By Ashley Harris, Meredith College NASW-NC Student Liaison
“Why would you want to be a social worker? All they do is take away children. Plus, they don’t get paid well, so be prepared to be poor for the rest of your life. You know social workers are angry, miserable people who work a thankless job. I couldn’t do what you do.” I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has said this to me and I’m confident that if you’ve chosen to work in the social work profession you have heard it numerous times as well. Most people have no clue what social workers actually do or where they can find us in the job world. We are everywhere and many of us wear multiple hats. Contrary to what people assume, it is far from being a thankless job.
My journey to become a social worker led me to Meredith College where I am the NASW-NC Student Liaison, Secretary of our Social Work Club, Secretary of our Phi Alpha Honor Society, and a member of our WINGS Adult Student Organization. Even though I am a BSW student graduating in May 2016, my purpose and passion are dedicated to social work. I promote social work on my college campus through student organization fairs and campus tours where I have spoken to new Meredith College students about the opportunities of our social work program, the Social Work Club, and the Phi Alpha Honor Society and through numerous volunteering and fundraising efforts such as hygiene product drive for Healing Transitions, the Christmas toy drive for a women’s prison for the Mothers And Their CHildren (MATCH) program, and a bake sale to buy food for three families in need from Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). As the NASW Student Liaison, I have given presentations promoting the benefits of joining NASW as a student, such as learning more about the social work profession, meeting and networking with social workers from multiple practice areas, attending Local Program Unit (LPU) trainings at Holly Hill Hospital, meeting other liaisons from NC universities, and attending the NASW Ethics Conference. In addition to all of these things, I am a graduating senior whose field placement is with InterAct of Wake County, a nonprofit agency who provides safety and support to victims and survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. I work directly with clients in crisis.
I have been asked by a lot of people how and why am I involved in so many things. My answer is simple: Social workers are a necessity in society. I tell everyone that to be a social worker you must have passion for what you are doing. Social Workers advocate for clients in direct and clinical practice, with local government and the communities, and on a macro level because federal and state policies impact the lives of the people we work with. Our clients are more than just the economically and socially disadvantaged. Our clients come from all walks of life, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, educational levels, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and have varying life experiences. For this reason, you can find social workers in the political arena battling for the equal rights that everyone deserves, hospitals, mental and behavioral health agencies, schools and universities, law offices, nonprofit agencies, Adult and Child Protective Services, foster care services, retirement and assisted living communities, prisons, emergency shelters, religious communities, and so many other places. The 2016 Social Work Month theme was “Forging Solutions Out of Challenges,” and that is what social workers do no matter which practice area they are in. Every year that I march in the HKonJ march, I do so in support of all of these populations and stand in solidarity with others.
All of my interactions, the things that I have learned, the experiences I have had, and the StrongPoints skills that I have developed all have given me the confidence, strength, and knowledge to explain to others why I have chosen to become a social worker. I chose to become a social worker because I believe in what we are doing, I believe in our mission, and I believe in myself. When someone tells me all of the reasons why they think social work isn’t a good profession, I easily explain to them why it is. When someone says that they couldn’t do what I do, I agree with coolly agree with them. Not everyone can handle being a social worker, because it requires someone being able to consider the needs of others. Some days you just need an open mind and ear to listen while other days may be spent talking to legislators about impending or current policies that will cause more harm than good. I am an older adult student who will continue “Going Strong” in May 2016 in North Carolina State University’s Advanced Standing MSW Program. The next phase of my social work journey will still have me actively involved as an NASW Student as well as a member of my university’s social work organization and Phi Alpha Honor Society.