Staff Spotlight—Charlie Dunkin Gives Back

When AHP hung a “Black Lives Matter” banner above the front entryway of our Market Street services center, Charlie Dunkin knew he’d found his work family. That gesture of commitment to and support for justice reflected Dunkin’s long-held beliefs, and he wanted to work at a place that was willing to put its neck out for the most underserved parts of our community.

As a young, queer, and trans youth, Dunkin says the LGBTQ community saved his life. “I’ve always wanted to help others the way I was helped,” Dunkin says after describing how the community housed and supported him as he was coming up and coming out after he was orphaned at the age of 14 due to his mother’s death from cancer. Ever “since seeing a counselor in high school,” Dunkin added, “I specifically wanted to be a therapist.”

Dunkin graduated in 2013 with a bachelor degree in psychology and a minor in sociology from Portland State University. Wanting to support his community he fulfilled his practicum requirement volunteering at an LGBTQ youth drop-in center. Dunkin continued the fight for LGBTQ rights going door to door working for Oregon’s marriage equality campaign. It is no wonder that Dunkin, who holds a deep passion for helping his community, was awarded The Pride of the Rose Scholarship from the Equity Foundation in 2011, a program that recognizes the additional challenges of queer people who face cultural intersections like disability, race, gender and religious identities.

After graduating, he continued along this trajectory—embarking on a career as an instrument of change—working as an AmeriCorps Member at Habitat for Humanity. Dunkin’s tenderness for LGBTQ youth later led him to a position as a residential counselor at the Bill Wilson Center, a crisis center for youth, where his advocacy was pivotal in establishing an LGBTQ support group. For Dunkin, who took nine years to graduate, working to pay his undergraduate tuition as he went along; going to graduate school seemed a far-fetched fantasy. But after applying to UC Berkeley he was astonished to be accepted. Dunkin graduated in 2013 with a Masters in Social Welfare concentrating on community mental health. Dunkin chose AHP for his graduate program’s requirement for a clinical internship because he liked the atmosphere, the variety of work, and, especially, the integrated model of care.

All of this is background that Dunkin dutifully narrates. But he brightens noticeably as he describes his therapeutic relationships. “Clients are experts in their own lives,” he asserted, and he applies therapeutic techniques to mitigate the power differential between him and his clients. In fact, after working primarily with youth, Dunkin particularly values what he sees as the greater willingness of adults to engage in collaborative and transparent therapeutic relationships. For that reason, and because many AHP clients have had negative experiences with mental health professionals, Dunkin employs an integrative theoretic model with narrative therapy at its core, to address both power dynamics and differences in age, race, class and other cultural differences, connecting with compassion and story telling.

Dunkin uses a more casual, narrative therapy, with an emphasis on rapport building, to address both power dynamics and differences in age, race, class and other cultural differences, connecting with compassion and story telling.

As Dunkin describes his approach and his commitment to our clients, his enthusiasm is infectious. He continues by observing that he is amazed at how much he enjoys being a “professional queer.” Aside from the satisfaction of having a variety of roles as a clinical social worker at AHP, he is also working with the San Francisco Department of Public Health on the City’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, helping to implement guidelines and a training program in the health department to address disparities in the LGBTQ community. If the Black Lives Matter banner, which continues to hang above our threshold, signaled to Dunkin a place that puts its neck out, Dunkin has fit right in, putting his neck out not only for his clients but for AHP!