UnSung & UnTold

As a portrait photographer, I am doing a series illuminating the profession of social services. Especially now in the wake of such incivility and coarseness, I am heartened by the stories and work of the wide range of folks that have dedicated their lives to helping others. I want to explore the decision to make a life’s work in patience and empathy. #UnSung&UnTold

Darislyna Villar Sharma

Darisylna Villar-Sharma, LMSW

Mental Health Therapist at Sheltering Arms, Jamaica Queens

It took me a while to realize I wanted to be a social worker to be honest with you. Because of my background and my upbringing, I had a negative connotation of social workers. When I was younger, the only social workers that we knew of were taking kids away from their homes.

When I first told my family I was going to study clinical social work, I had to explain myself. They also have a negative connotations about the field. I had to remind them that social work was such a huge field that offers many opportunities to help children and families. There are social workers that do work in preventative services in ACS. I’m working to help those kids.

I wanted to work with children in foster care. And luckily with my position now, as a Mental health Therapist, I do have a lot of cases that are in foster care Giving them a sense of hope: I know what you’re going through.

I’ve been in your shoes and look where I am now. It’s possible.

Because I think when you are in the system you don’t get those examples of hope.

You think: “This is it. It’s never going to get better. I’m going to be one of the statistics.”

I want to tell children there’s a way to get out of this. There are ways you can change your life. This is why I decided to become a clinical social worker, to allow children and families have a voice, explore their feelings, thoughts and traumatic experiences while providing them with support, guidance and empowerment.

Geoff Golia

“Currently, I’m the Senior Career Manager and Director of GOSOWorks at Getting Out and Staying Out. We are a reentry program for 16 to 24-year-old young men who have been involved in the justice system. We help them with the three E’S: Employment,Education and Emotional well-being.

Our goal is to help those young men avoid any re involvement in the criminal justice system as well as gaining financial independence in their lives.

One of the things I’ve figured out through my own experience in psychotherapy is that I wanted to change my direction and become a social worker. It was really about just my therapist and I coming to the conclusion that social work was a place where I could live my values and also earn a paycheck for it. It seems like a really good fit given what I believed in. I was very passionate and excited about social work and psychotherapy, and approaches to working with marginalized and oppressed people. I say that because I do believe very strongly that social workers have a mandate to be agents of social justice and social change. I also believe that we are called to work with the least fortunate among us. That’s something I take very seriously.

One of the things I learn from social work is that we don’t change anybody; people change themselves. What we can be is facilitators and stewards of that growth. In some ways it’s a little bit like guidance; I laugh because my mom was a guidance counselor. A lot of times people ask me what do I say to these young men that changes them? And I don’t say anything, I listen to them. For the most part I see my job as listening. I feel that through listening, I will have earned the right to provide them with my perception, which they can take or leave. In the five years I’ve been here, what hasn’t changed is that I’m still incredibly idealistic, passionate, and excited, and believe in the dynamic nature of people and their ability to change and improve and reach high levels of functioning. I think I’ve just become a better social worker in these last five years. I think I listen more. I inject myself less. I’m certainly more patient. In this work, you either win or are you learn.

Failure is not a word that I use a lot. I’m helping guys get jobs. Some of these young men have never had a job before. That is something concrete that you can really sink your teeth into. “I helped this young man get a job.” In the beginning, I pay him and after a couple weeks if he does well, the company that I set him up with will put him on their case load and then he is an employee. And then he has a job and an income. He can start planning and feel good about himself. When a young man gets a job, and it’s something that he feels good about, it’s a really beautiful thing.

Sometimes I feel like when I’m assisting participants in achieving these concrete goals, I’m leveraging my privilege in the service of their goals as opposed to mine. I would argue that maybe a core aspect of the social work profession that we are in a systematic way leveraging our privilege to assist those that don’t have the same privileges in order to create that more just and equitable society. Humility is basically the idea that I am not an expert on these guys; they are experts on themselves. I am fortunate and privileged to able to be with them on that journey. I stay in my lane. I appreciate their wisdom and their perspective. I would stress to my colleagues in the helping profession to stay humble. You have to understand that this isn’t about you, it’s about your clients.”

Mallory Martinez

The location that I work at is called the Jamaica Community Youth Center.

My title there is a program coordinator. I am also a licensed social worker.

The youth center is also considered a drop-in center. We are funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development for runaway and homeless youth.

When a youth comes in from the outside, we provide general toiletry items, laundry services, shower services. We do an initial intake with them. We find out what their needs are.

The hardest part of my job are the youth that are under age and get kicked out of their homes and are homeless. We have to get involved with child protective services. I have to make a lot of phone calls to the state. I have to find placement for those youth.

The most difficult are the youth with mental health issues and are not on medication or refuse to take their medication. We have a lot of kids who come through that are bipolar or schizophrenic. If the youth has bipolar disorder, they have the tendency to get angry very quickly or are very impulsive their behavior. We have to deal with those behaviors if they show up while they’re at the center.

