Category Archives: From the Trenches (Guest post)

I’m a social worker too! Guest Post by Heather Bradley-Geary, macro practitioner

Note from Melinda: Heather Bradley-Geary, macro social worker extraordinaire and all-around awesome person, agreed to do this guest post to give my students and others a sense of what it looks like to make the decision to choose macro social work practice and to make a career out of it. I know that she’d love to hear feedback, so please leave a comment with your reactions, and, thank you, Heather!

State Government Worker…Social Worker? Say What?

Hello! My name is Heather Bradley-Geary and yes, I am a Social Worker. Yes, I work for the Government and no, I am not a clinician. I received my undergraduate degree in Music Therapy. After graduation, I provided direct care to children diagnosed with Autism. Although I love music and children, I was quick to learn that Music Therapy was not my true passion. After two years, I left my career in Music Therapy and started working in the inner-city providing neighborhood revitalization. It did not take long for me to realize that this was my calling in life and went back to school to pursue my Master’s degree in Social Welfare, with an emphasis on Social Work Administration and Advocacy Practice.

The first year in the Masters program, I often felt scared that I had not chosen the right path; however, when administration classes began (my last year), I walked into a room of twelve amazing women (my classmates) and never felt more sure of my decision to continue in social work. Don’t get me wrong; I am so thankful there are clinicians in the world. However, I would be a terrible clinician. I cannot focus on the micro level and always have the urge to change the system.

After receiving my Master’s Degree in Social Welfare, my career path led me to where I serve the state of Missouri currently. I work for an agency of the state as the Trust Fund and Community Initiatives Manager. I can honestly say I wake up every morning and am excited to go to work. What an amazing feeling to make a difference on the macro level. My job entails administering the Missouri Housing Trust Fund and the Balance of State Continuum of Care, both funds that serve people who are considered very low-income. My job always gives me the ability to advocate for those that seem “invisible”: the population experiencing homelessness.

My life’s work is to end homelessness. Housing is a right and not a privilege. I strongly believe that no person should have the ability to decide who should receive shelter and who should not. Every human has the right to shelter. Even further, every human has the right to permanent housing.

I am a social worker and I live by the Code of Ethics every day. Social work is so much more than counseling one on one. It is the constant advocacy to provide for every human. My chosen field is to end homelessness; when I leave this world, I hope that a footprint has been set and the mindset in our world is that housing is a civil right. I want to make homelessness a word from a different lifetime.

On a personal level, I could not live my dream without the amazing support of my husband, Brian Geary, and my truly wonderful children, Breanne and Micah. My wish is that my children learn from my example and always advocate for the “invisible” and those who cannot advocate for themselves. I can tell you that I learned from example from my loving parents, Scott and Pam Bradley.

My words of advice to anyone who reads this blog is to live your dream! Be true to yourself. It is okay to be a social worker and not a clinician.

In peace,

Heather Bradley-Geary
hbgeary at yahoo.com

Guest Post by Kavya Velagapudi: How I landed an awesome macro practice job

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!

My Job:
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:

  • Sell your skills- Do not underestimate your education or experience. Be confident when you speak of yourself during job interviews. For example, I was asked if I ever coordinated a program in my first interview. I told them that I have not, but given an opportunity, I can. Rather than prolonging the conversation about my lack of experience in the area, I then spoke about the experience and education I have.
  • SWAAP is a plus- Think of SWAAP as your strength, rather than as a setback in your job search. It is a common belief that you can become an administrator after working in the clinical field. This is true. However, there are several programs that are in need of good administrators across the country. I will take the liberty here to say that most social work programs suffer largely due to the incompetence of its administrators. Being a great clinical social worker does not qualify one to be a great administrator. However, I do stress that administrators need to know the population they are working for. Without putting a human face on the work we do, we cannot be successful administrators in the non-profit world. We need to have a strong mind with a good heart. If we have a mindless heart or a heartless mind, we will not get far. Get a SWAAP degree and firsthand experience to go along with it.
  • Be patient and do not compromise- Every graduate student ends up in debt at one point or the other. But do not let your financial situation determine which job you take. If you can, wait until you find the job that will take you where you want to be five years from now. Do not settle for anything less. I suggest you take a part-time job to pay the bills temporarily. Most of us are in social work for personal reasons. Remember these motives during your job search. It is easy to experience burn-out in jobs that merely provide a paycheck without a sense of fulfillment. Being in a wrong job can cause more harm than being unemployed.
  • Research and network- Develop contacts, network, search job sites, and websites of organizations you like. (I spent on average 10-12 hours a day searching websites and emailing my contacts in the two months I was unemployed.) Be persistent! This does not mean that you apply for all jobs you are qualified for. You have to pick and choose what you like and apply for those jobs only. Otherwise, you will get tired of seeing letters of denial from multiple agencies! (I only applied for about 10 jobs and had only two interviews. One of them was a phone interview for a position in San Francisco. The second one was for my current position.)

