Partnership Offers Social Work Students Hands-On Learning

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Just over a year ago, National Health Foundation entered a partnership with California State University, Dominguez Hills, where select students in the Master of Social Work program would be offered an internship at one of the recuperative care facilities it operates. For NHF clients and staff, the relationship has had a profound impact.

For the students, the opportunity to work on the front lines of Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis has been life-changing.

DeAndra Davis is in her second year of the MSW degree program and has spent several weeks working with clients to help them go to health appointments, to explore their housing options and to attend appointments with the Department of Social Services. More importantly, she has had the opportunity to help with clients’ needs assessments and plans while having a direct impact on their journey toward health and housing.

“It’s only been a few weeks, and I have experienced all of the facets of working with this population and I love it. Yes, it’s as challenging as I thought it would be, but I can’t think of anything I would rather do,” said Davis.

Shakoya Green, NHF program director and a CSUDH alumna, outlined the advantages of the partnership.

“Our clients get an additional touchpoint, a person to listen to them and to help them along their way. For the organization, the partnership has meant that we have been able to connect more deeply with the community that we serve and with the students at the university.”

Green also added that the students are bringing what they are learning into their experience at Pathway Recuperative Care and vice versa. “Working with us teaches the students how to assess clients’ needs through the lens of trauma-informed care and harm reduction and how to empathize and meet clients where they are on their journey. The students, in turn, are sharing their experience of learning critical race theory and are applying the tenets of ‘A Voice of Color’ to their work here. It’s been a win-win-win!”

It hasn’t always been easy for the students. Some have had to face personal biases and work through deeply held beliefs about alcoholism, drug addiction and other issues that arise during their internship.

“It is better for the students to come face-to-face with these issues here in a safe space where we can support them in this facet of their growth. Then they can move forward and ‘handle’ those challenging cases that sometimes hit close to home,” said Green.

For NHF staff, working with the students has been rewarding and inspiring.

“I highly encourage organizations to reach out to the schools in their community to offer students this kind of real-world application of their learning. It can only strengthen them, the schools and the organizations they touch,” said Green.