Tag Archive: social work


I sometimes look back at my career in disbelief.  I’ve worked in nonprofit for OVER 10 years. 

When I decided to pursue social work, my intentions were to work with adults and families.  I enjoyed working in homeless services, but what I realized early on is that I didn’t like working with the individuals themselves.  Defeats the purpose of working in social work, right??

Most people go into social services with the mindset of helping and working directly with people.  I knew I wanted to help others, but learned early on I did not want to work directly with people who needed therapy or counseling.  Case management was an option, but it really didn’t peak my interest.  As I researched career options in social work, I became more interested in the administrative and community development side of social work or also known as macro social work.  I knew that eventually I wanted to work towards leading my own program or nonprofit. 

After receiving my Bachelors in Social Work, I went straight into the Masters in Social Work Program at Saint Louis University (SLU).  I had three concentrations to choose from 1)  Family-concentrated on social workers who wanted to go into therapy or counseling; 2) Medical-focused on social workers who wanted to work in the medical field such as hospitals or hospice; 3) Community-targeted social workers who were interested in administration, community development and advocacy. 

Looking back, community was the obvious choose for me. At that time, people really didn’t talk about nonprofit management as a career option.  But today there are so many programs like the ASU Lodestar Center that have nonprofit management degrees.  More and more programs are popping up every year and it’s a true testament that nonprofits are concentrating more on the “management” side of running an organization.  If nonprofit management programs were available to me as I was pursing an advanced degree,  I would have most likely pursued that, but back then (9 years ago) it really wasn’t an option. 

The summer after I graduated from Creighton, I moved back home with my parents.  My neighbor, Mr. Brooks, who I’ve known since I was five years old asked me a day after I arrived in St. Louis what I was going to do.  I told him pretty nonchalantly that I was going to grad school and I was going to spend the summer relaxing until it started up.  He then asked, “What are you going to do for work?” I thought, “What, work??? I just graduated.”

I opened the door…it was a great opportunity for him to lecture me.  Mr. Brooks and his wife had no children of their own and in some ways I think he thought of me as his daughter.   Mr. Brooks told me that in order to be successful and to get ahead in my career, I needed to start gaining work experience.  He believed having education is only part of what makes one successful in their career. Having initiative and producing results are equally as important.  I won’t admit this to him because Mr. Brooks likes to be right, but he was a huge influence in developing my work ethic and a major reason why I am doing what I’m doing today.

Anyway, little did I know, Mr. Brooks was scheming. He told me that he wanted me to apply to at least seven jobs a day. He also wanted to see my resume.  When I told him that I didn’t have one, Mr. Brooks told me write one up and he would be over the next day to look over it.  

Call it naivete, but I did what Mr. Brooks told me.  I know I didn’t do it because I thought he was right or someone I (at that time) looked up too.  I think I did it partially to keep my crazy old neighbor off my back. 

The next day he called me and said that he was bringing a friend over and to have my resume ready.  I had parts of it done, but it wasn’t completely finished.  I quickly worked on it and as I was printing out a copy, the doorbell rang.  Mr. Brooks was there with his friend, Jim Shiels, little did I know he would later became my boss. 

Jim was the Executive Director at the Jefferson County Community Partnership (JCCP).  He told me that they had openings for site coordinators.  As he explained the job, I became increasingly more interested.  The site coordinator’s role would be to work with communities in Jefferson County, a rural county just south of St. Louis.  The site coordinator would help community stakeholders assess their current status and find out  how as a community (both public and private stakeholders) can come together to make improvements.  The job was true grassroots organizing and community development.

Jim passed my resume on to his Program Director and the next week I had an interview.  The day after my interview I was offered one of the site coordinator positions.  I worked there an entire month before starting the Masters program at SLU and I’m glad I had that experience to draw from because it helped me to choose my concentration in graduate school.  I continued to work at JCCP while I attended SLU.  It allowed me to apply my work experience to the concepts and theories I was learning in school which complemented each other well. 

I firmly believe things happen in life for a reason.  I didn’t know it then, but that summer really set the foundation for my career in social work. I like to give credit where credit is due.   Thank you to Mr. Brooks for lecturing me.  I think it was the kick in the butt to get me going.  And thank you to Jim Shiels for giving me a chance.

