A check in with Raye Narra on their journey as a Supportive Services Counselor
When it comes to thinking about what a Supportive Services Counselor actually does, it’s hardly ever a list of cut-and-dry duties. No two days are the same in the role of supporting individuals experiencing the challenges of housing instability. Writing this as one of At The Crossroads’ (ATC) newer members, I wanted to get a better understanding of what our counselors do on a day-to-day basis and how this role at ATC differs from other ‘counseling’ positions.
The ATC counselor who patiently entertained some of my questions was Raye Narra. Raye is also newer to the team, but shares plenty of experience working at SF nonprofits designed to provide support to some of the community’s most underserved neighbors. The conversation that follows gives an honest look into a Supportive Services Counselor’s day-to-day and how that role is different at ATC:
Q: Tell me a little about your background?
Raye: My background varies; I’ve had great experiences working in museums, theaters, and educational programs, and most recently I completed the Community Health Worker Program through City College. The Community Health Worker Certificate Program led to an internship with the Department of Public Health. There I was helping clients get linked up with referrals like In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). This gave me a good foundation for this kind of outreach and support work.
Q: How has this counselor role at ATC been different from your previous roles?
Raye: One of the main reasons I came to ATC was the long-term support model. A lot of agencies today are overwhelmed and understaffed. So what ends up happening is each client gets a very limited amount of time and support. I think the way the public health system is set up right now is actually pretty unsustainable. It’s clear to me that what works is being as accessible as possible and providing individualized support. A lot of the values that ATC promotes via its literature is rooted in the day-to-day work that we do. And that’s very refreshing. Client-centered, unconditional, and long-term support creates transformational relationships. This is something I strongly stand behind. If ATC didn’t stand behind this, then I don’t think I would be here right now. I’m able to do outreach, as well as informal counseling and case management to help offer our clients support in the areas they feel they need it most.
Transitioning into this counselor role at ATC has been a great experience. I like the fact that ATC doesn’t just toss counselors into the mix right away. The first couple months are a lot of shadowing, observing, and making sure that counselors are really comfortable before throwing them into live situations. It reflects well on how important ATC holds communication, collaboration, and consistency when it comes to working with our clients.
Q: What do you enjoy most about this work?
Raye: So far during my time here at ATC, what I’ve enjoyed the most about being a Supportive Services Counselor is the camaraderie and support across the organization, not just within the program staff. We are a strong and united team across the board! I am also enjoying the process of helping individuals find creative solutions to the day-to-day challenges they face. Depending on what they need in the current moment, we are able to research, reach out, and collaborate on a game plan that our clients think are best to move forward with
Q: What do you enjoy least about counselor-type work?
Raye: Although we have the ability to go above and beyond for the clients that we work with, the frustrating part for me is when I am unable to find a solution for clients that works out. Every client has specific needs and situational aspects that define how we are able to help them, but there can be times when trying to find the right resources at the right times can be a bit tough especially with the demand on social services in general right now. Oftentimes, the clients themselves can be a great resource and the collaborative approach that we take, both with other counselors and clients, helps make this not as big of a burden.
Q: What is the most meaningful part of your job?
Raye: Being able to follow through on helping our clients. In my previous position, I was in a tough spot where we only had a certain amount of time to spend with each client before moving on to the next person. There was a lot of stress and anxiety in hearing so many problems and issues and trying to move on to the next problem knowing you can’t really put forth the effort to help the client you just had a conversation with. The most meaningful part of my job now is that I can truly listen to our clients, their needs, and build trust with them because I actually have the ability to take that conversation and put meaningful action behind it. That is true transformational relationship building.
Q: Any specific interactions or moments that stand out to you during your first couple months at ATC?
Raye: One of my first one-on-one interactions with a client started with a simple question: “How long have you been with ATC?” And it became a really honest conversation about how ATC has been helping this person for many years. An organic conversation emerged about the different things ATC has worked on with them. Naturally this person started sharing some of the things that were currently going on in their life, and the conversation got into a vulnerable place. The fact that I was able to do meaningful follow up after hearing this person share some very personal things was one of my first real counseling conversations where I truly felt a connection to the work I want to be doing. This is my idea of helping people. This is what I am here for.
Q: How do you think our community can better serve our disconnected neighbors?
Raye: Our social services in general need to do a better job. Not just for the individuals we are trying to serve, but for the individuals who make up and work for these services. The way the structure is set up puts too much stress and pressure on our health care workers and service providers to actually help individuals without putting themselves in harmful situations. At the Crossroads as an organization puts a lot of emphasis on making the work sustainable for us and accessible for the people we serve.
At The Crossroads is currently a team of 10 members, 5 of which are program staff, with the plan to continue to grow. If there is one thing that I learned from interviewing Raye, it’s that transformational relationships take time, patience, and empathy. Even as we continue to grow and evolve as an organization, we will continue to prioritize building long-term, unconditional relationships with as many clients as we can. Know anyone who might enjoy this type of work? Refer them to us, we’re looking for additional Supportive Services Counselors to join our team.