Meet and greet seeks to spread the word about social services program at local libraries

NILES — Since May, a Library of Michigan grant has given social service workers the opportunity to work with residents across Berrien and Cass counties by being a presence at local libraries.

On Thursday morning, the Niles District Library hosted a meet and greet to help spread the word about the Social Workers in Rural and Small Libraries program.

Tiffany Russell, a social services manager, said the meet and greet was an ideal opportunity to share how the program can help to benefit community members.

“It’s still a new concept having a social worker in a library and we are really just trying to get the word out to people,” Russell said.

With the advent of social services workers, which includes Russell and two interns, people can get help with referrals for education, employment and emergency services resources.

“We are here to help them find what resources and services are available for them,” Russell said.

The social service workers are available at the following libraries, Niles, Dowagiac, Cass, Watervliet, Benton Harbor, Calvert and Bridgman.

Reflecting on their work so far, Russell said the program seems to have found a good home in the Berrien and Cass communities.

“It has gone very well,” Russell said. “The communities that we are working with have been very receptive to the idea of a social worker in a library. We have assisted people with a variety of different things.”

The three-year grant also offers paid internships to students, giving them hands on learning experience, Russell said.

While traffic has been steady since the program’s inception, Russell said she hopes to interact with more people in the year to come. 

Through her work, Russell said they have consistently identified a number of residents across Berrien and Cass counties with needs for affordable housing and employment.

Intern Jonathan Anthony, a Western Michigan University student in the social services master’s program, spent Thursday morning introducing himself to a number of people during the meet and greet.

Anthony said the program has allowed him to learn more about local residents and how libraries remain a vital part of their communities.

“Libraries today are much more than books and magazines, it is truly a focal point of the community,” Anthony said. “One thing I didn’t realize was all the amazing programs that go on here, classes, workshops, speakers and conferences.”

Because of this, he said it makes libraries a great place to connect with those that need help.

“Libraries are one of the few places that are open to everybody,” Anthony said. “It is a nonjudgmental place.”

Tracy Rudi is also an intern and master’s program student at Western Michigan University. Rudi began working with the library even before the program was in place. Staff have lamented in the past that they realized they could not live without her support. 

For those looking to connect with social service workers, Anthony encouraged them to ask to come to the library and talk with them. If they are not available at the moment, residents can leave their contact information with library staff.

Anthony emphasized that the they are eager to help.

“We service everyone from children to senior citizens,” he said.

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