What is my niche
By Sonya Hunte, MSW
Social work is a life call to serve society’s most marginalized people and communities. The profession varies as much as the needs of the people it serves. Like many social workers, I began with a burning desire to help people. The desire began at age 11, after seeing the devastation that crack cocaine caused in my childhood community. Over time, the desire to help others blossomed and became fine tuned. Here are a few short tips for discovering your social work specialty.
What is my niche? Helping those in a broken system of poverty and its implications can be tiring. Whenever you attempt to pull apart the causes of a client or community’s crisis, other major issues emerge. For example, tackling affordable housing isn’t just about housing itself, but about public education, livable wages, transportation access, healthcare, and overall economic development. Even social workers cannot be all things to all people. It is more effective to become an expert in one area. Over the past thirteen years in the profession, I learned to work hard at finding a niche within the field. Finding an area of specialty that connects your reason for joining the profession and strengthens your greatest talents is ideal.
How did social work icons do it? I tapped into the work of social work icons for a clue on how to find my own life’s work within a very broad profession. For some reason, I took a liking to figures like Jane Addams, Whitney M. Young, Jr., and Dorothy I. Height. These social workers were instrumental in creating social programs to lift people out of poverty, using the power of the pen to communicate the plight of the poor to elected officials, and developing social work leaders through national organizations with statewide chapter presence. Learning of their social program expansions, legislative impact, and leadership development efforts helped me to place myself within the larger context of the work and profession.
How long is this process? Finding your specialty is not a one year or five year event. The process is continual. Your moment of clarity may come while working at an internship, with a particular family, on a unique program, or while watching a documentary about a specific issue. It is like trying out different fitness activities until you discover what produces the best results. My niche of administrating education programs for at-risk youth came after years of working in child welfare, juvenile justice, and now public education. I was working with the same population of at-risk youth but providing a different service. In the last few years, I developed a love for creating programs for, writing policies, and applying funding to improve academic outcomes for at-risk/ homeless youth populations.
Social workers are great but are not super heroes. The desire to help others can be tiring when not properly channeled. There is no exact formula for finding your social work niche. The work toward finding a niche or becoming an expert in one area may prove effective for your target population and you. Find a way to connect your reason for joining the profession with your talents. Look to social work icons for perspective and direction. Be patient in this process for it will yield positive results for the profession and the people and communities you serve.
Sonya Hunte is the President-Elect for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Georgia Chapter. Her social work career has spanned thirteen years in direct service, mid level and program management within Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, and Education settings. She is a speaker, author, consultant, and recognized leader.