"Oh my gosh, we go through a lot of tissues," Brady said.
Brady is a case manager at Turning Points in Bradenton, a nonprofit organization that provides goods and services to the homeless and other families in need, and utilizes money from a grant provided by Season of Sharing, an effort by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Herald-Tribune and other partners that has helped more than 20,000 individuals and families and raised more than $19 million.
The success of Turning Points - and Season of Sharing - can be seen in statistics, but it is felt in the emotional outreaches of gratitude from people who just needed a financial push to become independently sustainable in their lives again.
Forty-three percent of Manatee County residents live paycheck-to-paycheck, and all it takes is a sick child or blown tire for someone to miss work and fall behind on rent or utilities, Brady says. Turning Points, through Season of Sharing, is able to provide people with money to avoid evictions, obtain day care or fix cars to keep their employment.
"You can feel the appreciation in a hug," Brady said. "When people are no longer homeless and they aren't on the street with their children and they give you a hug, you absolutely feel it. It's emotional.
"If they are hugging you, they are most likely already in tears and they are emotionally drained. They are trying to move past a situation and you are helping them do that."
Turning Points operates on several eligibility-specific state and federal grants, with the number often fluctuating. Private donations also are utilized. Season of Sharing is the nonprofit's longest-running grant, Brady said. It also helps with Turning Points' goal of an 85 percent sustainability rate for its clients.
There are no operating costs associated with Season of Sharing. Every year, the Community Foundation, media partners and more than 60 organizations donate their time, resources and expertise to ensure that every dollar raised is distributed directly to people on the verge of homelessness.
"I am very grateful for the Season of Sharing grant," he said. "It allows us to do so much. The Season of Sharing is one of our best grants because of what they allow for and the number of people it helps, and not just by us but other agencies in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"The amount of people we are able to help is really something."
It's not just the homeless. A few years ago, Brady was able to help a stockbroker in Lakewood Ranch who had lost everything.
And something new this year: Turning Points has seen a noticeable number of clients who have been affected financially by red tide, the harmful algae bloom produced by the organism Karenia brevis. Many workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry have been hurt by the red tide that has plagued the west coast of Florida for more than a year now, their diminished earnings not what they budgeted for.
People who clean condominiums also were hit hard as reservations were down and work wasn't as plentiful. Think of how many vacation condos are in the area. A couple small or missed paychecks can really put a family in a bind.
"We are not just helping people who are walking the streets out here, we help everyone," Brady said. "All kinds of things can happen, and we try to help navigate a person out the other side."
To gauge the kind of people who need help, how much the help assists them, and how appreciative they are after their lives get back on track, is to see everything through Brady's eyes, the case manager's eyes.
Brady was raised by his grandfather, who instilled in him at any early age the value of helping those in need, because at some point it could be you.
"As a human being, I'm responsible for everything that happens in my view," Brady said. "It's just the way I was taught. I don't know any other way.
"I guarantee you every case worker will give you similar reasons for wanting to help people. You don't do this job for a paycheck. If you do it for a paycheck, you won't last long."
Brady, at one point in his career, worked as a state trooper in the college town of Morgantown, West Virginia, and for a time in the Appalachian mountains, where some people rarely ventured from their property.
"They say that kind of work is 90 percent boredom and 10 percent terror," he said.
Brady has dealt with bank robberies, kidnappings, child molestations and rapes. In one instance, he came upon a kidnapper with a 12-gauge shotgun pressed against the head of a child, though the situation was diffused.
"I have seen shades of the worst of humanity," he said.
Being a case manager is also a study of the human condition. He sees the best, and also some of the worst.
"There have been points where I've needed to take a few days off and regroup," he said. "You take some time and gather yourself. Or as my wife says, 'gather your soul.'
"I don't divulge names, but sometimes I go home and vent. I have a good network of family around me so I can do that. And by venting I mean, 'This is terrible what I saw.'"
Brady's job requires a large amount of empathy, and there are a lot of emotions involved - he sees the distress people in tough situations display, their determination to improve, their gratitude after they are able to move forward. The emotions involved, he said, are one reason there is such a steady turnover in his profession. Not everyone can handle it, no matter their best intentions when they start.
Among the toughest parts of the job is seeing young children of struggling families. He may try to help them out with clothes, toys or hygiene products.
"Sometimes it's just talking to them and saying, 'It's OK.'"
On a bulletin board in his office are a few pictures drawn by children he has been able to help out. One is a unicorn under a rainbow.
"I treat the kids like they are mine," Brady said.
Also on the bulletin board is a cross someone made out of a palm frond, complete with a rose above it. Brady also keeps thank-you cards on the board.
When Brady looks at the cards, when he hears a "thank you," when he receives a hug, when he reaches for a tissue - if there is actually a box in his office, that is - he is not only reminded of why he is in the profession he is, but also of whom he has helped, whom Turning Points and Season of Sharing have helped.
"It is a good reminder that for whatever reason I could be this person, I have been this person," Brady said. "These are not 'those people.'
"This is us."
Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com
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