by Tina Atherall, MSW
“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and passion come together”- Anonymous
As the spouse of a United States Marine, I learned early on that to survive, I would need to embrace the military system. And so, I volunteered and became immersed in the world of “family readiness,” a military program that, interestingly, embodies the roots and core of the social work profession. Family readiness is all about creating ways to support families. Volunteers and coordinators organize family events, facilitate education groups, and offer critical support during deployments for military families in their community.
Once I began in my new role, I was hooked. Life as a military readiness volunteer meant everything to me and fueled my passion to serve others. I believe strongly in the power of one. It takes one person willing to go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of others. Being available to guide and mentor young spouses as they joined the military family was important work. Helping spouses adjust to life on a military base was immeasurable, and I was privileged to experience how this work would make a lasting difference. Military families have unique lives with opportunities to live all over the world, and yet, along with these great adventures come formidable challenges, and having support is critical.
After 9/11, the needs within the military community morphed into crisis intervention services. However, these services were not readily established, and the volunteer system of support stepped in to help families in a time of great need. Military members began combat deployments, and the reality of war began to hit home. The community was confronted with multiple casualities, and in the early stages of the combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the services within the military and nonprofit community were limited. I was fortunate to be a part of a group of military spouses who recognized the immediate gaps in the system and helped launch a nonprofit group, Hope For The Warriors®, to support the needs of the community.
As with so many nonprofits, the passion and inspiration were unstoppable. The stories of those we served and had a powerful impact on are a valued lifetime gift. In one example, after months of training, a double amputee Marine pushed his physical limitations and ran 26.2 miles at the Marine Corps Marathon on his new prosthetic limbs. The joy on his face and those of his family members as he crossed the finish line erased, for a moment, the tragedy of the months before, when an explosive device in Afghanistan took his limbs.
As the organization expanded and the need to develop sustainable programs arose, I was driven to pursue my advanced degree in social work. I further developed my skills in clinical practice, nonprofit management, program development, evaluation, and advocacy. Social work provided a platform to educate on the culture of the military and advocate for servicemen and women and their families.
The unique characteristics and language that exist in the military culture require a necessary distinction and understanding. The social work profession embraced this diversity and engaged the conversation for professionals and the community. Graduate schools of social work began to provide electives and course concentrations in military social work and trauma. These were necessary steps in meeting the needs of the veteran community. The Touro College Graduate School of Social Work in New York City developed a military fellowship for advanced clinical students. As a social worker and military advocate, I began to work with students as a field supervisor, and this year, I joined the staff at Touro and embarked on the journey of MSW outreach and recruitment for the school. This has expanded my love for the profession and continued to solidify my beliefs in the power of the profession and the power of one.
NASW’s motto for social work month is “Social work paves the way for change.” This quote summarizes the continued reflection of the individuals who join the ranks of social workers. Daily, I read essays and partake in interviews with candidates who want to pursue their dreams within our field. They share their stories of personal challenges, adversity, strength, motivation, and determination to create CHANGE!
I am proud to be a part of a profession that enables me to realize my passion for supporting others and inspiring change. It’s a beautiful thing.
Tina Atherall, Director of MSW Recruitment, Outreach, and Enrollment Management at Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, received her MSW from Adelphi University and has advanced certificates in military family readiness, military social work and nonprofit leadership. She has 21 years of experience in military family systems and was a nonprofit leader for a military and veteran nonprofit. Active with NASW-NYS, Tina was a Division Director for Westchester County.