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the growth and the changes in the youth’s behavior and in their lives. For example, a youth comes in homeless and with mental illness and not taking medication. Smoking marijuana to try to calm their thoughts. And over the course of a year, they have found housing or have reunited with their family which they were having issues with before. They finally have got on medication and have stabilized. They finally have been able to function properly in society. They can finish school or get their GED or start working.

We’ve had situations where youth have been extremely aggressive and always wanted to fight people. Over the course of the year, they’ve learned how to control their anger and learn how to communicate. Of course all this happens over a period of time like a year or year and a half. Due to the consistency of our program staff we’ve had great success.

Sarah Blanco

I’m Sarah Blanco ,the program director at Getting Out and Staying Out or GoSo.

GoSo works with young men ages 16 to 24 who have involvement in the criminal justice system. Either they’ve been incarcerated or they’ve been arrested or ticketed. We provide three main things: Education, Employment and Emotional well-being through a host of resources.

We have an on-site GED school. We have an internship to employment program. We have a mandatory job readiness curriculum that is a combo of hard and soft skills.

I’ve always worked with very disenfranchised communities. As a social worker, I feel like that is my purpose.

I think more so in this job, I’ve learn to recognize what privilege really means. How do I manage that? I try to be as culturally sensitive and aware of what I’m bringing to the table because of my gender and race. For me as the social worker working with the disenfranchise communities, I have primarily worked with people of color.

I’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about that because it’s always on the table. People either say it outright or we walk around it for a bit.

The most important characteristic for being good at my job is the ability to join someone in the relationship and not always have to be right and directive. The ability that people, even though you want someone to do really well, they’re not always going to meet your expectations or your wishes for them. You need to be able to understand setbacks and failures and process them with yourself and with your client. Yeah, this happened and what are we going to do next? It’s important to be able to model a healthy boundaried relationship.

This work has made me so humble and so grateful. I have done this everyday at least Monday to Friday, when I go into my apartment into the foyer at night, I consciously think I am so lucky to have this place to live. I’m so lucky to be entering an apartment that is safe and no one is going to hurt me. Gratitude and humility are the two biggest things I’ve learned through my work.”

Mariana Solis Tito

“I work with families and children as a therapist. I feel that this is my passion to learn how to work with the little ones, 0 to 5 years old.

The first challenge in working with young kids 0–5 years old is when we talk about culture.

I find that we basically are educating the families. Emotional intelligence. How to teach parents how to take care of themselves emotionally. A lot of the parents that come here basically say I need you to fix my child. I explained that this is a collaborative process and this is a team effort.

I need to parents to know that they’re the foundation of the life of their children. So I try to change that mentality but it takes time to actually do the work that I do :

CPP, “Child Parent Psychotherapy”.

We can’t have the parents drop off the kid and think that we’re going to fix the child.

The parent and the child are working together. We need parent to be involved.

Changing that mentality. In addition we basically supporting the parents. Teaching them about developmental stages. The main focus is helping the parents to help their children.

I just recently finished teaching a seminar called ”Circle Security” group.

It’s an amazing parenting group.

It focuses on how to build a positive attachment with your children.

If this seminar could be included with regular prenatal care at all hospitals or birth centers, it could affect great change. You can start learning about circle security / positive attachment while your child is in the womb. Let’s try and prevent trauma from happening by educating young parents with the foundation of positive attachment to their children.

Life is beautiful but is filled with rain, thunderstorms & cloudy days. That’s why you need to learn how to connect children positively. You will make a difference even if trauma occurs.

With positive attachments, you’re building a lot of resiliency in children. With that positive attachment you can actually transform the life of your child having a positive self-image. Having high self-esteem. I’m not saying that this is going to prevent trauma from happening but it will actually prepare the child to help themselves.”

Joanna Barberii-Rosario,Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services

I provide child & parent psychotherapy to children and families that have been exposed to trauma through a program called “Seen and Heard”. When you asked earlier why I went into the profession of social work, I do have a history of trauma myself. One of my goals was to provide a voice for children that don’t have one. Since I’ve been in their shoes, I pretty much have an idea of what they’re experiencing. What they’re feeling. That being said, it has changed my perspective because now I’m the helper. I’m currently working on my PhD in social work at Adelphi University. My ultimate goal is to engage in teaching on an academic level. I’m working on my dissertation in vicarious trauma which is a topic that has always been very important to me. Vicarious trauma is a process in which we are impacted through our work with trauma survivors. Vicarious trauma manifests in different ways. Some people might not know it as vicarious trauma. It may be that pain in your shoulder or those butterflies in your stomach. Luckily in the clinic that I work for, I would say that our director is very trauma informed. She puts a reminder on our Outlook calendars to take a deep breath Through the years, I have observed is that social problems are intergenerational. What I mean by that is early intervention and detection at an early age in a person’s life is so important. When I work with victims or perpetrators of domestic violence and you hear their stories, they are just doing what they were exposed to. If only I could go back in time. The best part of my job is every Mommy and child that leaves my session holding hands happy. Every success. Every child that gets a good report card. Every parent that reaches out to me and says that you have made a difference in my child’s life. The process of change and how people can experience hopefulness.

