Companioning Case-Managers, Not The Experts


"First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

One of the most valuable tools I think a deacon team can (and should) have is a list of the resources available to a person who comes with a need that they are not equipped to meet.  Knowing our community, and the various organizations within it, which offer support is crucial to the diaconal work we do.  As deacons, we are not expected to be able to do everything for someone, however, we would work wisely by seeing ourselves as "case managers" who through companioning help a person move along on their journey to wholeness.

Companioning someone requires significant time and commitment, but it doesn't require that we are experts on everything.  It means being there beside someone, taking a moment to see the landscape as they see it.  We don't push from behind, we don't pull from in front, we stand in solidarity.  Sometimes this requires that we advocate for someone, maybe we go to appointments with them, perhaps we refer them to a housing agency, or get them set up with social services.  We may help the person wade through the confusion of bureaucracy, or we sit with them through a time of trial.  All in all, it's being there for a person while they work with "the experts" to get the help they need.
Companioning requires wisdom and patience.  We need wisdom to be able to discern what this particular person is able to do themselves, and what they need help with.  It can be very difficult to know where this boundary lies, but we won't be successful in helping a person with their next steps if, for example, we set up an appointment, only to find out they don't have the capability to get there.  It requires patience because there are usually multiple steps that need to be walked together, which means that true companioning, isn't a one-off deal.
Case Managing and Companioning are not mutually exclusive concepts, they actually fit quite nicely together.  The case management terminology is not meant to be sterile and distant, rather, it is merely a helpful term for describing a responsibility of care for another person.  You take ownership of the relationship when you case manage, and by keeping a record of your interactions and the steps that have been taken and the goals that have been made, you also help a future transition, should this person still be requiring support from the deacons when your term is up.  The Companioning term describes how you approach this case management, as a side by side support, pointing out avenues to be explored, listening to the other, and offering support when it is appropriate.
As deacons or "Companioning Case Managers", I encourage you to know what resources are available and make a list of them.  Then, as you are assisting other people, dare to go deeper, scratch beyond the surface, find out what is really needed and then make use of the resources within your community.  Connect them to the resources they need, but  whatever you do, please don't abandon them!
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