    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.

  • Always remember your mentors in school and keep in touch with them. My mentors had faith in me as I went through some rough times. Their faith in me is something I clung to as I pushed myself to try harder and aim higher. When you find the job you want, thank the people who contributed to your success- your mentors, professors, classmates, family, and friends.

    I wish you the best of luck! Please feel free to contact me at kavya.velagapudi at gmail.com for any reason.

  • Guest Post–From the Trenches: Jen Stoll on Media Lessons Learned

    For five years I have worked for the Postpartum Resource Center of Kansas, a nonprofit that serves women and families who experience Perinatal Mood Disorders, like Postpartum Depression. Until May, I have been more than happy to turn interviews with media over to someone else. In the past several months, I had begun to recognize that this actually impacted my own credibility when talking with clients and professionals. They did not identify me as a face of the organization. So, when the opportunity to appear on KSHB-41’s (Kansas City’s NBC affiliate) midday news show came about, I took it. My primary job was to promote a fundraiser, which was two days after the interview (ML note: another benefit of fundraising events=extra exposure; this was their ‘hook’!).

    Thankfully, Melinda (who has a LOT of experience with media) did a dry run with me, focusing my attention on the critical points I needed to make (ML–Thank you. It was a ton of fun, really.):
    1. PPD affects at least 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men (about 8,700 in PRC’s catchment area);
    2. Calling PRC means getting the best help available; and
    3. We need everyone’s help to combat PPD. Come to the walk!

    It was imperative to have someone experienced with media run me through best-case and worst-case scenarios. She was able to give me helpful hints—like mention that the station will post a link to our website, if they fail to mention it. Additionally, I was put at ease because, as she said, during a live interview, the journalist does not want to look like a jerk. If it were pre-recorded, they could edit out anything that made him/her look bad.

    This interview was successful, in that at least 2 families came to the walk as a result. Also, we did a good job of letting people know how prevalent PPD is and that PRC is here to help (we also gained clients, as a result).

    Upon my arrival to the station, I learned that Brett Anthony (the weather guy) was filling in for Christa Dubill, who was sick that day. Christa & I had communicated through the producer about what the interview would entail. So, I was a bit unsure of this change. Nonetheless, Brett was very kind and seemed to know a lot about PRC and my experience, as we talked before the interview (ML note: sometimes these ‘fill-ins’ will do even more background research than the regulars, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to get a substitute!). He asked what I wanted to highlight during the interview, and I reiterated the three points. I now wish I had come with a list of questions prepared for him. This would have allowed me to better prepare answers that highlighted PRC rather than my own experience (ML note: good point–works the same way with legislators for committee hearings!).

    Also, next time, I will ask the producer what to expect when I arrive at the station. Truly, she was very busy and rushed through our conversations. But I was thrown by the disorganization that I—and other guests—experienced when we arrived. I wished I had pressed her to tell me step-by-step what would occur.

    Finally, the follow-up piece on their website was pathetic. It was completely plagiarized from our website, and referred to “symptoms at the top of the page” that weren’t there. Also, it was written in first person—a tactic we use on our website to identify with clients—definitely not meeting the standards of journalism. It did, however, link to the walk registration and, for that, I am grateful.

    These are the things I learned from my first interview experience:
    1. Anticipate chaos. They are focused on making the show a success, not on hosting guests (ML note: yes, and so much for these shows has to happen at the last minute).
    2. Take note cards. Despite the fact that I remembered my three points, having something to do, in the midst of all the chaos, would have put me more at ease.
    3. Prepare a list of questions and bring them with you, even if you have emailed them to the producer. You will be more in control of the order of the interview, which may be helpful. They will probably use your questions, because they want as little work to do as possible.
    4. Write the follow-up piece for the website, yourself. Email it to the producer and bring a copy to the station. At the very least, you will be able to send the message you want to their audience, at this particular time. (Controlling the messages about your agency and issue is always a good thing.)
    5. Send a “thank you.” I learned this in a class, I know. But a few weeks ago, PRC’s public relations volunteer said she had mailed cookies to the station, along with a thank you note. Hello! I hadn’t even sent a note, at that time. Despite the fact I didn’t feel great about the interview, it was exposure for PRC. And that is ALWAYS (well, almost) welcome.

    Thanks so much, Jen, for being willing to share this reflection. Watch the piece for yourself–I’m sure that Jen would appreciate your feedback.

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    Soon, it will also be on PRC’s website, (to make their coverage echo, and echo, and echo…). Given PRC’s mission, it is not an exaggeration to say that a life may have been saved by sharing this message. Awesome.