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When I decided to go to school for social work, I had no idea what that really meant for me.  I knew that I wanted to help people and I knew social workers helped people.  When I first told my parents I wanted to become a social worker, I was in the 7th grade.  I remember it vividly, we were sitting around the kitchen table at dinner.  Halfway through our meal, I announced “I figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a social worker.” 

Well, I didn’t get quite the response I thought I would get.  I was hoping for words of encouragement and “way to go!”  Instead my parents laughed hysterically.  “You won’t make money as a social worker.”  Why don’t you go into physical therapy or nursing (a typical Filipina profession)?”  Being a young and impressionable pre-teen, I thought “Yeah, my parents must be right.” So throughout high school and my first few years of college, I decided I was going into medicine.  I realized halfway through my sophomore year at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, that a career in medicine was not right for me.  I was also struggling with organic chemistry and that was probably my main reason for switching majors.

I spent most of my sophomore year of college in limbo.  I had no idea what I wanted to do in life.  I spent a lot of time stressing and contemplating  my future.  One day it dawned on me, I recalled the day I told my parents I wanted to become a social worker and decided I needed to look into it.  As I researched the requirements and the future career paths I could take in social work, I knew that becoming a social worker was my calling in life.  

While at Creighton, I worked at The Salvation Army in their Temporary Crisis Program (TCP), a shelter program for adults diagnosed with a mental illness but working to manage their illness and move on with their lives.  After two weeks of working at TCP, the Case Manager told me that I could do my first intake.  My first client was a 23 year old male diagnosed with schizophrenia.  I wasn’t nervous about meeting with this individual.  I was more nervous about missing items on the intake checklist.  But everything went fine.  He told me that he had a strained relationship with his parent, but was determined to rise above it and move on with his life.  We talked about his plan to secure housing and find a job.  I directed him to different resources to help him manage his mental illness.   I left the meeting feeling confident he knew his next steps.  He even told me that he felt optimistic about his future.

But something happened between the time I left my shift that night to the next day.  As I punched in for my shift, I was called into the Case Manager’s Office.  I thought that I was in deep trouble.  In her office was the Clinical Specialist along with the Social Services Director for the Division.  I thought at that point that I had really screwed something up.  They told me that they received a phone call from the police department and my client had passed away. 

He had left his day program early and went to his parent’s house.  The news reported that  he was smoking a cigarette while filling the gas tank of his parent’s lawn mower and lit himself on fire.  The medical examiner ruled it as an accidental death.  But I know deep down, that it wasn’t an accident and to this day I believe he killed himself.

There was no reason for him to be at his parent’s house, especially with their tense relationship.  In addition, he was suppose to be in day program the whole day.  I also read his case notes for that morning,  he reported having “racing thoughts.”  I know in my gut that this was no accident.  I learned early in that job, when someone wants to end their life, they will do anything they can to do it. 

When I took the job at The Salvation Army, I was only 19 years old.  In that office, I wanted to breakdown and cry.  I was horrified at the fact that someone could do this to themselves.    I didn’t shed a tear as I worked my eight hour shift.   I felt that I needed to be strong.  I thought, “Horrible things like that happen all the time and I need to get use to it as a social worker.”  However, once I left work that night and got in my car, I balled my eyes out.  At that point, I questioned my decision to pursue social work. 

The week to follow was especially hard.  I went to church that Sunday and found out our priest was the Fire Department’s Chaplain and he went to comfort my client’s family.  He spoke about it in his homily.   His death even made the state section of the USA Today.  I felt like it was haunting me.  Despite this, I continued to go to work and helped my other clients with their goals.  They were working their plans–finding jobs, housing, and getting proper treatment for their mental health.  I knew I was on the right track.

Good things and bad things happen in life all the time, but I know that when bad things happen the most important part is having support to overcome it.  By becoming a social worker, I could be support for other people who needed it.  As sad as it made me to know that I couldn’t help my client, I knew that this was a situation that was beyond my control.  To deal with real human issues whether good or bad is the essence of what social workers do and I’m proud to be one of them.