Dr. Becky Kirkham

Dr Becky Kirkham, pediatrician for Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services in the South Bronx.

“One of the most important jobs for a pediatrician is being an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Sheltering Arms gives you an opportunity to do that. The pace of medicine is getting faster and faster; in a hospital or private practice setting, you have less time with families, and less one-on-one time with patients. The priority here is taking care of the kids, speaking up for them and following up, because who’s doing it otherwise? Children in foster care and in the juvenile justice system are an inherently vulnerable population.

I’m practicing a few subway stops from where I used to be, and it’s a completely different world. It’s exposure to communities and families that I never would’ve known. Kids are really all the same, whether you’re in a private practice on the Upper East Side or a clinic in the South Bronx. I’ve done global health work at a clinic in Liberia, and the kids there were exactly the same.

As a resident, your life is your work for a long time. You have to do something that you love and are passionate about. You can’t go into a field because of a paycheck. You’ve got a find something that you’re going to be passionate about. I love waking up, I love going to work. I’m excited to start the day. I’m excited to see the kids and the families. Medicine has really been a gift for me in that way.

Sheltering Arms is a space where you can provide general pediatric care in a very comprehensive, thorough way. You get to know the families and get to work with the whole team here. It’s a very multidisciplinary approach with the social workers, the therapists, caseworkers and both the biological and foster families. You get to be at the helm of the “medical home” for the patients. You really have a chance to coordinate very comprehensive thorough care for them.”

Evelyn Lynch, Rockland County Assc for Learning Disabilities

“My name is Evelyn Lynch I am a job coach for the Rockland County Association for Learning Disabilities.

People come here that are looking for jobs and we basically start from scratch.

We do different assessments to determine which type of fields they can go into. We do a lot of exploring and discovering what types of jobs they’d like to go into. We then teach them how to look for jobs. We teach them how to do applications. We teach them how to network and anything computer-related from creating resumes and cover letters.

The best part about my job is when somebody tells me that this person is not employable and three months later that person is successfully working.

When the person says I never could have done this without you. And you see someone at work and you say I told you!

Basically, we don’t see the disability. We always try to see the ability.”

Keith Davis and Nafeesa Toney, Violence Interupters, Rock Safe Streets,Far Rockaway,NY

“As a violence interrupter, I’m trained to detect, mediate and interrupt. Then through constant work, and communication I attempt to help those same individuals change themselves, as well as the norms in their/our community.

I’ve done time in prison, and in prison, all you have is time to sit back and reflect.

I was thinking about ways I could change as an individual, to become a better person all the way around the board. I decided to be part of the solution, as opposed to being part of the problem.

I figured out that the way to do that was to, basically, change the way I think.

I believe that the only way a person can change, who they are, as an individual is to change the way they think.

That is because that a person’s actions are only a manifestation of their thoughts.

You know what created the change in me; mental exhaustion. I was tired. I had been in prison, too many times, for too long.

I finally woke up. Each individual, in that life, reaches the point of being tired at different times in their lives. Where they just want to live a regular life, you see? I had reached that point.

Now that I’m home, I plan on giving my “new self” to the community. I want to invest my time to a positive cause.

I want to try and prevent the things that I once partook in when I was younger. I care about the youth.

I have a son that’s 16. I really want him to do the right thing. To follow the right path. So I’m trying to lead by example…by my actions.

I try to paint that picture for all the youth that I come in contact with.

I use myself as an example, and hopefully, my story will help them make better decisions.” Keith Davis

Natalie Brooks Wilson

“I am the director of Mental Health services at Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services. We work to support individuals, children and families in the community.

Our clients come to us with a variety of challenges. Many of them are at very vulnerable points in their lives, dealing with very serious family issues, legal issues, and emotional issues. Our team is there to hear the stories of what happened to them and to support them in their journey to work towards whatever goals they want to achieve. I’m very inspired by the clients who have the courage to walk through our door each week. Despite all their challenges, they show up. The show up for themselves and they show up for their children. I get to watch that. I get to watch them blossom and grow.

As a parallel process, I have the tremendous privilege of watching our clinicians learn skills and gain confidence. They feel proud of their work and get to see many of their clients succeed. I feel inspired every day when I come to work. I can’t imagine not working with people and having that ability to peek into their strengths and watch them develop. As an administrator I hold onto the supervisory connections I make with staff. If someone experiences something themselves, then they can understand it and they can share it with others. I’ve learned to practice reflective supervision.

We talk about empathy and reflective function and how can we help parents strengthen their relationships with their children and with themselves. In order for clinicians to support clients in this way, they need a safe space to process their own emotions and reactions to the stories that they’re hearing. I think it’s really a parallel process in that clinicians can be supported by their supervisors, then give support to the parents so that the parents can then provide this for their children. It’s a whole world of parallel processes.”

