I help people who are often at the lowest points in their lives. They may be dealing with illness, depression, homelessness, substance abuse, unemployment, loss, trauma or a host of other hardships. Seeing people struggle can be difficult, and when my friends and family see the emotional toll it can sometimes have on me, along with the pressures of a heavy caseload, I’m frequently asked about my choice of careers. Why social work?
But I always have the same answer. It’s a calling, and as a social worker, I have a passion to help others. Simply put, I love making a difference in someone’s life. And no two days are the same. The agencies and organizations that have employed me may have similar missions, but the people I meet are as individual as the cases they bring me.
Social work is often typecast as a low-salary profession that only garners attention when a child dies at the hands of abusive parents. But it’s so much more. The field employs therapists, case managers, advocates, community organizers, lobbyists and even CEOs—our own Kelly Bruno is doing amazing work with a degree in social work! The world will always need social workers. We give a voice to those who have none, and we can have a positive impact on those affected by poverty, oppression and living with limited resources.
My social work journey has included mental health case management, street outreach, advocacy and assessment in superior court and probate court in our nation’s capital, and international social work in India. Out of all these experiences, the most rewarding have been those that involve housing. There’s no better feeling than seeing a client get keys to her new home! Returning to my hometown of Los Angeles has given me an amazing opportunity to make my own contributions to improving the housing crisis. As a social worker in recuperative care at National Health Foundation, I work with clients experiencing homelessness to connect them to supportive social services within the community and help them create a plan for achieving long-term stability and independence, ensuring they are closer to housing than when they arrive. It’s a good day when we secure permanent housing for someone!
But every day isn’t a good day. I’m not always able to help everyone who comes through the door. Sometimes the resources just aren’t there. Sometimes the client doesn’t want my help. Some days I feel defeated and ready to throw in the towel. My formative years were filled with tears and frustration, and I questioned whether I was cut out for social work. While not as often now, I still have days that challenge, baffle and exasperate me. But I practice self-care to restore my energy and faith in the process. We must take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else. I have built fulfilling relationships with my colleagues and other social workers, who all support me.
While it’s impossible to choose just one reason why I love social work, I can tell you the clients who share their stories of progress and believe in my ability to help them create change, and my colleagues who listen to my tales all inspire me every day. We live in a society that doesn’t always embrace and uplift those who need assistance. So, there’s room for those of us who want to contribute to making the world a better place. And that makes me happy. I’m proud of what I do for a living. I’m a social worker.