Volunteer Profile: Meet Our Resident Social Workers, Clara and Cecilia

Clara Hansson (27) and Cecilia Svensson (28) first met in 2009 while studying social work at Linköping University. Over the years, they went from classmates to good friends, embarking on joint ventures to an internship in Japan and thesis research in Laos, and then finally finding themselves in Brooklyn at 200 4th Avenue.  Over the past several months, Clara and Cecilia have been Frances Residency’s very own live-in social workers. The girls take on multiple roles at CHiPS, assuming responsibilities throughout the organization in addition to their primary positions working with the moms at Frances Residency. But they maintain a healthy balance between work and play, having adopted Brooklyn and New York City at large as their home.

Left to Right: Clara, Denise and Cecilia at the girls' farewell pizza party

Left to Right: Clara, Denise and Cecilia at the girls’ farewell pizza party

When they’re not at CHiPS, Clara and Cecilia enjoy people watching, especially from a perch outside Brooklyn Museum. They often take a seat outdoors with a snack and are constantly trying new foods from a diverse selection they say doesn’t exist in Sweden.  They’ve already recommended I try their favorite vegetarian buffalo wings and to swing by Gloria’s Caribbean Cuisine for a colossal roti. They love the diversity in New York and that “the city belongs to everyone” as Cecilia says.

Back at CHiPS, Clara and Cecilia bring their enthusiasm for cultural diversity and a good meal into Frances Residency to share with the moms.  Both women are excellent home cooks and started making meals with the residents, creating what has evolved into a weekly family dinner. They’ve even introduced Swedish cuisine into the communal Frances kitchen upstairs. “They act as role models…like sisters,” says Denise.  “They’re people who can connect with the girls on a very personal level; they sleep here, they live here.”

“We are like a small family here,” Cecilia explains.  “We’re part of the family because we live here and we feel like a part of the place.” Clara nods in agreement.

“Our mission here is to empower the women,” explains Clara. That means being available, even it it’s answering a knock at the door in the middle of the night just to talk.  The two agree that their most important contribution is not quantifiable in hours or documents; their larger purpose to provide a safe space for exchanging stories, encouraging the girls to bond with each other through sharing their experiences.

Due to visa restrictions, Cecilia and Clara will have to return to Sweden at the end of the month. It will be a bittersweet farewell for everyone at CHiPS, although the Frances Residency and the moms will undoubtedly suffer their absence most. There is a silver lining, however. They have already begun planning their return, off to Sweden for just “summer vacation” and returning to the New York they’ve grown to love in the fall.

From all of us in the CHiPS community, we hope you have a wonderful time back home but return to us as soon as possible!