One of the benefits to being part of the LinkedIn community is the connection and collaboration that takes place between professionals. Because of my own involvement on LinkedIn with various social work, helping profession, and healthcare groups, I have had the great fortune to connect with some amazing professionals. This is how I ‘met’ Serge Schneider. The purpose of the interviews I have conducted with professionals on behalf of SJS is to show there is much to be gained when a professional shares their story of why they chose their profession, shares their work experience, and shares how they promote advocacy and resiliency. Every person’s journey in life is different, but important and can become a teaching tool or learning opportunity for another. It is also an opportunity for a professional to discuss the importance of social justice and how they promote it within their current employment.
What led you to the helping profession and why a BA in Psychology?
I was fascinated with the science. I was generally an introverted and sensitive youth and felt it was my duty as a concerned and conscientious individual to get involved in making the world a better place, as corny as that may sound. Psychology helped me compartmentalize and hone my burgeoning perception. I emigrated with my family from Russia to the states at the age of 7 and it was a painful transition. That experience made me empathetic/sympathetic to the suffering of others. I also wanted to test myself and grow as a human being. I didn’t want to be an armchair quarterback or someone who simply stood on the sidelines afraid to actually get involved.
What message or advice would you give to a future or current student attending university who is focusing on or plans a career in the helping professions/social services?
I would tell them that it’s not glamorous. The main rewards are personal in nature i.e. finding satisfaction in helping others. Achievements will not necessarily result in awards, recognition or more money. One should be prepared for the harsh realities of the human condition. Unfortunately, many people involved in social services are not necessarily there for the right reasons and they should prepare themselves for battle. Their character will be tested and they will often have to put other’s needs ahead their own.
Provide some professional background about yourself
I graduated from Kent State in 1997 with a BA in Psychology. I have been in social services for 17+ years. I started as a treatment tech at an emergency shelter for adolescent females. On-sight staff provided guidance to the residents i.e. support, mentoring, comforting to escorting the youth on field trips, helping set the tables at meal time, intervening during physical and verbal confrontations between residents, assisting the teacher by maintaining order in the classrooms, and on occasion even confronting gang members that would sneak onto the campus.
I later worked as an adolescent case manager in a generic unit at Franklin County Children’s Services. Afterwards, I worked as an information specialist at an agency then known as First Link, a call center that served to direct people to resources throughout the county and scheduled food pantry times for those in need of food.
I also worked as part of the youth outreach team at a facility called Huckleberry House which served as a shelter for teens. I provide case management (transporting youth to appointments, advocating for them when they needed further services, intervening, mentoring, and mediating during familial disputes). Unfortunately, it was designed to be short term case management (3 weeks or less). Most times continuity and case management continued until stability was attained. Other duties were walking the streets and passing out items to youth (examples, i.e. clothing, toiletries, food) to being on call. There are safe places throughout the city and we would receive calls day or night when a youth was having a crisis. With nowhere to go, we would pick them up (from the safe place locations) and drop them off at the shelter care facility (house).
The Youth Outreach Team also partook in speaking engagements at schools and other agencies where we’d discuss the dangers of running with the wrong crowd, peer pressure, drug use, safe sex or abstinence, STD’s etc, and we’d pass out pamphlet along with interacting with the youth and promote our program. Occasionally, we’d be approached by individuals who needed our assistance and we would gather their contact info and at times open cases and provide case management.
After, I worked as a case manager for the Child Development Council of Franklin County’s Head Start program. I was responsible for enrollment, home visits, advocacy for the youth and the parent, referrals to other resource with the idea being to not only provide an educational sanctuary for the children at the center, but also improve the living situations at home by working with the caregivers. There was follow up for extended absences where the youth were not attending school and this occurred at two centers located on different sides of town. Responsibilities also included conducting monthly parent meetings with the coordinators who were directly responsible for the teachers in the classrooms and the all around day to day routines. The case managers worked closely with the coordinators to make sure all aspects of the head start experience were effective and efficient.
Current Employment at YWCA and the Kinship Care Program
I am one year into a pilot program through the YWCA’s Family Shelter called Kinship Care. I am happy to say that we will receive funding for another year as the expectations of the grant have been met. In the simplest terms, the program serves to provide case management for eligible families out in the community for a maximum of 3 months. The homeless family enters the family shelter and is assigned an advocate. During the meeting with the advocate, options are discussed. When the family has someone they can stay with and meets the income guidelines, the advocate makes contact with potential host (family/friend) and determines whether the potential host meets the eligibility requirements. Once everything is established in regards to eligibility and willingness to participate, a referral is made to me. I work with the family for up to 3 months, provide them with resources and advocate for them while they are living in the community with their established host. A stipend is given to the host monthly in order to help with the added expenses. The goals are usually employment, daycare, and housing. The idea is the family can obtain stability and be able to maintain independently by the end of the 3 month period. A recent news story was the first official piece of publicity that the program has received. Up to that point it seems to have been a word of mouth kind of thing within the community. Clients for the most part are made aware of the program only after they enter the family shelter.
As SJS is a social justice focused site, how does the Kinship Care Program fit?
Kinship Care allows homeless families to live in a more comfortable and dignified manner while working to obtain permanency and stability. It also gives them more time (than a shelter would) to achieve these goals. It allows the development of stronger rapport between the families involved and myself. Unfortunately, the rise in homelessness has resulted in over-crowding (at the shelter). The families have a maximum of 20 days to find housing and employment as opposed to the 90 days in kinship care. Due to the overcrowding, the advocates (at the shelter) don’t get the opportunity to truly bond with their clients, everything is rushed and I believe everyone is overwhelmed as a result. The kinship care program is also very demanding, but it allows for a better working relationship and a more flexible approach to advocacy
How important should the issue of social justice be within the helping professions?
It should be at the forefront. Many of the homeless families have developed barriers along the way, i.e. prison, eviction, poor credit, lack of education, and the all around disintegration of the family unit. Ultimately, it all revolves around social justice. Many of the families we work with have lost faith in the system. The system misleads, exploits, labels, and easily dismisses those without “power.” My entire career has been built on empowering individuals with these types of barriers, building self-esteem, confidence, and knowledge so they can live full lives and be the holders of their own fates.
By Victoria Brewster, MSW
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