For Social Work Month, we highlight Jeanine Gravette and Sandra Jessup, the two longest-tenured social workers at Cornerstones. During their combined 31 years of service, Jeanine and Sandra have helped hundreds of families and individuals overcome challenges, empowering them to reach their full potential.
Jeanine Gravette, MSW, QMHP-A
As Services Director for Cornerstones, Jeanine oversees care managers in Cornerstones’ Affordable Housing Plus Program (CAHP) and at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter (ERCS), as well as Cornerstones’ Outreach Team which supports those who choose to be unsheltered. At ERCS, Jeanine’s team focuses on the housing-first model, an approach that seeks to get individuals and families experiencing homelessness into permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible. Jeanine’s team then provides wrap-around services to ensure clients remain stable and begin to reach outcomes toward self-sufficiency, thereby reducing the possibility of returning to homelessness.
Jeanine always knew she would work in the caring profession: “I believe social work chose me. It’s who I am. Working in this field gives me the unique opportunity to empower and support individuals and families through their most vulnerable times.” She adds, “Many clients have burned bridges along their journey and have little or no support system. It’s hard sometimes for clients to ask for help, so you have to treat them with dignity, respect, and compassion without judgment.”
Jeanine acknowledges that the social work field is demanding, and it comes with a level of stress at times because of the need to balance administrative tasks, long hours, and the challenges of finding affordable housing, with the care of individuals and families experiencing the acute trauma of finding themselves homeless. She adds, however, “As a social worker, being able to make a difference is more rewarding then words can describe.”
“Jeanine provides the best examples of integrating social work values, its code of conduct and a client-centered approach into her daily work here at Cornerstones,” said Greg White, Cornerstones’ COO. “She ensures that our client needs are at the center of her work and works hard on their behalf. Jeanine also provides key leadership and mentoring to new social work staff, many of whom may be recent graduates or students who are being introduced to this type of social work practice for the first time.”
Jeanine has been serving families and individuals through Cornerstones for 17 years. She admits, “It’s been a long time!” Prior to Cornerstones, she worked for the Virginia Beach Community Service Board and the Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Court. She was also a volunteer for Cornerstones prior to her employment, working with the domestic violence program.
Jeanine’s education is extensive and she is proud to be a first-generation college graduate. Her education includes a Bachelor’s of Social Work and a Clinical Masters Social Work Degree. She recently received her QMHP-A (Qualified Mental Health Provider – Adults) license from the Board of Counseling. She is currently working toward her QMHP-C (children) license. Jeanine’s goal is to apply for her LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Work) degree in the next few months.
“Many of our clients have mental health issues which inspired me to obtain my masters degree in clinical social work and obtain my QMHP-A license, to provide a comprehensive analysis and understanding of their situation and link them to needed resources within the community,” said Jeanine.
“I absolutely love being a social worker.”
Sandra Jessup is a Care Manager for Cornerstones’ Emergency and Supported Housing /H.O.U.S.E. program.
Families who enter into Cornerstones’ Supported Housing programs are either experiencing housing instability or have found themselves without a roof over their heads. Once they are stably housed through these programs, they receive intensive care management which includes goal setting and access to resources and opportunities to increase their stability and reduce the likelihood of them falling back into homelessness. Adults, for example, receive training in financial planning and goal setting, education and job training support, as well as referrals to the wide array of Cornerstones’ partners who can help families maintain stability and work toward self-sufficiency; children also receive support through volunteer tutors and referrals to meet developmental and academic milestones.
Cornerstones’ signature housing program, H.O.U.S.E. – Housing OpportUnities Strengthen Everyone – is for families who have experienced homelessness and are now living in Cornerstones’ privately owned and affordable housing units. The families in the H.O.U.S.E. program have low income and face other barriers to stable and affordable permanent housing such as bad credit, high debt, or past evictions. In many cases, they were paying 50 percent or more of their income toward housing costs, leaving little or nothing for basic needs such as childcare, transportation, and health related expenses.
Sandra recalls watching her own mother struggle to make ends meet. She remembers how hard it was for her mother and how much she wanted to help her, but did not know what to do. “I think that is the reason why I do the work I do today,” said Sandra. “I wanted to find a way to help others when times are tough, when they can’t do it by themselves.”
While Sandra has seen many successes in her 14 years at Cornerstones, she is especially proud of one particular family she worked with for a little more than five years.
This family of five, including three children, a mother who worked as a housekeeper, and a father who worked as a janitor, had a vision of something better for themselves. The mother took ESOL classes for many years and made great progress. The family studied and achieved their goal to become U.S. citizens. In addition, the oldest son was accepted to VCU. While there, he sacrificed a great deal to obtain his degree. He would go without many things, but he made good grades and did not give up. His family also made sacrifices and struggled to make ends meet for him.
Through Sandra’s care management, the family was provided safe and stable housing through Cornerstones, access to resources for employment and educational resources, and a coordinated network of resources through several of Cornerstones’ partners like Women Giving Back and Reston Smile Partners. These were key components to facilitating life-changing achievements for the family.
Sandra recalls with great joy the day the family came to her office and reported that their son would be graduating from college. This was the first member of their family to receive a college degree. “Their oldest son had taken on a dream and the family participated in that dream that would change the path/course of the family,” said Jessup. “He graduated with a degree in Finance, and got a job working for a large financial institution, with a salary that was more than he hoped for.”
Ultimately, the family moved out of Cornerstones housing and into a home of their own. “They had a dream and they made that dream come true with a little bit of help,” Sandra says, with obvious joy. “I admired how this family worked together, and struggled together, to achieve a goal. They were assisted by Cornerstones with resources and some financial help, but the end result was made possible by the family working as a team.”
Sandra also admires her team at Cornerstones: “They are amazing. I enjoy every one of them… how we support one another. Sometimes just a listening ear is what we need when we are struggling with a case. This team understands and knows what to say to help one another. I feel united with them.”
Vanessa Williams, Sandra’s supervisor, shared, “Sandra has a genuine and humble spirit which allows her the ability to build rapport with her clients and coworkers. She is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others. Her compassion shows through her work.”
“I did not recognize how important this work is for me personally until someone reminded me that I was not working for me,” said Sandra. “My work is unto my Father in Heaven. He orders my steps in his will and way. So, when I come to work, I come knowing the reason why I am here. I am inspired by the knowing who sends me.”