Ariana Ciancio is a people person. She sees the best in all people – regardless of their station in life or means of support.
She doesn’t look down on people who lack housing or have issues that stand in their way of succeeding in life’s more traditional ways.
You can’t say that about many people.
But not many people have spent 30 years working to help those with substance abuse, homelessness, and other social service-related roadblocks.
Ciancio attributes her kindred compassion to her childhood. “I grew up near a homeless shelter and at a young age I would walk past homeless people talking to themselves. I thought that was normal,” said the New Jersey native.
Though Ciancio knows that some of her clients are not considered normal by society standards, that has no bearing on how she treats them.
“I get joy having conversations with people that nobody else wants to talk to. I see them as whole not broken. They have issues, but everyone has issues. I will support them whenever they want to start.”
That is why she was the perfect choice to become the Service Population Advocate for the Delray Beach Police Department six years ago. Ciancio created the CARES program (Community Advocacy Response Education and Service) within the police department. CARES helps people seek treatment for substance use, mental health issues and homelessness.
She not only helps people cope (and resolve) their daily struggles, but she is always by their side to help them get help and resources to re-integrate into society.
Ciancio goes to the Caring Kitchen every day (with her team), sits with everyone, hands out mail and distributes food. She also helps with other social services such as the Interfaith Committee shower truck.
“We let these people know we support them. We let them know if they want to make changes in their life we will always be there for them. We don’t enable them, we help them when they are ready,” said the self-described extreme multi-tasker.
Though she was awarded the 2018 Delray Citizens for Delray Police Employee of the year award, the 2018 Crossroads Club Taste of Recovery Vision of Hope Award, and the 2020 Palm Beach County Association of Chiefs of Police Civilian Employee of the year award, Ciancio does not puff up or feel entitled. On the contrary, she sees these (and other awards) as part of her earthly downpayment.
“I don’t understand why I get awards. I am doing what I am supposed to do. I get joy having conversations with people that nobody else wants to talk to. People avoid them and walk around them, but I love hearing their stories. It makes them so happy to have someone listen to them.”
Helping those in need is a calling that Ciancio heard early on in life. She graduated from FAU with a degree in psychology and then received a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.
When she was in high school Ciancio wanted to become a psychiatrist. “I always felt a calling to help people who had problems. When I was young I read lots of psychology books about Freud, Skinner and others. I loved it.”
While getting her BA degree at FAU in Boca Ra-ton, Ciancio began volunteering across the street at a residential treatment center. She did assessments and helped those with addiction issues. “I realized right away that I loved helping people with substance use issues.”
Her first job after college was as a therapist at the National Recovery Institute in Ft. Lauderdale. She moved back to New Jersey in 1998 with her husband Steve. In NJ she became a case manager overseeing patients released from psychiatric facilities. Ciancio made sure they took their medication, stayed safe and integrated into society successfully.
She also worked for The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-NJ substance abuse initiative. Ciancio was the lead care coordinator supervising five northern New Jersey counties. After that, she worked at night in medical quality assurance overseeing care at treatment centers.
“I worked behind the scenes working with providers to make sure people were getting the right care to become productive members of society.”
That entailed making sure that patients were being transferred to the right housing, helping them with their resumes to get jobs, and coordinating all patients care so they could succeed in life.
Though she was busy working in a career she loved in New Jersey, Ciancio was still a Florida gal at heart. So, she moved back to Florida with her family in 2004.
She continued working with NCADD NJ providing medical quality assurance and conducting assessments at a treatment program.
To some this might seem like drudge work, but to Ciancio it is what makes her life worthwhile. “There is nothing more rewarding than giving people an opportunity to tell their story. After that, I ask questions and come up with a plan to assist them in making changes in their lives.”
Ciancio wasn’t looking for a change when she saw a listing on Facebook for a job with the Delray Beach Police Department.
“I made up my mind I didn’t want to work full-time again,” she quips. But, Ciancio was blindsighted by her am-bition and her history.
“The job description was everything I had done my entire career: case management, medication follow-up, assessments, welfare, treatment, helping the homeless and more.”
In June 2017 Ciancio was hired to be the Service Population Advocate within the Delray Police Department. To be prepared, and to create a program of merit, she learned about every program in the county that provided services for substance abuse, homelessness, and mental illness.
To this day Ciancio is the only licensed clinician inside a police department in Palm Beach County that provides outreach and social services. She helps people (including seniors) apply for benefits, links them to healthcare, food, showers, meetings, and local faith-based organizations. She also attends a roster of meetings that would make your eyes gloss over.
The program – now called the Community Outreach Team – includes two police officers and a social worker.
“We take a person-centered approach with each person to get re-sults. We are with them through the good and the bad; we never give up on them.”
That is exactly what happened when Ciancio met Donald Foresman. Homeless for many years, Foresman didn’t have ID or a birth certificate. After pursuing many agencies and avenues, Ciancio finally tracked down his birth certificate. The rest is history – a heartfelt one.
“In October 2021 Donald Foresman moved into a one-bedroom apartment and is doing great. He is sleeping in a bed instead of on concrete, he doesn’t have to hide his possessions in the bushes and has a kitchen and a shower.”
For that good deed Ciancio received the employee of the month award. Foresman, who was in the audience, referred to Ciancio as an angel.
“Ariana is ALWAYS the steady, thoughtful, influential and passion-ate voice. Her work to improve the lives of Delray Beach and Palm Beach County residents is evident, and her contribution to this impor-tant transformative work is to be commended,” said John Hulick, who worked with Ciancio in both Florida and New Jersey.
Police Chief Russ Mager also sees the stars in her orbit.
“Ariana genuinely cares about people, all people, especially those in
need of assistance. She has a true gift for helping those in need. She is special,” said Delray Police Chief, Russ Mager.
Her friend and colleague Judy Feeney agrees. “Ariana has made a huge impact in Delray Beach by her dedication to improving the lives of the homeless, or anyone in need of social services. Working with her is a tremendous inspiration and an education in humanity.”