Most Social Workers will tell you that what they do is a calling, a vocation some knew from a young age that they were meant to help the most vulnerable in our society. We had the opportunity to sit down with Alison Koenig, LSW St. Stephen’s Community House Food and Nutrition Center Coordinator and Vanitia Turner, LICDC-CS, CHW St. Stephen’s Community House Family to Family Coordinator on their thoughts on their chosen vocation and what it means to them.
Q: Why did you decide to go into social work?
VT: I have always been a “giver.” As a young girl, I would get in trouble all the time because I was giving some of my things away. I had a classmate that didn’t have a great pair of shoes and her family couldn’t afford new ones, so I gave her mine. Once my parents caught on to what I was doing they were ok with it. My mom always showed me what caring for your neighbor really meant, she would help feed our neighborhood and she later became a foster parent. So you could say from an early age this is what I wanted to do.
AK: I really fell into it. I started out wanting to have a career in the military, but I decided to change course and I was looking to change my major after focusing on economics. I knew that I wanted to work with people in some capacity, I just couldn’t see myself working at a desk. I really love the element of service and getting involved in the community and working towards bettering it. Social work is such a broad field—you have social workers doing lots of different things and in different capacities and I was drawn to that. During my field training, I was placed here at St. Stephen’s and that’s when I knew I made the right choice.
Q: How did you get your start in this profession?
VT: I have been a social worker for over 30 years. I started my career working in the prison system, halfway houses and mental health facilities. My background is in counseling those with chemical dependency issues, so I spent most of that time in that space. Coming to St. Stephen’s Community House and working in a settlement house has been a great change for me. I love it! I love the people that participate in our Family to Family program and seeing their growth and success is a wonderful blessing.
AK: It was here at St. Stephen’s. I did a two-semester-long field practicum under the direct supervision of another Licensed Social Worker, I was fortunate enough to work under Amy Kerns, Director of Neighborhood Services here at St. Stephen’s. I did 15 hours a week in the Food and Nutrition Center and at first, I wasn’t sure if I would like it—but I ended up loving it. Every day was different, some days I would be doing case management and working with consumers, some days I would unload inventory or order product for the pantry, and other days I would be working on community outreach. It’s true that your days are never the same when you are in this field!
Q: We know that this profession can have its rewarding days and its hard days. How do you make sure you are taking care of yourself?
VT: I make sure to carve out time every week when I can for a hobby of mine. I also enjoy spending time with my family and participating in church events.
AK: This was heavily discussed when I was in school, probably more now than ever. Honestly, I think I’m pretty bad at this. I would think that most social workers probably are. But I have hobbies, and if I notice that I haven’t carved out time for those hobbies I make a very mindful effort to make time. And I really try to leave work at work, both physically and mentally.
Q: Why should people consider going into social work for a career?
VT: This career is very rewarding. Sure you will have bad days–but that’s in every profession. Social workers do so much good for our communities. Most of the time they go unrecognized, but that’s not why we chose to do what we do. Helping people work through roadblocks, and seeing them achieve goals is very impactful for me, and if you are like me and you love to help people, then you should consider social work!
AK: I think it’s a rewarding job too. If someone was looking for a career where they have the opportunity to be involved with a community, make an impact, work for the common good of our communities– then social work is a great job for you. Part of our code of ethics is advocacy, so that can be advocacy on all levels. For example, advocating for someone to get a referral, or on a larger scale, it can be advocating for groups of people or on behalf of people. If someone is up for a challenge and to “fight the good fight” then I think they should definitely consider social work.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share?
VT: Our community needs more social workers, community health workers. I hope more young people consider this vocation.
AK: I love how I have the chance to innovate here. I get to ask the question, “What else can we be doing for our consumers that we aren’t doing now?” Then I get to work with a team of people and partners to answer that question.
St. Stephen’s Community House would like to thank all Social Workers for their work in our communities. If you are a social worker and are looking for a rewarding career, visit our careers page and learn more about being a Case Manager at St. Stephen’s Community House!