Dave Wardell

Dave Wardell

Senior Supervisor at the Alice Drive Residence for the Rockland County Association for Learning Disabilities

“I have a total of eight individuals that live at the house. It’s really changed over the years.Years ago, there was a lot less community integration.

Years ago, they mainly stayed in the house and now we’re getting everybody out in the community.

And now we also asked them what they really need and want. And try to facilitate that as much as humanly possible. If somebody wants to take a walk to McDonald’s by themselves we’re going make sure that they’re able to take a walk by themselves to McDonald’s. The flip side says “Why do you let them go by themselves?” And I say because we’re not here to just keep them safe, we’re here to teach them and help them do as much as humanly possible. You know we’re not their keeper. We’re not their babysitter. We’re here to help them do as much as humanly possible.

I enjoy it on a daily basis that I’m able to brighten someone’s life.

When I took this job and I had to adjust my finances . I had to get a roommate but I have never been happier. It’s true if you love what you do, you’ll ever have a days work.”

Yolanda Haynesworth

“Hi, I am Yolanda Haynesworth.

I am 28 years old and I work at Paul’s house, a early childhood center in the Bronx at Sheltering Arms. I am a head teacher there. Basically, I provide a safe and secure environment for the children. I put referrals in for children who seem to have any type of disability. I also conduct home visits. We visit the home to make sure that the home is safe and that they have food and there’s a comfortable place for the children to sleep. I’ve always had a passion for working with children. I always wanted to give back what I have received as a child.

To be a good teacher you need to be enthusiastic. You need to be open-minded.You need to have lots and lots and lots of patience. I have to stress that a lot because working with young children, it’s very challenging. You need to have patience and you definitely need to have a passion for it. Because children even though they are so young they can sense that this is something that you don’t want to do. And they kind of close up when they are around adults that they feel are not interested in teaching them or interacting with them.

Once I complete my bachelors, I want to be a therapist. I love kids and I want to work with them one-on-one. I feel like they need at this age that one-on-one.

Annually I make $28,000 which is not much. But sometimes it becomes frustrating because you know you have your family. You have responsibilities outside of work to take care of. But because I have a passion for it I just have to overlook the pay.”

John Shaw

John Shaw, Ph.D.

Director of Residential Mental Health Services

Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services

“My role is to provide oversight and leadership of the mental health and creative arts treatment services provided to our Adolescent Residential Care programs (ARC)

We have found that the engagement of youth necessary for successful treatment work is immediate and effective, and we offer a range of creative arts media as therapeutic pathways to address both the trauma and positive potential in each youth: visual arts, music, writing, dance, and drama therapy in addition to, and as part of, verbal psychotherapy. Like most teenagers, the idea of sitting down alone in a room with an adult talking about your problems is foreign and threatening; however, once you engage them through a medium other than just talking, the kids open up very rapidly, as the youth are very keen on expressing their experiences and being heard. As a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, I’m very good with teenagers but even with those skills just using verbal therapy, I either don’t get to some important material, or it would be months to get there. Finding the right medium that engages the youth, in addition to the verbal, is key, as well as a potential for growth through performances and other ways to express their stories and be heard. Creative arts treatment is also very compatible with trauma work which involves the youth becoming aware of different physiological states that have to do with triggers of past events.

Not being exclusively verbal allows the youth to actually feel through the artwork, music, or dance, the links to body states that are associated with past trauma, and allows them to work with the feelings rather than being ruled by them.

We have been very, very, impressed with the value of creative arts therapy and its potential for youth and their families in addition to, and combining with, our traditional mental health interventions.

When impression and expression coordinate for a person the feeling is one of positive wholeness, a sense of completion, and accomplishment. These positive experiences don’t wipe away the problems or the issues, but I like to think of them as seeds that might grow, if not now, later in life. And we all know for certain that the human mind provides memories that will come to us in important moments when we feel defeated, hopeless, and we can’t do anything right; for our youth, like us, the memory of the time when they could and did see it through, share it, and were recognized for it can sustain them when they most need it in the future. There’s an awful lot working against the kids, including themselves, but I firmly believe that in ways we cannot predict, there’s going to be long lasting positive effects for them, positive memories that last a life time, as they do, for all of us, in ours. You never know down the road how these seeds might take root and blossom.”

Anne Marie Drummond

Anna Marie Drummond is a supervisor at a residence for people with developmental disabilities in New Jersey.

“To work in social services you must be patient. You have to be a great listener. You have to always always always put yourself in the back and put your residents first. If you try to put yourself first, you will never see the person behind you. If you can see others first then you can see yourself.

They will tell you who you are.

I believe that they really need to reconsider the budget for people with disabilities and the direct care professionals because it’s a hard job. They’re always implementing laws that protect the people with disabilities. One way that they can do that is to compensate the people who are taking care them directly. It’s a very hard job where you can burn out easily.

