I am celebrating the beginning of my 19th year here at Penny Lane this month and experiencing all kinds of emotions and warranted thrills. I have truly enjoyed all my anniversaries so far, but this one comes in a sweeter velvety package which makes it more memorable.
I recall starting my work here right out of the grad school as an Intern Therapist with hopes for gaining experience in the field and gathering needed hours to get my license as a Marriage and Family Therapist. The plan after that was to leave. Go to private practice and live happily ever after.
With this grand plan in mind, I jumped into the deep end of the pool and started paddling my way towards my goals, one stroke at a time. As you can imagine starting a new career is really challenging, especially for those of us who make this transition later in life as I was doing. There was a lot of information, training, expectations, and not to mention DMH paperwork, thrown into the mix that despite their challenges they were helping me stay focused on getting me to the shore and closer to my plans. I wasn’t expecting to work at a non-profit agency for long, so I just focused on what I thought was necessary for me to get my license and walk away into paradise.
I have 18 years under my belt now and can tell you with confidence that rigidity and idealism were not my best friends when I joined Penny Lane. I was convinced at the time that my future rested in a nice office, with a great view no less, where suffering clients would come in through one door, and leave through another in absolute bliss. It did take me some time to realize that such aspirations were not executed as simply as I thought they would. The biggest factor is always the population that we serve, our clients and their families, and my goodness, how quickly I learned the need to be a part of something that was greater than my own needs. By the time I had gathered my hours to become a LMFT and move on, it was too late, I had become a part of a community that parting from it felt as if I was losing a limb. Seriously, it was too difficult and unimaginable to walk away from my neighbors in my adopted community.
As for what makes this anniversary different, I must share more about my ignorant approach in the beginning and a grand turn of fortune that fell on my lap, or shall I say in my pocket, this past year. During my orientation period at PL, I was informed that the agency is among a few qualified clinics where its clinicians would be able to have part of their student loans forgiven under Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) that the Federal Government offers to those working in community services fields. We were also told that we must continue our work at a qualified agency and make 120 consecutive payments in order to qualify. That translated into ten years of work at PL and from where I was standing at the time, it was too long and too far out of my way for me to add another piece of “paperwork” to my task needs. So, I never started the process. Next think I knew I was still at PL and there is a temporary bill floating around that allowed those who are in similar circumstances as myself to apply for the PSLF program and get the rest of their student loan paid off. I started the process and a few months down the road I got a letter in mail congratulating me for the service I provided to my community and informing that the balance of $48,000 that I owed the Federal Government has been forgiven. Now, you would think that this was enough to jump out of my seat and dance in joy, but there was one more envelope in that velvet bag, a check from Penny Lane recognizing my years of employment here as part of an incentive program to show gratitude to all employees and to reward us based on the number of years we have with PL.
So, I said all of that to say this, I am entering my 19th year of employment at PL at a time that I am approaching the retirement age with a renewed bounce under my feet. You might think, “sure, you got some money and less monthly payments,” but that is not all. There is something else. There are these connections that I have established to the communities, to the fellow community workers at different capacities, and to the populations we serve. The bond has become so strong through the years that retirement seems like a deliberate amputation of the umbilical cord that keeps me connected the source of life. Did I just sound dramatic? You bet I did. Every day spent in serving the community is not only a dramatic affair, but a liberating one too as we get to enter someone else’s life, feel the trauma they have experienced, and walk them through the tunnel towards the bright light ahead of them. With all the changes that are taking place around us, from increasing number of mental health patients to the disastrous state of homelessness; staying in the field and providing the needed services become more of a social duty than a mere career in social services. Every day our teams get out there and try, at least, to bring a touch of kindness into someone else’s life, while assessing their situation and planning for means of bringing some relief into their current difficulties. What is more beautiful than that, considering the fact that we are doing all of this for those who were total strangers to us the day before.
I am going to leave you with a Persian verse that my mother kept reciting to us, “you do good and throw it into the river so The God can return it to you in the desert.”