The Dedication of Dot Iriks
Connecting with vulnerable young people requires a very special skill set: consistency, patience, and a hefty dose of humor. For Dot Iriks, outgoing Director of Housing at SAY, these qualities are just a natural part of her personality. Her â€œkidsâ€, as she lovingly calls the youth in her program, will often try to sneak up behind her or jump around the corner to test her unshakeable calm. It rarely works.
â€œMost times, I just stare at them,â€ Dot laughs.
Dot first joined SAY as a Youth and Family Therapist trainee in our Counseling clinic. She was earning her Masterâ€™s degree in Counseling and gaining valuable hours towards her MFT license. She considers this to be her â€˜bonus yearâ€™, and one that helped shape her future career choices. After two years working in other social service programs, Dot returned to SAY as a Case Manager for Tamayo Village. She was inspired by Tamayoâ€™s innovative approach in recognizing and meeting the specific needs of transition-aged youth.
Over the last 13-and-a-half years, Dot has been integral to developing new programs and opening new housing opportunities for the youth at SAY. From creating Stepping Stone (which provides housing and case management for youth aging out of foster care) to launching the SAY Family Cottage (a place for pregnant and parenting youth who are experiencing homelessness or are unstably housed), Dot truly understands how to address the gaps in support our youth face.
â€œI always tell these kids that Iâ€™m going to call them out when theyâ€™re thinking I canâ€™t,â€ says Dot. â€œWhen youâ€™ve grown up with a life of trauma, with unpredictability, you donâ€™t feel like your efforts are going to lead to the outcomes that you want. Iâ€™m going to call them out, because there is no reason that they canâ€™t accomplish their goals.â€
Her advice hits home for many youth, who will return to visit Dot years after they move out on their own. They come to share milestone moments and accomplishments: â€œI donâ€™t know how many kids come back when they get a new car! They drive it over to SAY to show their old case managers, because they are proud of themselves and they want to share that. Those moments are very, very nice to see.â€
Outside of work, Dot enjoys camping and wake surfing with her husband of fifteen years. They love going to see live music, hosting BBQâ€™s that sometimes involve throwing axes (at targets!) in the backyard, and spending time with family.
Dot is moving on to a new role working for Sonoma County, but she will continue to be developing housing for youth. We will miss her tremendously, but we know that her passion and commitment will shine through wherever she goes.
â€œThat is what drives my empathy for the young people weâ€™re working with,â€ says Dot. â€œI truly do love them. Theyâ€™re my people.â€