From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Closing the Semester by Jeni Kanis and Grace Snyder

It seems like just a few days ago we sat down to write you our first blogs, and now, here we are at the end of a whirlwind adventure! We cannot believe all that we have experienced and learned in such a short amount of time. As we come to the close of the semester, we want to explore a few final thoughts.

Looking back, we are so thankful for the wide variety of experiences we have had. Grace had the opportunity to work on several different units in the hospital, interacting directly with patients of all ages and backgrounds to bring them resources and address the needs of their diagnosis in connection with other medical professionals. With this range of experiences, she learned to appreciate working with a diverse group of people like mothers and children and mental health patients.  Jeni got to work with a variety of clients ranging from children to elderly over the course of the semester in addition to working with therapists to provide learning opportunities as well as resources for clients.

By being in the workplace, and having all of these experiences, we learned to appreciate the stress and fulfillment that working in this environment can bring. By working closely with professionals, we learned to take on responsibility and learned to act as professional social workers ourselves. We had the opportunity to ask our supervisors questions and get feedback while observing and eventually leading sessions or assessments.

Our city context also provided us with so many wonderful opportunities to explore, learn and eat. We both were so happy we had the opportunity to wake up in the morning and go on a run or walk which provided different sights and sounds each day. The city seems to always be changing just enough to keep you on your toes. Even though this was a simple pleasure, it was so refreshing to have this opportunity.

As we move on from our semester, Grace is planning to go to graduate school for social work in June, but in the meantime, she is looking into overseas volunteer opportunities related to counseling and resource provision for human trafficking victims. Jeni’s plans are to return to Dordt in the spring, this time as an employee working for the theater department as the technical director. Then she will be getting married in June and exploring opportunities in the Minneapolis area.

Thanks for journeying through the semester with us! We have learned so much and hope this blog gives you at least a glimpse of our experiences.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When Words Fail, the Arts Can Help - by Jeni Kanis

Throughout the semester, as I (Jeni) have been interning at the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA), I have been learning more about what creative arts therapies are and what the term means. 

One might wonder, can’t any therapist use art? Or can’t any artist help people? And to each of those questions, I think the answer is yes, to some extent. There are therapists who might use coloring, role playing or other creative arts methods to work with clients, and there are artists who have been volunteering their time to benefit others.

So what makes the therapists at ITA any different? There are three things I want to share with you (though I am sure there are many more ways to clarify the difference). First, it seems that our therapists focus on the process not the product. For example, an art therapist I work with encourages clients to explore and investigate when using paints. How can we make new colors? How can we use new mediums? What works? What doesn’t? How can we learn from mistakes? When do we know it is time to stop blending and mixing? These kinds of questions and experiments not only expose the clients to the art form, but they also prompt thinking that is related to life decision making. What happens if we act this way? When do I know I need to stop doing something? 

Sometimes, a product does come about that a group can rally around such as the wall I wrote about a while ago at the military event we did. (You can see it at But even this product is focused on the collaborative process of filling in the wall and remembering. It is an opportunity for people to respond and for them to reflect.

Second, the art form is always central to the therapy session. The drama therapist I work with makes the drama central to the content we get from clients. Clients are guided to create stories and connections, but the process of creating the drama is the means by which we are addressing relationships and discovering more about ourselves or about how we relate (or don’t relate very well) to other people. Through the art form and the therapeutic techniques these creative arts therapists know, clients can process things and deal with issues or responses as they arise.

Third, these mediums are used to practice and understand skills that would otherwise go unpracticed or be difficult to practice. For example, a music therapy session might be a way to practice breath–support and memory recall through singing, or it might be about practicing interactive skills by sharing instruments or playing how we feel or incorporating our drum beat in with someone else’s triangle playing.

Overall, I have learned to appreciate the depth of these art forms and the great impact that these creative arts therapies can have. After observing a number of clients from different backgrounds, I agree with a phrase I have heard and seen in the office, “When words fail, the arts can help.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brian Walsh Lecture

What is a home-maker to you? Today we at Chicago Semester had the opportunity to hear about a new, more Biblical definition of home-maker than we have been used to. Brian Walsh, coauthor of Beyond Homelessness spoke of home, homelessness and homecoming.

Brian began by speaking about how home is rooted in the Biblical story and covenant of God. He told the arc of the Biblical story with this concept in mind,  meaning that God is a home-making and home-loving God. This means God partners with his image bearers to restore the home that has been defiled by sin.

