Coming Full Circle


Over the past few years, there have been two or three occasions where I've been required to write one of those broad essays detailing why I was pursuing a social work degree, what inspired me, etc. You know, like a college application essay. My essays always focused on a service trip I went on in high school, with my youth group, called Appalachia Service Project (ASP). While I didn't recognize it at the time, these trips to Kentucky and West Virginia really changed me in a profound way, and both directly and indirectly lead me to where I am today. Here's a little blurb from one of those essays:

..."Looking back, I suppose I can pinpoint the exact event in my life that sensitized me to social injustice and inequality, and made me realize that I wanted to help others. It was a week-long volunteer trip called Appalachia Service Project that I participated in during the summer of my freshman year in high school. The mission of the service trip was to spend a week repairing families’ homes in the most rural and impoverished parts of the Appalachian Mountains. In preparation for this trip, I spent weekends volunteering for Habitat for Humanity learning the skills of home building and repair, and washing cars to raise the needed funds. Once I finally arrived in Kentucky that summer, I could not believe that I was still in the United States; the poverty and dire housing conditions were way beyond any training or expectations I had. I could not believe that 11 people lived in a two-room house with no running water and no electricity! How could people, right here in the United States, be living in such unbelievable squalor?

At the end of the service week, I felt empowered by my contribution to one family’s quality of life; however, I knew it would never be enough. I knew that their problem was not merely a leaky roof, but rather a representation of the deep inequalities that persist in our nation. I didn’t know it then, but a fire was kindled in my heart that week in the mountains of Kentucky that is still burning strong today.

I returned home from that experience with a new awareness of my own privilege and it forever changed how I saw the world. I could not understand how I lived in a house where the foyer was larger than the actual homes of most people I met in Kentucky. It did not take long before I realized that I didn’t have to travel to Kentucky to experience vast inequality; it became clear to me that it was occurring in varying levels all around me" .... yada yada yada.

I say all of this because yesterday I went to Temple's Career Center to have my resume reviewed and when I took out a copy of my old resume from years ago, the woman helping me pointed to where it said "Appalachia Service Project" in the volunteer experience section and said, "I used to work for them!" We got to talking about the specifics of her work with the organization and my experiences as a volunteer. She was based in Kentucky, my first trip was to Kentucky. She asked me what group I went with, and I couldn't remember the name of the church, so I just said, "It was a group from Ridgefield, CT". Her eyes got big and she said, "I had a group of people from Ridgefield, CT working under me, um let's see, yeah, Mark P., Kelly G., Laura F., and Paul F., yeah", and I'm like, "are you kidding me? Not only do I know those people, but those people are all significant in some way. Mark P.? I had a major crush on him that started on ASP. Kelly G.? She was a good friend in high school, and again, we shared some good ASP times together. The F. family? They were my neighbors for years, we lived on Nursery Rd. in Ridgefield, CT."

It was an amazing coincidence, and it was the first time that these two distinctly different worlds connected. Well, they've always connected for me personally, but for them to connect via other people, all these years later, was really amazing. Especially because my visit yesterday was essentially my last visit to Temple, and will serve as the springboard for my post-grad career. So, since my experience with ASP was ultimately a guiding force in my decision to pursue the social work path at Temple, it felt serendipitous that my last experience at Temple should happen to involve a little ASP, back where it all began. Like a perfect circle.

First Hour


It's a beautiful Saturday morning. I wake up and greet the day, and Jay. We had a coffee-pot malfunction / explosion, so I decide to walk up to the Avenue to get coffee from Infusion. The day is still young, but I can already feel the heat and humidity rising; I can almost feel the heat in the sidewalk through my black flip-flops. I look down at the pavement and admire it for a moment. I think to myself how resilient it is; how not too long ago it was under 3 feet of snow, and now it is absorbing summer city heat. I feel grateful for the sidewalk and wish it well. "Hang in there today, it's gonna be a hot one".

I get to Infusion and order an ice coffee. The woman behind me asks, "what size?" I hate that question. It's a perfectly legitimate question, but sometimes it's hard enough to decide what to order let alone what size. When did sizes start, anyway? What ever happened to a standard cup of coffee? I digress. Anyway, indecision fills my mind, "do I go for a small? do I really need a large?" And like always, I go for the middle and order the medium. I grab a copy of the local paper, the Mt. Airy Independent, and decide to sit out on the Avenue and absorb the scene. I sit on the glider bench outside of Scoop and the Video Library and sip and glide and read and watch the morning unfold on Germantown Ave. I am always walking to and fro on this stretch of road, but rarely do I just sit and sip and glide and watch, so I feel happy, peaceful, grateful.

