From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

There’s No Place Else I’d Rather Be

by Aleesa Ribbens

Termination. It is a process that has been talked about often throughout the course of my social work education. It is an important method of smoothly and successfully bringing your work with a client to an end. Although it is a term that I am familiar with, it was not until this past week that I had to put it into practice.

Last Friday marked the last day of my internship at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. The weeks leading up to it were occupied with making sure my clients knew that I was leaving and that they were being transferred to another social worker upon my departure. It was also a time for me to tie up the loose ends on various projects I had been working on. I knew going into this semester that termination was important when it comes to working with clients, yet I am starting to realize that it is also important for the social worker; these past few weeks have also been filled with wrapping up my course work, reflecting on these past four months, saying goodbye to the friends I have made, and preparing to go home and graduate.

Recently I was asked whether or not it has been challenging for me to be away from my home college the last semester of my senior year. I will admit that when I first decided to participate in the Chicago Semester, it was challenging for me to transition out of Hope a semester earlier than I had anticipated. But as I look back, this semester has been full of new adventures and an immense amount of growth both personally and professionally.

Each week, I spent thirty-six hours interning at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. In addition to my internship, I took two classes at the Chicago Semester office downtown. It was the perfect transition from the classroom into the working world. Through my placement, I slowly stepped into the “real world” by taking on new responsibilities and working toward becoming a professional social worker. I was able to shadow experienced social workers as they carried out their work, plan and implement a series of Life Skills classes, and eventually reached a point where I was able to take on cases of my own. As I slowly eased into a professional role, I am tremendously grateful to have had a supervisor to help guide my practice. Through weekly supervision I was able to seek positive and genuine feedback on the work that I was doing, ask for help on projects that I was in charge of, and was pushed to become more confident in who I am as a social worker.
In addition to gaining confidence and competence in a professional setting, I am grateful for the richly diverse context the city of Chicago provided to both work and live in. As a self-proclaimed foodie wannabe, having one of the nations largest culinary playgrounds at my fingertips was pure bliss. Some of my favorite restaurants were The Bongo Room, DMK Burger Bar, and Joy Yee Noodle.

Weekly arts event outings provided a break from the working world and allowed students to relax with each other and take in well-known performances such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Joffrey Ballet, and the Shakespeare Theatre at an affordable price. In addition to the food and the arts, I will miss little things like riding the Red Line to class, late night trips to Yogurtland for frozen yogurt, and mid-evening walks through Lincoln Park.

Next month will bring on a slew of life changes for me. I am moving back to Holland, Michigan and will be graduating from Hope College. I will have three short weeks to sift through my belongings, pack up my stuff, and move to Fairfax, Virginia where I have accepted a yearlong internship working at a respite care facility for children with special needs. As I terminate this period of my life, I look back at this semester and incredible opportunities the Chicago Semester has presented me with. While this might have been one of the most challenging semesters of my life, it has also been one of the greatest. I have developed a great appreciation and love for the city of Chicago and hope to move back someday soon. There’s no place else I’d rather be.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Life Changes

by Kristin Kujawa

Life is but a breath. This phrase from James 4:14 has been brought to my attention recently in several situations.
A friend of mine passed away tragically in a fiery car crash on Good Friday. He was 28 years old and in a matter of seconds his life on this earth was gone and he is home with his Savior. James Sauter was a man full of energy and impact with a promising future ahead of him. In a moment, because of another man’s mistake, his life was taken. Though his time was short, his influence on so many others' lives was evident by the thousands who gathered to pay their respects. As I was thinking about the situation, it brought to mind the verse I Peter 1:24 “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field: the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of Lord will stand forever.” We do not know what tomorrow holds, we do not know how short our life will be. We can be called home anytime. So we must make the most of the time God grants us on this earth.
As I was reflecting about this quick end of a life, I realized that my time at my internship is coming to an end quickly. Though it is ending, I feel like my time here has really just begun. I have just begun getting to know a number of my participants and feel comfortable with all the staff. The reality of life is that you are here for a moment. But during that time you will impact so many people. One of my favorite life verses that I choose to live by is Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” The question that I continually ask myself not only in my internship but on a daily basis is, am I giving my all to serve him? Because this life is short, time moves quickly, and that is something that we cannot get back. We need to choose to live each day giving thanks to God the Father and doing His work while we are here.

