Congratulations to this year’s Jeff Small Pioneer Award winner – Meagan DeWitt, Family Engagement Specialist! She was commended for her positivity, patience and resourcefulness by those who nominated her. Everyone agreed that her flexibility and dedication to the families she works with has really changed the lives of so many people during her two years at Lund.
The focus of Meagan’s work is to strengthen family support systems for women in treatment. Meagan works with women before they leave Lund and for six months afterwards to help them re-connect, repair and redefine relationships with family members, friends and community organizations that will be supportive of and helpful to them. She helps women manage the practical needs of independent living and parenting while in recovery and follows up with them to make sure that they and their children are thriving in the community. Meagan’s work brings her all over Vermont to follow up with women who have returned to their hometowns or relocated elsewhere in Chittenden County.
Meagan spent some time at her Glen road office recently answering these questions, which are designed to demonstrate her pioneering attitude and help people get to know more about her and her work.
Interviewer: What did you have for breakfast?
MD: I had a cinnamon raisin bagel with apple cinnamon cream cheese and an iced coffee.
Interviewer: What pie are you near?
MD: Am I near? Like close to? I would say I am emotionally close to grape pie because no one knows what it is and it’s my family’s specialty. And physically, I would say I am closest to an apple pie because they sell them at Kinney’s.
Interviewer: Describe the color yellow without using visual references,
MD: I would say that yellow is bright, and a symbol of happiness or fun. If you had to solidify the emotion happiness into an object, it would be the color yellow. I suppose it also stands for caution.
Interviewer: Who is your favorite pioneer?
MD: This is a little off the wall. I personally love Roseanne Barr. I grew up watching ‘Roseanne’ and at the time her TV show was completely different from the other families you saw on TV. It wasn’t like a ‘happy family our problems are fixed at the end of an episode and we are all going to giggle about it’. And there were people before her, but in a modern sense, she represented lower income families and families where the children did not exactly represent the perfect children. It was one of the first TV shows to have a LGBTQ character that wasn’t their shtick , it was just part of their character. It was real life problems not like ‘Jimmy got a C on his paper’, but real life problems that families face all the time. Sometimes you do get in fights with your kids and they leave the house and they might not come back for a while. For me as a kid, that was such an important piece to see. Not all of that world represented my world, but it did represent worlds I was familiar with and there were parts of me I could see in those characters. For me, it was so important to see that on TV and have that perspective available to me. I got in lots of arguments with people about it. In Grad School I said something when they asked a character I identified with and they were like, “Why? Because you want to be white trash?” and I said, “Actually I completely disagree with your answers and here is my list of reasons why!”
Interviewer: If you had to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, how would you do it?
MD: I think I would get lots of those big plastic bins and probably a dolly and organize them into stacks, probably 4 high because I am not that tall. It would depend on where I had to move them too, but I guess those would be pretty heavy. I think I would also potentially try to find a gaggle of children to get involved. They would keep me excited about the project. Their body heat might make the project a bit stickier but they would keep me pumped. INTERJECTION: How many plastic bins do you think it would take? MD: I have zero reference on how big a 747 is so I am just going to say 1100!
Interviewer: How many cows in Canada?
MD: Like 500,000? Yeah, well, mmm, yeah I’ll stick with that answer. I guess I wonder how much…I am really bad at geography….so I am like well how much of the cow species are we including? Just cows? Are we including bison? Are bison a version of cows? INTERJECTION: No, straight up cows. MD: So they might not really like the icy parts up north. But I still think that a lot of people eat beef so there are probably lots kept in captivity, so I would stick with 500,000. But I would say that they are not all naturally roaming. INTERJECTION: Where are cows naturally roaming? Just out of curiosity. MD: Probably Montana, right? INTERJECTION: I don’t think so. Cows? Like black and white cows? Just roaming? MD: (emphatic) Yeah. I am sure they have them in Spain. That’s a really vast generalization but there has to be free-range cows somewhere.
Tell me an inspirational story from your work at Lund
MD: I have a two-part answer. One is short and has happened multiple times. I get the opportunity to work with the women in the residential program in trying to repair their relationships with their parents. And for the people where their relationship is able to get to this point, one of my favorite questions to ask to the parent is – what have you seen change in them? Because so rarely do I think they have that conversation independently. Most of the time it ends in tears for the client because it is so meaningful for them to hear those things and not the criticisms and the ‘Can you put your shoes away when your are at the house?’. So rarely do they get to hear that from their parents’ perspective, ‘Here is the progress I have seen and the changes I have seen you make’. These are really meaningful moments for me to see happen.
The other one is one of the most impactful things that I have done, the ‘I live at Lund’ video. Mainly because it wasn’t a part of my position, it wasn’t a part of anything I had to do. I was actually sitting in this chair and I looked at Laura May and said, “I have this idea…” and she was like, “That’s a really good idea you should tell other people.” Other people got behind it and figured out the ways that we could make this work and how we could change it to fit what we need. Then I got to be a part of taping the women, you and I doing that together and seeing them being inspired to do something that was out of the box. It wasn’t a part of anything they were doing either and it was more like, “Do you want to help us with this project?” The fact that people got behind it felt great. I was surprised. I thought they would be like, “You’re crazy! We don’t have time for this.” Then once it was done, to see the reaction across the board whether it was from staff, clients who participated, those who did not participate or once it was on the internet, the public’s perception of it was just so amazing. The clients who participated felt so proud of it and the people who did not participate being like, “Oh that actually turned out better than I expected”. They didn’t want to do it so they were really supportive of each other in that. And then so many people responded. At times I was really protective of it and wanted to be really careful about showing it, but the women were, ‘Let’s call WCAX and I want to send it to them, can I send it on FaceBook?’ They were so proud of it and they wanted everyone to see it. There was a point in the beginning when I felt like I had a heavy hand in it and then there was a point when it wasn’t mine and it was theirs. Watching that come about was really great and giving them that opportunity felt really good.
Congratulations, Meagan, on being the 2016 Jeff Small Pioneer Award Winner. Thank you for all your work with women, children and families at Lund. You have made our organization and statewide community a better, brighter place to live.