Kimberly Harden is a police social worker who provides support and help for victims of domestic violence and other crimes in Rantoul. The future of her job is in doubt because of government budget cuts. Here's a look at her typical day and how she helps people in this northern Champaign County village:
The alarm clock goes off at 6:30 a.m. at the Harden home in Bloomington. Harden crawls out of bed and feeds her tiger cat.
She kisses her husband, Jason, goodbye and begins her hourlong drive to Rantoul. Harden, 30, is the only social worker employed by an Illinois police department south of Kankakee, according to the Association of Police Social Workers.
The Hardens, married for 8 years, met when Kimberly was a senior in high school.
"We both worked at the Pizza Man in Mahomet," she said. "He cooked the pizzas, and I served them."
Jason works at Meijer while Kimberly helps crime victims in Rantoul.
"Jason has been extremely supportive of my career. I couldn't ask for a better husband," she said.
After arriving at 8:30 a.m. at the Rantoul Police Station, Harden heads for the radio room to read the police reports from the previous evening. As she pores through them, she keeps an eye out for domestic violence incidents or the victims of crimes.
"I look for domestic battery incidents between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend or parent-child," she said.
She reads about a couple who recently broke up, but the former boyfriend continues to call her, drive by her home and even knock on the door. Harden talks with the woman, who says she needs to separate herself from this man. Harden contacts the county where the boyfriend lives so the woman can pursue an order of protection against him.
According to village records, police received an average of 830 domestic calls for the last six years, which comes to one incident for every 15 Rantoul residents.
"Those were just calls reported to us," Deputy Police Chief Hank Gamel said. "Domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the country because people don't like to admit they are having domestic problems."
In an effort to help victims of domestic violence, Rantoul police and the Mental Health Center hired a social worker to meet with domestic violence victims and their families in the 72 hours after the incident, provide them with counseling and help link them to social service and mental health agencies that can help them get a new start in life.
"I think the people of the community really value Kimberly's services," said Julie Kartel, director of youth and family services for the Mental Health Center. "Kimberly reaches out to people in a lot of different areas."
When six armed men wearing blue ski masks robbed the Community Plus Federal Credit Union on April 25, Harden was on duty as police brought in bank employees who went through the ordeal.
"I spent time listening to the employees and help them talk about their experiences," she said. "Then I helped them to contact other agencies that can provide them help."
"Victims of crimes often need help after they have endured stressful situation, and Kimberly does a great job in providing that help," Gamel said.
At 10 a.m., Harden drives at Rantoul Township High School, where she meets with a sophomore girl who was referred by a school social worker.
The girl tells Harden she has been having arguments with her father at home. She explains how their tempers got out of control and they began screaming at one another.
"I try to stabilize the situation," Harden said. "I ask how will things be when you go home tonight. Do you have a friend's house or a grandparents' home you can go to? I tell her she can always go to the police station for help."
Harden contacts Catholic Charities to get resources to help both the father and the daughter. The charity will then provide crisis intervention for the family for three months.
Harden said the most common situation she deals with in Rantoul are parent-child relationships.
"I try to make sure that not only will the teen be safe when she goes home, but also the parent. There are situations where the child abuses the parent. Children can be verbally abusive, running away or even get physical. In these cases, we try to set up a place for the child to go to for a cooling-off period."
At 11 a.m., Harden visits a woman who says she has been harassed at her apartment.
The woman says people knock on her doors and windows at all hours of the night, and she is getting frustrated.
Harden calls a landlord in another part of town and helps arrange for the woman to move there.
Harden, who brings her lunch each day, sits down with police dispatcher Sara Simpkins at noon to eat a half a peanut butter sandwich, yogurt, chips and water.
Both women completed the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January, and they are planning another race in the near future.
"It's great to have Kimberly with us on the police force," Simpkins said. "Not only is she a good runner, but she had made a tremendous difference in the lives of crime victims in our community."
After lunch, Harden decides to follow up on a police report she read in the morning. She drives to a home where a husband and wife fought the night before.
"Afternoons are a pretty decent time to do drop bys," she said.
Harden introduces herself to the wife and explains that she is there to help her.
"I asked her if they split up for good and whether there is anything else we needed to do for her," Harden said.
Harden listens as the woman talks about how her spouse has dominated her life.
"If I go to a home and the abuser is still there, I have to be very careful about what I say," Harden said.
After talking to the woman about going to a shelter, the wife decides she wants to stay.
Harden said one of the most frustrating parts of her job is that men are often reluctant to seek counseling – even as victims.
"A lot of times women prefer to speak to women, and men want to speak to men," she said. "A lot of men don't want to admit that something happened."
At 3 p.m. Harden joins Officer Chuck Casagrande and rides with him as he patrols the village.
"It's helpful to have her along with me to help defuse domestic violence situations," Casagrande said.
As Casegrande drives around town, he talks to Harden about clients that might need her help. He describes a domestic violence call he went on the previous night.
Before long Harden and Casegrande respond to a 9-1-1 call. According to the dispatcher, a neighbor heard screaming in a nearby home.
When they get there, Casegrande and Harden discover that it is a mother and her teen daughter. The teen wants to go out with her friends that evening, and the mother says no.
Casegrande and Harden immediately split them up. The policeman talks with the mother while Harden speaks with the daughter.
"I don't so much talk as listen," Harden said. "That's the interesting part about this job. I spend a lot of time listening and give the client an opportunity to talk."
After about 20 minutes of heartfelt conversation, the daughter agrees to spend the night with her grandmother.
A good report
Harden spends the rest of her shift writing up reports about the people she has helped that day. Some reports go to the Mental Health Center; other reports are kept in a locked file cabinet at the police department.
"I'm the only one who has the key," she said.
Exhausted, she begins her drive home at 5:30 p.m.
"At the end of the long day, I'm tired and still have an hour ahead of me," she said.
But she doesn't sit. She goes out for a 3-mile run in Bloomington. After lacing up her running shoes, Harden jogs down a trail with her husband riding alongside on a bicycle.
"After spending the day diffusing high-stress situations, it's great to go for a run and relax," she said. "Self-care is so important in social work."
Harden said working with families with broken relationships helps her to appreciate her husband even more.
"I'm so thankful for him. I feel like I married the best man out there. He has always been so supportive of my career. After seeing all these tense situations in Rantoul, I feel so fortunate to come home and realize how lucky I am."
As Harden ends the day, she thinks about the people she helped.
"It is satisfying knowing my work makes a difference in people's lives," she said.