March is National Social Work Month

Categories: JCCA Spotlight

In honor of National Social Work Month in March, JCCA took the opportunity of speaking with a few of our dedicated and engaging social workers. Hear what they have to say about their work, their clients, and our agency.

Alphonso Gaita, Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT)

JCCA: How long have you been a social worker?

I’m relatively new—I started in May 2016. This is my first job after getting my Masters from Fordham. I have to say I’m really lucky I landed at JCCA on my first job. I enjoy coming to work here—it makes me happy!

JCCA: What drew you to the field?

I think I’ve always advocated for people who didn’t have a voice. I had dyslexia as a child and I saw my mom push for services for me, and how important and difficult that was. When a professor in undergraduate school saw how hard I advocated for a fellow student who needed help with his exams, he asked me if I’d ever thought of going into social work—that got me thinking about it seriously.

JCCA: Can you identify a particular case or client that has made an impact on how you approach the work?

I feel that every client has an impact on my job and helps make me better at what I do. We video record family sessions in BSFT and that’s helped me learn a lot. One family made great strides as a result of the work we did together in just one session, and changed enormously over the course of the next few months. The parents became closer to each other, were able to resolve conflicts more easily, and learned to have fun with their kids. It taught me how powerful BSFT can be in a family’s life.

JCCA: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned since becoming a social worker?

In my education and internships, I was used to individual therapy. Working with a family is completely different and really changed my outlook. Now I can’t imagine how children can change without working collaboratively with the family. I can see that this kind of work makes families get stronger. I’ve also learned that it takes time to build a friendship and trust with a family.

JCCA: What did you NOT expect to have to deal with?

All the red tape! School doesn’t quite prepare you for how much of that there is in child welfare!

 

Elizabeth Wayne, Edenwald Center

JCCA: How long have you been a social worker?

I got my Masters from NYU in May 2014 and started working at JCCA in January 2015—my first job.

JCCA: What drew you to the field?

I had been interested in child development and psychology, and worked with children as a nanny when I was younger, but I think the pivotal thing that propelled me into social work was having lived for five months with my grandmother who suffered from dementia. I was her primary caregiver and dealing with her situation and many problems made me see how significant such life-changing events can be. I realized how much I wanted to help other people navigate these kinds of difficulties.

JCCA: Do you have an overriding philosophy about the job?

I continue to reflect and reevaluate our impact on clients, particularly in a residential treatment setting. There are so many things we can’t control, but I think what’s most important to me is the individual day-to-day work with children and families, and teaching them how to build healthy relationships.

JCCA: What excites, gratifies, and energizes you about the work?

I love the kids’ humor and ability to have fun, despite the trauma they’ve been through. When we have dance-offs after meals sometimes, it always surprises and delights me to see the kids responding. When the focus is off treatment, I learn things about them that I don’t always see in a more therapeutic interaction.

JCCA: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned since becoming a social worker?

In social work, anything can happen and often does! But I think one of the most rewarding and important bonuses of the work is the degree of camaraderie with my colleagues. We can always rely on getting through tough situations together.

 

Kristina Jenney, Pleasantville START

JCCA: How long have you been a social worker?

I’ve been a social worker at JCCA since June 2015. I interned here while studying for my Masters at Fordham.

JCCA: What drew you to the field?

I’ve wanted to be a social worker since I was in 5th grade! During Career Day that year, one of the moms who came to speak was a social worker and I knew right away that it was the field for me. I think I always knew I had a good life and wanted to give back to people who hadn’t.

JCCA: How does JCCA differ from other agencies you’ve worked with?

I think JCCA is special in that so much of the work we do is centered on families and caregivers. JCCA does extremely well in engaging with families and I think that’s key in helping our kids.

JCCA: Can you identify a particular case or client that has made an impact on how you approach the work?

I worked with a 12-year-old boy on the Autism Spectrum who was with us for almost a year. He was raised by an elderly woman who had adopted him. Later, when she became ill, he took care of her and was afraid that he wouldn’t be with her when she was dying. We helped him come to terms with the situation, and earlier this year, matched him with a wonderful adoptive parent. He’s thriving and happy now.

JCCA: What excites, gratifies, and energizes you about the work?

You never know what you’re going to walk into when you enter that cottage door—it could be kids hugging or fighting! My daily to-do list seldom gets completely finished, because I have to respond to a child’s immediate worries or needs, whether that’s connected with school or an upcoming visit from mom. No day is the same and that keeps us on our toes!

JCCA: Any funny stories to relate? Has a client ever made you laugh out loud?

I was working with a 7-year-old boy who had a severe speech problem and was extremely difficult to understand. One day, in the cottage kitchen, he began animatedly telling me a story that was completely unintelligible. But he was so enjoying himself that I let him continue without interrupting him. I realized that what he wanted to tell me, and the process of doing that, was more important than what I wanted to tell him.

 

Sonya Chaudry, Treatment Family Foster Care

JCCA: How long have you been a social worker?

I started working with JCCA in August 2016 after receiving my Masters degree from the University of Chicago.

JCCA: What drew you to the field?

I really like kids and was always involved with mentoring programs, foster care, and after-school programs as a volunteer. But I was especially interested in family systems. I think that working with families is really effective in dealing with a child’s problems—it gets to the deeper roots of their issues and makes a big difference.

JCCA: How does JCCA differ from other agencies you’ve worked with?

The support and resources that JCCA gives to its workers are great. It may not seem that important, but things like having a phone and a tablet, and the use of an agency car really positively affect our ability to work in the community.

JCCA: Can you identify a particular case or client that has made an impact on how you approach the work?

All of my clients impact my work, but there are three 19-year-old women who have become parents recently and they have impressed me tremendously with their thoughtfulness, self-awareness, and strong desire to be good parents. I’m not a parent myself, but I’ve been learning a lot from them!

JCCA: What excites, gratifies, and energizes you about the work?

I love my kids, and it’s gratifying to see them succeed, gain pride, and even learn from failure. They’re dealing with such hardships, but they don’t let that hinder them. They still have big dreams—whether it’s to get a graduate degree or become a nurse—that motivate them. All of that helps me get through the day.

JCCA: What did you NOT expect to have to deal with?

Feeling the level of responsibility I do for my kids. When parents remark on my not having children, I respond, “But I do—I have 13 kids!” I’m invested in them. It’s kind of frightening, but also fun and rewarding.