Wednesday, July 13, 2011
When my company, HipPurse LLC, launched in 2007- it was decided that we wanted to give back from day one. One of the charities we chose was The Children’s Home of Cromwell, Connecticut. Soon after, we helped to establish a women’s group in affiliation with the home – The Women Advocates for Youth (The WAY). The WAY’s goal is to help encourage young women to develop their own self-worth and reach their full potential.
I think everyone involved in the group has learned something valuable for their own life (I know I certainly did) – and when you help others, you are ultimately helping yourself to grow as well. Although, the one thing I did not anticipate is how committed the home’s staff members truly are.
Julie is a Residential Director at one of the group homes and each time I went to visit I couldn’t help but notice her stern, yet gentle and peaceful spirit. It’s hard to describe her, but it was like watching a really good mom – patient, secure, guiding and loving – just so refreshing to witness. These children at the home have been abandoned, abused and left to fend for themselves. As you can imagine, trust is not something that would come easy to them, but I knew they trusted her – it was very apparent.
As you’ll see below, Julie decided to ask The WAY to raise funds to send the girls and their staff members to Washington, D.C. – and so we did. After their trip, we were invited for a thank you dinner and to hear all about their experiences. Additionally, they created a slide show and gave the members a special gift – mine is the picture above. The one moment I will never forget is when one of the older girls said it was the first time she ever left Connecticut and ever stayed in a hotel room. Even now, my emotions are rising and I’m just so happy we were able to do that for her- and for all of them. I’m not sure if I ever heard the word THANK YOU as much as I did that night.
Julie is touching lives every day and I really wanted to learn what made her tick. I think you’ll enjoy her just as much as I do…
1. Did you always know you were going to have a career helping other people?
Yes, on some level I believe that I did always have aspirations to help others; at the core I suppose the only thing that has really ever changed is the direction for which I eventually channeled this. I began my undergraduate studies enthusiastically pursuing a profession in elementary and special education, but it was not until my volunteer work at an urban school that I discovered my niche in social work. So, I personally have found there to be truth in the adage that “sometimes on your way to one dream, you get lost and find a better one”.
As I began working with these very young, very vulnerable, and yet very resilient students, it was revealed that many of them had endured significant traumas and lived with the chronic socioeconomic perils, and cascading effects that indigence and trauma had conditioned them to adapt to. My desire to mentor and educate budding minds began to recede away from me as I became more drawn to wanting to understand and ameliorate these perilous issues. I became fascinated by the phenomena of behavioral patterns, both the organic and those born out individuals’ abilities to adapt and survive. I was suddenly captivated by a stronger desire to alleviate the cyclical nature of individual and social problems, which redirected me to pursue social work. I chose social work because I wanted to advocate for and facilitate changes that I sincerely hoped these students, and by extension vast populations I hadn’t yet interfaced with, could eventually experience. In essence, this volunteership made me want to strive to be a part of the change that I wanted to see in their worlds.
2. What inspires you to help these girls and do this type of work?
There are two things inspire me to do this type of work; firstly, the clients and secondly, the wealth of knowledge related to psychiatric social work that continues to evolve. The clients inspire me in a myriad of ways every day, but predominantly I am inspired by the fact that every day they are taking a chance on you. A chance that allowing themselves to be vulnerable will hurt them again; a chance that you may just end up reinforcing what they already believe to be true about themselves and the world; a chance that trying new skills may fail them; a chance that you too will not understand them or judge them, and so you too will somehow give up on them. Every day, and at multiple times throughout the day, these points converge and they challenge me to grow, both professionally and personally. Because the clients are brave enough to step outside of their comfort zones and try something novel, which often scares and overwhelms them, this over time has truly become a source of my inspiration. And this inspiration is also imbued in my second source, which is my desire to continuously enhance and refine my practice skills. As long as I do this work I don’t believe that my thirst for more knowledge around the work that I do should ever be quenched. Every day I read something related to my work and I hold tight to the belief that we as professionals have an obligation to our clients, our profession, and ourselves to continuously seek out the ever-evolving knowledge bases that can lend to improved practice skills. As a friend of mine, whom I have much veneration for, says, “The eyes cannot see what the mind does not know.” And if clients are brave enough to take the chances that I believe they do, then we owe it to them to constantly improve our “vision”.
3. How long have you been working in this field?
I have been working in this field for approximately six years. I have worked in a variety of social work arenas and with very diverse cohorts ranging from child to geriatric populations, severe and persistent mental illness and substance abuse, forensic social work, and crisis work.
I earned my Master’s degree in Social Work in 2006 specializing in children and families. However, I didn’t immediately pursue a job working with children and adolescents after graduating with my MSW because I wanted to work in an Emergency Department that could afford me a broad range of clinical experience; which it did and I’ve continued to work at this inner city ED, now as a per diem, senior crisis clinician. In addition to overseeing the Group Home, I am also managing partner of New England Psychiatric Associates, LLC; where I provide individual therapy to clients ranging in age and diagnoses and specialize in working with children and adolescents diagnosed with complex trauma and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and adults with co-occurring disorders.
I really enjoy the diverse scopes of clinical practice that the field has to offer, and I also love that I can learn something new every day from working with an array of problem scopes.
4. What is the one moment you will never forget?
This past April the Women Advocating for Youths (WAY) generously donated funds that sponsored a trip to Washington, D.C. for our residents and staff. Many of our residents attend clinical day schools, which don’t provide them with similar opportunities, such as the D.C. trip that many mainstream schools take, typically in the 8th grade. I had written them about this idea early in the fall of 2010, and was absolutely thrilled when they eagerly responded that they would raise the funds to make this trip happen for our residents. Moreover, throughout the year they came and spent time getting to know these young ladies; taking an authentic interest in their lives. Throughout the months prior to our trip I continued to be amazed and deeply touched with each interaction they shared with the residents; the genuine compassion and inspiration they instilled in the residents was an experience that I will never forget. And I will also never forget the smiling faces of four residents during the three-day trip! The fact that they could experience these acts of kindness from strangers truly taught them much more than just historical and cultural events they learned about during those three-days, it gave them lifelong lessons, teaching them that they mattered to a group of people beyond Esther House; and that there is another world to be explored beyond what has immediately encompassed them; and places in themselves to further discover. It was not simply the gift of the trip, but the gift of hope that was given to these four girls that will remain unforgettable.
5. Do you have any long-term goals with the work you are doing?
I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Work at Fordham University, and I plan to one day teach, in conjunction with my clinical work. (Funny how my path may actually circle back to where my passion for social work derived from)
This story is a great reminder that it’s OK to take a chance on someone. Thank you for being that someone, Julie!