Social Work Roundtable
March is Social Work Month and to mark the occasion we brought the St. John’s Home Social Work Team and our two elder advocates from St. John’s Meadows together to discuss why they became social workers and how working with elders compares to other types of roles they have had in the past.
What led you down the path to becoming a social worker?
Betty Tucker-Wright: I used to work in data entry. I was on a computer all day and I found it boring. I am a people person, and I wanted to interact with people. I went back to school and found it very challenging.
Kelly Stenglein: For me, it was because my grandmother was here (St. John’s Home). I never thought about social work before she came and I saw what social workers did every day. I did my internship here and I really liked it and was lucky enough to be hired on after I finished school.
Krista Mahns: Both my grandmother and my great aunt were social workers. Like a lot of us say, I wasn’t good at math or science, so I thought “where else can I help people?” I did a lot of research and it turned out that social work made a lot of sense.
Danielle Guillemette: I knew in high school that I really wanted to work with people, I just didn’t know how. I took a health class (in college) and we had a lot of guest speakers, one of whom was a social worker. After hearing her speak, it all just kind of clicked. I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Chantel Foster: I had an interest in the medical field and started in nursing and eventually came to realize that I was truly an advocate at heart. I was so passionate about elders, helping them maintain their independence, and being able to be who they are, despite aging and losses. I found my niche in social work.
Why work with this population? What is it that appealed to you about working with elders?
Cara Rusinko: I lost my grandparents at a young age which inclined me to gravitate towards older adults. I started off working in the Briarwood dining room my first year of college and I knew then that I wanted to work with this population.
Stacey Hall: I did not think that I wanted to work with elders when I was in school. When I graduated, the only place I could find a job was in a nursing home. Once I was there, I felt much differently.
Lorie Scalzo: As I saw my own grandparents age and then progress with dementia, I knew I always wanted to work with elders. I worked for several years as a primary mental health therapist before coming here, but this population always seemed like the right fit for me.
Krista Mahns: I worked with children all throughout my career until coming here. Then a position opened up at Day Break, and I was working part-time here and part-time in an afterschool program. I really started to like it here- it was a lot different than the work I was used to doing. When a position on the floors opened up, I gave it a shot. The thing I liked the most about it was how much the elders reminded me of my grandparents.
What is one aspect of the work you do here that people would be surprised by?
Betty Tucker-Wright: I find that even my own family members don’t always understand what I do.
Cara Rusinko: I don’t think there is anything that myself and Chantel as elder advocates wouldn’t do.
Chantel Foster: Right. You’ll find us helping an elder cook a meal when they are recovering from illness, picking up groceries, or helping them assemble a bath bench. We do what it takes to help elders through difficult transitions.
Cara Rusinko: We either do it, or find and refer someone who can help them.
Danielle Guillemette: People might think that we take things too seriously all the time and everything is always business. But I think, as a team, we do bring a lot of humor to the table.
Stacey Hall: I think Danielle is right. Having a sense of humor as well as a well-rounded outlook on things helps us. We aren’t always black and white. We work a lot in the gray.
Betty Tucker-Wright: A lot of what we do is educating people.
Lorie Scalzo: It really is problem-solving in the moment. We are always trying to resolve a problem. Working in rehab is a little different. Once therapies have ended there is a discharge date that we are working towards. It’s really the same skills, just at a faster pace.
Judy Peace: We deal with so many different kinds of things. After a while, nothing is shocking to us. There is no situation we can’t help with.
Lorie Scalzo: I think that’s it. We guide people. We help them navigate the system.
Judy Peace: Helping others help themselves.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Chantel Foster: Seeing an elder’s goals come true after leading them towards the resources they needed to stay independent.
Cara Rusinko: And seeing how grateful the elder and their family can be for that comfort and support we provide.
Kelly Stenglein: Just being able to help give peace of mind to families.
Stacey Hall: For me, it is having the time to get to know the people who live here. This generation is incredibly fascinating. I have worked with elders who were on the Titanic and others who stormed the beaches of Normandy and liberated concentration camps. I think we have a lot to learn from them. I get so much from talking to the people I serve. They make me a better person, in ways that working with other populations have not.
Danielle Guillemette: And they can get to know us too. I come from working in chemical dependency. In that field there was zero self-disclosure on my part. They can’t know anything about me. Here, you get to know everything about the elders and they get to know things about you.
Judy Peace: There is so much history. There are so many fascinating people with such interesting stories. You meet a lot of really cool people.
Krista Mahns: Yes, hearing their stories and being able to help the families.
Danielle Guillemette: Yeah, here we are as much a part of their family as they are of ours.