I’ve always loved literature and theater, in part because I see value in viewing things through the lens of character and story. In college I majored in English and spent a summer writing a screenplay about Romani Gypsy fortune tellers. My process involved conducting hours-long interviews. I loved the conversation and storytelling but I came to dread the next step: the solitary and sometimes tedious work of writing. I asked myself: what’s a job where I can just listen to people’s stories all day? I realized that social work was one possible answer.
Fresh out of college I joined a program called Children’s Corps––a sort of Teach for America for social work. The program gathered a cohort of recent graduates, gave us a summer of intensive training in the world of foster care at the Columbia School of Social Work, and then assigned us to different agencies. I was placed in JCCA’s Bronx office, where I worked for two years.
I was a foster care caseworker, a role I enjoyed tremendously. It’s a multifaceted and dynamic kind of work: making home visits, supervising parental visitation time, making trips to court, meeting with teachers and counselors. The end goal was either to help the children reunite with their birth families or work toward adoption with a foster family.
My supervisor, Abby Jeffrey, made a lasting impact on me. Abby was so smart and capable in her work and yet so modest and understated in her style. She was a calming presence in what was often a chaotic environment. This may get her in trouble, but I remember her reaching into her pocket to give a struggling family money to buy a thanksgiving turkey. It wasn’t even a family she worked with directly. It may be a sappy example, but she was always quietly orchestrating support and care for our clients in one form or another.
When my husband and I were planning our wedding, one of my non-negotiables was donating to a cause that mattered to me. We’d lived in our home for awhile and didn’t need more pots and pans. So we made a donation of our own to JCCA in honor of Abby and invited our guests to give in lieu of traditional wedding presents.
My time at JCCA influenced me in one last way: I realized I wanted to become a foster parent myself. Now that our wedding is in the rearview mirror, my husband and I have begun the process and just received our licenses to foster.