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  • Writer's pictureValerie Fernandez

The people we meet are more than the ‘why’

In March of 2021, Marian University’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program began to sketch out an opportunity for students to work with individuals. Participating in NeighborLink Indianapolis’ in-home client assessments proved to be a perfect match. We partnered with a classmate and NeighborLink Indianapolis Director of Client Services, Tom Miller, for home visits. In these face-to-face meetings with clients we were able to hear their stories and gain a bigger picture of the environments they are in. This clearly demonstrated the best learning experiences are those out in the community with others and not just by sitting in a classroom reading books.

NeighborLink Indianapolis’ in-home assessments were guided by a form that had been developed by the staff at NeighborLink and our Instructor at Marian University. These assessments allowed us to practice what we learned throughout our courses in a very real way. More specifically speaking, how to engage, assess, and connect with individuals. Our classroom was filled with giggles and mediocre acting whenever we did role-play activities to prepare for real-world interactions. Actually going out and meeting with NeighborLink clients helped us learn from someone outside of the classroom setting and who had real challenges to work through. We would learn more about those challenges they faced through their stories and conversation.

As BSW students, we were responsible for documenting what clients said, while actively listening and asking follow-up questions. The assessment was crafted with consideration of the client’s environment, understanding how social determinants of health play a role in a person’s plan of care. Meaning, we’d learn about their life, activities, community, their home and have a better understanding of how to support them and their needs. Doing this exercise also encourages us to acknowledge their strengths and avoid defining them by their challenges.

We participated in two of these assessments throughout the semester. I recall Tom feeling excited and amused for my partner and I to interview the clients he scheduled us with. He was curious to see how we’d approach the two extremes of clients: one, an open-book and the other, a reserved soul. As a result, we developed a better ability to focus on non-verbals, body language, and steer the conversation while avoiding interrogating the clients. This was harder than it seemed.

One of my classmates, Kelsea, said this of her experience about meeting people where they are.

“This felt more real,” Kelsea said. “It taught me more about the process of interviewing than I had been able to experience before.”

Kelsea has been encouraging Marian students to volunteer with NeighborLink Indianapolis ever since. She’ll be able to further her passion of working for the aging adults and individuals with disabilities through a NeighborLink Indianapolis practicum experience this upcoming school year.

Although we may specialize in a particular field or population as future social workers, the people we meet are more than the ‘why’ we meet with them. NeighborLink— thank you for helping us really understand this.

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