From Melinda: So many social workers and new graduates are encountering a difficult labor market. To offer encouragement to them and to celebrate those who are successfully navigating the environment to secure terrific jobs that will have a significant impact, I have asked Kavya Velagapudi, a recent KU SWAAP graduate, to tell her story. Thank you, Kavya, and congratulations!
It seemed like the odds were against me: A less popular Social Work Administration and Advocacy Practice degree, the recession, and the summer. But I am now the Program Coordinator at a brand-new non-profit called Low-Income Family Empowerment (LIFE) in Adams County, Colorado. Adams County consists of Commerce City and Federal Heights and portions of seven other cities.
LIFE was started by the Adams County Housing Authority. Although the hiring agency is LIFE, I am the program coordinator for the Strong Families Initiative, which is a collaborative effort among six agencies that work with low-income families in the Adams County. The partner agencies of the Strong Families Initiative, including LIFE, received a grant for fourteen months (May 01, 2009-June 30, 2010) to continue their efforts and make new additions to their plans. My role is to coordinate the elements of this grant. However, I have been hired at the end of July, which gives me only eleven months to accomplish the requirements of this grant.
There are four main elements to my role:
1. I act as the information and resource specialist. I will be developing a map of services and resources available for low-income families in the County, find service gaps, and increase needed workshops and classes. The biggest challenge I have is to bring our partner agencies together, since they have traditionally been competitors in the Adams County. My role is to facilitate the collaboration efforts and coordination of services among our partner agencies and other service providers in the County.
2. I will be coordinating the efforts to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the Adams County. I will soon be hiring a contractor to conduct a study to understand the extent and distribution of homelessness along with an analysis of services and programs in the Adams County. Based on the results of this study, a plan will be developed similar to Denver’s Road Home, which is Denver’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. This aspect not only allows me to collaborate with several stakeholders in the community, including city government, non-profit entities, county’s housing authority, and other service providers, but it makes me the key person in this county-wide collaboration effort.
3. I will be involved at some degree with all initiatives in the County that provide services for homeless populations, including emergency shelters, permanent housing, cold weather care initiatives, rapid re-housing, food banks, and other supportive services.
4. As a brand-new agency, LIFE has only one full-time employee: Me! This means that I will sometimes stray from the requirements of the grant and do what is necessary to run the agency. This includes helping design a logo to finding funding to continue LIFE, including my position.
How I found the job:
I developed networks and contacts during my graduate schooling. They have been helpful in directing me to the right resources. Apart from that, I kept a list of all websites that post non-profit jobs; http://www.idealist.org, http://www.change.org, and other national social work job listing websites were some of them. I also bookmarked non-profit job websites of cities I was willing to move to. Since Denver was my first option, I moved there immediately after graduation. I found the job posting for Program Coordinator position on Colorado Nonprofit Job Board website. A week after I applied, my first interview was set. The interview panel had four members and the interview lasted about an hour. I was given a call a week later and I was told that I was one of the finalists. The second interview was set in a non-traditional interview format. I was asked to create a speech to procure the funding necessary for LIFE to remediate homelessness in Adams County. I developed a 10-minute presentation, which I presented to the second interview panel consisting of eight individuals, including LIFE’s Board of Directors and other stakeholders. A week later, exactly two months from my graduation day, I was called with a job offer. I started in my job the next week. The entire interview process took about 20-25 days.
Tips for SWAAP students:
If you cannot relocate to another city or state, try finding employment at your practicum agency. If, for whatever reason, that is not an option for you, get involved in your school’s social work student group and share information among your peers. Although a student group seems like an unproductive use of time during graduate school, it will prove to be far more valuable when you are looking for jobs. If you are currently a student, involve yourself in the group as a student representative. If your school’s student group is not currently active, propel it yourself. This is a valuable SWAAP experience that involves organizing, networking, marketing, and administering that you can talk about during an interview, as I did during my first interview for my current position. If you graduated already, keep in touch with your graduating class. They will have information that you may not have. You can share contacts and resources through a Facebook group.
I wish you the best of luck! Please feel free to contact me at kavya.velagapudi at gmail.com for any reason.