Karen Smith – Unsung Hero

Karen Smith is a case manager for Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center in Princeton, and her work during the pandemic has earned her recognition as an Unsung Hero by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Karen has lived with osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia for at least 25 years. However, several years ago she decided to go back to school, and Karen completed her Bachelor of Arts in social work from Concord University in 2019.

DRS provided Karen with financial assistance to attend college and helped with her job search after she graduated.

Karen really wanted to work in a field where she could advocate for and encourage others. And she is doing just that in her case management position at Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center, where she has worked since February 2020.

At her job, Karen does assessments on new clients and manages their casework files. When she first started, she was primarily working with children, but with the onset of the pandemic, her responsibilities grew to include adult referrals, as well.

As an entity that provides mental health services, they have seen an increase in clients due to COVID-19. Instances of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance use have risen during the pandemic.

Karen had not worked at her job for long before the start of the pandemic, but she still had to learn new processes. She went from doing face-to-face assessments to doing virtual appointments with clients using Zoom or the telephone. That has made her job more challenging because if someone doesn't answer her call, then she cannot move forward to help them.

At her jobsite, Karen must social distance and wear a mask when she's around coworkers. They also have a sanitizing station and have the offices cleaned daily to protect against the spread of the virus.

Her job is definitely stressful. Karen tries really hard to empathize with her clients and connect with their emotions so she can understand what they are going through.

Because the job is so stressful, Karen has to remember to take a little time to decompress during the day. She might do this by spending a few minutes coloring in an adult coloring book during her lunch break or by listening to music. After her workday is over, she tries to focus on positive activities.

DRS Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Russell Hazelwood explained that Karen was nominated for the Unsung Heroes recognition because of how hard she worked to obtain her degree and because of her compassion for others and her personal resilience to succeed.

Karen loves her job. When she was a DRS consumer, she received a lot of encouragement from her vocational rehabilitation counselors, and she believes this helped her get her job.

Karen feels like Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center is a lifeline for individuals who are in crisis, and she's happy to be a part of that.

Karen is grateful for the recognition but does not feel like she's doing anything special; she is just doing her job in the best way she can. Despite the pandemic, she plans to work hard to build a rapport with her clients via the phone until she can have one-on-one meetings with them.