Open Door Ministry has recently hired Laura Westerlage, MDIV/MSSW, to be a part of the UUMC team dedicated to connecting our community members to the resources they need. Below is Laura’s introduction of herself and her hopes of working with UUMC:
“Most of you at UUMC don’t know me, but as of a few weeks ago I was hired to work at Open Doors as a Social Worker through Caritas of Austin. First, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am do be doing this, especially at your church. About a month ago, after talking with John and Wanda I came to visit Open Doors to observe and to see the work that is done on Saturday mornings. I was overwhelmed with the amount of love and authenticity that was present in Wanda, CL, Will, Gay, and the many other voluteers that I met. I knew from that visit that I would love to be a part of what your church is doing.
I came to Austin in 2009 to start seminary at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary with knowledge that I was called by God to be there, but with great hesitancy about working for the Church. I quickly learned about the dual degree program at UT School of Social Work and my previous experiences and passion for social justice lead me to apply. The four years working to get both these degrees was life-changing to say the least. Social justice and the work of the Church are so wonderfully intertwined and my education helped me to explore this more deeply.
In the field of social work I have had experience counseling children, families and adults, providing case management for low-income and homeless individuals, and to work on developing a program to help folks apply for state and federal benefits at Travis County Family Support Services, LifeWorks, and Caritas. While I was doing these various internships over the past couple of years I also volunteered regularly at Central Presbyterian Church working with those experiencing homelessness. It became the highlight of my week for many reasons, but especially because I began to develop relationships with many of the people who attended. I was helping individuals connect to resources they had not heard of before, I helped them work through their crisis, advocated with them to other organizations, and helped some of them make a plan towards self-sufficiency. A great passion grew within me to help those I encountered there.
Caritas had a vision for a position of “church social worker” about a year ago after speaking with different congregations about what they were doing to serve those in poverty and the difficulties they were facing. When my boss presented the position to me and asked if I would be interested there was no hesitation! It was a perfect fit in my mind not just for me but for the churches here in Austin, like yours. This has not been done before but Caritas, the Open Doors board, and myself are so excited to see how this can impact the individuals and families that come to UUMC. I will be able to provide information and referrals to folks who are seeking assistance outside of Open Doors, provide solution-focused case management for individuals who need more attention and help to get what they need, connect folks with some Caritas services, and crisis-intervention as needed.
There is so much work to be done, so many problems systemically in our city and our nation, and great challenges that are set before those who need help obtaining jobs, housing, health, and so much more. While this can be overwhelming, I believe in the power of the Church, social work, and of course the Spirit of God to help people move closer to self-sufficiency, dignity, and health. I pray that my work, as well as the work of this church, can help further the spread of God’s love and mission for a world that is just – one where all people can live with peace, dignity, and purpose.”