Brian went on to talk about our role as Christians in this restoration. He closed with a story about a former student of his. She asked a director of a local charity what she should be doing to help. The man replied that he did not want her volunteerism or her pity for people. Instead he wanted her to be a home-maker in her suburban community.

This meant she opened her home to those around her, inviting them to gather and enjoy community there. She should invite children from the community to play in her yard and eat cookies and milk. If she opened her home for these joyous and simple activities, people would know it was also open if they had trials or frustrations as well.  So the boy thinking about running from home might come to her, or the man so frustrated that he didn’t know what to do might ask her to help, or the woman so flustered that she didn’t know where to turn would have a support. This definition of home-making challenges us to be attentive and to look with eyes opened. We are to be this kind of Biblically defined home-maker in our communities.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Connections at the Zoo" by Jeni Kanis

On Sunday, I (Jeni) had the unique opportunity to help with an event for the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) where I am interning. They work with an organization called Illinois Connections for Families of the Fallen (ICFF). This organization hosts events to connect families of fallen military members to each other and to services.

Sunday’s event was called “Connections at the Zoo.” And I wanted to share with you all one thing that was really amazing and interesting to me. ITA always brings a “wall” to each event. This wall has four wooden panels and space for people to use grout and mosaics. They can write on the pieces, create designs or just fill in as they like. This gives an opportunity for people to commemorate the lost and to create something out of it. 

I was struck yesterday by how art can help us process difficult things like the sudden loss of a loved one. When there are so many questions, emotions, needs and more, art can place something concrete in your hand and empower you to create when you feel powerless. So they could take ownership of what they put on the wall and create something of meaning and value to them. 

Our art therapist, Leslee, shared with me that she knows she cannot fully understand or empathize with these families because their loss is something she cannot begin to imagine or comprehend, but she finds joy in facilitating workshops and in helping with the wall because the families find ways to connect to each other, and because she gets to see families come back and how much they grow and change between events. She shared that she gets to see the healing process at certain points, and it is so encouraging for her to see that.

The event was a great opportunity to see more about what the arts can do in people’s lives, and how arts therapists can have a unique impact that allows people to create when they cannot find the words to discuss what has happened. I am learning that through creating art can come healing. 

 If you want to learn more about these events and where Leslee has taken the wall, you can see the blog at:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pilsen Neighborhood Tour by Jeni Kanis and Grace Snyder

Today, we took a program-wide trip to the diverse and culturally rich neighborhood of Pilsen. First, we split up into separate group tours around the neighborhood to see the amazing murals located on the sides of buildings and to visit different influential sites. We also met back together and went to the National Museum of Mexican Art for a tour of the Day of Dead exhibit. Lastly, we went to the Instituto Del Progreso Latino (IDPL) for a presentation and our program community dinner. 

On my (Grace’s) small group tour, we visited an arts education and career-training program called, Yollocalli Arts Reach. This is a youth initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art that provides a safe and nurturing environment for the youth of Pilsen. As is expressed in their mission statement, Yollocalli is a space for experiential learning, collaboration with emerging artists, and the autonomy for youth to realize their own vision. This youth initiative provides free classes, exhibitions, visiting artists, video screenings, workshops and more!  It was so interesting to see this space and to look at some of the art that was produced by the youth involved. Yollocalli Arts Reach is just one impactful example of the communal and cultural resources for the Pilsen neighborhood. 

At the end of the day, we all met at IDPL. To me (Jeni), the institute just seemed like a school when we arrived. However, after we met with a couple of their staff members, it was obvious that their work included so much more. They work with adults and students in order to give them the experiences they need in order to succeed in the job market. For adults, this means that they find out from employers what skills they need and then they do trainings with the adults. The institute also houses an alternative high school where students can take extra science and math classes in order to prepare for careers in the medical field. The speaker told us that they emphasize and require these extra classes so that students are prepared, not overwhelmed, when they reach college. The organization also works with businesses and other organizations in the community. In addition, people also receive help with applying for and taking classes for citizenship and in all this work IDPL is working for a better community, not just changing individual lives. It was challenging to see the high quality and comprehensive work they are doing in the neighborhood of Pilsen.

