Social work. A noun. Bring up Google, and search for the definition, “Work carried out by trained personnel with the aim of alleviating the conditions of those in need of help or welfare.” Now cut to every movie that you’ve seen with stereotypical roles of social workers; not very inspiring to sway a young girl with aspirations to become a fashion designer since the age of ten.
The fashion class that I was part of at the Career Center
No thank you, Jane Addams. No thank you, popular Ghandi quotes. No thank you, “Why social work?” questions. Yes please to Project Runway, Vogue Magazine, The Devil Wears Prada, and Avant Garde couture dreams.
I thought I had a plan, and a vision of doing something my peers around me were doing. I participated in the fashion design class at the Career Center during high school of my junior year to create, and be surrounded by peers who shared the same dreams (and also may have streamed fashion shows on YouTube during class). However, sometimes the dreams that you have for yourself are never as concrete as you think. You may be one experience away from changing the rest of your life.
Cut to the summer before my senior year. I was having difficulties at home, and experienced a physical altercation with a family member, resulting in being kicked out at the age of sixteen. I transitioned to The Kevin J. Moody Youth Home, which was a 21 day long program designed to unify families together. Except……
……that wasn’t my family’s outcome, and I continued on into the Crossroads independent living program as I started my senior year of high school. Thinking back, I’m not sure how I felt during this time regarding my dreams. I’d experienced some family trauma, and was now living out of a “transitional homeless shelter,” for teenagers and young adults. I didn’t know how to process this, and I didn’t want to think about my future; all I considered was my current situation and how it all felt to be, “that kid.”
During the time within the Crossroads program, youth were assigned a mentor. You see, I remember having a mentor when I was in elementary school, but after one session they never came back. (Cue the memory of: inconsistent older people mentors that only come around because they need hours on their volunteer sheet, and a signature signing off implying, “I changed a child’s life today”). I remember not being open to this new person, but eventually I opened up, and looking back this was the first step of doubt in my mind about the stereotypes of social work.
R.O.S.E. the young women's group I co-founded
Additionally, what helped was engaging in volunteer opportunities at the local Ronald McDonald House with my house peers and staff, co-founding a young women’s group with my female identifying peers, and expanding sessions at the local Boys and Girls Club with my mentor, and, of course, being supported by staff members. What helped was the encouraging words after tough family conversations, weekly therapy sessions, feeling supported by staff members, and the constant reminder of “Where you are is not where you are going.”
What changed was my belief of what social work actually is; what it feels like to be a client receiving services, and what it feels like to be validated, supported, and encouraged to find my voice.
High school graduation
I found my voice, graduated from the Crossroads program after spending eighteen months there, and enrolled at Lansing Community College until I transferred to Central Michigan University, where I declared my major as social work.
I now had dreams of starting a nonprofit transitional shelter for young women, volunteering my time on numerous alternative spring break trips to give back, and becoming more involved in social justice organizations on campus.
Throughout my college experience, I was now ready to answer the, “Why social work?” questions that, as a young girl, I cringed at the idea of having to explain to others. I learned about the Code of Ethics, about the historic oppression and racial injustice in the United States and its roots in the field, qualitative versus quantitative research (this part wasn’t for me), development of social policy (intriguing, but also not for me), and that Jane Addams was not only a notable figure in the field, but also in the women’s suffrage movement. I was learning, and working my way not only towards my BSW degree, but also towards becoming the role model I never thought I needed. I knew where I was going, and I also knew what areas of the field I didn’t want to venture in; specifically child welfare.
Graduating from CMU
Looking back, I believe I made this decision out of fear of stepping outside of my comfort zone. See, I completed my internship at The Kevin Moody Youth Home, and then was hired as a Direct Care Worker there. I became familiar with working with youth who were “transitional.” I was used to volunteering at nonprofits, working crisis lines, and advocating for domestic violence victims. What I was nervous about was being in a role that would make pivotal decisions in a child’s life. When I applied for the Foster Care Case Manager position at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, I stepped into that fear and reminded myself of how I felt as a kid with no role model to look up to, and how it felt to not have consistency. I challenged myself to be open-minded, and not “change the world,” but to work towards bettering a system that is commonly referred to as broken.
I share my story not to disclose for no purpose, but to reinforce the idea of “Where you are is not where you are going,” and to spread the message across the team members of D.A. Blodgett St. Johns to remember this about the children we work with. Social work is by no means perfect, but it does have the ability to change lives as it did in mine, and it could for our youth as long as we remember three things: consistency, support, and the words of Mahatma Gandhi himself, “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
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About Mariah Arnold
Mariah’s journey at DABSJ began on June 3, 2019. She graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. In the near future, Mariah hopes to go back to earn her Master’s Degree in Social Work – but, it should be noted that she is determined to engage in work experience to expand her skillset before committing to a specific program. From her experience in college, she continues to be passionate about social justice issues related to feminism, and the civil rights of people of color.
In her spare time, she enjoys listening to podcasts related to true crime, women’s rights, and how people of color in the field of social work engage in mentorship. She also likes to stay involved and advocate for social justice issues, and navigate life after college. Her relationship with most of her family has improved, and she continues to have a relationship with her mentor that started 10 years ago at The Kevin J. Moody Youth Home.