Q & A with Jovita Fenwick

Tell us a little bit about your new role. What exactly does a Social Services Program Manager do at a public library?  

The Social Services Program Manager will be responsible for developing and implementing a program that will positively impact not only the patrons but the staff as well.  This will be done by creating community partnerships with community agencies and connecting library patrons to the interventions that are needed per person.  Whether that is employment, education, mental health, substance abuse, or homelessness just to name a few, this position will allow the community and the staff to have a designated person and eventually team to turn to for social services assistance.  This position will also work on partnering with community organizations to bring in staff training that will address the concerns of the staff and provide awareness about such things as Mental Health, Workplace Wellness, and Self Care is not Selfish.   

What are your goals for working with library staff and patrons, not only at our Central Library but at all our libraries across the County?  

I hope to increase the community’s and the staff’s awareness of social services, its impact on everyone; patrons and staff, and highlighting how everyone plays a part in it.  At some point, we will all need social services whether it is for our aging parents, our children at school, a family member who may be suffering from a mental health diagnosis or a substance abuse disorder, or for ourselves in learning how to implement effective boundaries and overcoming our own stress and anxiety.   

Considering that each library’s demographic is different, they each may require something different.  I cannot come in and build a one-size fits all program and think that it will be efficient because it won’t.  That is why I have chosen to visit each library to see the neighborhood and talk to each Branch manager to hear their words straight from their hearts and that is how I am hoping to build a cohesive program that everyone; community and staff, can benefit from.   

There are so many community partners in Fulton County that would like to partner with the FCPLS and are already doing so through the connections and requests of the Branch managers. My goal is to build a centralized location that contains a variety of resources that regardless of what the Branch managers are looking for, they can go to a certain location and a community partner will be listed and eager to partner with them.   

This is a new position for the library system, but certainly not for you.  where did you work prior to coming to the library?  

Prior to coming to the library, I was a Social Worker at the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office and prior to that, I was a Re-entry Case Manager at the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.  In 2019, I relocated here from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA where I retired from the U.S. Army after serving 20 years and having three combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.  Also, while in WA state, I was a Veteran Housing Coordinator for homeless and low-income Veterans for a non-profit called Sidewalk, and a Case Manager for another non-profit called Low Income Housing Institute out of Seattle. There I managed a tiny village that consisted of 25 tiny homes, a community shower and kitchen, and a resource center. This village housed those overcoming substance abuse disorders, homelessness, those that have aged out of the foster care system, and senior citizens. I was also a Resident Coordinator for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington maintained a men’s shelter, a Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) unit for homeless and low-income Veterans, and a PSH unit for non-Veteran men and women.  So, as you can tell, I have a wide array of experience.  In other words, this is not my first rodeo.  

What are you most excited about accomplishing in this new position?   

The library systems are already seen as a safe space for a lot of people but now we can provide the community with interventions, referrals, and assistance when they feel as if they have no one, may not know where to start, and are just overwhelmed by their situations.  They will now have someone to help them navigate the busyness of community services and to help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety they may be experiencing.   

One example could be, depending on the person’s situation, one person could have four different case managers or social workers with four different agencies throughout the county.  One for housing, one for family interventions, one for helping with getting documents ready, and another for any mental health or substance abuse concerns.  This position will allow me to be able to possibly contact each of the agencies, get a signed Release of Information (ROI) so we can all talk, build a multidisciplinary team for that person which would consist of all the social workers, and build the best-case plan for the client.  This will take away that person’s requirement for constant running around the county and requiring Marta passes which are hard to come by.  Now, they will be able to come here while I make all the phone calls and send out all the required documents on their behalf and it only took one trip.   

I would like to say that I am also eager about opening the library doors to the community agencies but to be honest, the Branch Managers are already doing that.  So far, each branch that I have visited was hosting a great event from free eye clinics to notary services, to mobile libraries, to Caregiver classes, and to outreach with the Department of Family and Children Services for their back-to-school health fair.  They are already doing it and it makes my Social Worker heart so happy to see.  So, with my additions to the great things they are already doing, I am hoping to build a platform for them to find any service they need by taking their ideas, adding mine, and making a One-Stop Shop of social services available through the system.  I hear a lot of people say, “We just don’t know where to look?” So, if I can do that, that will save the staff time when helping patrons and make the patrons simply feel better and heard.   

Anything else you want to add? 

Social services are not new to the library systems. It was formerly known as Community Information and Referral Services and has been tried to be implemented in libraries since 1969.  Though much has not changed with the general idea of CI&R within the libraries, the community agencies and the acceptance of it have.  History always tends to repeat itself and this is just another example of it.  It’s just that now there is a bigger need for the partnership between social services and libraries and hopefully now more people will have a heart and understanding for its purpose.  Since being here I have had the opportunity to speak to Social Workers in libraries in San Francisco, Seattle, Athens, Savannah, Indianapolis, and Illinois, just to name a few.  San Francisco was the first that implemented their program in 2009 and she is still in the field with a great program and a great heart.  We are out here and doing great things…in the libraries!  

In 1972, five major public library systems joined in a consortium to demonstrate urban library development with a program using branch libraries as focal points offering basic information and referral services, those cities were Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, and Queens Borough. (Childers, 1975).  So here we are almost 40+ years later still with some of the same concerns, hopefully, this time, I can help to fulfill the need that they saw in 1972.   

As I tell each of you, I am not here to paint roses and rainbows, I am only here to help and that is what I am going to do. Social Workers are advocates for change and through change can come great things.  Yes, it will take time, nothing happens overnight, but I will give it my best while I am here.    

Childers, T. (1975). Third Year Continuation of a Research and Design Criteris for the Implementation and Establishment of a Neighborhood Information Center in Five Public Libraries: Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, and Queens Borough. Final Summary Report. Houston Public Library.  https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED143366.pdf