This was such a great opportunity to see the rich culture of Pilsen and to learn more about organizations working there to encourage the community to thrive.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Interning at West Suburban Medical Center, by Grace Snyder

Hi, my name is Grace Snyder! I am one of the Social Work students in the Chicago Semester Program. So far my time here in the Windy City has been better than I could have imagined! I cannot believe that it has already been just over 5 weeks since I moved in. In the past several weeks I have come to realize that Chicago, and the Chicago Semester program, has so much to offer.

A large majority of my time is spent at my internship with the Social Services department at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park. Interning in the medical field as a social worker is a very rare opportunity and I feel extremely lucky to be at West Sub. West Suburban Medical Center provides a wide variety of comprehensive medical, surgical and rehabilitation care. Social Services hold a significant role in interacting with patients who receive this care. Specifically, West Sub Social Services provides continuity of care planning, rehabilitation, counseling and long-term care.

Throughout the course of the semester, I will have made rounds to all of the units Social Services covers. These are the Progressive Care Unit, Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, Nursing/Orthopedic Unit, General Medical Inpatient Unit, Sub-Acute Rehabilitation/Skilled Nursing Unit, and Mother Baby/Labor and Delivery Unit.

Working in the hospital setting as a social worker has been a very eye-opening experience. Each day is unpredictable as patients are admitted and discharged. The units are fast past and the work is plenty, almost never-ending! I have been challenged with the presence of ethical dilemmas, confronting emotionally charged incidences, feeling helpless and hopeless for patient situations and simply learning how to do the daily tasks of a medical social worker.

Despite all of the challenges involved in this internship, I have never felt more blessed and content. I love the diversity and large cultural presence seen in the patients and professionals at West Suburban. Directly interacting with patients brings me so much joy. I love the connection that is formed during those times. It is so fulfilling to counsel, listen and be a support when needed.

I am excited to continue to learn and grow at West Sub. I am so grateful for what I have experienced thus far, and am looking forward to what is too come. This internship is educating me on how to perform social work roles effectively, identify strengths and weaknesses, and helping me to recognize what career direction I want to head in the future. Five weeks ago I would have never thought interning would be so impactful. Thank you Chicago Semester!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jane Addams Hull House visit by Jeni Kanis and Grace Snyder

This past Sunday we (Jeni who you heard from earlier this week and Grace who you will hear from next week) toured the Jane Addams Hull House for our practicum class. 

It was really inspirational to be at such an important historic site for the field of social work. The Hull House was started by Jane Addams and others and offered services to immigrants for over seventy years. We were amazed by the breadth of services that were offered to immigrants, they had access to a kiln for pottery, child care, health services, and English classes. They even had the opportunity to teach and share their own skills and crafts.

We were excited about the opportunity to learn about who Jane Addams was and glimpse a bit of her life. We learned about the people who surrounded her and worked with her such as Ellen Gates Star and Florence Kelly. All of these strong women seemed to have a solid understanding of the needs of immigrants and worked endlessly to meet those needs.

One object in the house that exemplified this for us was Jane’s “partner desk.” Jane wanted her desk to be symmetrical so that she and whoever she met with were seeing eye-to-eye and were equally positioned. This helped her to place herself in an empathetic position to her clients, which is something we still try to do as social workers today.  

This experience encouraged us to continue to uphold Jane Addams’ values and vision while we are here in Chicago and in the future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Finding my Role in Chicago by Jeni Kanis

Hello, my name is Jeni Kanis and I am a Social Work and theatre major interning in Chicago this semester. Now that I have been here about a month, I would like to share with you about my experiences and what I am learning. 

Ever since I got here, I have been trying to figure out my role. That seems like a natural struggle when one moves to a new place or finds herself in a new situation. I have found that relationships, situations and places seem to help define roles for me.

One of my major roles this semester is that of being an intern at the Institute of Therapy through the Arts (ITA). This is an organization that provides art, drama, music, and dance/movement therapy; I enjoy being a part of the work because it connects social work and theatre. My tasks range from administrative projects to aiding therapists in sessions; through this variety of experiences I have begun to see and appreciate that there are many aspects to this organization. One of my favorite things about this internship site is that ITA works with so many populations, so I get to see school age children one day and the next I see elderly clients.
Though, there is much to love about this role, it can be difficult to see the obstacles and struggles of clients. Whether they struggle with mobility, income level, behaviors, or something else, I empathize with the struggles and hope that they can use some of the things that the creative arts therapies might help them discover. Sometimes I have gotten to see these clients, some of whom struggle the most, succeed which has been a joy that reminds me of the hope and success that can come from a helping relationship.

