Get to Know Who Runs Our Services Programs!

Days start early and most are on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. There is always the possibility of a call, the cry of someone in need or the urgency of a life in danger. They will be there, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a comforting voice, and sometimes with the tough love needed to break a vicious circle. We are talking about CHI social workers; those who have embraced a vocation of helping others.

Social workers deal with all kinds of people whose lives are marked by difficult situations such as poverty and homelessness, mental and physical disability, or violations of their human rights. It is a job of commitment and satisfaction, a job of high merit and honor.

March is a very important month for social workers since it is the time chosen to celebrate National Social Workers Day! This occasion was proposed by the National Association of Social Workers, an institution that in 2015 celebrates 60 years of service.

“Social Work Paves the Way” is the theme chosen for this year’s campaign, focusing on educating the public about social workers and what the NASW does to make a positive impact on individuals and communities across the country.

Do you know the social workers around you? Do you know what they do? At Community Housing Innovations, social workers have a key role. They help us accomplish our mission of providing clients the support they need to overcome homelessness and they are in charge of our emergency, transitional and supportive housing programs.

We praise their work and we want you to know more about it too! That is why we asked some of our social workers to share their experiences with us:

Name: Rosemary Dehlow

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and Credited Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).

Position at CHI:  I’m the Chief Program Officer based in our Long Island office. I am also an Adjunct Professor for Master Social Workers (MSWs).

What is your role as a social worker within CHI? I started as a Coordinator (and Case Manager) in 2002; then Director of Programs in Long Island, then CPO of the LI office, now general CPO since 2013. I am responsible for the smooth operations of all of CHI’s Social Services programs including emergency housing and supportive permanent housing. I’m also a mentor for MSWs entering the field and a leader for the entire staff of CHI. I take my leadership role very seriously and I hold myself to high standards. A well-educated happy workforce translates into quality services for our clients.

Why did you become a social worker? To be the voice of people who cannot speak for themselves.

What do you like the most about your work? Knowing that I do make a difference in other people’s lives no matter how small; I recognize that my interventions may be a seed and as time goes on that seed will grow.

Can you share a story about one case that impacted your life? After 30 years of practice there are too many

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a social worker? Know that you will not earn a lot of money but the reward lies in your ability to help; be passionate, caring, sensitive to the needs of others, accepting, and sincere. And never underestimate your work. What you do matters. You may not see the fruits of your labor but I can assure you, what you do for the people you reach DOES make a difference.

 

Name: Debbie Perkins

Position at CHI: Senior Director, Hudson Valley Programs.

Brief summary of your social work studies or certifications:  I am a licensed social worker in NYS with a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University.

What is your role as a social worker within CHI? When I joined CHI 15 years ago, I began as a Program Manager providing clinical supervision to case managers and working directly with families who were homeless in CHI’s Westchester scattered site emergency housing program and contract reporting and quality control. After successfully completing proposals and expanding programming, I am now the Senior Director, Hudson Valley. My role has become more administrative with contract compliance, budget creation and adherence, program and agency procedure developments, staff supervision, and grant writing.

Why did you become a social worker? I did not want to become a therapist.  My goal was to create change not in or for one person, but in systems. I have done that from ensuring ongoing education of staff, to improving work processes, collecting data to better tell the story and needs of our clients, and advocacy at all levels of government to provide the funding to support the families and needs I see in my work.

What do you like the most about your work? CHI’s housing program, even shelters, provide stability to families and children to learn and grow from. I work with dedicated, caring, professionals who want to see our clients succeed.

Can you share a story about one case that impacted your life? There are many. To hold my client’s hand and providing the comfort to pass away peacefully, after suffering with AIDS, when she had been scared and in pain the day before. To hear that a client’s or former client’s child was going to college. To give apartment keys to a 67 year old gentleman who had been institutionalized at Rockland Psychiatric Center at the age of 17, for 44 years, and was then released to the streets and shelters of NYC. In one family assisted in CHI’s Westchester Emergency Housing Program, both mother and daughter became degreed social workers. Another family came back to CHI for down payment assistance as a First Time Homebuyer.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a social worker? First off, know yourself. Know what you are good at, like and dislike. Social work opportunities are diverse and exist in so many occupational fields and across the entire life span. Find your passion and go for it. You can and will make a difference.

 

Name:  Christine Selario

Position at CHI: Director of Emergency Housing

Brief summary of your social work studies or certifications: Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), with a concentration in Alcohol and Substance Abuse.  I also have a Master in Human Resources.  Worked in Child Welfare from 1994-2002, before I started at CHI.

What is your role as a social worker within CHI?  Supervise other managers of social workers and crisis intervention

Why did you become a social worker?  In 1991 my brother was a foster parent to a black child and they would not allow an interracial adoption.  After being removed from my brother’s house at 1 year of age, this child went into multiple other foster homes before finally being adopted.  I thought it was a travesty and didn’t want other children to have the same fate.

What do you like the most about your work? Seeing clients succeed and children move into permanent homes

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a social worker?  You need to be thick skinned because you will be exposed to a lot of tragedy and adversity.

 

Name: Savitri Choon

Position at CHI: Western Manager of Emergency Housing (Nassau and Suffolk)

Brief summary of your social work studies or certifications: Graduated from Adelphi University with a Master in Social Work in 2006, pending licensing examination (taking in April 2015)

What is your role as a social worker within CHI? Working closely with case managers that I supervise, to appropriately and effectively assist their clients with services and link them to the most appropriate referrals.

Why did you become a social worker? I have a strong desire to assist those in need who are not as fortunate. My compassion for helping others guides me to learning more about the populations being served which keeps me motivated and dedicated.

