We're checking in with our students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends on the front lines of social work during this historic time. We hope their stories will provide many lessons for future generations of social workers. If you would like to share your story, please contact our communications team at email@example.com.
We recently had the chance to speak with Sylvia Bernard, a 2016 graduate of our MSW program. She shares how the current global pandemic is affecting her both personally and professionally and explains how her social work education prepared her for this moment.
What are you currently doing for work?
I am currently working as a Family Engagement and Community Outreach Specialist at Children’s Aid and Family (CAFS). CAFS is defined as the first social service organization in New Jersey since 1899. They focus on providing services and support to vulnerable adults, children, and families in three key areas: foster care and adoption, drugs and alcohol, and children and family services. I am a full-time employee with the foster care and adoption program. I facilitate new parent orientations, focus on state licensing regulation, and work to ensure our parents are in compliance, conduct pre-licensing home inspection, work with licensing on application and renewal processes, assess and evaluate new prospects, and attend community events.
Have you noticed any positive things that have come out of the pandemic?
I think the pandemic has forced us to think about our neighbors; we have developed greater concern about the welfare of others. People are more willing to share and ask for support due to the loss of a friend or family member, and many of them are asking for prayers. I believe that this change will continue for a long time because this pandemic is so traumatic, and the support and sharing is a way for many to cope.
How has social work prepared you to handle this crisis?
At first glance I would say that nothing could have prepared me for this pandemic and the fear that I felt for myself and my family. As I reflect on how I processed being told that our office was closing for an indefinite period of time, my social work skills came to the forefront. How will I service my clients from home? What will they need? How do I support them? What is most important to them? I began putting together contact information, files, and notifying them via e-mail. I acknowledged the severity of the pandemic to them, but I also offered support. I often say, “We are here for you.” I was able to provide them with continued updates on the virus, de-stressing trainings via webinar for parents and children, and resources from local food banks to unemployment offices to free entertainments/concerts. I have also been checking in on how they are coping and reminding them we are available to help. Being a social worker is so ingrained in who I am that my response in crisis is natural, and this is credit to Rutgers School of Social Work.
Are you doing anything specific to help you cope?
I spend more time talking with my teenagers, checking in with them, and cooking the dishes that they enjoy. All of the adults in our home display their cooking skills and take the time to laugh and goof around. I catch up on readings that I have put off, and I integrate some workouts into my week. I also watch old shows and movies – the ones that just make you laugh.
What advice would you give to our students who are dealing with a variety of challenges caused by the pandemic?
Students should try to look at the pandemic as a test that will prepare them for their career and use this as an opportunity to learn that life comes with many challenges. Our approach determines whether we succeed or fail. I would encourage students to tap into the support system that Rutgers offers its students, and to speak with their professors and the deans about any challenges. My preference is a face-to-face learning environment, but versatility and the ability to adapt are some skills that I perfected at Rutgers after being placed in discussion groups with individuals with opposing views and approaches. Students should remember that there will be times that they find themselves in situations that they do not want to be in but have to be in “for the greater good.” I am a VAWC graduate but after my daughter and my mother became ill simultaneously, I had to make a decision to give up a job that I love and enjoy to be available for them. I was able to make this change without needing to change my degree since I was well prepared for both fields.
Students: don’t be too hard on yourselves. Allow yourselves room to be sad, angry, perplexed, and confused, and then question the direction you want to go. Then visualize and materialize. We are here for you.