As direct care professionals ,we go through a lot of abuse from the people that we support.

Not because the people want to abuse us but because of their disabilities.

We go through a lot of abuse on a daily basis. And when you feel like you’re not being compensated at all it , it makes your day a lot rougher than it should be.”

Tonia Torres

“My name is Tania Torres. I’m a case planner and an educational specialist caring for children’s educational needs for Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services.

I think a lot of clients that come in here, they might look at people in the sense of you don’t know what I’m going through. I can relate to their pain.

I met my mom when I was 27 and I learned that my mom was in a very bad domestic violence relationship with my dad and that was the reason why she basically left me at my grandmothers house.

Currently, I’m going for my masters at Fordham University in social work. My goal is to become a licensed social worker to be able to provide therapy to victims of domestic violence.

Being in this masters program, I realize that social work is all about self reflection. You have to be able to reflect on things you’ve been through in order to give the help out to others. And I actually went to go see my mom today after so many years that I haven’t seen her.

After seven years. I needed closure. I needed to forgive her. I am definitely planning to go back to see her because you can’t hold a grudge for too long. You can’t hold in anger and you definitely gotta make peace with anything that you go through in life.So I am building a relationship once again with her.

This type of work is not for everybody. I definitely say that. It’s not even about the money. Because if you’re coming into this line of work for money you’re in the wrong field. You got to be in this field if you have a heart for it. When you want to try your best to make a change.”

Eli Germain

“My name is Eli Germain. I work at a group home for developmentally disabled adults in Nanuet,NY for YAI/RCALD. I am a medical counselor that assists and accompanies the residents at the group home on medical appointments. I work with the doctor and we come up with a proper treatment plan because basically we’re the patient’s advocate. Being that they’re nonverbal, they don’t use words to communicate so they depend on us completely.Our challenge is learning how to help the individual cope with their disability and find different ways for them to relieve their own stressors. Our agency is all about putting the individuals first. We realize when we do that their difficult behavior is lessened and were able to interact in a more positive way and also have better communication even though they’re not verbal.

The greatest reward from this job is being able to allow the individual to make their own decisions. In seeing the benefit of that which is a smile or a laugh.Seeing that transition from dependence to independence is my greatest reward.”

Rosalyn Mason & Mustafa Shakur

Rosalyn Mason,Rock Safe Streets Far Rockaway Queens

My name is Rosalyn Mason, the program manager of Rocks Safe Streets. Rock Safe Streets is an anti-gun violence initiative where we aim to reduce the gun violence within our community by detecting and interrupting potential conflicts, identifying and treating “high-risk” individuals and mobilizing the community to change norms. We’re explaining to them that we’re looking at violence as a disease and how we cure that disease.

If the participants want to go to school, we can help them get into a GED program and apply for colleges. We assist the participants with jobs readiness skills and provide them with interview clothing. We’re here trying to help any individual that has been involved in high-level street activity change their life through these different programs. We also become mentors for them as well. It’s a matter of building a relationship with the participants and the community and offering a better way of life.

We have several individuals graduating with their GED’s. Some people might say that’s really nothing, however most of the participants are coming from broken homes, they’re couch surfing. They don’t know where they are going to lay their heads down each night. For somebody to get up and go to school every day and obtain their GED not knowing whose couch they’re going to sleep on that night…that is amazing.

Our gun violence has reduced 98% in the catchment which is between Beach 49th and Beach 59th Street. At this point, we have 179 days of no shootings and no killings throughout the whole catchment. In Arverne View complex, we have over 465 days of no shooting.

It’s about breaking that cycle of revenge. Breaking that pattern of “RETALIATION”. We’re here trying to detect, interrupt potential conflict, identify and treating violence. It’s the same with domestic violence and trying to break the cycle. Domestic violence leads to gun violence. Half the people that work with me or have volunteered with us at Rocks Safe Streets has been formally incarcerated and have turned their life around. They’re doing really well and are giving back to the community. They want them to know that there is other alternatives that they can go to in order to change their life around.”

Dr. Amanda Jacobs

Dr. Amanda Jacobs, director of Health Services at Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services in the South Bronx,New York.

“As a pediatrician,I see kids from infants to 21 years old at the foster care agency and the juvenile justice program.

I was drawn to work here because these were the people in our society who are most in need and I just wanted to stand up for them I guess.

I still feel like they are the people in our society that are most neglected. They don’t have an advocate and are at high risk.

After 16 years, I have totally changed as a doctor. I feel like I try and use compassion not just because I care but because people need it and they sense it when it’s real.

But combined with that there can be extra stress so I work very hard on not owning other people’s problems. Which is hard but I work on that a lot or else I wouldn’t be able to come back to work the next day.

I tell myself: They need me to be the best me I can be and I can’t do that if I keep taking it on so I have to let go. I mean obviously I can’t save the world. It’s not possible. I can’t fix all their problems. I can only be a ray of hope in the moment that I’m with them. And do the best that I can in that moment. Often that works but sometimes it doesn’t!”

