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Angie Wieck, Published November 04 2012

It's My Job: New Life Center assistant director says helping those in need ‘awesome’

FARGO – Rob Swiers describes himself as someone who has a “heart for those who are hurting.”

That empathy has served him well throughout his career working for nonprofits such as the Ronald McDonald House and Hospice of the Red River Valley before joining the New Life Crisis Center two and a half years ago.

Swiers recently talked about his role as assistant director of the adult men’s-only shelter in Fargo and shared some of his concerns for the coming winter.

Q. What is your role at the shelter?

Mainly my focus is the internal operations of the organization. … People sometimes ask, “Well, what do you guys do besides take care of men who sleep there?” There are all the administrative elements of running a business. In addition, and I’m certainly not a licensed social worker or counselor, but it is also helping the people who come here get back on their feet.

What do you like best about your job?

It is that day-to-day interaction with those who come here for assistance. My last role at Hospice was in marketing. … That was great, but I wasn’t interacting with the folks that we served as an agency.

Here, we have people coming through our doors daily who need help and I get the privilege of rubbing elbows with them. … These men and women are just like you and me. They have the same needs that we do. They’re in a different place in life, but if I can come alongside of a guy who’s hurting and in tears in my office and tell him, “You know what? There is someone here who cares about you. Let us help you get back on your feet.” I get the privilege of being part of that and that’s awesome.

What is your biggest challenge?

Maybe like a lot of things, the thing you like the most is also sometimes the most challenging. If it were simply a matter of running the business of the shelter, everything would be black-and-white. But when you’re dealing with people and individuals who have different challenges or broken lives, it is an emotionally draining job. It’s also a highly emotionally rewarding job.

What do you want people to know about the New Life Center?

We all have stereotypes. Even though we may say we don’t, we do. We have preconceived notions about everything, and that’s just how we go through life. The individuals who come to the New Life Center are people first. We apply the label “homeless people.” These are people who are in a homeless situation.

The other thing is that there are so many folks coming to the F-M area. Anyone who reads the paper or watches TV knows it. The goal of the New Life Center is to be a place for rebuilding and restoration. … We strive to help people to a place of self-sufficiency.

What are your concerns about the upcoming season?

Conventional wisdom would tell you we’re busier in the winter than the summer. We’ve been almost at capacity all summer long. Within the next month we will be opening up overflow in our lower level by turning our TV room into overflow shelter. … This isn’t that big of a building. You talk about cabin fever at home. It is a very real challenge here. It’s a stress on staff. It’s a stress on residents. The facility itself is stressed with that much more food, more water, more electricity, all those different things. It’s a strain, but it’s what we do.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501