Each day Lisa Lewis Jenkins makes scores of people feel less self-conscious, more welcome and more connected to people and places they didn’t know could help meet a need they weren’t even going to mention. Lisa is a social worker and a connector but that’s not the name she goes by.
“I’m a chaplain,” she says. “It’s central to who I am, to looking at the whole person and looking at all their needs.” Lisa sees people through her chaplain eyes, not her social work eyes.
“We knew people came through our doors needing services we didn’t provide,” explained Dr. Peter Morris, Urban Ministries Executive Director. “Rather than duplicate, we thought we could connect people to partner agencies in the community, but first we’d need to know what they needed. The AJ Fletcher Foundation agreed to fund a connector, but we got a lot more in Lisa.”
“I listen to people who may have forgotten they have a voice,” explains Lisa. There is no screening questionnaire. “There’s a story and out of that story, really heard, comes a need.”
More and more places are screening for what are called social determinants of health. So is Urban Ministries’ Open Door Clinic: looking for food insecurity, or inability to pay heating and cooling bills, or lack of transportation to pick up medicines, or job loss or wages lost to sick days. The clinic uses a questionnaire. Lisa uses great listening and great presence.
“Someone might come back too soon for food and the need is alternate food sources, or a some continued high utility bills, or a part time job lost a few months back. I get to hear the story behind the story, and we look for a solution.” It’s more than handing out a piece of paper with a phone number or two. “That’s no answer.” Lisa looks for warm handoffs.
“A piece of paper has no life. Someone just shared a story and some pain,” Lisa explains. “ I give a name and a number and make a call and a connection.” Lisa makes 35 or more referrals a day and could make more. “For things people might not want to ask for out loud, like mental health or legal assistance or things that are in short supply, like help with the high utility bill or unexpected emergency room bill or where can I get dental care.”
“We see people whose income level puts them not just at the edge but over the edge,” said Dr. Morris. “It isn’t surprising that people have multiple needs. We’re fortunate that Lisa is there to make the search that much easier.”