From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Great Things Never Come From Comfort Zone

by Ann Hersey

Hi everyone! Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving with friends and family! Wow. It is my final week in Chicago. It may be a cliché, but time really does fly when you’re having fun. It seems like just a couple weeks ago I was riding in the car with my family with the skyline in the distance and my stomach in knots about what the coming semester in the city would bring. Now I have some new friends, learned how to use the CTA bus and train system, and gained professional competence. I adjusted to the city far better than I thought and I’m not sure that I am ready to leave.

I have learned and grown a lot this past semester. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone and am grateful for it. I once read some good advice: “Great things never come from comfort zones.” This proved true for me in Chicago. I am a fairly shy individual unless you know me well and change makes me nervous. I was challenged to lead groups and speak in Spanish among other things that were hard for me. Although the kids didn’t always listen and I didn’t always say the right word, I gained experience and realized that I do have the skills it takes. I encourage you to take the chance on something new, because you never know what might happen.

I feel honored to have been able to work at such a well-established and respected agency as Erie Neighborhood House. Words cannot express how wonderful my experience has been. The staff is so passionate and dedicated to the community they serve. The kids have touched me in many different ways. Their spirit and resiliency amazes me and I am truly going to miss seeing them everyday.

I am also going to miss city life. I love that there is always something to do - a play to see, an art gallery to visit, a festival to attend, a neighborhood to explore, or a new restaurant to try. I will also miss the rich cultural diversity in Chicago. I am incredibly blessed to have had an opportunity to live and work in this beautiful city. I will be back someday without a doubt. Until next time, Chicago!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Take Initiative. The Time is Now!

by Allison Brower

With only three weeks left of this semester I can’t help but think back on all that has happened here in Chicago. My time here has been exactly what the Chicago Semester mission statement says, “Providing students an opportunity to live, learn, and work in Chicago while challenging them to integrate their personal, professional and public lives.” Whether through seminar, supervision at my internship, practicum class or personally I have been able to reflect on where I am in life now and where I want to be. I have realized that in all areas of my life it is time to take initiative and ownership for my future.

My internship at Youth Organizations Umbrella has allowed for many opportunities for me to learn the importance of being proactive. As an intern I was worried about not having enough things to fill my day or feeling like I was actually part of the team. However, I was very wrong. I am more than pleased with the freedom given to me to share and implement my ideas. At the same time, this was not something that was explicitly told to me. I was the one who needed to ask, to share, and then take action. I think this is something that is extremely important not only in an internship, but also in the work place. This learning at my internship has prompted me to take initiative in other areas as well.

This being my last semester of college I have been faced many times with the question, "What's next?" It has not been the easiest to answer because I actually do not know. Despite this, I feel confident that this semester off-campus will make an impact on my marketability. More importantly, I have been able to add my internship to my resume. Through various guest speakers at Chicago Semester I have learned that this experience is such an asset to my future work life. I now have a network of people in Chicago who are resources and references for the rest of my life. Going forward I am excited to use the advice and skills that I have gained while here in Chicago.

While I am thankful for my internship this semester it has meant more to me than just a resume builder. There has been intentional space to reflect on my internship, future vocation, and how my personal values fit into those areas. Currently, I may not have a job, but that does not mean I am without a calling from God. This semester I have discovered more about how I should love people, especially those that are different from me. There will never be a time where I will have it figured out, but in everything I want my life to reflect the grace and love that God has shown to me. I will always be thankful for the opportunities, challenges, and memories made this semester in Chicago. I am looking forward to my future and excited to continue to live out my purpose for the Lord.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Learn. Lead. Create Community.

by Ann Hersey

Learn. Lead. Create community. My internship, Erie Neighborhood House, keeps this motto on their building and it serves as a reminder for me when I come in to work each day. I have been striving to do those three things during my time here. I have really been growing and doing so much that the first part of the semester seems like a blur. I am already over half way done with the semester!

I have been learning so much by being at my internship. One topic that I have learned a lot about is immigration. I have seen firsthand how immigration policy directly affects our clients. When President Obama delayed immigration action again until after the November election, the community of West Town was outraged. Erie released a statement that they are extremely disappointed and angry about the President’s decision to delay action and feels it is a slap in the face for the community’s many immigrants.

I am trying to take more of a leadership role at my internship. I have led a team-building activity that taught the kids about communication and working together. I have begun a research project where I created a new parent needs assessment for the youth program, YOU (Youth Options Unlimited), to use when they enroll a child. I will be giving the sample to a group of kids for one of their parents to fill out. We hope to find out what the YOU program is doing well and what it needs to improve or add to make it more helpful.

