Geoff Cope is a true humanitarian and unsung hero. Whether in the treatment facility where he works as a resource navigator or in the classroom as a Zumba instructor, he endlessly gives himself in service of others, and the world is a better place because of him.
I work as a Resource Navigator for two IRTs (Intense Residential Treatment Facilities). They’re 90-day programs that service people who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. We work with the clients to help them get back on their feet and on the right path. Most of our clients are discharged to us right from the hospital, so we’re a level 4 treatment facility of care – (level 5, the highest, is a psychiatric hospital). As a Resource Navigator, I try to meet with my clients for half an hour each week to help them navigate and access any and all resources they need before their discharge. So, when they leave our facilities, they have a solid set of providers and support in place. In my work, my team and I take a person centered approach, where we try to meet the client where they are at, give them choices, and let them be the primary captain steering their recovery journey ship!
A lot of people ask me if I’m a case manager, and I’m not. I’m just someone who educates clients on different resources, and helps them navigate and secure them. Some of those different resources include securing providers like psychiatry and therapy, sources of income like social security, access to safe, reliable transportation, a cell phone, and an ID or a drivers license. A big part of my position is securing them affordable discharge housing, so they have a safe place to go after their 90 days of treatment. I typically set most of them up with a board and lodge, where they utilize GA/GRH [General Assistance/Group Residential Housing]. They have a roommate or two, and the housing will provide them with food and help manage their medications. But, they don’t run the level of therapy groups and programming like we do at the IRTS.
Can you tell me how you found your current role, and how your background prepared you for your current work?
Certainly! I have a Bachelors in Human Services with a minor in Child Advocacy Studies. I originally wanted to be a special ed teacher, so I have a Masters in Special Education as well. That position however, didn’t give me the work-life balance that I truly desired though. Along with working, I want to be able to sing in the chorus, and I’m also very passionate about group fitness! I’m looking to get back into teaching Zumba again soon.
I’m a licensed Zumba instructor, and I taught Zumba Kids and Kid’s Yoga in St. Louis Park for a few years. I’d now like to transition into teaching adults. For a lot of years, I worked in education with kids, so that was a very natural place for me to start my group fitness career. Lifetime has transitioned as a company to only offer their own original signature formats [of instruction], so they cut my classes and told me that I would have to do 7-8 additional hours of training to teach their formats instead. This happened after I’d been teaching there for two years, and drove out of state to Wisconsin to get the Zumba Kids speciality license. Because, when my manager hired me, she specifically wanted to bring back Zumba to the child center. So, I decided to leave Lifetime, and I’ve since taken several workshops online and in person over these past few years to continue to grow and improve my skills during the pandemic. I’m hoping to transition back to teaching soon.
I’ve never gotten to talk to a Zumba instructor before. What’s your favorite part of being an instructor?
It’s really culturally enriched me, and taught me a lot about different types of music and cultures outside of the USA. Basically, it’s cardio dance-fitness class. Featuring primarily Latin and international rhythms. Along with the basic Latin four, which are Merengue, Salsa, Cumbia, and Reggaeton, the format also incorporates a lot of rhythms from non latin continents and countries as well. Such as, Afrobeats from Africa, Bhangra from India, Dancehall from the Caribbean, Brazilian Funk from Brazil, and even some K-Pop. So, I’m a singer and a dancer! But, I suppose we should get back to my primary job.
Yes! What do you love most about your job?
I get a lot of variety in my position, as each client’s individual case is unique. Things constantly stay fresh, with a new set of clients at both facilities arriving every 3 months. Plus, I’m still able to make a meaningful impact and difference in the lives of people with special needs. Such as, those who are on the autism spectrum. At the same time, my current job gives me a much better work life balance. It doesn’t follow me home, and I don’t have to work until 8:00 or 9:00 at night like I did often in Education. I’ve learned along the way, you have to look out for yourself, and continue to fill your own bucket as well. If you don’t do that, you can’t be your best self for the people you’re serving. It’s important to be able to be successful and maintain your job, but not be married to it!
