A Perfect First Impression

Greeting clients with a warm smile and open arms


November 02, 2020



Oftentimes your first impression of an organization is the front desk receptionist. Luckily for Damien Center, Lori Blanchette is sitting in that chair. It’s clear the impression she makes is a good one. On busy Wednesday morning, here are a few things she said as she tended to the needs of callers, staff and clients:

“Oh honey, maybe your Part B didn’t come through.”

Lori fields a lot of questions about Damien Center’s food pantry, since the pantry restarted operations after Covid closure. Aside from several questions about the new hours, one woman was crying because she was unable to get her gift card to use at Kroger food stores. That benefit is available through Part B of the Ryan White funds. Lori immediately called the client’s care coordinator to the front desk to discuss the situation. “There may be some misunderstanding about her Ryan White Part B eligibility,” says Lori. She offered compassion and kind word to the distraught client.

Another gentleman came in who Lori knew by name. (She knew most of the names of people in the lobby that morning.) He was a food pantry regular. “I had the virus!” he came up and told Lori. “I was really sick for about a week. But now I’m as good as new!” he said. “You’re a miracle!” Lori told him. They were both smiling as he left the lobby area, his grocery bags full of food.

“He still needs an intake appointment to access any services”

Some of the calls involved explaining the basics of how Damien Center works. Lori often has to tell a new caller they need to set up an intake appointment to establish eligibility. Instead of asking them bluntly, “Do you have HIV or AIDS?” Lori takes a gentler approach to determine if they qualify for Damien Center services. She goes with “Where do you receive your HIV treatment?”

“I never heard anyone say they receive their HIV treatment by mail!”

“That’s a response I never heard before!” laughs Lori. That caller may have been a little confused, but that is the response given when asked the eligibility question. “I do have some clients with dementia. I have to repeat myself with them a lot.” But no matter how she interacts with them, she smiles and greets them by name.

Several other duties include scheduling appointments for the care coordinators, giving out IndyGO bus passes, and directing Butler University pharmacy students to the Walgreens pharmacy in the Damien Cares clinic. She also copies paperwork for clients, and checks to see if they have mail. (Some clients use Damien Center as their own mailing address.) Several calls came in from people asking Lori to look up a phone number for them too. “A lot of our clients don’t have smartphones,” says Lori. “They use me as directory assistance. A few times I even had people call me from the waiting area!” she laughs.

“Where were you? I called and some dude answered!”

Sometimes they call Lori just to ask her where she was. “It makes me feel good,” she says. It’s easy to see why they like her. She tries to meet their needs, whatever that is. “If they are here to see someone, I email that person. Then call. Then page. I try not to let people sit too long. Not everyone in this lobby is in a trauma situation, but it’s a very important reason to them that they are here,” she adds.

“I like this. This is what I want to do.”

One young man came up to Lori clutching a pamphlet. He was pointing to a section where the photo depicted young people outdoors, and having fun. It was a pamphlet for addiction counseling, and he seemed agitated. Not to mention a long way from experiencing an enjoyable social outing. However, for the one minute they interacted, the young man had Lori’s undivided attention.

Lori has been the front desk coordinator for over four years, the longest anyone has held that position. And she is passionate about the mission of Damien Center. Her favorite part of her job? “The people! I love the people. I do miss hugs though, (referring to Covid social distancing restrictions.) Some folks really do come in here just for a hug.”

So hugs and a few tools have been removed from her toolbox. But Lori is the perfect first impression for Damien Center that donors and supporters should be proud of: Treating everyone who comes through the lobby with respect, kindness and care.