I head home, admiring the gardens and adorable tiny parcels of land that some people have as yards. I run into a neighbor, we chat briefly and wish each other a great weekend. I walk up the steps to my house and sit on the front porch and soak in our own little front yard oasis. Despite the cars and buses, all I hear are the birds chirping and the wind chime blowing in the breeze. I look at the garden and think of the snowman that stood there a few months ago, and how the garden was buried under heavy ice and snow. Like the pavement, I feel impressed by the resiliency of nature. It always regenerates; it always comes back.

I smile and think of myself, because like the garden, I am resilient. Not too long ago, I was buried under a different type of heaviness, and at times felt frozen and like my Spring would never come. Now I feel liberated and free and happy, and me. I feel grateful for the coffee and the sun and the breeze and the glider swing and the paper and the pavement and the snowman and all things that have lead to this moment.

And this was the first hour of my day. Not bad for a first hour. And something tells me it's just gonna get better from here...

The Calm After the Storm


A little over a month ago I finished school. Woo!

One month ago today I jumped out of a plane. Double Woo!

Three weeks ago we took an amazing trip through Colorado and Utah. Wowie Zowie!

One week ago I was frantically wrapping up my work assignments for my job that is ending. Yip Yip!

Four days ago my siblings and I conducted an oral history project with my parents. Zing Zong Zap!

And today... stillness. Nothingness. Total calm.

Now that school and all of the post-grad plans are complete and are in the rear-view mirror, it's officially time to dig in and start the job search.


I'm still working on my resume and have an appointment at Temple's career center next week to have it reviewed, so until then I'm engaging in what I call "job search lite", ya know, quietly perusing the job listings and making mental notes, but not taking any action. It's kinda like when you have a job but you still look at what else is available, just in case. And after spending all morning looking through the listings, I can confidently say this: 97% of the listings underwhelm me.

But that's okay, because I know exactly where I want to work
, so the vast majority of jobs can keep underwhelming me because I know where I belong. Now I just have to convince the organization that I belong with them ;) That should be interesting.

So until my resume is up to snuff and I land the job I want, I'm going to enjoy "job search lite" and the calm that goes with it. No papers due, no group meetings, no deadlines, no 40 page articles to read, no presentations to prep, no internship, no nothing. I have two plans this week: one involves happy hour, and the other involves a walk in the woods and a picnic. Ahh, now this is how I envisioned life after the storm... and damn does it feel good.

Social Worker Seeks Social Work


I am officially starting the job search next week.

Many of my fellow-graduates began their job search months ago, and some are even working. But I -- kind of by default and kind of by design -- am just in the very beginning stages of the process. One reason that I chose not to look yet was time, as I had none, and quite possibly less than none if there is such a thing. Plus I had a job at Temple and was committed to that position through the first week of June (today or tomorrow). Finally, I knew that I wanted to jump out of planes and travel right after graduation, and basically exhale and decompress for a minute before starting, and I knew a job would throw a wrench in those plans.

So here I am, wrapping up my work as a research assistant at Temple and ready to find stimulating, challenging work in the broad field of social work. People often ask, "so what kinds of jobs are you looking for?" They also ask, in a roundabout kind of way, what "social work" is and what social workers do. I love answering this question because I believe the profession has a serious PR problem that stems from the fact that we don't define ourselves and our work enough; we simply react to others' definitions of what social workers do. "No, we're not all child welfare workers!", or, "Case management is not social work!"

So let me break it down for you and try to explain what social workers do in their many roles. In a nutshell social work is all about increasing the well-being of all people, especially the vulnerable and oppressed, by recognizing and addressing the environmental forces that create and perpetuate social injustice and therefore social problems. No person exists in a vacuum. Every person exists within the context of a family, a community, a state, a nation, a culture, policies, etc. And so social workers work at all these different levels to untangle and dismantle the forces and systems that ultimately work against people, and to create systems that promote social justice and equality. Of course there are more immediate needs, too, and there are social workers who help people obtain the resources they need now while also advocating for broader social change. For instance, a homeless individual needs shelter and food and resources now, but what good are all those things if we're not also trying to understand the root causes of homelessness and advocate for policies and resources that will prevent future homelessness.

Social workers work with almost any population in almost any setting. Some social workers are clinicians who do therapy and run groups; some are Executive Directors of non-profits; some are community organizers; some are researchers and academicians; some develop and evaluate programs; some are political organizers; some monitor and create policy; some do crisis intervention work; some do hospice work; some write grants and raise funds; some facilitate adoptions and find foster families; some are educators and advocates, and so much more. Despite the wide range of work and the many roles played by social workers, we all work under the same mandate to work to expand access and opportunity, and to promote social justice.

