By Ellen Belluomini, LCSW
One of my most memorable social work moments happened to a co-worker of mine. I was the director of programs empowering options for men, women, and families to alleviate homelessness. Any funding opportunity is important to shelter programs. Linda, the associate director, was working on completing a newly found grant. Eligibility meant driving it to FedEx by midnight. At 11:00 p.m., she drove to a large business park in the area. The grounds were dark The isolation of the area offered no street lights. Unsure of where the building was located, one wrong turn later led to a dead end. Turing her minivan around, mud swallowed her tires. She walked to the FedEx business for help. It was closed. No cell phone and at least five miles from any pay phone, she left the van to dig herself out. The only success she had was in making her white suit (in high heels, I might add) muddy in the process.
Linda walked to a nearby apartment complex to ask for help. Outside, she found a gentleman. She pleaded for his aid. Contributing his time, he pushed her car as she pushed the accelerator. Mud splotches appeared up and down his clothes. Working on a solution, he went to the FedEx garbage dumpster, took cardboard out for traction, and placed it under the wheels. This minivan didn't move an inch. He told her to wait there; he would go find someone else to assist. He returned with another gentleman in a Jeep. Luckily, they pushed her out of the mud with help from the other car.
Filled with gratitude, Linda had no cash on hand to give him for his help. Pulling out her business card, she told him if there was ever anything she could do for him, to please call her. He looked at the business card and smiled broadly. “Ma’am you already helped me. I was in your men's shelter for six months. Now, I have been sober a year, work a good job, and live in an apartment.” With a “God bless you,” he left her to continue on her way.
When I first heard this story, and every time I tell it since, shivers move up and down my spine. What a gift. A gift for Linda that this wonderful man helped her out of the mud and a gift for Jerome because he was able to give of himself out of the kindness of his heart. Finding out he unknowingly gave back to someone who had empowered him closed the circle. This story exemplifies the impact of social work deeds. Social workers do not often see the outcome of their work. These types of stories motivate me as a social worker.
Ellen M. Belluomini, LCSW, is THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER's "Turn Up the Tech in Social Work" columnist. She received her MSW from the University of Illinois, Jane Addams School of Social Work and is currently a doctoral student at Walden University. She is an educator at National Louis University and Harper College. She has developed online and blended curricula with an emphasis on integrating technology into human services practice. She writes a blog “Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice” to increase awareness about technology’s uses. She presents and consults on various issues related to social services. Her clinical work has been in private practice, management of nonprofit agencies, and programming for vulnerable populations.