two-person team visits SNAP clients at partner locations in Airway Heights, Cheney, Deer Park, Colbert and at World Relief in Spokane. The regularly scheduled weekly appointments make it easier on residents with transportation issues while providing a reliable setting for those seeking help with their power bill.
“They’re much more comfortable in their own surroundings,” Jan said. “The clients and the caseworkers are so thankful that we come to them.”
Kathleen puts it another way.
“‘SNAP Day’ is a big day at these places,” she said.
From mid-January through April, the outreach team visits additional partner agencies such as low-income apartment complexes, veterans’ locations, community colleges, senior centers, county detox sites and other locations as funding and time allows.
Along with helping people fill out applications for energy assistance, Jan and Kathleen provide a listening ear and refer clients to additional resources – sometimes through SNAP, other times through different nonprofits.
“I love the work that I do,” Kathleen said. “If I can’t help these people, I probably know someone who can.”
This winter, Jan was able to help a woman whose brother had just been admitted to a local hospital and was facing a permanent disability. She connected the woman to a social worker at the hospital who was able to calm her worries.
“She didn’t know what to do or who to turn to,” Jan said. “I just did what I could to help.”
Kathleen says it’s rewarding to see clients who show improvements from one year to the next. Some cycle out of the program, others gain increased stability through support from SNAP and other agencies.
“We can see improvements when they get into housing, get on SSI or get the right meds,” she said. “It’s great to see them become more stable.”
Clients will often go out of their way to make sure Jan and Kathleen feel at home, from introducing them to their dogs and cats to bringing a plate of cookies. When Jan fell on an icy parking lot in January, a group of residents brought her an ice pack and heating pad. When the heat stopped working at one facility this winter, a space heater was delivered to where Jan and Kathleen were working.
“They’re really great people,” said Kathleen who came to SNAP after 16 years with Avista in customer service.
Jan, who has worked at SNAP since 2000, says energy outreach continues to be energizing.
“You get a good overview of the community,” she said. “Every day is different. I just really enjoy the people we see. They’re really fun.”