Full Life

Cari’s Story: The gentle nudge I needed

By: Olivia Timbone

Working for Surv has given me many experiences I could have never in a million years anticipated. One day you’re mounting a TV on a wall, another you’re staining a deck, and another you’re playing a high intensity game of Tetris with a stranger’s furniture in a 17-foot U-haul truck. Each day is different and holds opportunities to refine skills that will continue to be useful no matter where life takes you. I have had many shifts where something unexpected happens and I quickly have to turn on the problem-solving switch in my brain. Throughout many unforeseen circumstances, this has been a skill I have been able to refine in my time working at Surv. 

However, perhaps one of the most useful “skills” I’ve been able to sharpen in this position is that of empathy. Many jobs at Surv require you to enter someone’s home in a highly transitional period of their lives; I imagine that feels quite vulnerable for many of these neighbors, and understandably so. I’ve learned that entering these homes humbly, with an open mind and an attitude of compassion can greatly contribute to the neighbor’s peace of mind. This can change the entire course of the shift, as well as make or break the opportunity to have a good, long-term connection with the Neighbor.

Back in June, my coworker Chloe and I were assigned a shift to help rearrange some furniture in a house. It seemed simple enough, but when we arrived, I was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of furniture and boxes and how little space there was to maneuver everything. While doing the best we could to work around the clutter, Chloe and I began getting to know Tammy, our Neighbor. We soon learned she had recently moved into the house to help care for her sister who was fighting cancer. The reason there were so many items to rearrange was because there were essentially two sisters’ belongings in a house which really only had room for one. On top of that, their days consisted of chemo treatments, in-home visits, trips to the pharmacy, and all the other chaos that terminally ill patients and their families face day after day. 

Chloe and I quickly realized this was more than just a four-hour job. The neighbor became a Surv+ member and started consistently hiring me to help organize and sort through her belongings. It soon became a consistent part of my week to spend a couple afternoons at this home, stacking photo albums, rearranging China cabinets, and chatting with Tammy about her family and their years of sentimental memories together.

One day early in the summer, while I was on a shift stacking some Tupperware in the most space-efficient manner I could, I was asking Tammy about the ups and downs of living with her sister after years of being in separate cities. She nearly cut me off to say, “You should study social work.” I laughed and politely informed her I’d already gotten my Bachelor’s degree in Teaching English. She quickly and confidently retorted, “Well, you should really consider getting your Master’s in Social Work.”

The comment seemed so off topic and abrupt, it caught me off guard, but I began to truly ponder this possibility. The idea of going to grad school had always lived rent-free in my mind, but I hadn’t fully known what I wanted to professionally commit to, much less taken any steps to pursue it.

Every few days I found myself back at Tammy’s house, and the topic would continuously come back up. I later learned that she worked as a school counselor for most of her professional life and we bonded over our passion for education. As I helped her sort through boxes and boxes of her belongings, she helped me sort through the different avenues that are available for me to pursue my goals. Six weeks prior to these conversations, these “goals” of mine were simply ideas. Tammy helped me put words to them and take tangible steps towards pursuing them.

At the beginning of the summer when I entered that house, it seemed impossible it would ever become organized. However, little by little, we chipped away at a massive job, and it consistently improved over time. In the same way, this neighbor took the time to help me, slowly but surely, sort through my own clutter (all my different interests) and get on a path to prioritize my goals and make my passions a tangible part of my daily life. Because of this experience, this neighbor gained a decluttered home, I gained a clarified pathway to becoming a licensed social worker, and we both gained a new friend!