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Michelle started in a dual role at SCAN in 2019, working within the Richmond CASA and Child Advocacy Center Programs. We are thankful for the expertise, commitment to families, and positive presence that she brings to the SCAN team!
How did you first get involved with SCAN? What has your life/work experience been that brought you to SCAN?
I previously worked as a Victim/Witness Specialist at Richmond Victim/Witness Services for three years before starting at SCAN. In this role, I primarily worked out of the Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, advocating for victims and witnesses of crime throughout the criminal justice process. Although I primarily served survivors of domestic (and/or intimate partner) violence, it was here that I first started working with child survivors of abuse as well. While working specifically with children and their caregivers during the court process, I was exposed to and participated in the Richmond Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) at the CAC, and in turn came to learn about SCAN and its programs. I have always been drawn to the trauma-informed practices of SCAN, and was so excited to officially join the team in October 2019.
What is your current role?
I have the unique opportunity to work for two programs at SCAN – the CAC and Richmond CASA. At the CAC, I work part-time as a Child and Family Advocate (primarily at the Henrico office), where I meet with non-offending caregivers during their child’s forensic interview. Within this meeting, I explain the forensic interview process and offer support, often in the form of linking families to mental health support or other needed resources through ongoing follow-up. I also participate as a member of the Henrico MDT and coordinate with our various partners. The other role I fulfill at SCAN is as a Case Manager at CASA. Through this position, I participate in the training and supervision of volunteers who advocate for children whose cases have come before the court due to abuse or neglect by a caregiver. I support my volunteers through ongoing navigation of their case, including assisting in the preparation of a written report that is submitted to the court. This report details a child’s situation and makes recommendations regarding what is in the child’s best interests concerning permanency and needed services for both the child and parents.
What inspires you to stay involved with your work at SCAN?
In this line of work, we are interacting with people who are dealing with one of the hardest experiences of their lives. What inspires me while advocating for children and families at the CAC is finding ways to lessen this load and make the process a little less traumatic if I can. Sometimes that might be something seemingly small, like providing a non-judgmental, listening ear, or simply allowing the space to talk through a range of emotions. Within my role as a CASA Case Manager, I am inspired by the sheer dedication of our volunteers who devote their personal time to advocate for a child who is also going through one of the most stressful and traumatic events of their life as well. It takes a real-life superhero to be a CASA volunteer!
Is there anything you wish other people knew about SCAN?
I wish everyone knew how passionate and invested everyone is at SCAN; whether it be employees, volunteers, or board members, everyone involved in our mission is truly invested in this work. There is so much effort that goes on behind the scenes at SCAN, and the impact of each program’s reach within the community is astounding. I can truly say that I work with an absolutely brilliant and talented group of people, and that energy is contagious.
What has been the best experience with SCAN so far?
I don’t know that I can narrow it down to one sole experience, but looking back throughout this year and a half, I think about the amount of personal and professional growth I have experienced during my time at SCAN, and can’t help but be excited for all of the growth to come. 2020 was a challenging year in so many ways, and the majority of my time with SCAN thus far has been during a pandemic. I have been incredibly moved by the way our organization has stepped up to the plate in such creative ways to continue our work throughout is this year for the benefit of those we serve. I also have a unique opportunity to work closely with two different teams, and feel lucky to have gotten to know all of my wonderful colleagues in this capacity.
What are any challenges you have faced in your work with SCAN?
It can often be challenging to find trauma-informed mental health support for children and families, especially during this past year of great need for such support during a pandemic. At CASA, we are always looking for meaningful ways to expand our volunteer base to reflect the diversity of the children we serve. For example, Richmond City has a growing population of Spanish-speaking youth in foster care, and I’ve seen how challenging it can be for youth and caregivers to navigate a system that doesn’t speak their language. I love that I get to work with some amazing CASA volunteers who are able to connect with families in Spanish and ultimately what a difference that can make.
Do you have any goals or hopes for the next year with SCAN?
Ultimately, I want to keep growing! For me, this means continuing to find ways to support my volunteers better, since this is my first time in a supervisory role. I also have a goal to continue expanding my knowledge base on effectively navigating conversations about trauma and mental health with caregivers in a way that is both informative and manageable.
Are you involved with any other community organizations, hobbies, or activities?
On the weekends you will probably find me walking with my husband and our dogs Moose and Bear on one of Richmond’s beautiful trails, or trying out a local restaurant. I also love to cook and am always looking to try out new recipes!
What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
I seem to always use this as my “fun fact”, and those close to me know this already, but I am the second oldest of eight. I am 10+ years older than my younger siblings, so I often feel like I’ve been “working” with kiddos a majority of my life! I also lived in El Salvador (my mom’s native country) for almost a year when I was very young, and came back to the U.S. primarily knowing Spanish and not very much English. I have sadly lost this fluency since, but do have a limited working ability in Spanish which I try to utilize at work when I can.