Creating community is something that I see happening at my site each and every day. It is a place where anyone is immediately welcomed no matter what one’s background or the baggage one carries. The kids get a safe place to come learn, have fun, and make lasting friendships. Erie is a place where the neighborhood can grow together and receive the services they need. I am truly blessed to be working in such an amazing organization.

Outside of my internship I have had a lot more fun adventures! My Social Work seminar class visited the Humboldt Park neighborhood together. We were given a tour of the Paseo Boricua, a Puerto Rican themed street, visited a church in the area, and ate some delicious Puerto Rican food.

I have also gone to the Field Museum and National Museum of Mexican Art, went to the Great Chicago Fire Festival, eaten in Greek Town, and took an architectural boat tour on the Chicago river just to name a few. I am looking toward the last half of the semester with an open heart and mind and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for me!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Building Relationships in Chicago

by Allison Brower

Hello, my name is Allison Brower. Currently I am a senior at Hope College (Holland, MI) and am spending my last semester doing Chicago Semester. My Social Work internship this semester is at Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) in Evanston, IL. Already a month has flown by with so many fun activities and learning experiences. The thing that sticks out most from my experience so far is the relationships I have made.
At my internship I work as a YOUth Serve Member working with middle school students in an after-school program. The program meets everyday in the school cafeteria where we have an hour of homework. Then we cross the street to a church basement to have snack and finish the last hour with enrichment groups and life skills. Seeing the students everyday has really helped in getting to know them. A favorite moment with the students was when we went to a Northwestern football game. We had a wonderful time watching the game, eating food, and having fun just hanging out! The students are such an honest, carefree, and outgoing bunch that I have loved working with them.

Another group of people that I have enjoyed getting to know is my team at Y.O.U. We call ourselves #Team Chute. Working alongside these staff members I have learned things about myself and how to better work with others. Everyday consists of planning the program with one another where we share our ideas, opinions, and passions that we have for working with youth. Nothing is ever going to be picture perfect in the workplace, but my experience so far has been full of positive and exciting experiences.

And of course, I can’t forget the first people I met when I arrived in Chicago -- my classmates! The list of things to do in Chicago is endless and you can bet that we are all trying our best to do it all. One of the first weekends some friends and I enjoyed a White Sox vs. Tigers game (yay, MI). Then mid September a group of us enjoyed food together in a Progressive Dinner that Chicago Semester planned for us. And as smaller groups we have bonded over trying new restaurants, visiting breweries, hitting up Yogurtland, and attending church with one another.

Overall, my time in Chicago has been a semester to remember! I am looking forward to continuing building relationships with people, learning more about myself, and trying new things. Below I have listed some great tips that have been helpful for me while in Chicago!

5 things to do with a new (or old) friend (especially while in Chicago!)
        Take a selfie with them
        Eat a meal with them
        Go to a sporting event
        Try a new beer with them
        Attend a concert together

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Getting Settled in the Windy City

by Ann Hersey

Hello everyone! My name is Ann Hersey and I am a Social Work student at Hope College in Holland, MI. I moved into my tiny studio apartment a little over a month ago and time is flying by! Although it’s small, it’s furnished, safe, and in a great location in the Gold Coast. My roommate and I get along really well, which is a huge relief. The first week was filled with orientation activities, learning to use the CTA public transportation, and getting to know the other students in the program.

This fall semester I am doing my practicum with Chicago Semester. I am interning at a nonprofit organization in West Town called Erie Neighborhood House that works primarily with Latino immigrants. The organization was founded in 1870 and is the oldest “settlement house” still providing services (sadly, Jane Addams’ Hull House closed a few years ago). Erie provides an extremely long list of services to clients, including early childhood education, after school programs, ESL classes, citizenship and immigration services, technology programs, workforce development, and much more. I work in the YOU (Youth Options Unlimited) department, an after school program for youth ages 12-18.

A typical day for me will involve administrative work in the morning. For example, making sure client files are up to date in their folders and in the computer. In the afternoon, I am with the kids for the rest of the day. The kids have to do at least 45 minutes of homework and I help out during this time with any questions the kids have and keeping them focused. The kids can hang out, use the computers, play video games, or go to the gym/outside for the rest of the time. These first few weeks I have been trying to get to know the kids better. It has taken a while for some of the kids to open up, but each day the kids get more used to having me around. This past Friday  some of the high school students planned a party to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. We played pin the tail on the donkey, danced, hit a piñata, played a Hispanic bingo game, and ate amazing Latino food made by the parents.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I work in the Citizenship and Immigration department. I am assisting clients with the Application for Naturalization, a very long and detailed 21 page form! I am learning so much about immigration and the citizenship process. Every day that I spend in this department makes me thankful that I was born a U.S. citizen, because the naturalization process is long, selective, and confusing.

