Reflections from a Social Work Intern
by Seth Abrams
As part of the UJA fellowship that pays a portion of my tuition for the Graduate school of Social Work at Touro College, I was required to attend monthly learning seminars at the UJA headquarters. At those morning workshops I would often overhear my peers in the UJA fellowship complain about their respective field placement sites. Grievances ranged from a supervisor suddenly leaving, to not having anything to do all day, to being forced to work with uncooperative clients. Over a cup of coffee and a hardboiled egg that’s included in the UJA’s breakfast, I would think to myself how lucky I was to have been granted a placement at the Y. Even if I fished around deep enough, I couldn’t find one honest complaint to compare.
During my integrative, field work class, my classmates would choose to utilize their time by sharing what it’s like to work at a homeless shelter, making home visits to housing projects in east New York, or breaking up fights with emotionally disturbed clients. When it was my turn to share my experiences, the class routinely heard me say, “I love where I am, and I enjoy every aspect of the process.” I’d ask my fellow social work students, “How can I not enjoy helping kids with their homework and making a positive impact in the life an autistic child?” While one of my Touro classmates and fellow UJA scholarship recipients was helping a client delouse of bed bugs, I was able to relate to middle school Dominican students by talking about pro basketball players Steph Curry and LeBron James. We never know where the game of life will catapult us. One life experience informs the next one, and so on.
Last summer I entered the Y for my interview, one hundred percent confident that my life’s mission was to work with disabled, injured and sick adults, young men and young women. I still have a passion to serve the wellbeing of the aforementioned population. However, after the nine months that I spent working with what I call a “combination plate” of populations at the Y, I’ve come to the conclusion that I both enjoy and have a knack for working with children and children with special needs. I have never been one to fight with what the universe is trying to tell me, and I’m not about to begin now. On any given week, I had the privilege of interviewing and documenting the life story of a Holocaust survivor, being asked the definition of “empathy” by a ten year-old on the spectrum, assisting a Dominican immigrant with his high school application, and helping a fourth grader with her social studies homework. If that’s not chock full of enriching experiences, I’ll never know what is!
Overhearing my peers lament about supervision or in their case, the lack of it, I consider myself truly fortunate. I looked forward to Tuesday mornings because I was guaranteed to receive weekly insight into my work, constructive feedback, knowledge, and the hundred percent support of someone who’s willing to listen without judgement.
Having spent several years working in various aspects of the entertainment industry, and later on being hospitalized for three months, I viewed myself as being pretty well versed at working with and adjusting to different personalities. Unbeknownst to me, I hadn’t seen anything yet. My experience at the Y forced me to bob and weave, and adjust to a wide spectrum of personalities, work styles, and quirks. And this further taught me to be open minded to everything, and everyone, and made me flexible like Gumby. I’ll admit that there was more than one occasion in which I questioned the answers or authority. And I’m sure that it won’t be the last time. But I’ve learned to listen, stifle myself from commenting, and just do what’s expected and asked of me.
Most important of all, I see a deep association between my personal/professional connections this year and the growth of some of the individuals that I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the course of the year. While I can’t take all the credit for the two children on the spectrum who finally interacted with one another and some their program mates, it’s safe to say that my encouragement and guidance made a big impact on their actions. Or my encouraging of a Dominican thirteen year-old to pursue her affinity for social studies will without a doubt serve her for years to come. Overall, I will always hold my experience at the Y close to heart, and will call upon it as a reference point for future endeavors.
- Seth Abrams
Seth has come a long way and as we say goodbye, we are proud of his amazing achievements and are grateful for the impact Seth had on children at the Y.