How do you set those boundaries for yourself? Do you find it difficult to not take that home with you? You must’ve learned to set boundaries.
In terms of my work, I try to stay just a little bit after (for just 10 to 15 minutes), to make sure everything’s adequately in place for the next day. But, when I leave I make sure my TEAMS, (our main form of communication) is turned off, and that I’m logged out of everything work related. I’m able to have that separation between work, and my home and me time. I have to [set boundaries] in my position with clients who want to utilize me as a therapist, and to vent. I listen and validate their feelings, but I try to redirect them to a therapist or psychiatrist who can better meet their needs. I’ve also learned how to advocate for myself, say “No” sometimes to extra delegated work and responsibility, and utilize PTO.
I think that’s a very mature, healthy approach. I’ve met many people over the years who work in mental health, and you see many people who take on too much and get too emotionally involved with their clients, and they burn out. Within your privacy obligations, can you think of any particularly rewarding client interactions?
I’ve been able to get all of my clients who have very extensive records – I do work with some clients who have felonies and misdemeanors – connected with resources and housing, which can be really tricky. Landlords can be very particular about who they will intake. Being able to find them a good, safe place to go, and seeing them genuinely want to get on a better path is very fulfilling. I’ve also been able to find affordable housing for a former client whose trailer was condemned, and secured a safer discharge housing option for another former client who tried to leave our facility for Cancun Mexico! The level of gratitude and appreciation, whether it be a warm smile, high five, or a thank you, is a really good feeling that I’ve often taken away from work every day.
I’ve also recently helped out one of my direct supervisors with developing an educational training for staff. The training is going to be LGBTQIA+ awareness themed, in particular for transgender and non-binary clients. We recently had a client who identified as non-binary, and was misgendered by the staff. The client got upset enough that they decided they did not want to be in our facility. We’ve developed this training to educate staff about people who are transgender and gender identity, so that they can build better rapport with clients and are not misgendering them.
I’ve also started leading a daily check-in group, and am in the process of developing and leading particular educational resource focused groups. One of my supervisors was even interested in having me lead a Zumba group for the clients, but I would want to make sure liability protection would be in place for me first. For check-in groups, we typically review with the client current events, what we’re having for our meals for the day, a joke of the day, and an inspiring quote for the day. We then go around and have the clients answer a specific set of questions. An example of one would be, “My name is Geoffrey. My stress level today is a level 2/10, my micro-goal for today is to meet with 4 clients, and my affirmation is that I am enough. I don’t have any questions, comments, or input.” Our question of the day is, “Would you rather be a wizard or a superhero?”
I myself would rather be a superhero. I resonate more with going out into the community, meeting people where they are at, and being a hero and saving them.
What would you do if you were a superhero? How would you use your powers?
I would want to help as many people as I could in need. Whether that would be by alleviating physical danger, such as trying to help someone get their cat out of a tree. Or, helping people who are struggling on more of an emotional level. Who might need emotional support and help getting out of a toxic, emotionally abusive relationship.
Is there anything you’d like to leave our audience with?
Through working this position, I’ve become more open minded and less judgmental of other people. I’ve come to realize first hand that people who make mistakes and might have a criminal history are human, have feelings too, and deserve a second chance to get their life back on track. So, I’d encourage everyone to try not to judge or write people off, until you’ve truly gotten to know them and their whole story.
I’d also like to encourage everyone to be assertive, take care of yourself, and always advocate for a good healthy work-life balance in your life. You only have one life to live. If you allow your life to solely revolve around your career at all times, you won’t know how far you can go, what you can be involved in and achieve, or how full your life can truly be. Try to make time every day to invest in your hobbies, passions, and things that fill your bucket. You’re going to be able to maintain your career longer, keep your mental health stable, and live a more meaningful fulfilling life with others whom you can share it with.
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.