Community Support Team: Connecting Resources and Improving Lives
Community Support Professionals Dorethia Miller and Lavar Hemphill’s workday tasks can bring them to a makeshift home under a bridge, a tent behind a downtown business or a morning interview at a fast food restaurant.
Both enjoy the unexpectedness and challenges of their role as part of the Community Support Team (CST) providing services in Gaston County. CST is a six-month program extending community-based services for individuals over the age of 18 with persistent mental illness, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, mood disorders and co-occurring substance use disorders to achieve rehabilitative and recovery goals. CST is also available in Cleveland and Lincoln counties and each provides a 24/7/365 crisis phone line for additional help when support professionals are not available.
Community support professionals can be described as a combination of many roles: resource advisor, shoulder to lean on, confidant, friend. Oftentimes, they see supports at their most vulnerable, and consequently, at their best, when goals and aspirations are met.
Jessica, 29, a divorced mom with four children, wishes for a more peaceful homelife with Miller’s help. “I have to do something because it is getting worse every second, every minute, every hour,” she told Miller during one recent session.
Miller and Jessica review her journal when they meet, where daily entries describe struggles with family members, as well as happy life events. The journal helps both the support and Miller document what has happened and as a tool to develop solutions.
Meanwhile, Hemphill spent an afternoon assisting 20-year-old support, Jesse, signing up for disability and Medicaid at the local Department of Health and Human Services office. From the age of six, Jesse moved within foster care. His eighteenth birthday meant aging out of a system that, at minimum, gave him a home. Deemed an adult, he turned to living on the street.
Hemphill is currently assisting Jesse in finding his first home. The young man has a number of mental and physical health issues including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, spina bifida and scoliosis.
“I fell through the cracks. I am so anxious to get off the streets . . . it is a never-ending struggle. If it wasn’t for Lavar, I wouldn’t be here right now. He keeps me down to earth,” Jesse said of Hemphill’s presence in his life.
With over 10 years working in some capacity of community service, Hemphill said no two days are ever the same. “I like the fact of someone who needs services, you link them and it changes their life,” he said.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is when I see someone like Jesse, who doesn’t have his own home, eventually get an apartment and be in a stable condition – linking them to the community services and resources they need,” Hemphill added.
Photo captions: Top right, Community Support Professional Lavar Hemphill, right, discusses the afternoon’s progress and next steps with person supported Jesse; bottom, right, Community Support Professional Dorethia Miller counsels Jessica during a morning session at the Monarch Behavioral Health site in Cleveland County.