This is the final post in EMPath’s Meet the Mentor blog series, in which we profiled mentors from various EMPath programs. New blogs were posted every week throughout the month of October.

Charmaine has held many different roles throughout her nearly nine years at EMPath. Today she oversees the new Young Parent Success Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as the Whittier CHOICE Project in Roxbury. Charmaine also led MassLEAP, which concluded this year.

What brought you to EMPath?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work with families living in poverty and homelessness. I think it’s because I grew up in the Philippines, and there, poverty is very distinct – you can see it more out in the open. That just felt wrong in many ways. So I grew up always thinking that social work or human services was going to be my field.

As I delved into this world, another passion of mine that surfaced was domestic violence. I blended the two through my internships and volunteer work, working in domestic violence shelters and transition homes. After I got my master’s degree in social work, I still felt that poverty and homelessness was the way to go. One day I looked at organizations that best served those issues, and EMPath came up.

What is the Young Parent Success Program?

The Young Parent Success Program is a new pilot program in partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The intention is to provide Mobility Mentoring® to young adults between the ages of 18-25 who have children or are expecting. Participants do not need to be a Brigham and Women’s patient.

We hope to touch as many young parents who are interested in getting support and mentoring as we can. We partner with them for 18-24 months.

How would you describe a Mobility Mentor? How is it different from a traditional case manager?

A Mobility Mentor partners with participants and families to define how to best achieve self-sufficiency. It’s really the partnership that makes it so important and successful.

When I first started at EMPath [when it was Crittenton Women’s Union] as a Case Manager, my job was very hands-on. I often filled out applications for my participants, I would tell them exactly how to write or do something in a very specific way, I would make phone calls for people, and I would chase them down to meet with me.

Over time, as we were developing the concept of Mobility Mentoring, I learned to step back a little from that. Sometimes I still need to do hands-on things – like if somebody’s about to lose their home, obviously that’s a crisis. But Mobility Mentoring is more about skill-building for participants and I’ve found that it’s not ideal for me to do things for them because if I were to leave, or when the program ends, they lose the opportunity to learn valuable skills. If we are doing all these things for them, it sort-of says we think they can’t do it themselves. That’s not what we want. We want to be able to express the message that “You can do it and you have the skills. It’s just about practice and about getting someone to help you figure out what tools you need and how to advocate for yourself, so you feel self-empowered to own all these practices.”

A mentor is truly someone who helps participants build skills and gain the confidence to do things for themselves. My personal practice has really shifted to one that is less about doing for someone, and more about doing with someone, and eventually stepping back.

Why is Mobility Mentoring effective?

There are many pieces to Mobility Mentoring. One thing many participants keep saying is that it’s not really about the stuff we’ve done – it’s about the quality of the relationships we’ve built with them. It speaks to the unconditional positive regard that we hold. It’s about the consistency of communication, the follow-ups, knowing that we’re there for them. That’s what makes the model strong.

Many folks may have tried to go to different services, and for whatever reason they felt disappointed. There may have been mistrust, miscommunication, or misunderstandings. For our participants who may have had trauma or a lot of disappointments in the past, a mentor is going to have to work really hard on building a relationship.

I had many participants who were skeptical at the beginning of MassLEAP. They weren’t sure if they wanted to join the program. But they kept coming back. And I think part of that was because we were very understanding of the fact that they just needed time to trust us. The quality of the relationship that the mentor has with the participant is such a crucial piece.

Another big reason it works is that my team is great. You have to have a consistent and supportive team to do this work well.

You mentioned the concept of unconditional positive regard. Can you explain what that is?

Unconditional positive regard was developed by the psychologist Carl Rogers. It essentially means accepting and supporting someone for who they are and seeing them as human beings. We come to the relationship respecting the participant as an individual with their own choices and we understand that they are doing the best they can. This means not taking certain behaviors personally or using them to judge the person. It’s also upholding the belief that they are the expert of their own life.

What is one thing you want people to know about EMPath?

It’s exciting work because our model has been shared all over the world.

When I found out we had a former Exchange Member in the Philippines, I was like, whoa. I’m doing something locally, but in some ways, I helped develop this really beautiful model that is making change all over the world. That’s the beauty of it. Homelessness and poverty aren’t in just one place. To know that what we’re doing affects change all over the globe is amazing.

What is your favorite part of your job and why?

Working with participants and doing work that feels meaningful every day is one of the best parts.

Sometimes people say to me, “Oh you’re a social worker, that’s really hard work.” And I’m like, yes, it is, and I also find it amazing and beautiful, because I get to see people change.

Participants teach me in the same way that I teach them. They teach me so much about life. This job has transformed me in many ways and has helped me experience a lot of personal growth. The work speaks to the mission I’ve always lived by since growing up. It’s really fulfilled my life in many ways.

The other thing I love is that I get to surround myself with people who have the same passions and values as I do, and who believe in the work. It’s a great environment to be in.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am very petite, so I find it such an interesting challenge to go shopping and find clothes that fit me and my personality. I love going to thrift stores and doing that. Just like I tell my participants, everything is an opportunity. I think of fashion as an opportunity for me given my frame. In the future I’d like to learn how to sew and alter.

Prior to me being a mom, I used to dance a lot. I went to an arts high school, and I was a dance major. Being in a studio is always so fun. It’s great being surrounded by other people who love dancing.

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