Minerva Soto & Aida Perez, sisters

Aida Perez and Minerva Soto, sisters that work at Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services in the South Bronx, New York.


“Now I’m a legal assistant basically working on TPR. That’s termination of parental rights.

I do diligence searches for bio parents. I’m also in charge of getting every child birth certificates.

I was surprised at what a TPR entails because I adopted three girls and the mother was a TPR but I didn’t know anything about that before I started working here. I didn’t know what a TPR was. I keep in contact with their bio mother. And we spoke about it and she said yeah I was TPR for all three and I said for real?

And she said yeah.

Actually for her youngest child, she was so sickly that she actually surrendered the child to me.

It was drugs.

After a while, a lot of social workers get tired and depressed. Some of them need a lot of support . We have a support group for the case planners here because we know they can get burned out. We call it a revolving door because they keep leaving….sometimes they come back and they tell us I just needed to get away for a while but what I notice is they do come back.. Yeah they do.


Administrative Assistant for the foster care department.

“The people who work in social work are people were touched by it in their own life. I know when I was in special education most of people who are working within the program we’re touched by it in some ways either via family member or a child. I think it’s the same thing with social work. You have to have empathy. You have to be able to find a connection with people and the desire to help them succeed. If this child on your caseload and that’s all he is, just a name on your caseload then you’re not really a social worker. You’re just pushing the paper. You not making the connection.”

Ilene Colbert Smith

Ilene Colbert Smith, assistant director at Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services Bronx NY

“In social work, you need have some type of empathy when dealing with individuals .You need to be very receptive and open to listen. You also need to be willing to go above and beyond to really make your clients comfortable. I always say treat your clients and the way that you would want to be treated if you were that situation.

You really need to be ready to work. Ready to research. But mainly need to be a great listener.

And a person who knows how to solve problems. Someone who can think out-of-the-box. How can you help this person in the best way. I always look at social work and I would always say to my workers: “look we’re not pushing paper we’re dealing with peoples lives. Whatever steps you take can either make a persons life or break a persons life. Whatever decision we make really can have a long lasting consequence in this person’s life.

We’re dealing with real people not pushing papers.

The best part of my job is either to complete a family for an adoption or to work very hard with the biological parent who really loves her child and was just put in a bad situation. To be able to help build that parent to the level where they can care of their child. Physically and mentally and know that we’ve made the right decisions in helping to keep that family whole. I love reunifications. I love when we can reunify a family. And if we’re not actually able to reunify, I love to see when we have good foster parents that go above and beyond the call of duty to work with the child and to give that child all their love.

I think right now, our society needs put more money into mental health. Mental health is one of the major reasons for our children coming into care. Whatever the crack epidemic had in it, it has left so many generations of mental illness. Working with these children from the very beginning. Getting them evaluated. Having people give us assistance to help kids who are born with schizophrenia. As the years went by and crack was introduced, we got more schizophrenia and more bipolar cases. We see so many more mental health issues and I think it came from the crack epidemic.”

Betty Leon

Betty Leon

I work with the intake services and home findings at Sheltering Arms Family and Children’s Services.

It’s the kind of job that you need a lot of patience and a little love. When you’re trying to place a child you’re trying to find them a home. It’s not easy. When you’re involved in this work, you have the feeling like this is your own child and you want to find a good place. A home where they will receive love and care.

You need to be very dedicated and passionate about this work.

You have to have a passion to work in this field. When you resolve a problem and when you unify the mother with the child, you feel very satisfied. It really helps the whole community.

Sometimes people don’t accept that they have problems. Sometimes the children have the problems and the parents don’t have the help and don’t know how to look for the help. This can result in abuse because the parents don’t know how to cope. Through our agency, they receive training and therapy. They get so much help so they can deal with these problems. Social work is very hard work.

It’s really nice to see when they get their children back.

I never imagined working in social services, but I feel good when I can help other people especially the children because they’re innocent.

amended by betty:

“I work with the intake services and home finding at Sheltering Arms Family and Children’s Services.

It’s the kind of job that you need a lot of patience and love. When you’re trying to place a child, you’re trying to find them a home, and sometimes it’s not easy to find the perfect match.

When you’re involved in this work, you have the feeling like this is your own child and you want to find a good home. A home where they will receive love, care and security.You need to be very dedicated and passionate about this work.

You have to have a passion to work in this field. When you resolve a problem or reunify the mother with the child, you feel very satisfied. It really helps the whole community.

Sometimes people don’t accept that they have problems. Other times, the children have the problems and the parents don’t have the help and don’t know how to look for or ask for assistance. This can result in abuse because the parents have no coping skills. Through our agency, parents receive training, therapy, medical, housing, educational assistance and many other services.

It’s really nice to see when parents get their children back.

I never imagined working in social services, but I feel good when I can help other people, especially the children, because they’re innocent.”

