Engaging the Newest Cohort of New Professionals
Cheryl Mitchell, MSW; NASW-NYC New Professionals Planning Group Member
Early career social workers in New York City will find a re-energized source of support, learning, and networking, as a newly-formed planning group begins to provide direction for the NASW-NYC New Professionals. On December 13, 2012, former New Professionals Task Force leaders and members of the NASW-NYC leadership and staff gathered to mobilize a new cohort of social workers entering the field.
Members affirmed the ongoing importance of the new professionals group within NASW. During small break-out discussions, new professionals shared challenges that elevate the need for peer support at this stage, including: transition from graduate school learning and relationships, issues with licensure and supervision, the need for a broader social work network and perspective, and safe places to process and recharge. In addition, the group creates a direct channel for new professionals to present relevant issues to the leadership of NASW-NYC.
During meetings in January and February, the planning group of new professionals brainstormed ideas that ran the gamut from large events and forums to small informal gatherings, with a focus on the best ways to engage new professional social workers.
As the structure of the group takes shape, the NASW-NYC New Professionals will host informal “meet-up” gatherings to facilitate these relationships. To get the dialogue going and to identify the needs of the community, the planning group is anticipating a NASW-NYC New Professionals Facebook re-launch this spring. The vision for Facebook is to increase contacts and provide a forum for learning, suggestions, and continued connection between events.
If you are a new professional interested in meeting other professionals or exploring how you can be involved, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: MSW students are now graduating at a time when the terrain of human services is rapidly changing: continued budget cuts, the restructuring of service provision, and shifts in work expectations. Here at the Chapter, making sure that NASW-NYC stays relevant to new professionals remains a top priority. In order to gain a more intimate understanding of what new professional social workers are experiencing, NASW-NYC staff invited members of the planning group of new professionals to write a brief piece for the New Professionals Feature in this issue of Currents. Below are brief essays written by those who chose to share their thoughts about entering the field at this time.
NASW-NYC Has Helped Me Make the Adjustment from Leaving Graduate School
Katy Crile, LMSW, Social worker, JASA - Community Guardian Program
I feel extremely lucky to have found a job within six months of graduating in 2009 from the NYU Silver School of Social Work, especially in this economic climate. I am now working at JASA in the Community Guardian Program. This is particularly satisfying as I had wanted to work with the elderly, and JASA is one of New York’s largest agencies serving older adults in the five boroughs, providing services to enrich lives and help sustain people in their homes and communities.
The learning curve in any job is usually pretty steep, but it has been made more so by the budget cuts, program closures, tightening of restrictions for services, and agency reform that have occurred since I began working. I think it has forced everyone to be a bit more creative and deal with less, which no one likes and makes our jobs more difficult.
Besides the external influences affecting my job and being a newer social worker, my biggest challenges have been in trying to use and develop my clinical skills in a job that is case management based. We get so busy and overwhelmed by the massive amounts of paperwork that it is hard to remember to take time to sit with someone and just talk. Those times when I am waiting with a client to see a doctor or going to the food stamp office and we end up speaking about the client’s life as a whole are extremely meaningful to me. It gives me a great sense of fulfillment when I leave those encounters feeling that we may have engaged on a level different than before.
Moving into the future I think it is extremely important to stay involved in order to stay motivated. I find that by working with the NASW-NYC New Professionals and participating in the NASW-NYC Special Interest Group, Social Workers Advancing the Human-Animal Bond (SWAHAB) – both of which can be found on Facebook – I am constantly being re-inspired. NASW-NYC has helped me make the adjustment from leaving graduate school where information about our profession was fed to me, and I was surrounded by enthusiastic, like-minded individuals.
While I am very fortunate to have fantastic and supportive co-workers and a program director who works hard to ensure that there are learning opportunities. Reading the NASW-NYC newsletter, Currents, going to the Annual Meeting and interacting with new people through the Chapter helps bring me outside the day-to-day of my job and reconnects me to the profession.
Sustaining the Passion That Drives My Success as a Social Worker Through Community
Jordane Jolley, MSW
When I graduated from University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice in 2007, work experience was preferred. In fact, experience without licensure was so well regarded; it guaranteed you employment with a livable wage plus benefits, and career advancement. Those were the “good ole days.” Oh I how I miss them. There was a leniency towards getting your license. Keeping your job was not contingent on a time frame of if and when you became licensed. A social worker’s level of ability was measured by his/her productivity. However, I will be remiss, if I do not acknowledge the value of a having a license to practice and its use as a tool to professionalize and merit the field of social work.
As a result of our present-day climate, newly minted Master level social workers face challenges when trying to launch a lucrative and fruitful career. A paramount difficulty is one that also acts as a discouragement to many. It is the proposition/insult of minimal pay for maximum work. We, as social workers, need a livable wage to sustain livelihood!
To counteract discouragement from the challenges I may face as a social worker, I maintain a community that serves as a refuge. Friends, family, and colleagues constitute my community - a place where I can easily discuss social issues, engage in extracurricular or other service activities, re-energize, and progressively move forward. This approach allows me to allay threats and compromises against the passion that drives my success as a social worker.
