Today we're talking with Ashley Williams at our favorite coffeehouse, The Dock Coffee, in Spooner, WI.
What's your choice for your morning cup today?
"This morning I'm having one of my favorite Dock drinks, a mocha/caramel latte. Since this is also my breakfast, I am having it with a ginger-pear scone, which is delicious!"
You hold an executive position at Northwest Connections which is a division of Northwest Counseling and Guidance Clinic. Would you explain what other departments are under this big umbrella of services?
"Well, Northwest Connections is the emergency mental health services or crisis services program within the Northwest Family. We provide telephone and in-person crisis services to those in need in the counties we serve. We currently work with 27 counties in Wisconsin, Washburn being one of them. Aside from our program, Northwest offers a number of child and adolescent therapeutic programs from community-based outpatient services to day treatment and residential treatment which is Northwest Passage. We are a big operation looking to serve the individual needs of each of communities we're in."
You already have ten years under your belt as a social worker. May we ask what drew you to this profession? And how long have you been in your current position?
“I would like to say that I am a compassionate person and if you would ask my husband he’d say I’m a bleeding heart! But in all reality, I grew up with strong-minded parents who modeled the ideal of service. We were heavily involved in activities with 4H, church, and other community events that showed the importance of being able to contribute and give back. I have always been sensitive to the needs of those who often do not have a voice or who are marginalized. Heck, I have had a privileged life thus far and with that privilege comes responsibility. So, I suppose being a social worker is more of who I am versus a profession I choose. What I do now in crisis services fits me well. I have been doing crisis work for a better part of four years, and with Northwest Connections since 2016.”
Being a social worker, with all its stresses, must have a burnout rate higher than other jobs. What is the average work span of a social worker and how important is it that they interact with those in the same profession?
"You know, social work is tough, and the stress is particularly more difficult or trying depending on the setting you are in. I'd say social work is not for everyone…it takes a special spirit to put on your cape and grab your pom-poms every day to cheer on, empower, advocate, problem-solve, for, with, and in situations that can seem pretty challenging. But here we sit together today!"
You live in Spooner with a husband and four children, and your office is in Menomonie. You are also responsible for twenty-seven counties, how do you do it all?
"Don't forget the dog too! Ah, good question, I know I need to be mindful of my abilities, power, and character. I mean I have been conscious about wanting to ensure the integrity of our program and balance that with my personal responsibilities too. I am a huge baker…love me some cupcakes! So, I do that, but more importantly, I have a community of folks who I can turn to and who will love on me when I'm feeling a little crispy, so to speak."
What's the most frustrating part of your job?
"Working with folks who do not understand mental health concerns, who continue to treat others with disrespect, or reinforce stigma. People who are hurting don't need reminders that they are different or somehow to blame. People need to know that it's okay that they are not okay, AND, now this is an important thing, AND how can it be different. How and what services, tools, skills can they be exposed to, taught, given to enhance their lives in order to make a difference."
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
"To plant seeds of hope. I once had an opportunity to listen to a motivational speaker with lived experience who shared, ‘You can't lead a horse to water, but you can make him thirsty.' That's always stuck with me, my opportunity to support somebody else."
You've given us your office number for anyone looking for more information about the various programs, 715-235-0084, and you also have a crisis hotline number, 888-552-6642 (Washburn County only). What kind of calls do you receive and what can people expect when they call it?
"Our crisis line is for who anyone who is or has a loved one, friend, neighbor, acquaintance, that is needing assistance with emergency mental health crisis situations. We typically serve folks who are experiencing suicidal ideations, undertreated mental health, substance use, and memory issues, across the lifespan. We are going to assess immediate safety needs by asking a lot of important questions and work collaboratively by putting together a short-term plan for support. We're only a small piece in helping someone navigate their mental health. We partner closely with county systems, law enforcement, hospitals, families, and the individuals themselves…it's often our contact that can assist folks in navigating care or at least with providing direction of where to go next."
What is the most important message you want people to know about these various programs?
“Hope. That YOU ARE WORTH IT, that you are loved, and that you are not defined by your circumstances.”