Life quickly changes and this is has been more evident as of late even throughout the country. There is threat of war from North Korea, the bombings in Boston, crazy weather across the country; each reminds us that we cannot control everything. Through all of life’s changes we need to look to the Creator and the Omnipotent One. He is the only one who understands, because He holds the world in his hands.
As we look to the future as graduating seniors or returning to our colleges for another year or two, be reminded that what we are here for only a short time. We can choose to live our lives as a testimony of what He has accomplished, making an eternal impact for the kingdom, or we can focus on worldly success. The question is what will you do with the time He gives you?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From Course Material to Internship Experience

by Alicia Curtis

During this semester, I have learned a lot about what it means to be a professional social worker. While I was home during the long Easter weekend, I took time to look through a few of my previous course materials. In my “Working with Diverse Populations” course, self-awareness as a clinician was highly talked about. One particular quote given to us by our professor continues to stick out to me this semester: “Culturally aware social workers will test their stereotypes by being aware of them, open to new experiences, receptive to new ideas, capable of looking at old facts in new ways, and willing to change old stereotypes if the hypotheses do not hold.” It is important for me to be aware of this, but even more so to be aware of how my words and actions display my own personal values and thoughts. Being aware as a counselor is extremely necessary including my values, biases, stereotypes, and assumptions about human behavior.

For instance, an assumption that I have had is that many times when kids do not do well, it is because they are not trying hard enough. At the agency I am working at, however, they follow the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention motto, which says “kids do well if they can.” Many of the clients I work with lack the proper skills to achieve certain tasks, not the motivation. The clients throughout their lives have tried to learn, be a part of families and to behave properly but there have been many barriers holding them back including environmental issues such as not having adequate resources. As a social worker, I have learned to look past the stereotype that kids do well if they try, and instead look to the core of the problem to help the clients succeed.

During my time as a social work intern, I have learned many important elements of how to exhibit high standards of professional behavior and competence. There have been many different ways in which I have witnessed, learned and exhibited these professional qualities. A few of the experiences that have helped me to acquire these skills include the learning contract, my personal supervision time, and the people I work with.

The learning contract has helped me to achieve professional competence by providing specific guidelines to achieve to proficient standards. To do so, takes skill, training and observations of other workers partaking in similar tasks. Creating specific tasks to assist in acquiring specific skills sets is another way the learning contract has helped me to direct practice.

Supervision time this semester has allowed me to discuss ethical dilemmas in a confidential and appropriate work setting. I have also been able to talk through my own skill gaps when working with clients and have been able to ask for specific feedback as well as suggestions to improve my professional skills. During times of principled decision making, I am able to apply the ethical reasoning my supervisor has discussed with me. From my supervision I have also learned more about the values, mission and current goals of my agency, which assists in aligning my behaviors, boundaries and communication styles as well as roles to fit the current atmosphere.

The people I work with display many professional qualities and competencies that are necessary for success in social work. My co-workers are extremely empathetic with clients, which is a major part of direct practice. They are also able to maintain strong professional boundaries and seem to truly understand their role, as well as tolerate ambiguity among themselves when resolving issues. They are constantly engaging, assessing, intervening and evaluating clients. Also, they are able to intervene through helping clients to initiate actions to achieve organizational goals as well as helping clients to resolve problems.

Overall, I have learned many professional skills and competencies at my internship site. This semester has helped me to apply the NASW Code of Ethics in practical experiences. Each day I am encouraged to seek further professional skills, behaviors and competencies. Being able to apply the different skills and information I learned from my classes into this internship has been a major blessing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The City of Neighborhoods"

by Aleesa Ribbens

“Welcome to Chicago, the city of neighborhoods.”

This is something I was told on the first day of orientation. Over the past two months, I have learned that the city of Chicago is broken up into over 200 different neighborhoods, each one with its own unique identity.

Never one to turn down an adventure, I have spent a large amount of time exploring what this city has to offer. Between attending a ballet and a symphony in The Loop, venturing out to a Friday night jazz club in Wicker Park, going on late night Taco Bell runs to Wrigleyville, attending an a cappella competition in Hyde Park, meeting up with friends for ice cream in Andersonville, and walking through the zoo or hanging out in local coffee shops in Lincoln Park, each neighborhood offers a rich variety of things to do.

What I was not told on the first day of orientation is that Chicago is also a city of segregated neighborhoods. Through both experience and conversations with native Chicagoans, it is obvious to many that the northern neighborhoods are predominately Caucasian, the southern are African American and the western are a blend of Caucasian, Hispanic and African American neighborhoods.

This semester, I have been blessed by the opportunity to intern at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, an agency that is dedicated to serving residents of Chicago who live 150 percent below the poverty line by providing them with free legal aid in the areas of housing and family law, criminal defense and criminal records. CGLA takes its work a step beyond legal services and uses a holistic approach by providing case management to clients in hopes of finding the root of a person’s legal problems and preventing recidivism.