I have been talking about roles, and finding my roles here in Chicago. I have loved the process of finding my roles in the last month, but sometimes I feel lost in the search. One of the things that has helped me remember what a student like me might be doing in a city like Chicago has been the scenery on my daily walk. When I walk along the lake shore, I find a never ending horizon of water stretches on my right. It calls to mind the hope I have for right relationships and renewal. On the other side, the city skyline looms large, and I am reminded of daily existence, wrapped in  concerns, joys, hardships, and celebrations of the here and now. For a moment on my walks, I am in between, and I find myself thinking maybe part of my role is to connect the two. 


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ending the semester at Emerson Elementary School by Jenny Henscheid

Well there are about two weeks left in the semester and boy did it go by fast! As a reminder for all of you reading this, I am interning at an elementary school as a school social worker. A school social worker focuses on helping students identify their feelings and the feelings of others; manage their emotions; and problem solve effectively. At my internship, my supervisor and I strive to give our students the opportunity to practice these skills in a safe environment, so that they will be able to use them with confidence both in and out of the classroom. 

We all know that “Bullying” is a hot topic right now. As part of my graduation requirement, I am creating a Bully Prevention Program Manual that will hopefully be implemented in the school. This curriculum guidebook will include seven lesson plans/modules for elementary/middle school that pertain to bullying. While working on this manual, I have been creating posters and bulletin boards to bring awareness to the school. 

Over the last few days, I have been letting the students know that I will be leaving soon. They have been telling me that they do not want me to leave and that they are going to miss me. I am going to miss these children so much. They all have something so special and unique about them. Participating in the Chicago Semester program has been a wonderful opportunity!

Friday, March 23, 2012

A New Sense Of Meaning At Breakthrough Urban Ministries, by Allison Theune

It's over half way through the semester, I'm really comfortable at my internship site, and I'm getting to the point of  utter exhaustion. This is the perfect concoction for complacency and monotony. I sometimes struggle getting up in the morning and have a hard time being excited to leave for work at 6:45 in the morning. I'm starting to recognize that I'm taking everything for granted, and not looking at them as I should. I need to be grateful about the opportunity I've been given. I need to give every guest the patience and time they deserve. I need to serve to the best of my abilities EVERYday, not just when I feel up to it.

Thankfully, the Lord has supplied me with incredible guests to work with at Breakthrough! I continue to be blown away by the amount of optimism and inspiration that I experience from the men and women that walk through our doors each day. Their desire to love and serve the Lord, determination to better their lives, and daily pursuit for justice is incredible! Just today, I met a man that is staying in our men's shelter who would have spoken to me all day if he had had the chance. And although his stories seemed endless, he was a true inspiration in the way he had been able to turn his life around. The way he spoke about God was an incredible testimony in itself. He told me of his past life full of mistakes and consequences but that he has since found peace and comfort in the Lord. He told me that he believes every word in the Bible because he has no choice, it's just the truth. This type of raw faith is so inspiring and genuine.

This example is just one of many encounters that have brought me to a new sense of meaning at Breakthrough. Many of the guests have adopted the lifestyle of taking life one day at a time. They daily thank God for waking them up that day. When was the last time you thanked the Lord for keeping you alive for one more day? I am challenged by this outlook because this faith is so childlike and wonderful. They have no doubt that the Lord will provide for them in His way and in His time. How is it that people living in such despair and desperation can have such a faith? In the world's view, these people should be just that- in despair and desperate. Yet through their need and lack of resources, they are able to not only endure but be hopeful about their future. They truly believe and know that God will provide for them.

This week, Chicago Semester put on a "Hunger Banquet", which helped raise awareness about the homeless and hungry in Chicago. We were able to experience the differences between social classes and to reflect on hunger and need right here in Chicago. Although this has been a common theme for me this semester, I was able to discover more about myself and the world around me. I also hope it brought more awareness to the other students as well! Having the banquet also made me rethink my role at Breakthrough, and how I've allowed my self to become complacent.

