Each year, March is recognized as Social Work Month. This year’s theme, as determined by the National Association of Social Workers, is Social Workers are Essential.
According to the International Federation of Social Workers, the definition of social work is “a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.”
Social workers can be found working in hospitals, schools, senior centers, and mental health facilities, as well as in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, private practice and in all levels of government. It is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics with more than 700,000 professional social workers in the U.S. As our nation continues to experience the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, and societal issues such as substance abuse, systemic racism, and poverty, the demand for social workers will be even greater in years to come.
At Pressley Ridge, social workers are essential to the kids and families we serve, impacting their lives in various ways across all service lines—from in-home, outpatient and community-based mental health services to foster care, residential treatment and specialized education.
Amy Fenn, Senior Program Director, recognizes their importance to our services by saying,
“Social workers are an integral part of our team at Pressley Ridge. Whether providing services in a school, a foster care program, or one of our many community-based and in-home programs, social workers use their education, skills, and devotion to social work values to enhance our service delivery to individuals and families at Pressley Ridge.”
Here you will meet three longtime employees who are making a difference every day through social work.
Wendy O’Brien, Certified Mental Health Worker for Family-Based Mental Health Services, has worked at Pressley Ridge for 15 years. Volunteering to spend time with residents at a nursing home inspired Wendy to want to help others when they may be down and feeling hopeless, which led to a career in social work after graduating from the University of Maine School of Social Work.
“We all need someone in our lives to show us compassion. I learned relationships with others and building a community are essential to our well-being,” Wendy said.
Wendy builds relationships with clients by helping them determine their needs and then developing a plan to work towards the goals set for themselves and their family. She teaches families who are at risk of having their children removed from their home, communication and life skills through modeling and role play, and advocates for them until they can learn to use these skills for themselves. Wendy finds reward in lifting up the youth and families, offering hope and showing up for them when things are most difficult.
The most rewarding experience of Wendy’s career thus far was working with a mother who feared her own difficult nature would affect her ability to communicate in court. Wendy helped the mother create a list and used role play to effectively share her concerns and fears regarding the safety and well-being of her child. When her day in court came, the judge listened to the mother as she read her list of concerns. In the end, the judge praised her preparation for court and ordered her daughter back to her care with strict guidelines for the child.
After so many years of experience in the field, Wendy encourages those seeking a career in social work to recognize and embrace the strengths of the individuals they are serving to help them make the changes at their pace, cheer them on, and most of all, believe in them.
Jennifer Thompson, another Pressley Ridge social worker, offers more personal advice for prospective social workers: “Love what you do but don’t take things personally and practice self-care. Being a helper is so rewarding, but you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.”
Jennifer grew up in rural West Virginia, where she saw firsthand how poverty was affecting the families in her small town. Though she didn’t enter college with the intention of becoming a social worker, her mind was made up when she became aware of the way poverty impacted the entire state. Jennifer recalled,
“I wanted to be able to help children and families overcome the environmental factors that I saw as limitations for so many others growing up.”
As Program Director for Treatment Foster Care in West Virginia, Jennifer spends her days matching children in need with available foster homes, assessing applications for potential foster parents, reviewing cases with clinical supervisors, and maintaining relationships with community stakeholders, among other responsibilities.
The pandemic has made Jennifer and her colleague’s fast-paced work environment even faster with the implementation of virtual meetings with foster families, children, and their family of origin. Initially, the new communication methods were very stressful for the children and families due to limited face-to-face interaction, but eventually, families were able to meet in person with safety precautions. Though Jennifer was no longer driving across the state to the offices of the three regions she oversees, the frequency of virtual meetings increased as the teams shared updates on the efforts to keep children, families, and staff safe.
After 15 years with Pressley Ridge, the greatest reward for Jennifer is seeing children reunified with their families of origin or being adopted. She also appreciates the opportunity to lead and witness the growth of the social workers on her team who are passionate about their jobs and live Pressley Ridge’s mission to do whatever it takes to create success for children and families each and every day.
For 31 years, Melanie St. Clair has dedicated herself to the mission of Pressley Ridge, starting out in foster care and then wraparound services. Currently, Melanie is Admission Coordinator for the Residential and Safe at Home programs in West Virginia. In this position, she uses her vast social work experience to review referrals for youth who are experiencing difficulties and then recommend the programs that best fit each individual’s needs. Melanie works both internally with Pressley Ridge and with outside agencies to help develop programs to better identify and meet the needs of youth and families in West Virginia.
Melanie always knew she wanted to help people and families in need. Just like Jennifer, her career choice was motivated by the despair she felt in seeing her classmates from underprivileged families suffer from food insecurity and other issues related to poverty. All of these years later, the pandemic has brought to light similar needs of families within the state, such as lack of food and inadequate access to technology and internet for virtual schooling and telehealth. Melanie is proud to play a part in helping to alleviate these issues for the families receiving services from Pressley Ridge.
In more than three decades with Pressley Ridge, Melanie has touched the lives of countless individuals, and she appreciates hearing from former youth and families about how she impacted their lives. “It makes it all worth it,” she said. “Knowing that something I said 20 years ago had an impact on a life is very humbling.”
Melanie offers this advice for those considering a career in social work,
“Some days are very long and dark, but it is worth it. If you can make a difference in the life of a child or family, that impact carries on for generations. It may not be easy, but knowing you can change lives for the better is its own reward.”
Social workers are an invaluable part of the Pressley Ridge team, and we could not provide hope and support for nearly 9,000 individuals each year without them. With more than 1,100 employees and programs and services in six states, we are always in need of talented and compassionate social workers to join our team. Review our current career opportunities here.