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A caring heart and a helping hand

A day in the life of…

Karen Wright-Kay is a financial counsellor with Salvos Moneycare in Toowoomba, supporting community members who ask for help regarding their financial situation. She recently spoke to the team at Salvos Magazine (reprinted with permission).

Salvos Magazine (SM): Can you give us an overview of your role?

Karen Wright-Kay (KW-K): My role involves being a caring, non-judgmental and impartial listener, providing a safe place for community members to talk about their financial challenges. I encourage them make informed decisions, and connect them with community agencies and Salvation Army programs to holistically support them in their personal and financial wellbeing.

In addition, my job entails identifying system issues within the financial sector that may exploit, unfairly treat or put vulnerable community members at risk. I collect data and case studies to submit to regulatory bodies to help them raise awareness with the government and courts to change legislation and/or penalise offending financial institutions.  

SM: What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at work (even if that’s at home!)?

KW-K: The first thing I do is set up and prepare for the day. If my schedule involves seeing new clients, I make sure I’m familiar with their situation from information provided by them when the appointment was made. I prepare Salvation Army intake documents and a welcome folder, including possible referral contact details. 

When I’m seeing an existing client, I carefully review their case file to ensure I’m prepared for whatever needs to be discussed. 

SM: What can a typical day involve for you?

KW-K: Typical days involve listening to community members from a variety of backgrounds and helping them move through their financial difficulties. I sometimes communicate on their behalf with their creditors, discussing the appropriate course of action to support them.

On some occasions I facilitate the Salvos’ award-winning ‘You’re the Boss’ financial literacy program, in response to local community agencies inviting me to speak to their clientele in groups, as well as participating in online webinars and attending courses to sharpen my knowledge and keep up with any changes in the credit or financial world.

I also attend interagency meetings and community events to raise awareness of how financial counselling can assist community members and support events including Homelessness Week, NAIDOC Week and Anti-Poverty Week.

SM: What’s the most challenging part of your work?

KW-K: I’m challenged when I feel the frustration and pain my clients experience as they share their concerns in our sessions. Finding ways to process the outcome for the best care of the client is challenging, and I also have to keep in mind my personal self-care wellbeing. 

SM: What’s the most rewarding?

KW-K: I love to see that flicker of hope when farewelling a community member after their first session – the change in their physical posture, the tearful thank you, the warm smile of gratitude because they were listened to and realise they are not alone.

SM: How has COVID-19 affected how you work?

KW-K: COVID-19 has helped me to refine my skills in using technology more effectively, as well as improving my counselling skills over the phone. 

One of the greatest changes was regular weekly contact with the entire Moneycare team, everyone touching base to show support and help with our mental wellness, getting to know each other and having a laugh together.

SM: How has the work changed over the years you have been doing it?

KW-K: Working collaboratively has been the most powerful evolution – communicating with financial institutions, utility companies and telcos to form effective hardship policies, and liaising with regulatory bodies and governments to change legislation and penalise poor practices.  

We also team up with local agencies in response to natural disasters, working to form a holistic approach to community needs, and learning from situations to prepare for and improve quality of service in any future events.

SM: How do you see your work achieving the mission of the Salvos to transform lives?

KW-K: When I work with community members seeking assistance I am committed to seeing the whole person, not just their situation, and demonstrating kindness and acceptance when talking with them.

Often when someone divulges their financial dilemma they mention their faith and I am always open to discuss, encourage or connect them with those who can guide in them in their faith pathways, including Salvo officers (pastors).

SM: Is there anything else you would like to add?

KW-K: Self-care is a bit of a buzzword in the community sector, and I believe the same care and kindness extended to our clients must be extended to ourselves and our teams. We need to take time to uplift and encourage, listen to each other and exchange ideas. Our clients show us every day that facing vulnerability takes courage, and walking a mile with someone until they have regained their strength and momentum to flourish again is so rewarding. 

The Salvation Army Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet and work and pay our respect to Elders past, present and future.

We value and include people of all cultures, languages, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and intersex status. We are committed to providing programs that are fully inclusive. We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of people of all ages, particularly children.

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