Thank a social worker

Ever since I joined the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization nearly 20 years ago, I have always wanted to work in a field that helped people. I wanted to do something that made a difference in the lives of families and children within my community. For the past 16 years, I have been fortunate enough to do that right here in Hamilton County as a social worker.

So have many of my co-workers. Currently, Job and Family Services has hundreds of social workers who provide support to children, families and the elderly. While I try to celebrate them all year round, March is a very special month that celebrates social workers.

Each March, the National Association of Social Workers honors social workers across the country with National Professional Social Work Month. This years theme Social Work: Purpose and Possibility is aimed at defining the social work profession and recruiting others to join the field.

I think the National Association of Social Workers Web site says it best: “We know that social workers are passionate, purpose-driven individuals who want to do an excellent service for individuals and communities … they understand that the potential of clients and communities is plentiful.”

Without social workers, this agency would not exist. The social workers at this agency are some of the most hard-working, dedicated individuals I have ever seen. I am proud to work with people who go out of their way to make sure the county’s children and families are kept safe and secure.

If you know a social worker, thank them. Thank them for the optimism and hope they have for children, families and the elderly. Thank them for the kindness they show to each and every individual they encounter. Thank them for their encouragement and comfort. Thank them for their compassion.

I know that I plan to.

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I attended the State of the County speech yesterday by Commissioner David Pepper. What a nice event! While the financial state of the county is tenuous right now, it was nice to hear of all the great things that are happening in spite of the tough financial news. I personally know that many, many county workers are putting aside apprehension over their own personal situations and working very hard on serving the people of this county, and I find that admirable.

We also had one of our Everyday Heroes foster parents recognized by Commissioner Pepper. Cheryl Unzueta, of Wyoming, became licensed late last year after hearing a presentation at her office, Fifth Third Bank, as part of the Everyday Heroes campaign. Ms. Unzueta, who has three children of her own, ages 6,8 and 10, is eagerly awaiting her first foster placement. She thought about foster parenting for five years and finally signed up with Lighthouse Youth Services when she heard the Everyday Heroes call.

We touched 19,000 children in this county last year. Approximately 850 children are in foster care each day in this county. Without people like Ms. Unzueta, we could not pull this off. She and all of the other foster parents in this county truly are heroes!

Recommendations sent to anti-poverty task force

For me, one of the best parts about working in the social services field is that when times are tough, area community providers rally together to help Hamilton County citizens.

Last week, I joined individuals from 60 area social service providers, plus private citizens and representatives from charitable organizations, to discuss recommendations to send to Gov. Strickland for his anti-poverty task force. The governor asked the task force to develop a short-term and long-term vision that addresses the growing problem of poverty in Ohio; the task force wanted recommendations from 22 Ohio communities, including Hamilton County.

A lot of information was shared during the meeting, but the main topics were jobs and education. The group recommended the creation of meaningful jobs and improvements in job training and education in order to overcome poverty in Ohio.

The economic situation in Hamilton County and Ohio has been difficult for everyone, but I am hopeful that with so many key players stepping up, the task force will be able to develop and execute a plan that reduces the amount of Ohioans living at or below the poverty level.

You – the citizens of Hamilton County – are my biggest concern. I want you to be successful in the job field of your choice. I want you to receive the training necessary to be able to choose the right job for you. I want your children to have access to an excellent education so they can grow up and be whatever they want to be.

The state’s anti-poverty task force is a good step in the right direction, but you can help us, too. If you have ideas of how the agency and area community providers can help fight poverty and work towards the goal of self-sufficiency for clients, please send me a comment below.

Live chats with program experts

Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy day to read this blog. The first post drew more than a thousand views and some comments offering support for this method of communication.

As I mentioned in the first post, I want to use this blog as a means to help more people during the economic downturn. With that in mind, I invite you to participate in a live online chat about job services. It takes place 10-11 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 18, on http://www.hcjfs.org. You can ask questions about what is available for job seekers, as well as employers looking to fill job openings.

Last May, we started offering live online chats on the agency’s Web site (www.hcjfs.org) as a way for people to ask questions, share ideas and express concerns.

Since then we have conducted almost two dozen chats on topics such as child support, Medicaid/food stamps/cash assistance, employment services, child care, child abuse and foster care and adoption.

The chats have given us the opportunity to communicate in real time with dozens of customers and people who serve them, such as case managers at social service agencies.

We have found that many people view the chats to learn more, or come back to read the transcript under Today at HCJFS on the Web site.

These chats give us the chance to directly connect our program experts with you. We encourage you to participate!

I’m now a blogger!

I am not normally a talkative person, nor do I necessarily believe people care to know what I think. But this is a critical time at Job and Family Services and I feel very strongly that we should be as open and accountable as possible. Thus, I am becoming a blogger.

Thankfully, I have people to help me with this. My technology skills are basic at best, but I hope to learn as I go. Please have patience and feel free to let me know how I might improve.

The most important thing to me about this blog is being able to connect with you. We serve hundreds of thousands of county residents every year and I want to make sure you get the information you need. And I want to hear about your experiences and ideas. Please consider this a two-way communication vehicle. Much of what we do is confidential, so there will be things I cannot talk about, and I certainly will not be able to solve all problems, but open dialogue should help clear up confusion around many issues.

For those of you who do not know about our department, we are the agency responsible for local child protection, elderly protection, child care, child support enforcement, workforce development, cash assistance, food stamp disbursement and Medicaid disbursement and even more. We are an agency that helps. We are the largest provider of food assistance, medical assistance, child care help, employment services and other services in Southwest Ohio.

And the news of this post – unfortunate as it is — is that the economy continues to drive up the number of people walking through our doors. There are 13,000 more people receiving food assistance right now than a year ago. That’s 93,000; one out of every nine Hamilton County residents. And most of them are working; they are just not earning enough to make ends meet.

Our Medicaid numbers, child care assistance numbers, cash assistance numbers…they are all at high levels, too. More people are seeking modifications to child support orders because they have had changes in their employment circumstances. Our Workforce Development area is extremely busy as people fall out of work and look for help getting back on their feet.

So, you can see, this is a critical time for us and it is extremely important that we do all we can to communicate with the residents of this county about how we can help. Thus, I am now a blogger! Go easy on me and please cut me some slack.