June 29, 2020
In the last episode of Bethany’s Behind the Front Lines podcast, hosts Juan Fernandez, Allison Preston-Smith, and Nathan Bult reflect on what they’ve learned from our guests these past few weeks.
Why was this podcast so important for us to create?
Nate: As we heard stories from our colleagues about their responses to COVID-19 around the world, we noticed incredible ways in which they came alongside those negatively impacted by the pandemic. Our teammates have found innovative ways to step up and support these vulnerable populations.
Overall, it was educational to uncover much of the misinformation and stereotypes facing the people Bethany serves.
One of the three primary areas of work for Bethany is vulnerable children in the U.S. What did we learn about our work in this area?
Juan: I had the opportunity to talk with Mandy Taylor, a parent support specialist, who has switched all of her work to Zoom. I was impressed to learn how she navigates these interactions, helping biological parents keep their kids entertained during virtual family visits.
I was also heartbroken to learn that many parents, who had done everything right to welcome their children home from a foster home, were now delayed due to the court closures.
Allison: I spoke with Kristen Schlee, a pregnancy counselor, whose team has been navigating the different hospitals’ regulations regarding whether they can be present for clients’ labor and delivery. Knowing how scary and overwhelming it can be for unexpectant parents, Kristen spends much time with these women to show her love and support.
Nate: Amee Aseltine works with Bethany’s Homebuilders program, which provides direct support to families facing crises—like homelessness, food insecurity, and more—that threaten separation from their children. They truly have the odds stacked against them. But Amee’s team works to strengthen families so children are less likely to enter foster care.
And then there was Jen Strasenburgh who works with pregnant women incarcerated in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, due to substance misuse issues. Talk about complexities! In the ReNew program, Jen meets daily with these expectant moms, helping them overcome their addictions and make safe plans for their children.
One topic we didn’t get a chance to cover during our podcast series was Safe Families for Children. What is this program all about?
Nate: Safe Families is related to ReNew and Homebuilders, which we just talked about, in that it serves families on the brink of separation. Through Safe Families, children are temporarily hosted by voluntary Host Families while the parents establish a safe, stable home environment.
And what’s fantastic about this program is that, quite often, the Host Family becomes an ongoing support for the entire family, becoming almost like an extended family.
And family preservation is Bethany’s true mission. What did we learn about foster care permanency and reunification through this series?
Allison: Jamie Minick, an assistant branch director, spoke about the importance of reuniting children in foster care with their biological parents whenever possible. At Bethany, we ensure that families have the resources they need to seek permanency and make sure their kids don’t end up in foster care again.
Moving on to our work with refugees and immigrants, what key lessons did we learn from these staff members?
Nate: I think many people who work in social work, or nonprofits in general, see their work as more than just a job; it’s a passion or a calling. Kibrom Tesfu, a refugee employment specialist, is exactly that. He told me he “didn’t have work hours” during the pandemic because he was needed around the clock. When I spoke with him, he was exhausted!
And that’s because many of the refugees Kibrom works with lost their jobs because of COVID-19 precautions and closings. Being new to the country and still learning English, they needed help applying for pandemic relief unemployment insurance. As a former refugee from Eritrea, Kibrom has an unwavering patience and understanding for helping this vulnerable population find work and keep food on the table.
Juan: I spoke with Lisa Dominguez, a human trafficking social worker, about how she supports survivors in Florida. One of the many misconceptions in her line of work is that trafficking goes beyond sex trafficking. For instance, many refugees are tricked into coming to the United States to pursue legal work, yet the traffickers haven’t provided them proper paperwork.
I also spoke with Daisy Cordero, an unaccompanied child case manager, about her work helping kids who flee danger in their home country and come to the U.S. alone. I learned that Daisy is the person who breaks the news to these kids about whether or not they can be reunified with family. And, because of COVID-19 regulations, she had to say “no, not yet” to dozens of kids throughout the pandemic. Add to that the fact that Daisy works in the New York/New Jersey area—the epicenter of the U.S. breakout—and it’s clear to see she’s passionate about her work.
Finally, I spoke with Andres Rodriguez and Kendra Kunst, who both work with young refugee men in Bethany’s residential homes. This is a topic with many negative stigmas, including the idea that refugee boys come to the U.S. as criminals, when really they’re escaping death, gang violence, and more. According to Kendra and Andres, if the boys in their care were given a chance to safely return to their home countries, 10/10 would say, “When can I leave?”
Finally, what did we discover about our global staff working in countries around the world?
Nate: I had the unique opportunity to speak with Teddy Maru from his home in Ethiopia about what life is like in the Pugnido refugee camp. For those who don’t know, Ethiopia borders South Sudan, a country that has faced violence for decades. In fact, Pugnido has been around for 40 years, so there are plenty of people who were born there and still live there today. Families would love to return home, but their country is no longer safe.
What I learned from Teddy is that there is no possible way to socially distance yourself in a refugee camp, and there are no sinks with running water and soap. That’s why Teddy’s staff help find families for children, offering foster care and mental health services and educating refugees about COVID-19.
Juan: And the reason Bethany started our family preservation work around the world is because it makes more sense to intervene before a crisis.
Nate: That’s right. I spoke with Naa Mohenu, our country director in Ghana, about how she’s leading family preservation and empowerment programs in her country. Bethany believes in helping families not just survive but thrive.
Many of the families Naa works with were starting businesses or job training when they were forced home, like all of us. Throughout the pandemic, her team has continued to reach families via WhatsApp, helping provide basic essentials and prepare them to earn a living when their communities open up again.
What’s next for Bethany’s heroic social workers, and how can readers/listeners get involved?
Juan: If we’ve learned anything, it’s that social workers truly are heroes. Their work never stops; in fact, it often increases when the world faces huge issues like the coronavirus. We know our colleagues will continue advocating for children and families to stay together.
But we need you to get involved. Bethany is present in many states and countries around the world. And due to the depth of our services, if you have a passion, we can likely partner together to enact change.