Carol Njus is a Wisconsin native with deep roots in Marin County. She raised two children here, a daughter who is an ER nurse and a son who has worked both in the nonprofit field and as a planning and forecasting executive.
A few years ago, with retirement on the horizon, Carol immersed herself in the study of Spanish, honing her skills in conversation and reading. She then put her language skills to work, helping Spanish-speaking residents of the Canal neighborhood make critical connections with employers, schools, and government institutions.
Carol’s work is varied and essential: she recently helped a handyperson place a business ad on Nextdoor and a food service worker complete a food handlers’ certification. “I want to be there for people, when they need me. Whatever it takes.”
We connected with Carol about her experience as a long-time volunteer.
You work with Social Services, the team that helps people with urgent and basic needs, like the food pantry and rental assistance. Tell me what that is like.
If a client needs support, but doesn’t need a case manager, that’s where I come in. I support people with immediate needs, say, helping someone with a resume or supporting an application or a housing issue.
Typically, I provide a person with immediate support and they move on. I have connected with a few clients on an on-going basis.
Would you describe a situation that was particularly challenging?
One person that I worked with had to fulfil a 30-hour court-ordered course based on a shoplifting conviction. The person had no computer skills and only one week to complete the requirement. We were working together remotely – this was during the pandemic – and there were connectivity challenges. We made it work. Whatever it takes.
You began volunteering prior to the pandemic. Describe the changes you experienced after Covid-19.
The operation transformed quickly to fully remote, and with the economy shut down, the type of work I was doing was rarely needed. I moved from the Social Services team to the Financial Assistance team and made hundreds of calls to assist clients with financial aid applications. My son Brad also came on board during the transition, verifying and editing contact information remotely and connecting people to emergency financial assistance.
Tell me about the Social Services team that you work with.
Maura and Cindy are the intake specialists at the front desk in the lobby and my main point of contact. They are critical to the entire process and know exactly where to direct people. If I need advice, I turn to Laura and Lupita, case managers. All the people in Social Services are just so wonderful to work with. They are dedicated to the clients and there to help – no matter the smallest thing. They are also a fun group!
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
I have noticed that the organization really supports people from within. There are people who started as volunteers and now serve as staff, or who started as intake specialists and moved on to become case workers or managers. That says a lot about an organization.