What do you like the most about your work? Being able to provide and receive knowledge about the population that we serve (homeless families).

Can you share a story about one case that impacted your life? I was working in a middle school conducting group sessions. There was 3rd grader that I noticed that came to school in the very same clothes. He did not have a smell but at times looked flustered. He was not prepared for group and tended to look out the windows frequently. I asked if we could meet separately and he agreed (consents were signed by parent). After meeting with him for several months, he disclosed that he was living in a car with his father and siblings. I immediately reached out to the school principal and we were able to help the family get into a safe place. The child continued and insisted on meeting with me individually until the end of the school year. I then started to see a smile on his face. That smile was priceless and a smile that I often look back and remind myself the reasons why I continue to work as a social worker.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a social worker? It is important to be able to have a balance between your professional life versus your personal life. Sometimes the task may not have the desired outcome but as long as you know that you have done your best then your work becomes more and more interesting. You may not be able to help everyone but that one person that you “touch” is a lifetime filled with self-reward. It is always important to meet the client where they are at. Everyone has a different learning style and approach. Maintaining boundaries will keep you alert and aware of what the direct mutual goal for the client is.

 

Name: Kimmberly Marrero

Position at CHI: Emergency Housing Case Manager

Brief summary of your social work studies or certifications: Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Master in Social Work from Stony Brook University. NYS Licensure.

What is your role as a social worker within CHI?  I manage a client load of 11 homeless men with various medical and mental health issues.  I provide linkage to outside services as well as assistance in developing everyday living skills.

Why did you become a social worker? To help bring true social change.

What do you like the most about your work?  Seeing the chronically homeless achieve permanent housing and realizing that with the right attitude and support, they can accomplish anything.

Can you share a story about one case that impacted your life? When I worked in the Supportive Housing Program with our permanently housed residents, I had one very difficult client who was dealing with multiple mental health issues as well as substance abuse.  Client was combative and unwilling to take part in the case management process when we first met.  As our time together went on, the client began to let her guard down and she started to work toward the independent living plans her and I were developing in order to get her moving in the right direction.  Although she isn’t my client anymore, I often speak to her new case manager who reports she is doing outstanding and has completed many of the goals she had set out to complete.  To me, that’s what it’s about.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a social worker?  Remember to practice self-care.  This job can be stressful on many levels and without the self-awareness to take a step back and take care of ourselves, burnout is inevitable.  Never lose sight of WHY you wanted to become a social worker and the passion will not burnout.  Take advantage of all trainings and educational opportunities to keep yourself current and inspired.

 

Name: Kibasa Samuel

Position at CHI: Emergency Housing Manager

Brief summary of your social work studies or certifications: BA from C.W. Post, MSW from Stony Brook, Licensed, IMHATT certification, currently working on my CASAC.

What is your role as a social worker within CHI?  Although I don’t often have the opportunity for direct care work, I work closely with my staff to guide them through problematic client situations. I also seek out trainings and information to provide to my staff that will benefit their residents. In essence, I believe I am doing social work on a more macro/mezzo level.

Why did you become a social worker?  I enjoy looking for ways, resources,  anything that will help people.  I enjoy finding new services or methods that perhaps they could not see, to help get them closer to something they want. It’s like being a detective!

What do you like the most about your work? I enjoy having the opportunity to encourage/push my staff to learn new things and new ways to better serve their clients.

Can you share a story about one case that impacted your life? In my first job as a social worker, right out of college, I worked with an elderly woman; she was the epitome of a sweet grandma, an absolute delight. As time went by, she stopped taking her medications, she decompensated. It was just heartbreaking to watch. The situation really made it concrete for me that mental illness can affect anyone, even sweet little old ladies.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a social worker?: Part of being a social worker is wearing many hats; being a teacher, a detective, an advocate, a coach, and an administrator to name a few, so you must think out of the box. Social work is not for the slight of heart or the rigid. If you are not willing to get your hands dirty, to pitch in and do the same things that you ask of your clients, then social work may not be for you. Social work is a job were you can and do make a difference, for good or bad, in the lives of others, be sure that you are emotionally ready for the challenge.

 

Name: Alexander Abramowicz

Position at CHI: Program Manager – River House Men’s Shelter

Briefly summary of your social work studies or certifications: BA in Psychology – 2007, Masters in Social Work – 2011; both from Stony Brook University.  Acquired my LMSW in November of 2011.

What is your role as a social worker within CHI? My tasks are mainly administrative and overseeing the facility.  I still maintain a case load of clients despite my title.

Why did you become a social worker? Acquiring my MSW seemed like a natural fit to expand upon my education in psychology.  The versatility and many settings/populations in which you can work with was very attractive when deciding which program to apply to.  Prior to becoming a social worker, I thought it was important for me to have a career in which I make a positive impact on other’s lives or community.

What do you like the most about your work? Every day is different and it is unpredictable.

Can you share a story about one case that impacted your life? When working with families, I had assisted a client and her children to move into a permanent residence which was also a program.  This program would allow her to initiate her college education, secure employment, and build upon her skills to ensure she can provide a self-sufficient lifestyle for herself and children.  This case impacted me because the client was driven and gave her children all she could give concerning her circumstances.

What advice would you give to some who wants to become a social worker? This career can be very demanding.  Not only concerning the work load, but because of the emotionally taxing issues that clients can present.  It is imperative that a social worker is able to separate their work and personal life.  It is also important that a social worker have ways in which they can mitigate any ‘emotional burnout’ by spending quality time on hobbies, with friends, or with family.