Through my internship, I have had opportunities to travel to the neighborhoods Englewood, Back of the Yards, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Logan Square and Austin. For the most part, these neighborhoods are comprised of low-income African American or Hispanic populations. This is a stark contrast to the Gold Coast, the neighborhood where I reside, which is known to many as the most affluent neighborhood in the city.

As a social work student, I have been fascinated to see the strengths and the brokenness that exist in each of the neighborhoods that I have ventured to. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if these neighborhoods gathered together to walk through life, or what would happen if the people who live in the north chose to fight against the injustices that those living in the south and the west deal with every day.

Despite the segregation that exists within Chicago, I believe that there is beauty and strength within every race, culture and neighborhood. By taking the time to experience the diversity this city has to offer, I have been able to hear stories I had never heard before and have come to realize what a rich blessing it is to go to work each day with colleagues who are committed to seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before our Lord.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Working With a "Forgotten Population"

by Kristin Kujawa

When I originally accepted my placement at the Casa Central Adult Wellness Center, I knew from my time at Calvin College that I would be able to fulfill the passion I have to help the elderly. I was excited to use my social work skills and share my heart with this forgotten population.  As I built rapport with my agency, the participants began to feel comfortable enough with me to share stories about themselves. This is when I began to realize with these specific people that the ‘forgotten population’ terminology was twofold.

I first realized that it was more than just being forgotten about by family. They are also forgotten about because they are immigrants.  As many people have read or seen in the news, immigration is a hot topic, especially in Chicago.  Immigration is a word commonly heard discussed by the majority of the participants with their story soon to follow.  Each participant has a unique immigration story.  While the majority went through similar processes, each participant has a very different outlook on their time adjusting here. For many of the participants this is recent. Adjusting to Chicago life is new and strange, and now they are faced with new laws and constant reminders that they are immigrants. They also all came in hopes to spend time with their children and family, yet they found many to be too busy with the American way of life.  They find that they are forgotten here as much as in their home country, but now they have to try to understand a new language and culture. I realize how forgotten these people must feel, but it is encouraging to see them surrounded by a support group of people who have similar situations to themselves.
As I enter my internship each day, I am reminded of why I am there as soon as I see one of the participant’s smiling faces.  I know that God gave me a passion for this population for a reason. I know that although I am only at my internship for a short amount of time, I can be His hands and feet at Casa Central.  I pray every day on the Blue Line into my internship that I will be able to encourage someone today and show them the love of Christ. As Christians and social workers, we can model our practice off of Christ’s example. His greatest commandment was to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Matthew 22:37-38, NIV). I view these people as my neighbors.  My prayer is that I am an example of Christ to the participants at the Casa Central Adult Wellness Center.

My name is Kristin Kujawa and I am a senior social work major at Calvin College who has the privilege of participating in Chicago Semester.  Thank you for taking the time to read!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Breath of Fresh Air

by Alicia Curtis

Hi, my name is Alicia Curtis and I am a Social Work major interning in Chicago. I am currently in my fourth week of living in the Windy City and would love to share a little bit of my journey with you.

My biggest fear before arriving in Chicago was that I would feel claustrophobic from the combination of being around people while riding public transportation, and the studio apartment that I share with a roommate. This fear, however, has not come true and to this day I feel much more free and invigorated in this city than I was expecting.

To begin, my internship is at a residential children’s facility. The facility provides schooling, art and music therapy, yoga, counseling and case management to their clients. As an intern, my role is to help clients learn proper behavior and social skills for their age. During this time I have learned appropriate client boundaries as well as how to have a therapeutic relationship with clients. Observing and knowing when to intervene in various situations is of great importance at this site. As I have been learning the daily routines of the organization, the staff has been extremely supportive and encouraging, which has put me at great ease.

When I’m not at the placement, I thoroughly enjoy the many sites there are to see around Chicago. The number of free museums and attractions is something to take advantage of!  Last weekend, I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory with a couple of friends. Walking in the midst of such unique agriculture from the Blushing Bromeliad to the Cinnamon Prickly Pear, our lungs were quickly filled with crisp oxygen. Only our brilliant Creator could create the sheer variety of plants from the Fishtail Palm Tree to the Red-Veined Prayer Plant. God has filled the Earth with such detailed beauty, and walking around this beautiful and free conservatory was a wonderful event for a Saturday afternoon.


Overall, these four weeks have caused me to grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined. From navigating a new city, getting acquainted at my internship and exploring various attractions, I have found much joy in exploring the Windy City. This semester, although challenging at points, has been like a wonderful breath of fresh air!