Geraldine Taylor, PHD

Geraldine Taylor

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Sheltering Arms Children’s and Families Services, Bronx NY

“I work with youth from age 12 up to age 23 that are in incarcerated for a crime and have been sentenced by a judge. The other population that I work with are youth who live in a group foster home. We encourage them to get into school and to further their education. My job is to help with any symptoms that might hinder them in becoming successful.

The work that I do it Involves a psychiatric evaluation on the youth to determine a diagnosis. Depending on the symptoms in the diagnosis, I would prescribe medication for the youth and monitor all possible side effects.

I have to say that I have been enlightened to a world that I did not know existed.

Until I worked here at Sheltering Arms, I had no clue there were so many homeless children. Not just in the New York TriState area but all over the country.That’s why this profession that I’m in is here to help them. I had no idea there was such a large population and such a need.

I find it gratifying when we have a youth who does something very positive. We had one young lady from the Hard to Place Group Home who’s accepted into a SUNY college. She is now a sophomore in college. Because she is a ward of the state, she’s able to continue to get her education and she will be able to graduate with a four-year college degree. It was so gratifying for me to be able to help her as well as the other members of our team from Sheltering Arms. It was like a celebration.

The hardest thing about the job is when I have parents who are not good at being parents.

Because of that deficiency, the child has a harder time in life.

I recently learned that 25 to 30% of homeless adults nationally are products of a government affiliated child welfare agencies or they are products of the juvenile justice system. It’s a piece of information that I think a lot of people should know so they can work harder to prevent our youth from going in that direction.

In the general population, the people who require medication is not as great as the youth that are incarcerated. The ones that have been incarcerated have the most severe psychiatric disturbances that are mostly related to attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. In the most severe cases, when this is not treated, those children go into a life of crime.”

Tori Mierlak

Victoria Mierlak

Creative Arts Clinical Coordinator: Music Therapist at Sheltering Arms Children and Families Services Bronx, New York

“I’m the Creative Arts Clinical Coordinator at Sheltering Arms for the non-secure placement programs.

Music therapy provides a less vulnerable way of expressing ourselves. Through music an individual can express themselves in ways they might not even realize it.

I meet with all of the youth and assess what their interests are when it comes to creative arts in general. I can then place the youth based on their interests, with a creative arts therapist. The creative arts therapies that we currently offer are Music Therapy, Art Therapy and Dance Therapy.

A good example to explain how powerful music therapy can be, just happened recently. I had a youth that was having a rough time. They had found out something disturbing in regards to a family member and had been acting out in the facility and being violent towards property and at times, people. In our session, we began talking about anger. I asked him: “Do you know other ways of getting out your anger?” His answer was “no”. Then we talked about how we can express anger through music. For example, how loudly we can play a drum. When I first handed him the drum and asked him to play it loud, he was very timid. Mind you, he has played that drum very loud before. But when it came to actually expressing his feelings, it was difficult for him. So I picked up the drum and I went at it! I was able to demonstrate a specific, healthy, way of expressing anger that uses the physical body (hitting the drum with your hand or using a mallet) and also encouraged him to add vocal sounds to express anger through his voice as well.

I played it really really loud and offered him the space to try it as well. Once he felt more comfortable, we began to play together really really loud and use a lot of our energy as individuals, while being in the experience together. He then began to use all these different instruments in my office to express anger as well and a myriad of emotions came up. Through this, he could release some of the emotions he had been holding in. By the end of the session he verbalized that he felt a release and was feeling much less tension in his body.

We’re not only teaching how to identify an emotion but how it can be expressed through music and noise in a healthy and positive way.

The best part of my job is to be able to be in the creative process with the youth. As a teenager, music always helped me, which is one of the many reasons why I enjoy this work with this population. To be able to be someone who helps teenagers and bring to them something that had helped me so much and continues to be an important part of my life, is priceless!”

Keisha Kennedy

Keisha Kennedy, teacher at Paul’s House, Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services.

“Education has always been my passion and change has always been my goal.Making a difference is something that always been my motivation.

To be able to help children and families is my vision.Making change in someone life is something that I’ve always been driven by.

The kids that we serve at my program are basically below poverty. Their parents are undocumented, the majority of them. These are the most stressful and nervous time for our families because of their citizenship. We see our families in a depression mode some share their concerns and fear 0thers are humble and withdrawn. Its very sad to observe our families going through and experiencing some rough times.

Our communities without social services would be a disaster. Not only are we supporting and helping our children, we provide services for the whole family. We provide free childcare, food, clothing, diapers and education. We are so provide workshop, training and resources to help those who are unable to write and read. WE ARE DETERMINE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!”

Edward Fabian

“My name is Edward Fabian but everyone calls me Fabian.

I’m the Assistant Vice President over Adolescence Residential Care.

I oversee our hard to place group homes, our four nonsecure detentions, our fore nonsecure replacements, and are 18 bed limited secured facilities.