It is imperative that we, social workers, know that we are not alone in our struggles. Our individual challenges in the work place are not so individual, but a shared experience of social workers in various settings. In our daily lives as professional change agents, we encounter many issues. For example, lack of supervision, lack of respected role/position in the hierarchy of interdisciplinary team work, and limited affordable options to develop our skillsets specific to our current practice focus or expand our knowledge in areas unfamiliar to us. To combat these issues, we need to discuss and create interventions to create resources for professional enhancement.
Camaraderie and community are the most impactful benefits I have gained as a member of NASW. When I relocated from Pennsylvania to New York, my initial transition was fraught with a sense of isolation. I moved into an environment where I was a stranger. Then I had an “AHA moment” and decided to join NASW. Becoming an active member has fulfilled my social (developing friendships) and professional (job networking) needs.
Francis Lora, LMSW, Inpatient Clinical Social Worker, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Washington Heights Community Services
The NASW has done for professional social workers what the Association of Realtors has done for professional real estate agents- legitimize and set standards for the profession, lobby for favorable legislation, and provide an extensive support network for members to name just a few things. NASW-NYC is also a vehicle for social workers to create and obtain the resources they need for professional and personal development.
For me, NASW-NYC has provided several opportunities for professional growth and exposure including posting my profile at Helpstartshere.org and being a guest on a Sirius Satellite Radio show where I met several inspiring colleagues. Also, I can think of no other place to meet everyone from aspiring social work students to seasoned professionals, including the Executive Director of the New York City Chapter, and be able to feel so at home, especially after the bumpy start to my social work career.
For me, applying to social work school was a strategic move; I had been working at a high school for several years and wanted to become the school social worker. My original plan was to apply for the Bilingual Scholarship, which would’ve left me debt free after 5 years. In a sense, I had it all figured out…but then, reality hit.
During my schooling at Columbia University School of Social Work, I had a rude awakening to the impending economic crisis: firstly, despite seeming like I would get the Bilingual Scholarship, that fell through. Then, I had to switch my second-year field placement twice due to a new trend in outsourcing the social work function to community organizations in a desire to downsize the number of social workers working directly for the Department of Education (DOE) in schools.
Today, several years after graduating, I have a lot more student debt than I had originally anticipated, but I am also a licensed social work professional working at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in the field of Mental Health. As a state employee, a PEF Union Member, and a proud member of NASW-NYC, I am always looking for ways to share my good fortune.
Meaningful Connections - Essential to the Vitality of Our Work and Health
Cheryl Mitchell, MSW
If you ask what creates meaning for me as a social worker… encourages me during the stress of career transition… or inspires my involvement with the NASW-NYC New Professionals, I believe that I can answer in a word: connection.
Even as I enter the profession, I have experienced the ever-increasing demands of our strained economy on both client and social worker, and at times, I have represented the only social worker on a multi-disciplinary team. Forging meaningful connections in this environment seems challenging but essential to the vitality of the work and the health of the worker for several reasons:
Connection heals. I am continually motivated by the ways that connection transforms the lives of our clients. Before relocating to NYC this winter, I completed my MSW at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as a Care Manager for The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place, a residential treatment center for individuals and families challenged by chemical dependency. Every day, I saw how restored connections to feelings, family, spiritual resources, and the recovery community empowered clients to break down immense walls of isolation that protected and fueled their addictions.
Connection renews. I believe that connection also sustains the professional. During my recent move, I gained personal insight into the scope and significance of NASW connection. While navigating the transition to a new city, the loss of familiar support networks (school, community, work), and the added challenges of employment and licensure, I was privileged to find immediate access to peers who “get it.” A simple email response connected me to the guidance and support of people who understand these common stressors – but most importantly, the shared vision of why we love and choose the work that we do.
True connection takes time. In today’s context, that time may require fierce advocacy for client and self. I am grateful to join a group of new professionals making time to connect!
Balancing the Business Mindset of Human Services While Preserving Our Humanity
Lara VandenBergh, LMSW, Clinical Social Worker, AHRC-NYC
My name is Lara VandenBergh and I work as a clinical social worker at AHRC. The hardest thing about starting my career in such a difficult economic climate has been achieving a balance between my own mental health and making sure that I have a job tomorrow. In school, we are taught about self-care and how to best handle a situation that works for ourselves and the clients. But I think the thing that is missing is the reality of the environment once you begin to work. One of the biggest challenges has been adjusting to the reality of the climate and learning to balance the necessary business mindset of social services and the humanity of it.
I have learned that it is important to hone in on the positive aspects of the work. I find fulfillment and satisfaction in continuing to learn and in sharing my knowledge with my colleagues. When I find something interesting and relevant, whether it is an article or maybe even a small epiphany of my own, sharing that with my co-workers, who are in similar stressful positions, makes me feel really good.
Although I'm just at the beginning, I think that it is natural to wonder about the future. When I find my mind wandering to what lies ahead, I have to remind myself to relax. I am one of the youngest people working in my department. At times, I find myself getting anxious about where I will be later in my career and if clinical work is what I want to do forever. But then I think about my interests and my passions and how much time I have to figure it all out.
I'm still trying to understand what it means to be a social worker. But as I begin my career, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved with the new professionals working with NASW-NYC. I am hoping to find some footing and clarity as I establish myself within this profession. If anything, connecting with NASW-NYC allows me to have a voice and hopefully a positive influence on the field.
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