Posted by Trina Bartlett
There are people who don’t understand what I do for a living or why I do it.
I belong to an underappreciated profession that isn’t well paid and regularly interacts with people who are often discounted by “the establishment.”
But then again, I’ve never been overly concerned about what the establishment thinks.
Great things only happen when we color outside the lines, cheer for the underdog, lift broken spirits, and, most importantly, believe in second chances.
That’s probably why I became a social worker – a profession that is defined by the beliefs that anyone can change and that people, not businesses or corporations, power the world.
The opportunity to harness that potential energy to is what drives me to get up every morning. But listening to the stories of the people I have the privilege of serving each day is what keeps me going.
The power of their stories was never more clear than this past weekend when a friend and I drove by a man who was mumbling to himself as he ambled along the shoulder of the road.
“What’s up with that guy?” my friend asked.
“A lot,” I answered. “He has schizophrenia, he’s been homeless multiple times, his family disowned him, and he knows my name.”
What I didn’t tell her is how much he means to me and all of my co-workers and how we are all relieved when he comes into the office. Nor did I mention that we look through the newspaper and the local jail website when he doesn’t. I didn’t explain how we celebrate when we know he’s taking his medication, can hold a conversation and actually exhibits a great sense of humor.
She doesn’t work in my office and therefore can’t truly understand how being a part of such compassionate workplace is immensely more valuable than a big paycheck.
My friend knows that my fan club is a group of homeless men who hang out downtown during the day. What she doesn’t know is those guys actually have a talent for making me smile on my most difficult days, just as one of our most recent clients did last week.
His name is Joe. When he arrived at our office, he had just released from prison with the clothes on his back, $400 dollars to his name and his prison release letter. A caring landlord was letting him work off the cost of a security deposit, but he was still trying to find money to pay his first month’s rent.
And even though he came to the office looking for help, he was able to offer us more than we could give him. One of our toilets was clogged and overflowing. When Joe recognized the problem, he jumped right in to help.
Trust me, he really did jump and the fix really wasn’t pleasant.
Ironically, the next time he arrived in the office, another toilet was misbehaving.
He fixed that one too.
Since then, he’s weeded our parking lot, emptied our trash and started cleaning or offices on a weekly basis.
The man who grew up in foster care, is functionally illiterate, and is trying his best to stay on the straight and narrow when the odds are again him, has mastered the art of paying it forward.
Which is why, when I came into my office on Friday after a morning of meetings, the simple note on my desk meant so much.
The five words “Have a nice day Joe” were more than mere words.
They represented his entire life struggle. I knew that writing that note had been an effort for him but that he believed I was worth the effort.
And I believe he’s worth the effort too.