These programs are all new and brought about by the Close to Home program that started about five years ago. The mayor and the governor decided to bring all these city kids that were placed three and six hours away, to bring them closer to the city and closer to their families.

They realized that a lot of these kids were from the five boroughs and they were being placed 3–6 hours away and over 95% of our families are living below poverty level. They can barely get a metro card to get from the Bronx to Manhattan so if your kid is 3 to 6 Hours away ,there is no way that they could see their kids.

My background was in baseball. I was a huge baseball fanatic and had a little stent in the minor leagues. And every time they would ask if we wanted to do workshops for inner city youth I always raised my hand.

Growing up in the inner city myself, I always wished that professional athletes would come into my neighborhood show us a different route. Show us how to be a professional, how to practice to do all the things that would hopefully get one to reach their goals

I love exactly what I do. I love hands-on work. I love working with inner city youth kids that haven’t gotten the opportunity to see what else is out there outside of just walking the streets for Wanting to be a rapper or a basketball player.

To try and emulate and show what we do here, as a man of color you can be successful outside of being a rapper or an athlete. We try to mimic best behaviors here.

I’m from the inner city. I know all the pitfalls. I know how I could have become a statistic. My goal was to show these young men and these young women you don’t have to sell drugs, you don’t have to do all these negative things to get attention or recognition. To realize that education will help you escape poverty. It will help you escape from having to live the way your family lived. To break that perpetual cycle of violence or incarceration. I think we do a pretty good job here.

A community without social services would look like the wild wild west!

It’s so needed. It’s so essential. These families, they’re struggling. We’re trying to break that perpetual cycle. They need someone to advocate for them.”

Kyra Holiday

Kyra Holiday

“I’m a home finder for Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services. We are in the business of finding permanent resources and permanent homes for our kids.

We really take the matching process very seriously. It’s really about finding the best fit for every kid. Making sure the kids are safe and happy.

My mom was a social worker. I shadowed her a lot growing up. I would go on home visits with her. She worked in Philly back in the late 80s early 90s when it was really rough. I saw a lot and it kind of became second nature. My mom would always say: “Your life is never about you, it’s about the people you come in contact with and how you impact their lives.”

So I really have taken that to heart. I feel like that drives me. Knowing that my life and the things that I do are not about me, it’s about helping other people.

Serving others is the greatest gift.

I definitely had to grow up fast! Coming from straight out of college. Adulting was a big thing. I think when you realize the impact that you have on certain individuals and the fact that what you do impacts people’s lives it brings a level of seriousness to the work that I do.

I think I make close to $40,000 a year.

It’s kind of a struggle.

For all the work we do and all the overtime we do, it’s kind of outrageous.

For me it’s not how much I’m making, I feel like if I was given the right materials and the proper resources to do stuff it probably wouldn’t bother me as much. Unfortunately, we do not have the necessary funding to make sure that we effectively service these families.

That adds insult to injury.”

Jessie Lewis

Case Planner/Foster Care, Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services, Manhattan

“I’ve always known that I wanted to work directly with people. Working face-to-face is very important to me.This is where I feel my intelligence is.

Our general goal is to ensure the children’s and the teenager’s well being and work towards permanency.

What’s interesting is that all the parents that I work with now with the exception of one were in foster care of themselves.

These parents are trying to juggle so much on their own and they literally have nobody to turn to. When children grow up in foster care that has an unsuccessful ending then clearly that has a huge effect on how they are going to parent their own children.

Empathy is definitely important but you have to protect yourself also. That’s been something that has been a challenge for me.

I can’t do everything.I can’t respond to every emergency.I can’t fix every emergency.

Sometimes things have to be the way they are. Even though it’s uncomfortable and it’s not what I would hope. You must be able to listen and talk to people without being quick to judge. You have to understand they’re going to be good days and bad days.You must be able to give room for improvement. You make sure you get to the chances where you can celebrate people.

You don’t have to constantly talk about the negative.

It sounds so corny but there’s a huge part of the world that doesn’t have a voice. My parents have always been very proactive and making sure that I had a voice.I appreciate the way my parents raised me to be that conscious. It makes me feel like I have the skills that I want to be able to give other people as well. Not to say that I’m saving anybody but I have learned a lot from the families that I worked with.

I think that no one is listening to the people we serve. And I have no problem being the person that will listen. I think they really deserve that. They frequently feel like they are not heard.”

Victoria Henry

Victoria Henry

I am a social work supervisor for the four Non-Secure placement homes program. The non-secured placement home is where youth go instead of going to Rikers Island for detention.They come here to serve their time.

They go to a regular public school but they have to be escorted. And staff stays with them while at school.

In this work, you have to be very very understanding. Very patient with the kind of youth that we’re working with now. And you must be strong because they use some words that you should not respond to.

I’ve learned over the years to see each person as an individual. I try not to group them together because each one of them have their own different issues and concerns. I’ve learned to be more caring. At the group home, they call me Grandma.

Without the social work profession, it would be chaotic.”