With that being said, my first month in the Windy City hasn’t been all work and no play! I have done a lot of sightseeing and exploring. I have been to Navy Pier, The Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, The Lincoln Park Zoo, Jane Addams’ Hull House, a local farmer’s market, and the beach to name a few. I love to eat and Chicago has no shortage of great food and restaurants to try. I have had delicious Chinese food in Chinatown and classic Chicago deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s. There are so many things to do in this city and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the semester brings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Semester wrap-up by Mark Davis and Kirsten Harms

Hello Jenna’s blog’s followers!  Today, we (Kirsten and Mark) are guest bloggers who are going to wrap up the semester for you.  We are both senior social work majors at Trinity Christian College and are participating in Chicago Semester with Jenna, and we would like to give you a little overview of where we have been interning and how the semester has been coming to a close.

Mark:  I have been interning at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Illinois.  This internship has enabled me to gain further insight as to what it is like to be a medical social worker.  Over the course of the semester, I have been learning about what it is like to perform social work assessments/initial evaluations, discharge planning, and consults related to domestic violence, substance abuse, psychiatric, and child/elder abuse.  These experiences have shaped my understanding of the social problems that are impacting neighborhoods in the Chicago-land area.  I have experienced many difficult and troubling situations, but it is a joy to see God working in these times.  My worldview and foundation have been strengthened and are an essential aspect in helping me to be a successful intern.  I have really appreciated being a part of the social service department at West Suburban and it has been a joy to be a part of such a wonderful staff.

Kirsten: I have been interning at the Council for Jewish Elderly’s Adult Day Services program (ADS) in Evanston, Illinois this semester.  Over this semester, I have learned a lot about myself and working with the elderly.  My confidence has grown exponentially as I built relationships with the elderly clients, led groups such as the Feelings Group, and worked with the social worker and the nurse on staff in care plan meetings.  The Adult Day Services program is a welcoming and joyful place for elderly to come to during the day and be able to socialize, participate in activities, and feel loved, and I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of that for one semester.  Throughout my time at ADS and Chicago Semester in general, I was exposed to a lot of diversity on a daily basis, which opened my eyes to new experiences and made me grow in my own faith and relationship with God.  Participating in Chicago Semester as my last semester in my college career has helped me to grow not only as a professional social worker but also as a Christian.

As the semester comes to a close, we would both like to say that we are very thankful that we had the opportunity to do Chicago Semester.  It has been an amazing experience not only interning in Chicago but also living in the city as well.  We have had many fun opportunities in Chicago such as going to a Cubs game, exploring museums, experiencing neighborhoods, attending church in the city, and eating in historic places such as the John Hancock Building.  We are appreciative of what Chicago Semester has done for us, and we are looking forward to the end of the year celebration dinner tonight in Greek-town!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Experiencing Chicago as a Tourist, by Jenna Harms

These past few weeks, I have been a tourist in the city of Chicago. There have been many touristy activities that I have been a part of but it has really helped me gain an appreciation for the city. I had a friend visit me on President’s Day and we went on an adventure to Chinatown and walked around and enjoyed some authentic Chinese food. We then went to the top of the Hancock and had dessert while enjoying a great view of the city. After that we enjoyed a walk to Navy Pier.

While it has not been entirely warm here, I try to take advantage of the warm days as best as I possibly can even when warm means that it is like 35 degrees outside. I have also been to some awesome theater events through the Chicago Semester fine art events option. In two weeks I got to go to Chicago the Musical which was really cool to go to because of its roots in Chicago. We also were given the opportunity to go the production called Heartbeat of Home which had Irish dancing that was phenomenal. It was great to get to see this production so close St. Patrick’s Day.

Speaking of St Patrick’s Day, Chicago has some cool events that happen that weekend. They are known for the dying of the river.  I attended this event with a couple of friends. It was fun to cheer on the guys pouring dye into the river and watching it turn a bright green. After that we ventured over to the parade for a while and heard some great marching bands and saw men in skirts.

I also was given the opportunity to attend a Bulls game at a discounted price through Chicago Semester. It was so much fun to get to go and watch a team that I had grown up hearing about. I had never been to a professional sporting event before so this was great.

I have gotten to do many other things this semester but these last two weeks have been jam packed with activities that have given me a better view of the city. My internship is still going great, each and every day I learn something new and get to experience a new thing.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hull House and Heartland, by Jenna Harms

A couple weeks ago for our social work class, we got to go to the Hull House and see and learn about how Jane Addams impacted the city of Chicago. I was so excited to get to go to this place because of how much I had learned in all of my social work classes about her and all of the wonderful things she had done. When I was there I was amazed! The buildings, the complexities of the programs, and all of the people that were impacted by this impressed me so much and made me want to practice social work even more than I already do.

