Back in the Trenches — Again

After college, I worked as a recreation director.

I would have a few children who came to the park that I mentored and taught how to dribble a basketball and hit and throw a whiffle ball: A level swing will always get you on base.

Others I taught how to play board games such as chess, knock-hockey and checkers. Each sector would have the best players participate in tournaments a few times a year and mine always won the most trophies. My girls were the double-Dutch champs.

The job had its rewards, but during the winter months it was slow.

I like being busy when I am working because it makes the day go by fast.  The Catholic New York had a call for foster care caseworkers that I answered.

The work was challenging at times but also spiritually rewarding.

So, for the last 26 years, I’ve devoted myself to helping youngsters and their families find permanence.  As a foster care worker, you engage one- on-one with clients.

The work is quite demanding, especially with caseloads of up to 21. Over the years, caseloads grew to more than 30, so direct time with the clients diminished. Caseloads have since come down quite a bit but the demand to have direct contact with the family has increased.

I was about five years into the job when some of my supervisors asked about returning to school for a master’s in social work so that I could become a supervisor.

In my seventh year I was indeed a supervisor and had an MSW degree.

The work changed as I was no longer making one-to-one contacts with the families but instead overseeing five case planners and 125 cases. Three of the case planners had no casework experience, so I was more involved with those cases as well as instructing the workers until they got it and then I could back them up.

For the next 20 years, I continued to oversee workers but came to a cross roads.

I began in the field to help people.

When I started, my first supervisor said you can’t save them all. But I thought that if I could save (rehabilitate) a handful, then I would’ve accomplished a great deal.

I had another supervisor who said we had nothing in common with the people we were trying to help.

I disagree. If I lost my job and a home and had no family or friends, I too could wind up in a shelter or on the streets.

Maybe thinking that we are one or two paychecks away from our clients can help us motivate them to overcome obstacles.

Rather than take another supervisor job, I decided to work with clients again. This is what attracted me to this field in the first place. So now I’ve started working with substance abusers, and even in this short time, seen progress.

Getting people the help they need to become clean and sober and getting them into vocational rehabilitation and working again — that’s the greatest challenge and the greatest gift.