As I pulled into the parking lot of the Child and Parent Services building in Elkhart, there was only a single car in the parking lot.It was early. 7:22. When I punched in the address earlier, my GPS reminded me that Child and Parent Services, better known as CAPS, didn’t open until 9. The clock in my Subaru advanced to 7:23 as I pulled next to the lone vehicle. I was seven minutes early, but she was earlier than I was.
As I a sat for a moment, I realized something. I was nervous. Why was I nervous? I had interviewed people before. Why was this interview creating anxiety? Perhaps because she works in an area that I am intimately familiar with, and for the reasons you don’t want to be familiar with it.
Rebecca Shetler Fast was waiting for me. As I walked up to the door of CAPS she greeted me with a huge smile and a very friendly, “Good morning, Mike!” Immediately my uneasiness disappeared. It suddenly felt as though I were meeting a long-lost friend, rather than a social worker who specializes in trauma and serves as the president and chief executive of CAPS.
We made our way to her office where she had a table ready to go for our interview. She was prepared. The way she carried herself, I’m certain she’s always prepared.
We sat down at the same time, and I was getting ready to start asking the questions I had prepared when I looked down and realized I had brought the wrong notebook. I apologized to her and told her I’m pretty sure I remembered everything I was going to ask, but she relaxed the situation by asking about me. My first thought was “I’m supposed to be askng you questions.”
I told her how I retired from the Army earlier this year. When she asked me about my deployments, I told her I had been on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. As I was finally able to get my questions asked, she painted an amazing picture of a life devoted to helping others. In her words: “This is my passion work!”
Fast graduated from Goshen College in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in social work, but she didn’t start her college career in social work.
“My first two years I was majoring in theater,” Fast said, “but after my Study-Service Term in Ethiopia, I knew right away where my passion was.”
Fast didn’t waste any time. Immediately upon her return from Ethiopia, she went to the registrar’s office to change her major to social work.
“SST was a life changing experience,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to the suffering that is out there because of trauma. It really solidified my call to respond to suffering and trauma.”
She paused for a moment and continued. “Ethiopia wasn’t the first time I heard about trauma,” she said. “My oma and opa… my grandparents, they would tell me about the trauma they endured.”
Fast’s grandparents were Ukrainian Mennonites who suffered persecution under Stalin’s Soviet Union. They fled the Soviet Union, settling in Ontario, Canada.
“My oma had a lot of unprocessed trauma,” Fast said. “I saw her pain and heard her talk about it in a very raw way.”
She continued, “It was very simple for me. I always wanted to alleviate suffering, and I always focused on trauma.”
Fast began her journey after graduating by going to work for the Department of Child Services and then juvenile probations as a social work probation officer, both positions allowing her to work with children who suffered from trauma. The jobs were stepping stones for Fast to finally land a position with the Veteran’s Administration as a social worker where she was able to work with combat veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The VA for clinicians is the top clinical care for trauma in the United States,” she said. “I worked for the VA outside of Pittsburgh. I specialized in working with combat veterans who suffered from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and substance use disorders.”
Fast jumped at the opportunity to take on the toughest cases.
“PTSD treatment is painful,” she said. “I always say you have to go through the fire to get to the other side. In order to do that, the average person asks, ‘Why would I go through that much pain again?’ It’s difficult to convince them that it’s worth the pain to get to the other side.”
Fast said that many veterans find themselves in a state of hopelessness that makes it easier to convince them to go through the proper steps.
“It’s much easier to convince people when they are at the absolute low,” she said. “It’s at that point where they tell me they have nothing left to live for and they are much more willing to go through what they need to move past their trauma.”
While working at the VA in Pittsburgh, Fast worked on her master’s degree in social work from what was then known as California University of Pennsylvania. When she completed her graduate degree, she and her husband, Paul Shetler Fast, also a 2008 Goshen College graduate, went to Haiti to serve with Mennonite Central Committee. Fast had felt a calling since her SST in Ethiopia.
“When I went to Ethiopia, I was just a college student and I didn’t feel I was able to provide the type of care that I wanted to provide to the suffering,” she said. “After completing my master’s degree and having made it where I wanted to with the VA, I was suddenly in a position to help with the suffering I wasn’t able to in Ethiopia. I wanted to travel overseas again to help, so we went to Haiti for five years.”
After their five years in Haiti, the couple moved back to Indiana.
As the president and CEO of CAPS, she still gets to help people work through their trauma, once again providing care for children. Fast said that no two traumas are the same, and it’s almost an artform to help a person who suffers from a trauma. The children she cares for now have experienced much different traumas than the veterans she worked with at the VA and the Haitians who experienced natural disasters.
As the interview came to an end, Fast would not let me leave until she heard about the treatments I had received for my combat trauma. She made it clear to me that any suffering I was going through could be treated. She handed me her card and a list of different types of treatments she had seen work with other veterans.
As we left her office, we passed by at least 20 people who had arrived during our interview. She greeted each one of them with the same smile she greeted me with upon my arrival.
We shook hands and I parted the CAPS parking lot the same way I came in, but with a sense of hope that I’ve not experienced in some time.
Rebecca Shetler Fast has a calling to help everyone she comes into contact with, even a retired Army officer who is pursuing his second college degree, in broadcasting.