It was also really cool to learn about all of the immigrants that the Hull House served. When we were leaving, our coordinator pointed that out to us. It was awesome to imagine people arriving to the city, walking to the Hull House and getting help settling into the city.

I love this, because this is what I am doing with my internship at Heartland Alliance as well. I get to welcome people into the United States some of the first days they are here and help them receive services. Within the next two weeks, the organization that I am interning for will help settle approximately thirty refugees and I get to be a part of that. I will learn about their hopes and dreams during their intake, I will learn about their health during their home visits, I will get to help them apply for Public Aid and Social Security, and I will get to see the pride in their face when they receive their state identification.

A couple weeks ago, I got to take a couple people to receive their state ID. They were so proud when they had this permanent piece of identification in their hands. They showed everyone around them. Witnessing activities like these makes me kind of feel like a proud parent – and I think that is a good thing in the profession of social work. Our clients essentially become our children.

No I am not a parent and I know I am far away from being a parent, but I know from how I was raised that parents teach and help along the way and eventually they let go and let their children go on their own. That is what I have been doing, I have been teaching and helping participants to become accustomed to living in this country and soon I will be letting them go off on their own. Some days I wonder what the future holds for these participants and if I will ever run into them in the future. I hope that happens because I am eager to hear about how their hopes and dreams that they communicated in the initial intake interview came true.

I really like what Jeremiah 29:7-14 says:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

The Lord is with us and He will guide our steps. He will guide the participants of Heartland Alliance, He will guide me, and He will guide you to where you were meant to be in life.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Broken Stereotypes by Jenna Harms

My name is Jenna Harms and I am a Social Work and Political Science major from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. This semester I am doing my social work practicum with Chicago Semester. I am interning at an organization called Heartland Alliance. They are an organization that assists refugees in the United States. I am interning in the section of their organization called Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) in their Resettlement and Placement department (R&P). The department that I am in works with refugees for the first 90 days that they are in the United States. This means that we organize and communicate with the government or their U.S. ties (UST) before they arrive arranging housing, food, and airport pickup for when they first arrive.

With that said on my first day, I was given the opportunity to go shopping at Target (something that I love doing anyway) for apartment supplies that we did not have on hand at the office. Then I helped set up the apartment for a family that would be arriving the next day. Now that I have been interning for three weeks on Wednesday, I can pretty much do all of the tasks that are required of my position. These tasks include: apartment setups, shopping for furnishings and groceries, conducting home visits when participants have been here for a week, 30 days, and 90 days, conducting intakes for new families, teaching participants how to use the CTA, taking participants to apply for public aid and social security, and taking participants to the clinic. Other responsibilities include writing case notes, sending emails to providers, calling participants, creating files for new participants, and much much more. Check out their website when you have time: It is never a dull moment at my internship! Each day I learn something new.

During my internship so far, I have had some of my personal stereotypes torn down. I knew before starting my internship that I would be working with people from the Middle East such as people from Iraq. Honestly, I was scared to be alone with them because of all of the bad things you hear about people from the Middle East. I am not really sure what I was exactly afraid of,  looking back on this situation, but my fear has since disappeared. The other day I was given the task of teaching three Iraqi men in their mid 20's how to use the CTA (public transportation) back to our office. I had to travel to their apartment alone and ride back with them. So I did that and it was great. I have been in multiple situations where this population of people have been so respectful towards me. They always hold the door open, always let me walk ahead of them. One time one of the participants tried to stop me from crossing the street when we had the "walk" sign because he was afraid I was going to get hit.

I have heard stories from participants about times when they have been alone and struggling here in the States. Because of confidentiality I am not going to describe specific situations but I have another request for you. Please help out your neighbor no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they look like. When you see someone in need help, do not just pretend like you are not home.

My semester though has not just been all work! I have had time to have some fun. Each week my roommates and I try a different ethnicity of food at a non-chain restaurant. So far we have had burgers, Chinese, and Mexican food. If anyone knows of any great restaurants to try out in this city we are always open for suggestions. I have attended an improv show, a play at the Lookinglass Theater, observed animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo, ice skated at Millennium Park, gone to the Field Museum on a field trip, and done lots of shopping! Below you can see some pictures from these events. I have mastered the CTA so if anyone would like to visit I know how to get us around by avoiding traffic. One of my prayers has been answered because I have also found a church that I am planning on calling my home for the next four months.