Ten Questions With Kendra Berry

ess1410533812988Tell me a little about yourself – your background and your education.
I graduated from Purdue University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Society, with minors in Political Science, Psychology, and Spanish. I spent 10 years working in group home settings with developmentally disabled adults, and 4 years as a case manager at a community mental health Center in Lafayette, IN.

How long have you worked for Aspire?
I originally joined the Center for Mental Health in 2008 as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator, and continued in that position until grant funding ended December 2012. From February 2013 until September 2013, I worked for Virginia Commonwealth University as an Employment Success Advisor, providing benefits counseling to Social Security beneficiaries in the states of Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah and Nebraska. In September of 2013, I rejoined Aspire Indiana as the Supervising Community Work Incentives Coordinator of Indiana Works.

What positions have you held with Aspire?
I have been a Community Work Incentives Coordinator, or CWIC, and am currently the Supervising Community Work Incentives Coordinator for Indiana Works.

Describe your current position, including your responsibilities?
I know that a lot of people say this, but I enjoy that my job is different every day. I currently supervise three full-time CWICs, and a part-time benefits clerk. The CWICs and I all work at home, so much of our communication is via email, phone and video chats. We provide benefits counseling to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients in 58 counties in northern and central Indiana. The Indiana Works Benefits Clerk works at the Brown Street office in Anderson, and we all meet in person every other month. In addition to carrying a caseload of beneficiaries, I counsel on returning to work, and I do a lot of the outreach to our community partners, including Social Security, Vocational Rehabilitation, and different conferences around the state. I also assist with presenting national Work Incentive Seminar Events, or WISEs, every few months, and have also helped with national Facebook Question and Answer sessions.

What does a typical day as the Supervising Community Work Incentives Coordinator look like?
There really is no typical day. I spend time talking with beneficiaries about their benefits and job goals, and how beneficial returning to work can be. All referrals go through me, and I assign them across the team to ensure even caseloads. I work with other agencies to verify benefits, and then type up reports that explain all of the work incentives available to an individual. I spend a few days a month presenting information on Indiana Works to other agencies. Indiana Works has a twitter account (@Aspire_CWICs), and everyone on my team is assigned a day to tweet about our program. I also check in with team members frequently, which is important when working at home. Working at home is one of those things you either love or hate, because it is so different from working in an office. You can’t just get up and go next door to chat with a coworker, so we all make sure to take time to chat regularly. During the months we don’t meet in person, we have video meetings scheduled, which are always amusing.  `

What in your educational background and work experience prepared you for your current position?
I always knew that I wanted to help people, and make a difference in people’s lives. When I first started college, I wanted to be a lawyer. I ended up with so many minors because I focused my classes on things I was interested in. Sociology and psychology won out in the end, because I realized I wanted to make a positive impact in people’s everyday lives. I have worked with a lot of different populations, and one of the things that I enjoy in my current position is that I work with people across all disability groups. One day I may be doing benefits counseling for a visually impaired individual, the next day for someone with a mental illness, and another day for someone who had a heart transplant. It’s rewarding to be able to help people enter or re-enter the workforce with safety nets in place, so that they know working won’t cause them to lose all of their benefits.

If you weren’t working in this field, what would you be doing?
I really can’t imagine doing anything other than this.  I plan to begin working on my MSW in the next year, and continuing in the field.

What is it that drew you to the field of mental health?
What drew me to working with people with disabilities in general was my childhood. My mother has peripheral vascular disease, and had an aortic aneurysm when she was 35 that caused half of her foot to be amputated. I was 10 at the time. Within a year of being released from the hospital, she had returned to work as a medical transcriptionist. I want to be able to help people reach their goals to become more self-sufficient, and the best way to do that is by working, whether part-time or full-time. I love being able to be a part of that process.

What impact do you feel your work has had on Aspire and its clients?
Indiana Works is able to provide FREE benefits counseling to SSDI/SSI recipients who are interested in working! By helping people to overcome their barriers to employment, we can help them to become more self-sufficient and reach goals that they have set for themselves.

What things do you do to help you cope with the demands of your job?
It’s important to be able to relax, and that can be difficult when working at home sometimes. I have lots of interests. I love to travel, and was in Puerto Rico recently, and am planning a trip to California this January. Anyone who knows me knows I love makeup, and I blog about makeup and other things in my spare time. I also love to read, and am always looking for good book suggestions.

Kendra Berry is the Supervising Community Work Incentives Coordinator at Aspire Indiana. While the beliefs and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Ms. Berry, you can learn more about Aspire Indiana at https://www.facebook.com/AspireIndiana. You can also follow Indiana Works on Twitter @ Aspire_CWICs.

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