Social work interns at Downers Grove library meeting patrons’ needs

Downers Grove social work interns Andi Voinovich (left) and Dawn Davis help library patrons meet various needs including temporary housing, emergency resources, job concerns and counseling services.

Numbers don’t lie and the analytics from the social work initiative at the Downers Grove Public Library are eye opening.

From October 2023 through January, two social work interns from Aurora University had 130 direct interactions with patrons and connected nine unhoused individuals with temporary housing, 18 patrons with emergency resources, assisted nine with job concerns and offered six counseling services.

“We’re very proud of the work that is being done,” said Cindy Khatri, Downers Grove Public Library marketing and communications manager. “The social work interns are really listening to the needs of patrons and helping create programing to meet their needs.”

“Patrons have called the service life changing,” she said.

The social work program came about because library staff, who interact with the public every day, experienced a pattern of people having trouble connecting with area resources.

Library staff and leadership realized they were being asked to operate outside the scope of their traditional services and needed a better system of meeting the growing needs of the community, Khatri said.

Members of library leadership looked at other library systems they admired and discovered they had full-time social workers on staff, Khatri said.

“We don’t have the funding for that,” Khatri said. “We decided to approach Aurora University to partner in a social work internship program.”

In 2021, the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation agreed to fund a two-year stipend to compensate two part-time interns (committing 225 to 300 hours a semester) as part of the library’s social work program.

Funding the social work program was a natural fit, foundation president Amanda ReCupido said.

The foundation funds extraordinary gifts beyond taxpayer support to inspire and engage ideas and strengthen the library as a cornerstone in the community, she said.

“There is a misconception on who needs a social worker – seniors, families with small children, the unhoused, LiHEAP resources, helping people with employment,” ReCupido said.

The program is helping people help themselves and navigate the systems, ReCupido said.

The foundation’s commitment to the social work program is evident in the clinical supervisor that was added to the program.

The supervisor makes the program more than just resources or suggestions and the interns are allowed to do actual counseling sessions, ReCupido said.

The interns can be seen one-on-one through appointments.

“They are very busy,” Khatri said.

ReCuido said the foundation, which is committed to funding the program through this year, would like to see the program continue but said that is a future conversation.

The foundation website makes it possible to donate directly to the social work program. A recurring donation of $15 a month ($180 annually) funds 12 hours of social work services. More information can be found here.

The DGPL podcast also discusses the social work program.