From a young age, I knew I wanted a career where I could help people. Like many young people who want to get into a helping profession, I thought I would pursue nursing. After some coursework and a job at a hospital, I realized that nursing was not my career path. I enjoyed working in health care, but there wasn’t a specific career choice I was passionate about. I ultimately decided to get my undergraduate degree in health sciences. During an undergraduate research internship, I was introduced to social work. Before my internship experience, I didn’t know much about the role of social workers. After seeing how versatile the social work profession was, I knew immediately that I wanted to pursue social work. Shortly after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in health sciences, I started working towards a master’s degree in social work. I loved that the coursework from my prior studies complemented the social work coursework; I was able to take my interest in healthcare and my passion for helping people to new heights. During graduate school, I was particularly interested in disparities in health and healthcare access. Bridging the gaps in health disparities and advocating for vulnerable populations has become my passion.

My Work at VOYCE

I originally learned of VOYCE while looking for internship sites for my MSW program. I had previously taken classes on neurological diseases and researched Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, so I thought VOYCE would be a good fit. I was impressed with the work VOYCE does in the community and for those in long-term care facilities. As an intern, I was eager to learn more about VOYCE as an organization and how I could help those we serve. As I was nearing graduation, I was offered a position as Regional Ombudsman Coordinator. I gladly accepted the position and was excited to continue my work with improving the lives of older adults. In my current role, I can remain deeply rooted in the core values of the social work profession: service, social justice, acknowledging the dignity and worth of the person, and understanding the importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.

Fill Your Cup!

In the field of social work, social workers are exposed to many complex stories and are witness to some heartbreaking realities. Social workers must be able to utilize their self-awareness to examine how their work impacts their mental and physical health. One of my favorite sayings is, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” You must be able to pour into yourself or take some time to do self-care to ensure you can help others. You cannot effectively help others if you are barely surviving. I remind the families that I work with of this, as many of them are so consumed with the care of their loved ones they forget about themselves. This is true for front-line staff as well. Taking care of others is often a difficult and thankless job. Frequently, social workers and those in other helping professions will leave their jobs due to burnout. That is the last thing we want. We need more people in these roles, so self-care is vital to helping professionals. Self-care is not just important for those in a helping profession or caregiving. Self-care is essential for everyone! Self-care doesn’t have to take much time, and it doesn’t have to cost a dime. Some ways I like to practice self-care include taking deep breaths, yoga, or going out into nature. I encourage you to find ways throughout the day to practice self-care.

Thank a Social Worker

March is National Social Work Month. It is a time to celebrate and acknowledge the difficult work that social workers do every day. The difference social workers make in the lives of individuals, families, and their communities is remarkable and deserves recognition. Social workers don’t just get to clock out for the day and forget about their work. Social workers remember the faces and carry the stories of those they have served.

By Kayla Peniston, MSW – Regional Ombudsman Coordinator

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