Profile: Orna Feighery – Sr. Bilingual Transitional Living Specialist, Worcester, Mass.

Orna Feighery is a senior bilingual transitional living specialist at Youth Villages in Massachusetts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Hispanic studies from Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

What made you want to work at Youth Villages?
Youth Villages’ program is hands on. This is not talk therapy – it’s making a difference in the lives of children and their families and young adults who have aged out of foster care by working intensively with them in their own homes, the community and school. As transitional living specialists, we do whatever we need to do to help a young adult live successfully on his or her own. That means we tackle all kinds of issues not covered in psychology classes. We take them to doctor’s appointments, help them find a new job, teach them how to write a resume, show them how to budget, find a safe and affordable apartment and much more. We do whatever it takes to help a young adult find success, which makes our services a lot more effective than they otherwise would be. What I also love about Youth Villages are the chances the organization gives you to jump right in and get to work. You get a lot of support here from your team, your supervisor and through group supervision meetings, which are big brain-storming meetings on how we can address certain situations and behaviors and make a lasting difference. We all give each other advice and suggestions, and we hold one another accountable to change lives.

What do you love about being a bilingual transitional living specialist?
Working one-on-one with young adults who have aged out of foster care is something I love doing. This is so much more than a job. It’s a chance to make a real and lasting difference in someone’s life. That’s an awesome feeling.

What does a typical day look like for you?
I typically go to the office in the mornings to handle paperwork and do treatment planning. I keep the afternoons open to go in the field and see the young adults I work with. Fridays are generally devoted to paperwork – there is a lot of paperwork to complete. But what make my job exciting is that every day is different, and I get to do different things all the time. Today, for example, I am helping a girl apply for health insurance. After that, I am taking another young woman to do job applications. Tomorrow one of the young people I help will need to meet her lawyer to prepare for trial, and afterward, we want to register her for certified nursing assistant courses. This young woman is a mom, so I am also helping her look for child care options. Another young adult I work with is homeless right now. I helped her settle into a shelter, and we are now looking for more permanent living options. We are working on filling out apartment applications. She is already on the waiting lists for some places. So these are just some of the things I get to help young adults with, and every day is different. But generally, I spend a third of my time doing paperwork, another third working with the young adults one on one and the last third I spend driving.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your first year at Youth Villages and how did you overcome them?
Our jobs are quite intense, and you really need to learn to juggle multiple responsibilities at the same time and to stay on top of a lot of paperwork. It’s all about getting organized and staying organized. It took me a while to get a hang on that. I created a monthly binder to help me keep organized, and that has worked for me.

What has been the most rewarding experience so far at Youth Villages?
Seeing the young adults I work with learn to make good decisions and live more and more independently is wonderful. It’s great to know that we help them achieve their goals and succeed in life.

What is it like working at Youth Villages?
At Youth Villages, we work in small teams led by a supervisor. I love my team. We are all really supportive of one another. When someone calls in sick, we all jump in to help out. We pick up whenever one of our team members needs help. I truly like all the people here. We can both just chat and have tons of fun or be really productive together. You always get to benefit from the input of others here. It’s collaborative. That makes it fun and a really great place to work.

How often do you see the young adults you work with?
I see them at least twice a week, and in addition, I talk a lot more with them on the phone, just checking in or to discuss something. We’re really in constant communication with them. As transitional living specialists, we make ourselves the go-to person for them for everything. It usually takes some time for them to understand what we are there for, but once they understand, they start relying on us, and they call us whenever they need us. We are always there for them. Once a young person is ready to live on his or her own, we slowly decrease the amount of contact we have with them until they’re ready for discharge from our program.

Do you find your job rewarding?
I think it is a very rewarding job if you like people. After every session I have with a young adult, I feel uplifted and am in a better mood. I really like the interaction with the youth. And every time one of the young people I help makes progress or achieves a goal, it makes me happy. But even if none of the youth I help make any specific progress one week, we get to hear the progress the youth the other people on my team help make, and that feels just as great. In group supervision we have a brag board and acknowledge everything our youth have achieved that week. We acknowledge when they get jobs, make smart decisions in tough situations and so on. We always have a lot to brag about. It’s great to see we really get to make a difference in young adults’ lives. This is a lot more than a job. A friend of mine said once that a job is where you are waiting for time to pass so you can go home, but a career is when you never have enough time. That’s how it is for me.

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