My particular concentration in grad school was community organizing and social policy, so the kind of work I'm looking for is not the clinical stuff but the community-based advocacy and policy stuff. I'm less concerned with the population or issue I'll be working with than I am the actual work I'll be doing. All I know is that I have a brain, and I would like to use it everyday at my job. I do not want to be a pencil pusher or simply another worker bee in the over-bloated social services industrial complex; I want to use my brain to come up with ideas that work for communities. I see Philadelphia as one big pile of steaming potential, and I want it to be my job to work with people to figure out how to realize that potential.

So, that's my starting point. That's a rough sketch of what I'm looking for. Like I said it could be around any issue or with any population, as long as I get to use my mind and do work that is meaningful. I hope that's not too much to ask. Now, the $100k starting salary (LOL!), that I may have to budge on ;)

Wish me luck, friends. I'll keep you posted!



Next weekend, my brother, sister and I are all meeting at our parents house in Lewes, Delaware to do something we've never done before; we are going to capture our parents' oral history, on video. This would have been a must-do on my list regardless of current happenings, mostly because of my love of StoryCorps and stories in general, but given the current situation brewing in our family, we feel the need to go ahead and get their experiences and reflections on the record.

I guess that's what's meant by what my mom calls "the gift of cancer". This is in no way happening because we feel like dad is dying; rather, this is our reaction to the "gift of cancer". The gift is merely a wake-up call; a voice over a mega-phone saying: WAKE UP - LIFE IS PRECIOUS - TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EACH AND EVERY MOMENT. And so we are.

I am a curious being by nature. Many of my friends will confirm this; I ask questions like nobody business. And my mom loves this about me. She frequently says, "I wish I would have asked my mom that question" -- her mom passed away years ago. That only fuels my curiosity about my own parents, knowing that they still have unanswered questions. And so as I prepare for the oral history next weekend, I find myself curious about you. What questions would you ask your own parents? I know that some of you have lost parents and some of you still have two parents, if not more. What questions would you ask?

Here is a sampling of the questions I have:

- What was it like to grow up in the 50's and 60's?
- What events and experiences shaped you?
- How did you meet?
- What was it like to get married?
- What was it like to have your first child?
- What was it like to lose your first child?
- So many questions about historical events
- What was it like to have two trouble-maker boys and then two angelic daughters ;)
- How have they sustained a healthy marriage for 44 years?
- What was it like to lose their own parents?
- What are their words of wisdom?

And so much more. What would you ask your own parents? Or, as parents, what memories or things about you would you want you children and grandchildren to know?

Thanks for any input you have - I'll let you know how it goes.

Third Time's a Charm


Welcome to my new, same blog. I changed the colors and overall feel of the page to mirror the inner calm and peace I now feel in my new, post-grad shoes. I used to blog quite regularly on my MySpace page, which now feels so icky and stale. Then I moved over here to blogger but was not consistent with my posts (courtesy of grad school). Bad blogger! - I know. So now I have changed it up a third time and really hope to fall back into a regular groove because honestly, writing is my passion. It is everything to me. And blogging is such a good way not only to write about things that matter (or don't) but also to connect with people and discover the hidden linkages we all share.

So again, I invite you to stay awhile and walk with me. I spent the past six years in school and just graduated from grad school and kinda feel like a baby deer attempting to take her first steps. Ya know, kinda cute but kinda awkward; kinda full of ambition but kinda ready to fall on my ass. I'm just in a total state of transition, from student to ???, and I assure you the road ahead is anything but certain, but last time I checked, certainty was pretty boring. So I am committed to sharing this uncertain, awkward yet ambition-fueled journey with you, because I know I am not alone; I know that we are all fumbling in the dark at times, totally unsure of ourselves and the decisions we make. But I also know that it's way more fun when shared with friends, family, strangers and stalkers.

Cheers to you, cheers to me - third time's a charm.

temporarily CLOSED for renovations


Hi. Long time, huh? Sorry about that, been a wee bit busy.

Now that things are settling down in my life and I'm settling in a more natural rhythm, my desire to write is surfacing, and I am beyond happy to satiate that desire. Before I do, I feel like I need a new space, or at least a new look to usher in this new era. I am in a transitional phase and feel like I need a blog to honor that; a space where I can share the interesting things I am re-learning about myself, the ups and downs of the job search, and all of the usual musings on life in my shoes.

The blog address will stay the same, I think, I just need to re-imagine it and make some general tweaks. So stay tuned, my dear reader or two :)

With gratitude ~ J