In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Avodah Service Corps Member Mira Warmflash about her placement at Thresholds in Chicago.
Navigating bureaucratic systems can be especially frustrating, but for many of us it’s a rare occurrence. Maybe we run into a problem with our tax return, or we have to make a call to an insurance agency about a claim. But what if you were responsible for navigating those systems on behalf of 200 different people, each with their own needs? For Avodah Service Corps Member Mira Warmflash, that’s just another day on the job.
Originally hailing from a Conservative Jewish community in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Mira relocated to Chicago last year to participate in Avodah’s Service Corps program. She chose Chicago for the opportunity to work at Thresholds, an organization committed to providing housing, healthcare, and hope to thousands of underserved Chicagoans.
Mira oversees a caseload of 200 individuals, each of whom were unhoused prior to receiving help from Thresholds. Each member has also been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, making them part of a particularly vulnerable population. On any given night in the U.S., more than 560,000 people are homeless and, at a minimum, 25 percent of those individuals are mentally ill. As part of her placement, Mira is responsible for coordinating resources to meet each member’s needs. This includes everything from getting them set up with Social Security income to finding a usable couch for them on Facebook Marketplace.
“I help get them access to public benefits, like Social Security, SNAP, Medicare and food vouchers. I also just talk to them, ask them how their day is going,” says Mira. “These are people who live in a single-room occupancy with no families – I talk to them and help them feel less alone.” Talking to the members is her favorite part of the job, she said.
“A lot of what I hear is ‘Thank you for listening to me.’ That feels good. For an hour or half an hour on the phone I am just a friend with no ulterior motives. It feels good to hear them feeling good. A lot of the time they’ll call around and it’s hard to get what they want, I try to be a one-stop shop. That’s the best part for me. I am happy to spend my time Googling things for people if it makes a difference for them.”
One of her earliest cases was a particularly impactful experience.
“This one man, I was talking to him for a long time getting him help with furniture and SNAP benefits (food assistance). He was getting a new bed and had no mattress cover. I happened to have a mattress cover at the bayit (Avodah’s home) that I wasn’t going to use, and he needed it. I’m not allowed to go to the members’ houses, so I brought it to the office for him. He came to pick it up and said he wanted to meet me. He was the first client I ever met in person. It was lovely. He thanked me and said I had done so much. The fact that I always answered his phone call meant a lot to him. It felt good to put a face to a name. That felt good to me and to him.”
While it’s difficult to navigate the government systems, she works hard to ensure each member receives the care and benefits they need. The simplest things, like making a few phone calls on someone’s behalf, can mean so much.
“I hope my work helps change how they feel, even if it’s just for a day. When I get them something like a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a therapist, we’re taking steps to help their mental health. I want people to feel loved and heard and seen. It makes them feel visible and not invisible. I hope I am helpful to their mental state,” Mira said.
The most meaningful part of Avodah for Mira has been the community she has gained. “I had never thought about communal living before Avodah, and now I never want to live any other way.”
Click here to learn more about Thresholds and the important work they do.