by Elisabetta Giomo-James, BSW
I was 21 years old when I went back to college after first failing at it two years earlier. Many things had changed since then. I was married and had a baby. The biggest change of all, academically speaking, perhaps, was that I was starting back at an American community college. I was an immigrant from Italy where I had left everything behind.
Initially, I was unsure of what program I wanted to enroll in, but I knew school was the answer to secure stability. With time and support from the professors and other staff in Student Services at the community college, I was able to steer in the direction of social work. I had been greatly stimulated from a sociology class I had taken and was encouraged to sign up for an Introduction to Social Work class.
From the very first class, I had that feeling in my soul. It was all making sense. I have been a helper all of my life. My soul had been lit by injustice many times before with a passion for change. Soon thereafter, I took all of the needed steps to complete a Bachelor of Science in Social Work, which I earned from the University of South Dakota in 2013.
Entering the field was an extraordinary experience. It was also, however, a crude awakening. The many issues I had previously learned about - such as large caseloads, small earnings, and burnout - became a reality for me and many other colleagues around me. I am a social worker, though; I fight. I faced those challenges with what social work taught me best - self-care and awareness.
As March marks National Social Work Month, I wanted to honor such an honorable profession by writing a sincere thank you note in the form of my story and reflections. Before my social work studies, I was the typical helper. “Give all that you’ve got,” even at the cost of your own health and sanity. Social work forever changed that. Social work empowered me.
Social work taught me to value and honor myself more, and to take the time to do so. I held on tight to a self-care routine when working as a social worker in the primary role of case manager at an outpatient mental health center. I continue to do that as I am moving forward in my personal and career journey. It is a powerful experience of perpetual growth and healing of the self, so that I can continue to make a positive impact in others’ lives.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had perhaps the biggest dream of all, one of justice and equality. But he inspired to dream big and endure. I have a dream for us social workers, the invisible agents of change in communities.
I have a dream that one day social workers will come together to better advocate for themselves and the profession to continue promoting healing and unity in communities and around the world.
Elisabetta Giomo-James, BSW, received her bachelor's degree from the University of South Dakota. She is passionate about family functioning, mental health, and healing through the mind-body-spirit connection. She dreams of social work graduate school and becoming an educator in the future.