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Alum in Focus: Helena D. Lewis

What do you get when you combine a social worker, poet and a playwright? You get Helena D. Lewis, Intensive Weekend and Continuing Education Class of 2014 alum.

Lewis, a social worker with over 20 years of experience in the field, began her career by accident. She received her Bachelors of Biology degree from Rutgers Newark, but was always interested in advocacy work from her time as a sexual health advocate on campus, as well as a family history of HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. Lewis applied to a position as an HIV/AIDS health educator at Integrity, Inc. in Newark. She stayed there from 1995-2001, learning about HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and how to be an effective social worker. Lewis decided that she wanted to earn a Masters of Social Work. From there, she went on to pursue more knowledge, and is now working towards a Certificate in Nonprofit and Public Management from Rutgers SSW Continuing Education program.

“I liked helping people, but there is a difference between helping someone and having a degree, and helping someone without one. You gain informed practices,” says Lewis.

Without the Intensive Weekend program, Lewis says she would never have become a program manager. She also brags about her cohort from IW. All of her classmates were working full-time, still interning and going to class. “I’ve always been a juggler…I’ve always done a million things. Intensive Weekend helped to fine-tune me.”

Lewis began writing poetry after her brother died of AIDS, and achieved acclaim quickly. She joined a slam poetry team, and attended various televised slam poetry events. Through this creative work, her eyes were opened to theater. She wanted to get involved, and attended acting and improv classes. Since then, she has written three plays with themes of social work intimately woven throughout. Her plays are about the day-to-day grid of “trying to do more with less.”

“One constant theme of my shows is the idea of self-care,” Lewis said. “I tell people that if I didn’t do poetry, I would be locked up. I’m convinced. It is the best therapy ever.”

In her plays, Lewis shows the best in social work while advocating for self-care and higher pay for social workers. One of Lewis’ plays, “Call Me Crazy: Diary of A Mad Social Worker,” won Best Short at the 2006 Downtown Urban Theater Festival, and was Festival Pick at the 2010 DC Black Theater Festival. She also won an AUDELCO in Excellence in Black Theater in the Solo Performance Category.

“Ten years from now, will I still be doing social work? Yes, I can’t see myself doing something else. But I might want to start teaching…and I can’t say I’ll ever stop performing,” says Lewis about her future career goals. “Once a writer, always a writer, you know? Once a social worker, always a social worker. I just have to continue balancing the two.”

For more information on Lewis’ poetry and theatrical productions, visit http://hdlpoet.com/. If you are interested in finding out more about the programs that helped Lewis achieve her career goals, check out Intensive Weekend and Continuing Education.

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