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National Social Work Month: Celebrating and Supporting Future Generations of Social Workers at S:US

National Social Work is a notable month for human services organizations like S:US because it is an opportunity to bring recognition to the many dedicated social workers that propel our communities forward in a deliberate effort to eradicate social injustices. Every day our social workers combat the societal injustices that impact our communities firsthand. We drive scalable solutions to transform the lives of people with disabilities, people in poverty and people facing homelessness: solutions that contribute to righting societal imbalances. None of this would be possible without employees like Braulio Aguirre and Shaquoya Bennett, two Residential Habilitation Specialists in the Development Disabilities Services working towards receiving their social work degree through S:US’ partnership with Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.

Shaquoya, who also works as a Self-Direction Broker, and Braulio have been with S:US since 2017 and possess similar backgrounds and a passion for helping others. When both were asked why they chose social work, Braulio explained that it was a natural progression for him since he experienced meeting clients while in undergrad. “I gained prior experience in my internship at Brooklyn Community Services. I was a Medicaid Services Coordinator working with the Intellectual/Developmental Disability (I/DD) population. I did case management and worked with recreational groups. It was a good experience and I got to understand a different side of life. This line of work doesn’t get much spotlight, but we help the people we serve to get integrated into the community instead of marginalized.” Shaquoya had a similar experience, “I have a passion for social work.” Shaquoya explained, “Providing services and being of service to others is something I’ve always done. Like volunteering, I enjoy it.” Shaquoya started as an intern at Life Well Lived Services, Inc., a day rehabilitation center. “I worked as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) to promote inclusion and advocacy. I helped the population that I served to live out their life goals.”

As Residential Habilitation Specialists, Shaquoya and Braulio provide numerous support services for people supported. Shaquoya is often creating person-centered action plans and trains staff to help program participants achieve their personal goals. Braulio also creates staff action plans and meets twice a year with people supported and their circle of support (family, staff members, clinicians) to discuss overall health, wellbeing, and goals that improve independence such as money management, learning life skills, and knowing how to navigate the community. Shaquoya and Braulio are assigned 8-9 residential homes on their caseload, serving 45-55 individuals.

They both received a scholarship award for financial assistance to obtain their Master of Social Work (MSW) at Touro College. S:US and Touro College have partnered to provide educational support to S:US employees who are interested in earning their MSW. The scholarship will cover at least 50% of educational costs with no repayment required. Through this partnership, S:US hopes to provide future social workers the opportunity to receive extensive academic and retention support and participate in required academic coursework with close professional supervision and career guidance.

Braulio decided to further his education in order to gain knowledge on how to better serve his community. “I have to help myself and improve myself before I can help others. Making improvements as a professional to help people includes making connections and learning different opportunities through training.” Shaquoya decided to pursue higher education to gain different perspectives and guidelines. “I want to learn new crisis intervention skills. I am interested in counseling, so I need more skills to best help the people I support.” They found out about the MSW opportunity through the S:US HR newsletter Our HR Voice. Braulio and Shaquoya were both surprised by how straightforward the application process was. “I wrote a personal statement, got a letter of recommendation from my supervisor, completed an assignment, and had an interview; the application was easy.” Shaquoya agreed. “I thought there would be an entrance exam,” she explained, “I found the process easier than expected.”

When asked if either of them had a message to share with S:US staff who may want to further their career, Shaquoya exclaimed that it is never too late to start. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to school, and I’m not struggling as I thought I would.” Braulio also explained that it is essential to invest in yourself. “For most people, the cost is a concern, but I know this will make me more valuable. You learn new things to help you do your job better…” Braulio and Shaquoya are expected to graduate in 2024 and S:US is very proud of their journey to becoming exceptional and compassionate social workers.

S:US is devoted to professional development opportunities for all employees. We know that if we encourage our staff to achieve higher education and continue with career trainings, then ultimately, we can better help our community. One of the ways that S:US encourages professional development is through an incentive called the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and partnerships with colleges and universities that will support the educational needs of our employees. Our organization hopes to expand TAP to support more employees gain knowledge and experiences in order to transform the lives of New Yorkers in need.

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