Employee Spotlight: Kiera Carpenter
We sat down with Drop-In Worker Kiera Carpenter to talk about her role and the philosophy of the Drop-In Center. Carpenter was born and raised in Chicago and is working towards a degree in Sustainability at Roosevelt University. She lives with her partner and cats and dog, and she enjoys everything relaxing. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
C4: Start out by telling us about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your life like outside of work?
Kiera Carpenter: I’m from Chicago, south side born and raised. I was a nineties kid on the south side, so it was a very different type of upbringing, but it obviously makes me more relatable to a lot of our clients here. I’m currently in school at Roosevelt University. I went back after years of being out of school, and I was doing all sorts of jobs, had my hands in just about anything you can think of, from regular admin work to being an assistant to a celebrity that a lot of people know. All of these experiences, give me a pretty well-rounded work background. My personal life right now is just trying to relax and participate in self care most of the time. I spend a lot of time with my partner and we try to find ways to have fun outside of work. I spend a lot of time with our three cats and Australian cattle dog, who keeps things interesting – her energy is unmatched. I like video games, I’m a cozy gamer. I read a lot of books too! I also love stargazing whenever I get a chance to get out of the city for a camping trip.
C4: And how long have you been at C4? What roles have you held here?
KC: I’ll have been at C4 working in the Drop-in Center for a year in April. I recently started a computer literacy class for people who need extra help learning how to use computers. I teach them the basics and meet them where they are so we can get them up to speed. I also want to make sure people know what AI tools like ChatGPT are, because AI could be a big part of the future, so they know what it is and how to use it properly.
C4: What does a typical day look like for you in this role?
KC: I walk in, I say hi to everybody. I turn on the music, set the tone for the day, put on a show for entertainment. A lot of times I play ping pong with Rich. Other than that, I talk to clients to see how they’ve been doing throughout the day or the week, or however long it’s been since I’ve seen them.
C4: Are there any interactions you’ve had with clients or colleagues that have changed your perspective on your work?
KC: The most important thing I’ve learned when interacting with clients is to meet people where they are. I love having the opportunity to support clients. Working with Herb [Cobbs, Associate Director of Specialized Services] and Tom [Pickens, Drop-In Center Team Lead] has taught me a lot about how to do this work. They’re so good at what they do and have so much compassion and understanding. They know how to work around what everybody’s going through and anticipate client’s needs.
C4: Can you explain a bit about what it means to meet someone where they are?
KC: The clients in the Drop-In Center come from all walks of life and might be going through a variety of different things at any given time. The communication style has to be different. Understanding what everybody’s gone through, you have to treat the situation with the right amount of care. It’s important to be mindful of what someone is experiencing in the moment so that we know how to offer the most helpful support.
C4: Are there any misconceptions about the work you do that you’d like to clear up?
KC: We are on the front lines and most of the time, we are the first people clients see – aside from the front desk – when they are experiencing mental health concerns or crises. We see the stress on their face. In the Drop-In Center, you have to understand that people can come in the door and can have anything going on at any time. It’s very important work to just be present and have those deep relationships and be someone that somebody can talk to and know the resources they might need and find those things. Sometimes it is just being someone to talk to. So, while it might seem like a simple job, there is a lot of energy that’s put into building and maintaining relationships with clients. That’s a big reason people come to the Drop-In Center and continuously come back, day after day. People need people, and often they don’t have that when they get home, somebody to talk to, somebody to hang out with.