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USM School of Social Work Collaborates with Harrison County Library System to Provide Assistance to Patrons in Need

Mon, 10/30/2023 - 12:17pm | By: Gabriela Shinskie


Public libraries are experiencing an increase in patrons entering their doors and needing assistance with housing, food benefits and job searches. The University of 51 Mississippi (USM) School of Social Work and the Harrison County Library are addressing the need to provide services to help through social work internships.

Brandon Terry is a USM graduate student and social work intern at the downtown Gulfport public library and sees a huge need to help patrons receive the benefits they deserve.

“The library is supposed to be a safe place for a lot of people in need,” said Terry. “The librarians are limited on what they can or can’t do with sensitive information. This is where we come in to aid with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid applications and unemployment. We help them get through this process and direct them to local resources to get the help they need.”

This is the second academic year USM has provided social work internships within the public library system. Terry is one of two social workers trained to work within the system. He helps patrons fill out paperwork, legal documents and problem-solving in difficult situations. The partnership has allowed assistance with various library needs and areas where social work interns can be most helpful.

Denise Brown-Rouse, instructor in the USM School of Social Work and Field Education Coordinator, said the interns are often found linking patrons to resources including hot showers, medical services, food and housing.

“The intern also works to meet the needs of the library staff in terms of education related to mental health, substance abuse, self-care, de-escalating difficult patrons determined by the needs assessment,” said Brown-Rouse.

With many resources being online, library staff have also witnessed senior citizens needing assistance navigating basic computer skills and technology. Harrison County Library System offers computer classes and has a staff ready to help. Sarah Crisler-Ruskey, Library Director in Gulfport, said the partnership with USM has been rewarding.

“We wanted someone who can help them [patrons] navigate these resource opportunities in a more intense way,” said Crisler-Ruskey. “This is a great opportunity for the intern. We’ve had patrons who have gotten a job or housing.”

The Harrison County Library System is hosting an event to provide these resources to the public called “Finding the Hope in the Library Garden” on Thursday, November 2 from 9-11 a.m. at the Gulfport Library. Local resources and non-profits will help provide services on-site.

“We will provide hygiene kits, clothing vouchers and non-perishable food items,” said Terry. “We will have things to give them, so they don’t leave empty handed.”

Learn more about USM’s School of Social Work.