So this is where my apathy ends. These last five weeks are going to be full of passion and love for the guests that come in our doors. And I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that they get the services they deserve as well as the personal conversations they need. I'm not here for myself this semester, but for the glory of the Lord. I will allow him to use me as an instrument in his wonderful plan! And I will take moments to notice the small things that can cause so much joy and happiness, such as birds chirping, flowers blooming, and the sun setting.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Living in the City by Jenny Henscheid

Living in the city has been such a fun experience! Using public transportation is great because you can get anywhere! There is also a ton to do, plenty of places to try new food and lots of interesting and new experiences! 

One of the Art Events we went to was at the Chicago Cultural Center. One of the exhibits was “Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection.” This collection showcases over five hundred artworks and artifacts from the collector Richard Harris. There are two major sections: The War Room, which deals with the horrors and reactions to war expressed through art; and the Kunstkammer of Death, a play on the traditional European term for a ‘cabinet of curiosities.’ My favorite piece in this collection was one called “Ring Around the Rosie” the name describes exactly what it is. 

On President’s Day one of my roommates and I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Many of the animals were not out because it was still kind of cold. However, we did see a baby hippo, which was probably the highlight of the trip!

 I also made a trip to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. At the Nature Museum, children can experience nature and science up-close and hands-on through creative art projects, storytelling, animal feedings and more. Even though this museum is for children, I thought it was really interesting. I loved the butterfly pavilion; there were so many different kinds of butterflies.

My internship is at Emerson Elementary School as a School Social Worker. Emerson is in Maywood, a suburb of Chicago. It takes me about an hour and 45 minutes to get there. At my internship, I work with children in grades k-8th who have some form of disability (cognitive, emotional, social, or behavioral). My supervisor and I mainly see these children to check in with their feelings, how school is going, if there is anything going on at home….basically anything they want to talk about we do.  The children are so full of life and so resilient. No matter what is going on in their lives they are still cheerful!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Day in the City by Allison Theune

            This semester has been so much more than the incredible Internship I’m involved with. I’ve ventured across the city from Chinatown in the south to Rogers Park on the north side. There are so many cultures and so much diversity to explore and be a part of! It’s been an incredible semester so far, and each weekend has been another opportunity to be a part of this beautiful city.
            A few weekends ago I had a day full of adventure. My roommate Bekah and I decided to meet up with some Hope students (the school I attend) that were visiting Chicago for the Chinese New Year. We had no clue the day would be filled with so much diversity, or that we would literally cover the entire city throughout the day.
We began the day by attending “Living Stones Church” in Rogers Park for the first time. As we stepped into the front meeting area, we soon discovered that the 10’ by10’ room was in fact the ENTIRE church. We were immediately approached by eager members full of energy and love for the Lord. Although the congregation is small, they are all passionate about their faith and digging deeper to reveal the truth of God. After the service in which there were about 15 people in attendance, there was a short time afterwards that we spent talking to one of the ladies who was encouraging and sort of took us under her wing. We decided this was the right church for us this semester.
As the day continued, Bekah and I took the red line train all the way down to Chinatown for the New Year’s parade. We arrived and met up with some of Bekah’s friends from Hope to watch the festivities. Although it was a relatively short parade, the costumes were fun and the traditions were reflected throughout the parade. As we were leaving to meet up with other Hope students, we even stopped in a small Chinese bakery to buy some Chinese buns for only $1!

Our next stop was West Rogers Park where we explored Little India. We stepped into a clothing store filled with saris and other Indian attire. I was still in Chicago, yet I felt like I had stepped into a whole new world! This is one of the aspects of the city that excites me the most. You can encounter so many cultures, beliefs, languages, and dress. And it continues to blow my mind! We finished up our day with the Hope students by going to the Viceroy restaurant. This beautiful restaurant has a buffet of Indian cuisine that was amazing! With unlimited amounts of vegetable curry, tandoori chicken, and vegetable samosas in my stomach, the evening had ended successfully.
However, the night was not over! Bekah and I then headed downtown to the Museum of Contemporary Art to watch a dance performance by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Bekah had managed to score us $10 student tickets, when the original price was $35 (oh the advantages of being a college student)! Boy am I glad we went! The dancers were such intriguing movers. I was very impressed by their performance of contemporary dance!
With our sore feet and tired eyes, Bekah and I decided to call it a night. Looking back at that day, I felt so blessed to be able to have that experience. Chicago has so much to offer, and even being able to see a glimpse of it made me begin to fall in love. Since that weekend, I have had many other adventures around the city. Only four weeks in Chicago, and I already feel like I’ve been around the world!