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Sand In My Shoes

October 9, 2012  |  By Pat Cawley, Director of Case Management & Integrated Services, Duffy Health Center

In January 1997, I "temporarily" moved from Boston to Miami to provide consultative services to a substance abuse treatment program that serves people who are homeless. I believe I was seduced by the Miami weather and the program I worked for, Camillus House. Camillus' mission is to serve the poor and homeless in Miami. Fifteen years later, the pull of family ties and the desire to be amongst New Englanders again brought me back to Massachusetts. With anticipatory excitement, I applied for the position of Director of Case Management and Integrated Services at Duffy Health Center. The responsibilities of the job are very similar to the work I did in Miami. Plus, I could work and potentially live on Cape Cod!

Except for the daily commute from Quincy to the Cape, my transition has been very smooth. There are more similarities than differences in working in the two regions. The clients suffer from the same illnesses and poverty of spirit; staff faces the same challenges in engaging and inspiring hope in the clients. At the systems level, both Miami and the Cape are relying on research of best practices and moving away from the "way we've always done it" and mobilizing practical solutions to end homelessness.

I did not anticipate some of the similarities and differences. Miami and the Cape are similar in that they are both insulated communities that place a high value on the history and quality of relationships. Having worked previously off Cape, I did not appreciate this unique aspect of working on the Cape. Another surprise that I had not anticipated is the relaxed business culture of the Cape. Working in Miami – heavily influenced by Latin culture and the tropical climate – I often experienced what I referred to as my "New England moments." For example, a meeting was scheduled at 9:00 AM. At 9:00, one team member called to say she would be late; at 9:15 another called saying he "may" be late... I learned to cope by asking people if meetings were real time or "Latin" time. Returning to Massachusetts, I thought I knew "the rules." Although meetings start on time on the Cape, I was and am still surprised by the "relaxed" culture. My clothes are way too dressy, so I've had to buy "casual work attire." And my version of casual is still a little dressier than most.

Several years after settling in Miami, a friend and I attended a conference on the Cape. I was excited to introduce her to the "clams with the bellies" and the Cape beaches. She took off her shoes to walk on the sand and screamed. Being a native of Miami, she had never experienced cold sand! Like my friend, as time passes, I'm sure I'll have more adjustments to the "cold" sand in my shoes.